The Crusaders once again show that they’re a force to be reckoned with in Scotty Stevenson’s latest Super Rugby power rankings.
Rd 11: 38-5 v Reds
Last week: 3 (up 2)
The Crusaders decided it would be best if they used Friday night as an opposed training session. Did this team really ever get out of third gear against the Reds? I don’t think so. I mean, seriously, who plays with 30% of the ball and still outscores a team six tries to one? Matt Todd can probably take a bow as the best on show for the Crusaders. Yes, Jone Macilai scored three tries, but Todd made 18 tackles and won four turnovers, a defensive performance that was emblematic of the entire Crusaders defensive effort. The only major for the Crusaders was the penalty count – a by-product of spending so much time tackling. They’ll want to bring the defence-offence ratio back a little against the Highlanders.
Rd 11: 26-13 v Chiefs
Last week: 4 (up 2)
Every Highlanders fan under this fair sun will be saying, hang about – we just knocked off the top of the table team, on their home patch, for the fifth-straight time and you still won’t put us at number one. Avid Power Rankings reader, Peter Reidie Esq. will be particularly incensed by this perceived slight. So, let me say this: the Highlanders came to Hamilton with a perfect game plan, looked infinitely more comfortable going wide with Waisake Naholo back in the mix, and hustled hard on turnover ball. However, they still missed 28 first up tackles, were gifted a horrific unforced error rate, and played against 14 men for 20 minutes. I’ma let you Highlanders fans finish, after the game against the Crusaders next week.
Rd 11: 13-26 v Highlanders
Last week: 1 (down 2)
The Chiefs fall a couple of places this week, as they must, but fans can take heart from the fact that the foundations of this team are still strong. This was a major off-night in the Tron for the Chiefs – a result of trying to squeeze a little too much out of the pattern after a fortnight of hard-fought victories against the Hurricanes and the Sharks. The Chiefs just kept dropping the ball, and that meant for the first 40 minutes they failed to string more than three phases of attack together. Losing Charlie Ngatai for ten minutes cost them dearly. I can’t see the Chiefs being this loose with the ball again.
Rd 11: 32-15 v Hurricanes
Last week: 10 (up 6)
I am taking a massive leap of faith here. The Sharks remaining schedule looks like this: Jaguares (terrible), Kings (worst ever), Lions (a little shaky), Cheetahs (batshit crazy), and Sunwolves (knackered). Garth April has been a revelation since taking the first five jersey, and was classy against the Canes in Durban. The Sharks defence has been the team’s calling card all season long but they have started to add some attack, and that is a dangerous proposition for their conference opponents as the season draws to a close. I can’t believe I am doing this, by the way.
Rd 11: 15-32 v Sharks
Last week: 2 (down 3)
This was a total downer for the Canes, who still managed to run for close to 600 metres in the match but struggled to find a way to capitalise. Like the Chiefs, they have so many parts of the playoff puzzle already laid out, but 24 turnovers and 22 missed tackles, combined with an outclassed lineout only adds up to disappointment. As if to make it worse, Beauden Barrett said before the match that the Sharks will feed on Hurricanes mistakes. That was supposed to be a caution, it became a prediction.
Rd 11: BYE
Last week: 7 (up 1)
Barring an absolute disaster, the Stormers will win their conference. And that is just the kind of over-confident statement that ends badly.
Rd 11: 23-6 v Bulls
Last week: 12 (up 5)
As much as I wanted to sleep in the bed I made with the Waratahs, the Brumbies’ win in Canberra – as coma-inducing as it was – gets the nod for the more impressive Australian win of the round, given the fact the Bulls are a better team than the Cheetahs. Get this, the Brumbies carried 128 times and beat nine defenders. You couldn’t come up with a less penetrative stat if you were running backwards. Still, a win’s a win.
Rd 11: 21-6 v Cheetahs
Last week: 5 (down 3)
Thirty-one kicks in play! My goodness. I’m starting to wonder how much the Waratahs want to win this conference. This was a bonus point waiting to happen, and the Waratahs were guilty of waiting for it to happen, which of course it never did. If I was click-baiting the Waratahs I would headline this performance with “The Waratahs faced the Cheetahs in Sydney, you probably will believe what happened next”.
Rd 11: BYE
Last week: 8 (down 1)
Needed a break and got one. The Lions’ form has been on a downward trajectory over the last couple of weeks. The spark they had at the start of the season has just not been there, but I am sure there is still plenty of fire in the side. They have the Blues this week, a team that the Lions no longer fear. Four of their last six games are against conference opponents. They need this game against the Blues to set them up for the run home.
Rd 11: 34-18 v Kings
Last week: 9 (down 1)
The Blues won away from home for the first time since the Harbour Bridge was built, or something like that, and should at least be happy with having shaken that monkey off their back. Stink thing is, the Blues again spent so much time inside their own 22 that you would think they were trying to buy it at auction given none of them can afford land in Auckland. Why won’t Ihaia West run more? Can someone please tell me why?
Rd 11: BYE
Last week: 11 (N/C)
It’s D-Day for the Rebellion this week when they face the Brumbies. Fresh from the bye and with home advantage, this is a must-win and can-win. It’s a tough run home for the Rebs, and their best chance of a playoff is still going to be winning the Australian conference. Alas, they face the two top New Zealand teams, the top Australian team and the top South African team in their last six matches. Big ask.
Rd 11: 6-23 v Brumbies
Last week: 6 (down 6)
Has a side this season actually done less in a game of rugby? Hardly carried the ball, hardly passed it, hardly formed a ruck, and scored no tries. Just when I was actually starting to like the Bulls’ chances they go and serve this sort of performance up. It beggars belief that a team can make 85 passes in a game and turn the ball over 20 times. Was it covered in bees?
Rd 11: BYE
Last week: 15 (up 2)
I’m pretty sure that if I was the Jaguares coach, I would have wanted to play this week on the back of the 73-point hammering of the Kings the week before. Mind you, they do have a Sharks team to face this week, the same Sharks team that flew to New Zealand, played three tough matches, flew back to South Africa for one game, and now fly to Argentina for another. I still think the Sharks will be too much for them, in much the same way that the Stormers were.
Rd 11: 40-22 v Sunwolves
Last week: 17 (up 3)
Fair play to the Force. After a couple months of being hunted down like Ralph in Lord of the Flies, the Force finally found someone else to pick on, inflicting a big defeat on the Sunwolves who, it must be said, probably did more to lose this match than the Force did to win it. How about Marcel Brache scoring a hat trick? This was made even better by the fact those three tries were his first for the franchise. Speaking of tries, the Force scored six in the match and that still wasn’t enough to bring their average above two per game this season.
Rd 11: 22-40 v Force
Last week: 16 (up 1)
Showed the after-effects of celebrating their maiden win by blowing four genuine try scoring opportunities. Still managed to run 684 metres in the game, and still scored four tries. Here’s a cold hard fact for the Sunwolves: if they had thought about kicking the ball more than 12 times in the game, they would have had their second win of the season. The Force can’t kick return.
Rd 11: 5-38 v Crusaders
Last week: 13 (down 3)
Apart from one deftly weighted kick by Jake McIntyre which led to the Reds’ only try against the Crusaders, this was a team repeatedly banging its collective head against a brick wall in the vein hope that a crack would appear before their skull exploded. As it was, the Reds had no real change-up in attack and were repeatedly exposed by the Crusaders short-side manipulation. I’m going to give the Reds an A for effort, and a D for imagination.
Rd 11: 6-21 v Waratahs
Last week: 14 (down 3)
The second of two South African teams to arrive in Australia, face underwhelming teams, and fail to score a single solitary try. The Cheetahs scrum looked so ordinary they should have renamed it a maul, but apart from the missed tackles, the appalling turnover rate, the ineffective kicking, the complete lack of attacking strategy, the low ruck retention rate and the one-sided scoreline, this was a great week in Cheetahs rugby.
Rd 11: 18-34 v Blues
Last week: 18 (N/C)
Didn’t suck as badly as last week, which was pleasing for the ten people who watched live at Nelson Mandela Stadium, and the thirteen others who watched live on television.