Hurricanes vs Rebels
In the first game of the weekend, the only unbeaten team in super rugby managed to remain that way by beating the Rebels 36-12, despite resting Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett and being without Dane Coles. It was not all plain sailing and the Rebels had much of the play in the first half, to which the home team contributed with poor handling, uncertain lineouts and failing to match the visitors at the breakdown. They gradually improved, however, and by the end were in control. Both scrum halves had good games, Vito turned in a better game and his pace off the back of the scrum was a factor. Nonu appears to be enjoying being back at the Hurricanes. There was some terrific defence from the Hurricanes, with the Rebels emerging without a point after spending ten minutes in the opposition 22. Woodward demonstrated that he should be starting for the hosts and his kicking is excellent. Higginbotham tried hard for the visitors.
Reds vs Lions
The Reds began well but soon deteriorated, showing poor skills, little confidence and a backline that has neither structure nor rhythm. In the forwards Thomson, Browning and Schatz showed up and Quade Cooper demonstrated slick skills in his first match of the season. Although their lineout did not function well, the Lions were dominant in the scrum and were far more motivated than the opposition. Whiteley and Tecklenburg continued their wonderful tour and although the Reds dominated the second half, as most sides have on this overseas trip by the Lions, it was the Lions who, largely on the back of their defence, completed their most successful Australasian trip ever. Reds 17 Lions 18
Chiefs vs Cheetahs
The inconsistent Chiefs began superbly with lovely ball handling skills and an early try but soon they were back to losing the ball in contact and showing why they have the worst disciplinary record in super rugby. By half time the Cheetahs were right in the game, Hendricks was having his best match of the season and the rolling maul was working nicely. However, the try from one of these was assisted by a very poor piece of refereeing by Craig Joubert. The penalty count, which was 12-2 in favour of the Cheetahs at half time, turned around in the second half as the Chiefs improved. Sonny Bill Williams made a big difference in the centre, as did Horrell, who should start before Tamanivalu. Cane was magnificent and Taneifuna put in some charging runs. For the visitors, Brussow showed he is still a very important part of any team. Chiefs 37 Cheetahs 27
Highlanders vs Stormers
Coming to the end of the first quarter, the Stormers were full value for their 7-0 lead. The Highlanders lineout was not functioning and, as with so many of the NZ teams, they were not retaining the ball in contact. However, a couple of rather fortunate tries, one an intercept and the other the result of a lucky ricochet off a defender’s foot, put the home team back in the game, with two tries to the fast and very powerful Naholo. Although Treeby shot out of the line on occasions, the Highlanders rush defence on the outside cramped the visitors and they began to lose shape, both in attack and defence. The situation cried out for an inside pass or kicks in behind the rapidly advancing defence. In addition, the hosts cleverly chose which breakdowns to contest, while the Stormers were committing too many to this area. Carr carried well and Kolisi made a considerable impact when he came on, while Schalk Burger was simply magnificent. He was everywhere and eventually created two slashing breaks from inside the Stormers 22 to give his side a sniff of victory. The Highlanders, however, are the gutsiest team in the competition and put in some terrific defence early in the second half before letting the Stormers in with a couple of late tries. Poor Kolbe took another physical pounding and he and Leyds suffer for their lack of size. Highlanders 39 Stormers 21.
Sharks vs Force
This was the worst match of the weekend and perhaps of the season. The Force, mainly through their forwards, were again surprisingly competitive and but for an astonishing decision by TMO Marius Jonker to disallow a try, might have won this match. In Burton, Godwin and Cummins, they have talent in the backs but appear to have no strategy to employ their backs properly. With the appalling Sias Ebersohn at flyhalf, the backline will never function efficiently. Steyn, in the same position for the Sharks, was almost equally woeful. The Sharks had the dominant scrum but Wykes continues to work tirelessly in the Force pack. The Sharks were hampered by a lack of discipline but managed to hold on for a 15-9 victory.
Bulls vs Crusaders
This was easily the best display by the Bulls this season and suggests that they may yet be a threat. The match was won in the opening ten minutes, when the Bulls scored two rather soft tries. Although at times the star studded Crusaders team threatened to overwhelm their hosts with a mixture of aggressive defence, overt physicality and slick back play, where Dagg was outstanding, the Bulls held firm. Newcomer Odendaal looks the real deal at centre. The Crusaders did not exercise enough patience and paid the price, suffering two disallowed tries and a failure to finish promising moves. The Bulls desperately scrambling defence was another factor in this important result. Bulls 31 Crusaders 19