Welcome to my weekly Southern Hemisphere digest.
This week’ action had a bit of everything. Things you expect from Super Rugby, like brilliant back play, a dominant Fijian wing, four tries from yet another potential All Black superstar and a 103 point game. But there were also things you don’t expect, like a player scoring two maul tries, a team winning by kicking all seven penalties on offer, and the champions having two tries disallowed for forward passes (on a week when two “forward pass” tries weren’t disallowed in Europe!)
So much action in fact that I will concentrate on the games, and just add a few big news stories at the end – on the South African and Welsh coaching situations and a shocking off-field injury in Australia.
Brumbies 17-24 Waratahs
Good news for Northampton Saints fans this week, as their newly signed wrecking ball Fijian born wing Taqele Naiyaravoro has shed some fat, upped his work rate and is making a massive difference in tight matches in Australia. Check out the highlights near the bottom of this article, which show his two tries, one set up by a smart set move featuring Bernard Foley at his best.
Naiyaravoro had big weight and fitness issues last year and, although his coach is still lamenting that he can only get 45 minutes out of him, he is making a lot of metres and beating a lot of players. If he keeps working hard and is managed carefully he can make a big difference at key moments next season.
The Tahs win – only their fourth ever in Canberra – puts them into the top 8 and with their World tour behind them they have to be a play off chance. They haven’t played a kiwi team yet though, and, as our next game shows, that’s where things can get messy.
Rebels 19-50 Hurricanes
The Rebels and Hurricanes served up one half of high intensity, gripping Super Rugby. The rugged Rebels forwards got stuck in and the wide attack made great inroads, led by the outrageous physical talents of Tongan born Japanese international Amanaki Mafi (why is he not at the Sunwolves?)
They led 19-8 at the half hour, but blink and you miss it attack by the Canes dominated from then on. They led 19-25 by the break when the exhausted Mafi went off and dominated the second half. Ben Lam scored four tries in the game and the buzz around him as an All Blacks bolter will only intensify. What a talent. But it was so sad to see Julian Savea on the other wing, trying hard and doing the right things, but short of pace and no longer able to break those tackles. He might be better suited to French rugby now.
Chiefs 27-22 Highlanders
Once again, the best game of the round was the all kiwi clash. For the second week in a row the excellent Highlanders defence – both up front and out wide – kept them in an away derby, and for the second week in a row, it was not enough. This time though it was oh so close, with only a turnover two yards from the middle of their own posts allowing the Chiefs to repel an ominous late attack.
Despite having pretty much a whole team out injured – including their four top props and several locks – the Chiefs were on top up front and dominated the possession and territory stats. Once again their All Blacks all stood up, Harris muscling and burrowing over for a try, Messam bamboozling the opposition at first receiver, and Brodie and Cane putting in lots of powerful carries and tackles as well as pilfering the ball.
The Highlanders’ great advantage on both attack and defence was their experience, with Ben and Aaron Smith, Thompson and Naholo all key after Sopoaga was injured. Their attack was clever, smooth and controlled and defence tough and smart.
Lienert-Brown was prominent, but the inexperience of the rest of the Chiefs backs showed. McKenzie certainly didn’t look a Test ten with charged down kicks and failed attacks outweighing some incisive breaks, but then neither did Barrett until 2016, he just needs time behind the wheel. They must have been grateful that they were able to bring the calm head of Ngatai on to really step up and take control of some vital moments towards the end. The man is class and it’s sad that injuries cut short what could have been a glittering All Black career.
That’s four gritty wins in a row to the resilient Chiefs and two losses in a row for the Landers. As an aside, the Highlanders had three Smiths and three Dix(ck)ons, but as far as I know only the Lienert-Brown brothers are related.
Blues 40-63 Sharks
Now to the kiwi/South African contests, which finished one each. Surprisingly in a twelve try 103 point Super Rugby game, it was taking every penalty goal opportunity on offer which made the difference for the Sharks. Kudos to Robert du Preez who kicked 13/13, many of them far from easy, in a 37 point haul. His baby brother Jean-Luc also impressed with his power, work rate and skill – remember the name.
The Blues were the Blues.
Lions 8-14 Crusaders
The big one was a tough, tiring battle that needed a bit of quality. The Lions scored a good multiphase unconverted try out wide to take the lead and then weathered attack after attack thereafter. The Crusaders had the ball for long periods but lacked fluency in the face of committed defenders and could have no complaints when Peyper ruled out two tries following forward passes by Mitch Hunt.
The visitors broke through with two tries around the fifty-minute mark, Whitelock bashing over after lots of phases and rising star Goodhue finishing well after the powerful Mataele’s half break. The Lions kept going though, a Janties penalty ensuring a close finish.
The Crusaders are missing a lot of All Blacks at the moment, with fly-half Richie Mo’unga’s absence having a big effect on their backline. If they can keep grinding out the results they will be very dangerous when they get close to full strength in time for their remaining derbies from mid-May. And if they earn a home advantage for the playoffs by winning the Kiwi conference they will be hard to stop.
The Lions have now lost three of their last four, but if they can keep winning their derbies they will be favourites in the African conference. They will get their chance next week against the Stormers.
Bulls 33-23 Stormers
The Bulls pack proved the difference in an entertaining derby, Adrian Strauss scoring three tries in the lineout, including two from rolling mauls. The Stormers backs scored some nice ones, but they still haven’t won away this year.
Here are all the highlights. Apart from some Brumbies bashing by Naiyaravoro, I recommend the quality Chiefs win.
Next week the highlights will probably be the derbies in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. As always I’m giving the UK and kiwi kick-off times and UK channel.
8.35am (7.35pm) Hurricanes v Sharks Sky Sports Mix
6.15am (5.15pm) Sunwolves v Waratahs Sky Sports Arena
8.35am (7.35pm) Chiefs v Blues, Arena
10.45am (9.45pm) Brumbies v Reds, Arena
4.15pm (3.15 Sunday) Lions v Stormers
10.40pm (9.40) Jaguares v Crusaders
Let’s finish with a few news stories. First, a typically forthright column from Jake White diagnosing the main reason for the Springboks’ woes. He suggests that South African provincial coaches simply don’t serve the long, tough apprenticeship that they used to. What do our African readers think?
Kiwi coach Wayne Pivac is holding preliminary talks to be the next Wales coach. His Scarlets playing style has already helped Warren Gatland reinvigorate Wales and he looks the logical choice.
Finally, a sad story about Aussie sevens captain James Stannard, who nearly died after being coward punched from behind on a night out. This article describes how his coach’s son cradled his head as the coach and teammate chased and captured his alleged assailant. We wish him a full recovery and return to play.
For the rugby digest from Week 6, click here.
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.