Super 15 Magic

Some of the skills on show tonight have been sublime. Scotty Robinson, rugby commentator

Classic rugby encounters

By Roger Childs

Crusaders attackLast weekend saw two outstanding New Zealand rugby derbies which will have the All Black selectors smiling. A number of players in the recently picked national squad were in top form for the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Crusaders. The South Island clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium saw the home team just fail to pull off a “come from behind” win in an exciting game which had a controversial finish. Meanwhile at the “cake tin” in Wellington, the Hurricanes played their best rugby of the season to thrash the Chiefs six tries to one.

A thriller in Dunedin

A wonderful showcase for New Zealand rugby. Commentator Tony Johnson

It was the Crusaders by two points in one of the best games of the season. It was high quality rugby played at pace from start to finish, with plenty of superb passing and running, vigorous tackling and judicious kicking.

Adding to the entertainment for the 21,000 spectators, were a number of incidents

  • a couple of outbreaks of old fashioned stoush amongst the forwards
  • Richie McCaw being sent to the sin bin for two consecutive professional fouls
  • the referee running into a Highlander prop and ending up with a cut cheek, prompting a commentator  to  suggest he’s got to go to the blood bin!
  • A possible try in the last minute which left the TMO having to decide who had won.

FekitoaBoth teams scored four tries in this exciting match where the lead changed several times. The Crusaders had the edge in the forwards and they scored three of their tries. In the backs big Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo frequently broke the line and scored the fourth try after a superb over the top pass by Israel Dagg.

Dagg was steady, with flashes of brilliance, but on the day was outplayed by his opposite.  Ben Smith was everywhere: cool under the high ball, always dangerous on attack, scored a try and in one spectacular piece of skill leapt high over the touchline to keep the ball in play.

However, the standout back in the match was Malakai Fekitoa (pictured above), who continued his excellent form. He is definitely ready to step up to take the All Black centre position once Conrad Smith moves on. Fekitoa was always dangerous with the ball in hand and his tackling was deadly. Overall the home team had the more impressive backline and they scored three of the home team’s tries.

To score or not to score?

Patrick osborneThe outcome of the match came down to a decision by the TMO, Vinny Munro.  Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne seemed certain to dot down for a try in the corner in the 80th minute, but was taken down in a superb tackle by Israel Dagg.

But did he score? 20,000 Highlanders and I thought he did. He hit the corner flag: that’s OK, and did force the ball on the goal line. The problem for Munro was whether the ball also brushed the touch-in-goal line which would mean no try.

There were many replays for us all to see, before Munro decided that the ball touched both lines at the same time, so the try was disallowed. Consequently, the Crusaders picked up five completion points from their 32-30 victory and now lead the New Zealand conference.

The Chiefs put to the sword

Meanwhile, in the capital, the Hurricane fans were in for a treat. The Chiefs came into the match as New Zealand’s top team in the Super 15. They left with no competition points and languishing in fourth spot.

SaveaThe home team was dominant in all aspects of the game.

  • The backs were outstanding and Julian Savea (pictured alongside), showed why he is one of the best wingers in world rugby.
  • The forwards scrummaged well and won every lineout on their throw, with Vito superb at number two.
  • They played the game at pace and were quick to exploit the loose ball with quick turnovers, slick passing and searing breaks.
  • There was a step up on defence and their close, accurate marking  restricted the visitors to just one try.

The standout player was first five, Beauden Barrett, whose handling and running was brilliant. One amazing piece of skill was to kick a pass to Corey Jane who took it at pace and set off on a 40 metre run. Barrett also converted all six tries that were scored.

Dane Coles was back from injury and added to his excellent lineout throwing, showed pace around the paddock and tackled ferociously. The All Black selectors will be delighted to see the hooker back to his best form.

A 45-8 thrashing of the current Super 15 champions was totally unexpected, but thoroughly enjoyed by the home town fans.

Test matches looming

England is due in the country next month for three test matches and the New Zealand selectors are spoilt for choice in some positions. The weekend’s matches showed that many current All Blacks are peaking at the right time.

However there are also plenty of newcomers putting pressure on the incumbents and it might be tempting to experiment with new combinations. However assistant coach, Ian Foster,  says I don’t think we’ll be going with anything too radical (in the first test) but we will look at the three match series and see how we can progress as a team.