Champion teams find a way and so it proved with the Chiefs. Dominion Post reporter Toby Robson
Some super rugby
By Roger Childs
It’s very unusual for the Crusaders to be the lowest ranked New Zealand team in the Super Rugby standings. In their Friday night home match against the Hurricanes they could only manage a single bonus point and now languish third from the bottom on the Super 15 table. On Saturday the Blues, with soli defence and some scintillating attacking, avenged their earlier loss to the Highlanders. However the best finish of the weekend came from the Chiefs as they came back from a19 point deficit to score an amazing try after 80 minutes, to salvage an unlikely draw.
The Hurricanes blow the Crusaders away
It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Wellington based franchise so far.
- Well beaten by the Sharks first up in Durban
- Losing by one point after a late try to the Stormers
- Playing poorly at home to go down to the Brumbies
- Scoring over 60 points to thrash the Cheetahs
- Going down to the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr.
Then it was victory over the Crusaders in front of a full house of partisan local fans in Christchurch on Friday night.
The Canes came out looking hungry and keen to win. Within 20 minutes, tries to Lavave and Perenara put them ahead 17-3 and a victory looked odds on. However, as happened in the Brumbies game, a lack of attention and focus allowed the opposition back in the game. Winger, Johnny McNicholl, scored twice and with 16 minutes to play, the home team were ahead 26-24. Beauden Barrett had the chance to put his team back in the lead, but missed an easy penalty kick.
Then with 5 minutes left on the clock came the magical match winning try. The often under-rated right winger, Alapai Leiua, received the ball on his own 10 metre mark close to the touch line. He brushed off his opposite, McNicholl, and raced down the sideline. Side stepping and swerving, he beat four other defenders to score the individual try of the season so far. So it was game and five points to the Hurricanes.
It was a well deserved win for the visitors who scored four tries to three. The forwards matched the Crusaders pack which is full of All Blacks, and were generally quicker to the loose ball. Jack Lam on the openside has had a great season and was the pick of the forwards, and Julian Savea was back to his best. The latter was probably unlucky to be denied a second half try by the TMO ruling a forward pass, after he scooped up the ball on the half volley to go over in the corner.
Tight defence and All Blacks stepping up see the Blues home
The Blues’ forwards were in great form, except for the scrums, and it was great to see World Cup hero, flanker Jerome Kaino, back in top form. Fellow loose forwards Braid and Luatua also played very well. In centre field Ma’a Nonu was at his best with his ability to always make ground with ball in hand. Pinpoint tackling, superb passing and judicious kicking rounded off an excellent performance.
One man’s misfortune is another man opportunity. New halfback Bryn Hall took maximum advantage of Piri Weepu’s absence because of heart worries, and played superbly. His quick passing gave the Blues’ backs plenty of room to move and his kicking, running and speed to the breakdown were impressive. On the night he overshadowed his opposite, All Black Aaron Smith.
The only disappointment for the Blues was the lack of a fourth try, which would have given them a bonus point and level pegging with the Chiefs on the table. However looking ahead, the Auckland franchise needs to work on its scrummaging.
The Chief leave it to the last
The Bulls are never easy to beat at home on the high veldt in Pretoria. However, like the Hurricanes, the visitors raced out to a comfortable 15-6 lead with two early tries. The home team was not playing well, but then a trade mark South African rolling maul shortly before half time proved unstoppable, and it was now 15-14.
It was another rolling maul early in the second half, which proved to be the turning point, when the Chiefs deliberately pulled it down close to the line. A penalty try was awarded and the visitors had a man in the sin bin. Another try and a couple of penalties saw the Bulls cruising at 34-15 with ten minutes to go. The Chiefs lineout was a big worry and two long throws went over the back and into the grateful arms of the Bulls half back.
However the fightback was now on. Two superb tries brought the Chiefs back to just 7 points down. With time on the clock the visitors then scored a try reminiscent of the All Blacks last gasp effort against Ireland. It ended with co-captain, Aaron Cruden, crossing in the corner and replacement kicker, Gareth Anscombe, putting over a difficult conversion.
It was one of the great comebacks in Super Rugby history and kept the Chiefs at the top of the New Zealand franchise, much to coach Dave Rennie’s relief.
Meanwhile across the sea…
In Melbourne there was a major upset with the Rebels beating the leading Australian team the Brumbies. Kiwi Jason Woodward scoring 27 of the home team’s 32 points. The ACT team however is still the top side across the Tasman.
Meanwhile in South Africa the Sharks trounced the highly fancied Waratahs, to retain their lead at the top of the Super 15 standings after Round7. However, the Sharks have had a very favourable draw so far with five of their six games at home and they have yet to tour Australia and New Zealand.
There is still a long way to go in the 2015 Super 15.