Highlanders 30 - 27 Blues
Reds 13 - 23 Stormers
Hurricanes 14 - 42 Crusaders
Waratahs 30 - 21 Rebels
Sharks 12 - 18 Chiefs
Bulls 36 - 34 Brumbies
Bye: Cheetahs, Force, Lions
Dumptackle Team of the Week
This week's team has a strong Kiwi feel about it, heavily influenced by the victorious Crusaders, as many of their players were standouts during their dazzling 42-14 away victory over the Hurricanes.
There were a few unlucky players who played well this week for other teams too but didn't quite do enough to merit selection though.
Bulls' Flyhalf Morne Steyn was deadly with the boot as usual but didn't offer the same all round play fellow South Arican Peter Grant did as the Stormers pulled off an impressive away victory in Brisbane. Keegan Daniel also had an influential game for the Sharks but was undone by the pure brilliance of Kieran Reid, Victor Vito and Sam Cane this week for a place in the backrow. Hosea Gear also had one of his best games for his new side, the Highlanders, while Andre Taylor gave us another beauty of a try for the Hurricanes (his defensive work slightly let him down though). As always...if you disagree with any selection, please comment and let me know who you would have picked!
1.Robert Kitshoff (Stormers), 2. Tatafa Polota Nau (Waratahs), 3. Jeremy Toomaga Allen (Hurricanes)(Blues), 4. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), 5. Craig Clarke (Chiefs), 6. Victor Vito (Hurricanes), 7. Sam Cane (Chiefs), 8. Kieran Reid (Crusaders), 9. Brendan McKibbin (Waratahs), 10. Peter Grant (Stormers), 12. Juan de Jongh (Stormers), 13. Robbie Fruean (Crusaders), 11. Zac Guildford (Crusaders), 14.Gio Aplon (Stormers), 15. Israel Dagg (Crusaders)
Player of the Round
Kieran Reid (Crusaders)
Reid has had a rather quiet start to the season by his own excellent standards, but against the Hurricanes he was back to his rampaging best; galloping around the field, breaking tackles, supporting play and making huge hits in defence. He was an integral component in a reinvigorated Crusaders machine and was used to devastating effect against the Canes, punching holes in the defence with every touch. His opposite,Victor Vito, also had a superb game for the 'Canes, displaying a huge work rate, which gives an insight into just how well Reid played, as he still outshone him. Reid and the Crusaders are beginning to look rather ominous and Steve Hansen will be happy too that one of the All Blacks most influential players last year is starting to show some form. If Richie McCaw's return from injury doesn't go as planned...don't be surprised to see Reid wearing the captain's armband.
Three sides were enjoying a weekend with their feet up during round nine of the Super 15, as the Cheetahs, Force and Lions all recieved 4 points for their bye.
Highlanders vs Blues
First up though were the Blues, still looking to arrest their horrific run of defeats, with a victory against the Highlanders. Despite a hugely improved effort from the Blues, they were ultimately undone again, losing by an agonising scoreline of 30-27 at the Forsyth Barr. Former Waikato Chiefs represenative Mike Delany who joined the Highlanders to help bolster their fly half-options (following injuries to Colin Slade and Lima Sopoaga) was hugely influential and fitted into their patterns semmlessly. His accuracy with the boot and good work from Hosea Gear who on two occasions played the decisive role in the Highlanders two tries (an incisive run down the centre of the field before passing to Shaun Treeby and a grubber kick which was capitalised on by Kurt Baker). The Blues can take pride that they came close on a ground which the Highlanders have built into a bit of a fortress this year. Rene Ranger played well and was rewarded with a try, while pivot Gareth Anscombe continues to look assured in his debut season. If it hadn't been for a push in the back by Kurt Baker, the Blues may have ended their losing streak too. They had a chance to go for the draw when they earned a late penalty in the Highlander's half...but new captain Luke Braid opted to go for the touch and a win, which ultimately amounted to nothing. The Highlanders now sit in a healthy position as the second placed NZ team. The Blues meanwhile sit bottom of the log in the Super 15.
Reds vs Stormers
The second game on Friday night saw the Stormers continue their tour with a match in Brisbane against an improving Reds side. The Stormers had been outplayed by the Crusaders in Christchurch the week before but have been an imposing form for most of the season and continued to show why they will be challenging for the title this year with a well-earned 23-13 victory. Despite injuries to key locks, Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker, the Stormers Peter Grant was class personified, helping them build an imposing lead early on. The Reds appeared shellshocked by the Stormers gameplan, who rather than adopting their usual cautious approach, decided to run the ball back on every opportunity. The back three of Gio Aplon, Gerhard Van der Heever and Joe Pietersen were rampant. Gio Aplon was first to touch down after a length of the field counter-attack before Peter Grant added a try when he showed the ball in both hands before skirting round the outside of his marker to dot down next to the posts. This commanding lead was cut down when James Horwill took a wayward Stormers lineout throw and surged towards the line for a five pointer in reply, but the reds did not have enough to get through the Stormers wonderful defence once more, as the Stormers held out for a 10 point victory. The Stormers lie top of the South African conference and second on the log overall.
Hurricanes vs Crusaders
On saturday, the Hurricanes faced a Crusaders side brimming with confidence, after toppling the previously unbeaten Stormers in round 8. The Crusaders attacked the line like a well-oiled machine as everything clicked into gear for the first time this season, scoring a four try bonus point in the first half. Tom Taylor had continued to be given the reigns to orchestrate their attacks from fly half by Todd Blackadder, while Dan Carter earned his 100th cap for the Crusaders at inside centre. The partnership proved fruitful once more as they fed their outsides to make big gains. Zac Guildford in particular is showing some belting form and had a hand in 3 of the first 4 tries, the first coming after he took an inside ball from Taylor to run 40 metres before offloading to Kiran Reid for the opening try. Guildford then combined with Israel Dagg and the composed Andy Ellis to set up a try for Dan Carter who glided his way across the line in typical Crusaders fashion. The third try arrived after a misplaced high bomb was collected by Robbie Fruean who then turned and stepped on the gas to evade a host of defenders before waltzing to the line. Israel Dagg then joined the party too as he ended up the beneficiary of a long period of attack where the Crusaders stretched the Canes' defence from side to side, handlling the ball twice and combing well with the irresistable Guildford. The Hurricanes fought back manfully with Victor Vito getting rewarded for an exceptional performance behind a dominated pack, by charging towards the line from a quick tap kick for a try. The Crusaders though had the last word, with the reinvigorated Dagg scoring his second try after a series of pick and go's. The Crusaders have well and truly layed down a marker now for the rest of the season. The Hurricanes meanwhile seem a work in progress.
Waratahs vs Rebels
The Waratahs beat the Rebels in Sydney by 30 points to 21 on Saturday night, with scrum-half Brendan McKibbin's boot the difference between the two teams. Both teams scored 3 tries, with the 'Tahs racing to a 30-7 lead midway through the second half, thanks to tries from Bernard Foley, Tatafa Polota-Nau and Rob Horne, who scored his first try for the Waratahs since the first round of the 2011 Super 15. Foley's try was the pick of the bunch though as an assortment of different running angles and good hands led to Foley eventually cutting inside Adam Ashley-Cooper to mesmerise the Rebels' defence and dot down underneath the posts. Arguably it was the most aesthetically pleasing try of the round. The Rebels' try in the first half had come from hooker Ged Robinson who barged over from a rolling maul following a 5 metre lineout. The second half saw Kurtley Beale move to flyhalf (where he began his career with the Tahs') and he almost sparked an unlikely comeback win, with tries scored by Tim Davidson and Lachlan Mitchell. The Sydneysiders regrouped though and managed to hold on for victory, despite a strong finish from the Rebels. The Tahs now lie second in the Aussie Conference. They will be desperate to finish 1st above the Brumbies and the Reds, as it is beginning to look like only the top placed Aussie side will qualify for the play-offs.
Sharks vs Chiefs
Next on the Super 15 agenda were the Chiefs who continued their overseas tour with a match against the Sharks in Durban. This was a very tightly contested game, in which the Chiefs finished on top by 18 points to 12. The game's flow though was heavily influenced by handling errors from both sides, which meant that the contest stuttered along. Most attributed the high error rate to the high humidity in Durban which meant the ball became quite slippery at times. The Chiefs led the match throughout thanks to an early converted try from Aaron Cruden and 2 penalties. The Sharks were always in with a shout of winning, but ultimately were undone by Sam Cane's work on the floor. Pat Lambie was composed for the Sharks, kicking four penalties but the Sharks did not show enough creativity to break down a defence superbly drilled by former All Black coach Wayne Smith. The Sharks were only losing by one point as the hooter went, but while all the Chiefs had to do was kick the ball out of play, cheeky replacement scrum half Augustine Pulu scurried down the right touchline to deliver a suckerpunch right at the end of the game. Aaron Cruden had a conversion to deny the Sharks a losing bonus point, but his shot hit the post. The Chiefs remain at the top of the Super 15 log. Arguably their attack has not been on fire yet this season (despite all the big name players in the backs), but it is their defence which has been so impressive. The Chiefs have now also completed their overseas tour unbeaten. The saying goes that 'defence wins titles'.....we'll have to wait until the playoffs to see if the Chiefs are the real deal, or if this is just another false dawn for the Hamilton based side.
Bulls vs Brumbies
Morne Steyn kicked the Bulls to victory over Jake White's Brumbies in Pretoria in the final game of the round, despite the visitors outscoring them by five tries to two. The final score read 36-34 and left the Bulls level on points with their rivals in the South African conference, the Stormers. The Brumbies despite losing the match, earned 2 losing bonus points which put them top of the Aussie Conference and therefore in 3rd place in the overall log (as the top team in each conference automatically gains a play-off spot).
The Brumbies tries came through Henry Speight, Andrew Smith, Ian Prior, Anthony Hegharty and impressive rookie Jesse Mogg. While the Bulls two tries cames from Bjorn Basson and CJ Stander. In the end the diference between the two sides was Morne Steyn's boot though and perhaps Marius Joncker's curious refereeing. He certainly did not help the Brumbies' casue as he failed to blow a knock on by the Bulls allowing CJ Stander to score a try despite the whole team stopping. Nevertheless, the Bulls came out on top and surprise surprise...the heavyweights in the competition are beginning to rise to the top. Who would bet against a Bulls - Crusaders final after all?
As for the Brumbies, they may be holding an automatic play-off position, but much like the Hurricanes they seem like a work in progress.