Week five of Super Rugby 2015 proved a much better week for NZ teams and a disappointing one for the rest. The standard of rugby was better than last week, with one game in particular providing sparkling entertainment. The goalkicking, however, was generally poor.
Hurricanes vs Blues
The Blues began the match with their standard rash of loose passes and the Hurricanes controlled most of the first half, despite being outscrummed, where Tony Woodcock had the better of Ben Franks. Franks should consider sticking to loosehead only. He was also very lucky not to be penalised for repeatedly hyper-extending. While Beauden Barrett controlled the game beautifully, the Hurricanes exuded confidence and played a pacy, high risk pattern of fast hands and classy offloads. Nevertheless, as has happened so often this season, an intercept try against the run of play put the team under pressure ahead as the half time hooter sounded. Awarded a penalty in their own 22, instead of kicking the ball dead, as most teams would have done, the Hurricanes tapped and went, ending in a glorious try at the other end. This was to prove vital in the final analysis. The Blues were much improved and the second half was competitive, before the Hurricanes ran out narrow winners. For the winners, the backline was good, Proctor and Barrett particularly impressive. Milner-Skudder, in his first start, showed potential but must learn to link. Ardie Savea was superb at breakdown and with his general energy. The indiscipline of Shields is a problem. For the Blues, the scrum was strong and Braid and Luatua very prominent in the loose. Visinia, Piutau and Nanai all had their moments at the back. Hurricanes 30 Blues 23
Force vs Rebels
Probably the best thing in this match was the evenly matched, strong, steady scrums, with almost no need for re-sets. Although the end result was close, the Force continue to struggle and will not be looking forward to their tour of SA. They turned the ball over and the lineout, which had been a strength, fell apart every time they were in a good attacking position. Wykes worked very hard and McCalman and the massive Mafi were prominent in the forwards. For the Rebels, Debreczeni and Timani were good value, although both appeared to fall victim to injury. Burton tried hard but Rasolea has to learn not to die with the ball. Force 17 Rebels 21
Crusaders vs Lions
After their shock win over the Blues last week, the Lions came up against a Crusaders side welcoming back some of the best players in the world, Read, Carter and Sam Whitelock. As has been the case so many times in the past few seasons, the Crusaders backs, in the first half, looked as if they had never played together. Their pack, however, took control and poor Redelinghuys had a torrid time against wily Wyatt Crockett. The scrum yellow card against Redelinghuys was a significant moment and a harsh call. The Lions fast moving defence was the superior and they were good at the breakdown but as the Crusaders improved in the second half, the Lions just could not stay with them, not for lack of trying. Why hooker Armand van der Merwe, ‘the angry warthog’, does not have more game time is a mystery. His introduction, with fifteen minutes to play, brought some of the best moments of the match, as he tore over the gain line again and again. Crusaders 34 Lions 6
Highlanders vs Waratahs
To begin with, the visitors took charge and scored two quality tries from set pieces, backs and forwards combining well. The plan to put pressure on Aaron Smith was also paying dividends. Folau was full of running, Hooper was everywhere and Potgieter took the ball at pace into the heart of the defence. However, as so often with the never say die Highlanders, brilliant play from the ever improving Fekitoa, supported at the back by Sopoaga, Osborne, Ben Smith and the large and speedy Naholo, turned the game on its head. By the end of the first half, the Waratahs were making too many mistakes, the Highlanders defending manfully and the Waratahs failing to retain the ball. Once they hit the front, the Highlanders stayed there, a late try giving the Waratahs a bonus point. Apart from the backs, Elliot Dixon was terrific in the pack for the Highlanders. For the visitors, Hooper and Folau did their reputations no harm and Skelton worked hard. Palu, at No 8, was virtually non-existent. Highlanders 26 Waratahs 19
Reds vs Brumbies
The injury-hit Reds, who are having a season to forget, suffered another defeat at the hands of a competent Brumbies side. For the hosts, Genia, Sautia and Kuridrani all did passably well at the back. For the visitors, cousin Kuridrani was always a threat, White controlled matters well behind a winning scrum and Speight was a handful. The Brumbies are usually a well drilled side and they were just that much quicker and neater than the Reds. An unusual statistic was that four tries were scored by forwards. The score would have been higher but for the dreadful kicking of Lealiifano. Reds 0 Brumbies 29
Stormers vs Chiefs
Undoubtedly the match of the weekend was this one between two of the competition’s leaders. The Stormers began the stronger, taking complete control of the scrums, where Vincent Koch again proved what a valuable acquisition he is. When they come to SA, the Chiefs seem to lift the tempo of their play and countered the Stormers’ set piece superiority with a very high paced, high risk game, which kept them within range at half time. The Stormers were good, de Allende, de Jongh and Coleman all contributing at the back to the excellent work of the pack but in the second half the Chiefs were magnificent. There was very little kicking and complete trust in the skill and speed of the backline, which did not let the side down. Sonny Bill Williams and Cruden played their part, while James Lowe and Nanai-Williams were simply outstanding. Nanai-Williams is not popular with the All Blacks selection staff but ignoring the fact that their best centres are Sonny Bill and Fekitoa, might cost the All Blacks at the world cup, where they will no doubt rely on the aging Nonu and Conrad Smith. Stormers 19 Chiefs 28
Cheetahs vs Sharks
There was little entertainment in this match, which was in stark contrast to the Stormers vs Chiefs match, which preceded it. The Sharks were full value for their bonus point win, Lambie continues to grow in stature and Marcel Coetzee showed just how good a player he is. The Cheetahs were woeful and will begin their overseas tour with a match against the Crusaders, which is likely to end in a heavy defeat. They were disorganized and at times appeared uninterested. Naka Drotskie has a difficult task on his hands. The Sharks vs Chiefs game next week should prove interesting viewing.