Another new leader in Super Rugby, another hard-hitting, high-speed kiwi derby, another South African outside back scores a hat trick, and another player gets life-changing help from the rugby community in their hour of need. Another great week in Southern Hemisphere rugby.
First, a good news story for Sione Vaiomounga, the Tongan rugby player in Romania who desperately needed a new kidney. The rugby community has come together and he now has the kidney. We wish him a full recovery.
This week’s Rugby Australia annual report contained some scary numbers showing the neglect of grassroots rugby in the country. Last year they spent $70m on the top end of the game, £20m on corporate and marketing costs, and just £3.7m on local rugby. Compare that to the tens of millions spent by the RFU on development.
All this at a time of great controversy with some of their highest earners, e.g. Quade, Folau and Karmichael Hunt. And when by far their biggest founder, FOXTEL, has just broken the bank to secure the cricket rights.
Unusual advice from a foreign club coach, with Wasps’ Dai Young putting the case for his South African stars Willie le Roux and Juan de Jongh to receive Springbok recalls. A good attitude – but do Bok and Wasps fans agree that they are the best options?
Now to the week’s rugby.
Hurricanes 25-13 Chiefs
The big top of the table clash was the kiwi derby. Once again there was that heady mix of high impact legal physicality and spectacular skills at high speed. Last week we looked at how they are causing so many injuries and this week there was another one, with rookie 22-year-old Chiefs prop Aiden Ross out for the season with an ankle injury after a tackled teammate fell on him in open play. So sad, especially considering that he was already being talked of as a potential All Black in this year of injured props.
The new conference system has raised the number of derbies from six to eight this season. In one sense this is great because the standard is so high and crowds are always bigger. However, Ross’ coach has joined the Players Association in calling for a reduction in the number of derbies, because the toll on players is too great.
Ben Lam is some player
You think he’s covered, then he puts on the gas which stops them getting a proper hit on, and with all that strength he brushes them off. One almost try in the corner was followed by a searing run to the line when three good defenders got burned. Kudos to Laumape for that outside swerve too which took out three defenders, he is far from just a wrecking ball.
Possibly my favourite moment was a 30m quick throw by Beauden to Lam well inside the Canes 22, beginning a move which only ended when Alaimalo caught up to Jordie well inside the Chiefs 22. Breathtaking.
A 10-6 halftime lead extended after the break with two early tries for the hosts. The first was a trademark example of Beauden picking up a bouncing loose ball at full pace and running away from everyone. For the second he rounded off some flowing team play by cross kicking to Laumape, who jumped and caught the ball high above his head in a 50/50 with ALB.
That smooth, swift attack and clinical finishing won the day for the Canes, along with determined front on defence and an effective scramble. The Chiefs had a definite edge up front, especially in the scrums, despite the loss of Ross. However, the visitors simply didn’t finish enough of their chances, with Harris and Ngatai both not passing the ball to Alaimalo when he would have been clear and Retallick dropping a pass to end another very promising move.
Before leaving the Chiefs, here’s a great story about the new cornerstone of their depleted yet highly effective scrum. Angus Taavao was let go by the Waratahs at the end of last season, but the clearly devoted dad returned home for family reasons rather than heading north, despite not having a Super Rugby contract. This is truly heartwarming.
As for the Canes, after losing their first game in Pretoria they have won six straight and sit pretty on top of the log.
Highlanders 43-17 Brumbies
The other game in New Zealand was another example of a pack that was better in many ways being trumped by fast, clinical attack at key moments. Pocock had a field day at the breakdown, Sio led a dominant scrum and a lopsided penalty count from O’Keefe showed who should have won the game. Yet only the Highlanders looked like they knew how to score tries.
The key moment came on the three-quarter mark, with the Brumbies five down, but a man up with an overlap in the opposition 22. Naholo raced up, took the intercept and was gone. Ben Smith was the class though, decisively taking the right options and using his pace and elusiveness to score two tries.
Rebels 22-25 Jaguares
It was a bad day for Australia, as their conference leading Rebels were tipped up at home by the lowly Jaguares. For a long time, it looked like another backs over forwards match, as the excellent Argentinian set piece was let down by ponderous, pass along the chain attack. Time and again they were tackled well behind the gain line.
In contrast, the Rebels had all sorts of options. The dynamism of Amanaki Mafi at 8 made a lot of ground – he has by far the most running metres in the competition by a forward – while the backline had runners coming at pace from all angles. Orchestrating everything was Will Genia, with two of his team’s three tries coming from his breaks – he has the most assists in this year’s Super Rugby.
The third try on 49 minutes opened up a 19-6 lead, but most importantly their little general did his hammy making that brilliant run. By now Mafi had run out of juice early again, and we saw an amazing momentum shift, with the visitors at last drawing defenders and creating an overlap to score just a minute later.
The Jaguares had followed the 1014 boys often repeated advice, keeping Creevy in reserve on the bench to lead their late winning run. Soon after his introduction their winger Moyano somehow bounced off three defenders simultaneously, kept his feet and dived over, then a charge down try made the score 22-25. The Rebels could have grabbed a draw after the 80 but bravely chose to convert their penalty to a scrum, which led to nothing.
Waratahs 37-16 Reds
This result opened the door for the Waratahs in the Aussie conference, and despite some missed chances, they came away with all the chocolate. Naiyaravoro was again their big danger with his pace and power, and it was his second try which finally extended the lead beyond the converted try on 71 minutes. Since losing in Argentina they have beaten all their conference rivals and are now just three points behind the Hurricanes, the only other team to have lost just one match. Their next five gains are against the Lions and four kiwi teams though…
It was great to have this most traditional Australian match-up played at the most traditional Australian rugby venue, the SCG, for the first time in decades.
Sunwolves 10-24 Blues
A surprisingly low scoring game between two teams who have excelled much more in attack than defence. The Blues were more fluent in the second half and the Sunwolves hung in pretty well for most of the game.
Sharks 10-40 Bulls
Let’s finish off in Durban, where the Sharks were brought down to earth after their kiwi heroics. The Bulls nullified the go forward that served them so well in New Zealand and dominated on the scoreboard, despite the territory and possession stats. The forwards scored two maul tries while dynamic fullback Warrick Gelant nabbed a hat-trick of kick chase tries.
Here’s a good summary of how former All Blacks coach John Mitchell won the tactical battle.
For this week’s highlights, I recommend Genia’s genius and Moyano’s power in Melbourne, lightening Hurricanes and Gelant’s kick chase.
Author: JD Kiwi
JD Kiwi currently lives in northern England, trying to find enough waking hours to work, be a devoted family man, and watch too much rugby. He supports the All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato but also enjoys watching European rugby.
As a player he was was the shortest lock and slowest pace bowler in New Zealand. His favourite sporting achievement was winning the annual bowling cup for his small town Second XI.