Welcome to another Southern Hemisphere digest, which was dominated off the field by the All Blacks squad announcement and a high profile race-related incident in South Africa.
On the field, the Waratahs convincingly beat the Highlanders to end the 40 match Kiwi winning streak over the Aussies, and also make themselves favourites for second on the table (and a home quarter and semifinal). The real though fun was in Hong Kong though, as the Sunwolves won a superb contest against the Stormers – two wins in a row for the first time ever.
A slightly shortened digest this week – my next two weeks are very busy but I hope to get back into the swing of things in June.
All Black Bolters
So many talking points in the squad:
- Three new caps including two real bolters – Chiefs bench halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (23) and big physical first-year Highlanders loosie Shannon Frizell (24). The other is the wrecking ball Crusader 6/8 Jordan Taufua (27).
- Seven loose forwards, with Hansen, clearly looking to give several people a chance to prove that they should replace Kaino or back up Read. But Akira isn’t one of them – he does the flashy stuff but what about the graft and his defensive reads?
- Hansen saying that Shields would probably have made this squad. This and Taufua’s selection was a clear message for fringe candidates that they should knuckle down in Super Rugby and don’t give up on the dream by heading overseas.
- Try scoring sensation Ben Lam was so unlucky to miss out. But with Rieko, Jordie, Ben Smith, Naholo and Milner-Skudder selected can Hansen be criticised?
Here’s the full team and some quotes from Hansen.
The other big news this weekend involved former Springbok and now TV pundit Ashwin Willemse walking off set live on air. He claims persistent patronising behaviour from “players who played in apartheid.”
South Africa’s sports minister has called for the resignation of co-hosts Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.
Waratahs 41-12 Highlanders
The great Australian drought has finally broken, and it was a desert deluge! A good platform from the forwards and star turns from the big names in the backs led to a proper cathartic thrashing. Once again Foley and Beale were quality, creating so many linebreaks, and Folau and Naiyaravoro provided the finishes out wide, the latter leaving bodies strewn in his wake. Not a great day for Naholo, who was similarly dealt to by Ben Lam a few weeks ago.
After last week’s Joe Moody controversy, this match also had an important red card decision, but on this occasion, the Kiwi player WAS sent off by the Kiwi ref. Catchers often extend a foot to defer chasers when they leap for a ball, but on this occasion, Tevita Nabura was way too late and his foot extended right onto the jaw of Cameron Clark, who had stopped a good metre away from him.
This four-game run against Kiwi teams could have been disastrous for NSW but they have shown a good attitude and learned as they have gone on how best to counter the very consistent Kiwi style of play. Surely this has to benefit Aussie rugby as a whole.
Here’s a good article describing how they went about it.
For the Highlanders, that’s two big losses in their last two overseas games, which, unususally, has to pose questions about their resilience. They will need to withstand a big physical challenge in Brisbane next week to stop the rot.
Sunwolves 26-23 Stormers
Two wins in a row for the Japanese, this one a wonderfully entertaining thriller in the stifling heat and humidity of Hong Kong.
Stormers wing Dillyn Leyds was the star of the first half with two tries, one an Inspector Gadget arm chasing a kick, the other a magnificent right wing run with an amazing finish in the tackle with his body over the sideline. Watch the highlights. 7-17 up, pack on top, looking like the same old story.
The Sunwolves were trying to tire the Stormers out by running them around in the tropical sunshine. Exhibiting some fantastic skills they stretched their opponents, kicked their goals, scored a try and took the game to the wire. But a late Stormers penalty grabbed a seemingly winning 20-23 lead.
With a minute to go, the Sunwolves ran from inside their half, eventually earning a penalty about 45m on the angle. They elected to take the draw and Hayden Parker yet again showed iron nerves under pressure. The ex Highlander is well over 90% for the season, and that’s 17/17 in his last two matches.
There was just time for the kickoff and both teams gave it a real go. After a five minute passage of play it was Parker again, this time a 35m drop goal on his wrong foot. What a performance!
Hurricanes 38-34 Reds
After last week’s humiliation, the Reds regained a lot of mana in Wellington, finding a way to score whenever the Hurricanes seemed to be pulling away. While their hosts did a lot of fancy stuff out wide, the Aussies disrupted them with their line speed and were determined on their own line. On attack, they made an impact with their scrum and with good hard runs.
The Tongan Thor Taniela Tupou stood out both in his core role and in the loose, one big run past Milner-Skudder and Perenara setting up a superb try from nothing. For the Canes, Ben Lam picked up another two tries, the first yet another example of him powering through tackles when he seemed totally under control. Which international team wouldn’t select him?
Sharks 28-24 Chiefs
As a Chiefs fan, I was pretty happy after a resilient performance with the odd bit of flash, considering that we were missing 20 players, including all of our All Blacks. No complaints about the All Blacks camp, by the way, test rugby should always take precedence. With ALB absent Ngatai’s experience shone through at 13.
The Beast and his mates were powerful up front for the hosts with a great scrum and power running/offload game, while they also showed some adventure when appropriate. du Preez is having a fine season at ten and with three wins and a close loss against Kiwi opposition the Sharks might just be South Africa’s best hope.
Jaguares 54-24 Bulls
After four meritorious grafting wins in Australasia for the Argentinians, this was a much more open game and the Bulls will be disappointed with their defence. It was a textbook win for Los Jaguares, with forwards bashing the holes, Sanchez controlling things nicely and kicking his goals, and both forwards and backs showing good skills and option taking.
They also host South Africans in their next two games which gives them a great chance to all but secure their first ever pay offs spot.
Lions 42-24 Brumbies
Despite the scoreline, the Lions were pretty scratchy in this, with Pocock and co spoiling well and Lealiifano and Kuridrani creating plenty of problems when the Brumbies had the ball. The visitors led into the final quarter, but that was when lock Rory Arnold was sent off for a bad high shot on Jantjies. The Lions opted for the lineout, and the other second rower Sam Carter was yellowed for collapsing the maul.
The hosts were clinical after that, three late tries taking the chocolate.
Blues 24-32 Crusaders
Same old same old in derbies for the Blues, their stars SBW and Rieko providing impressive X factor but the Crusaders playing like a team. The biggest talking point, for the second week in a row, was a Crusaders and All Blacks prop being lucky not to be sent off during the game but being suspended later by the judiciary. The reason this time was that video evidence can’t be used during the game if there has been a set piece since – strange in the extreme.
So both Crusaders All Blacks props are suspended for the match on Friday against their greatest rivals for the title. Meanwhile, an unimpressed Steve Hansen has suggested that Moody and Franks “Give themselves an uppercut…”
That Crusaders v Hurricanes game is the big match this week – don’t miss it whatever you do. In other key games, the Waratahs will get another chance for a kiwi scalp in the shape of the depleted, jetlagged Chiefs. And the impressive Los Jaguares and Sharks will continue the battle for second in the South African conference.
Here are the highlights – I recommend the Sunwolves, Hurricanes and Waratahs games.
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.