SportsMay 16, 2016

Super Rugby power rankings: Fine, you win Highlanders fans


Highlanders fans’ campaign of bullying against Scotty Stevenson finally pays off with a top ranking in the latest Super Rugby power rankings.


1. Highlanders
Rd 12: 34-26  v Crusaders
Last week: 2 (up 1))

Okay, okay! Here’s why everyone loves the Highlanders: every time they have the ball, they think they can score a try. I blame Tony Brown for this, and Brown must surely be the frontrunner to take the team’s head coaching job at the end of the season. He has empowered Lima Sopoaga to play with freedom, he continues to promote Otago players to the pro leagues (Matt Faddes!) and his attack plan, unlike any other side’s, is all about leveraging off the halfback. And while we’re on Aaron Smith, how unbelievable is this guy at geeing up a side? Imagine him in your office on a Monday. Best day ever! Bear in mind the Highlanders made and missed twice as many tackles as the Crusaders, carried less, beat fewer defenders, made fewer passes, and had just 35% of the ball, as you marvel at the fact they defeated the top-of-the-table team five tries to two.

2. Crusaders
Rd 12: 26-34 v Highlanders
Last week: 1 (down 1)

The Crusaders are trying very hard not to be predictable, and for the first 15 minutes of the game on Friday night, they were anything but, sending big men through big gaps on odd angles as they put the Highlanders under intense pressure. This is a team that has scored more 1st quarter tries than any other this season but, after failing twice to dot down early, they looked as though had been punched in the nuts. Conservatism met radicalism on Friday night and the latter won. The Crusaders really do need loosen the collar and to find their killer instinct against New Zealand teams, and Ryan Crotty must never again sit on the bench this season. I still think this team has the ability to go all the way – they are fundamentally the most well drilled team in the competition. As soon as they realise they are holding on too tight to a legacy that few of them actually own, the better.

3. Chiefs
RD 12: BYE
Last week: 3 (N/C)

I see no reason to punish the Chiefs this week for having a breather. The Chiefs have the Rebels on Saturday, one of three Australian teams they must face in their last five regular season matches, and the Rebels are a lot more niggly than a lot of New Zealand fans think. That said, the Chiefs have to make a statement before the test window, and Saturday night shapes as the best time to make it.

4. Lions
Rd 12: 43-5 v Blues
Last week: 9 (up 5)

Sweet Lord! Power Rankings knew the Lions needed a big performance this week but this was ridiculous. The Lions were all class on their way to a seven tries to one victory over the Blues led, as usual, by the defensive efforts of Whiteley and Tecklenberg. The Lions capitalised on a superior tactical plan, pinning the Blues inside their half with a clever kick plan and making plenty of frst up tackle breaks. The Lions resisted the urge to be chaotic, and instead won the percentages by being clinical. One of their best performances of the year.

5. Sharks
Rd 12: 25-22 v Jaguares
Last week: 4 (N/C)

Playing for the Sharks cannot be a lot of fun. This team is so defensively minded it should come with a surface to air missile system and a pet Rottweiler. The Sharks once again showed absolutely zero attacking imagination (Garth April is the only Shark who wants to play rugby. He was on the bench) but quite happily picked off penalties on the Jaguares’ woeful discipline, and then kept the home side scoreless for 31 minutes of the second half. The Sharks are now destined for a massive conference showdown with the Lions. It will be a battle between good and evil.

6. Hurricanes
Rd 12: 29-14 v Reds
Last week: 5 (down 1)

New Zealand fans are hard markers. The Hurricanes never looked like losing the game against the Reds on Saturday, but they are not getting a lot of love for a bonus point victory over a Reds team that knows how to make life tough at the breakdown. This was a Hurricanes team without two Saveas, Cory Jane, Victor Vito and Chris Eves (who has been a beast with ball in hand this season), after they missed their bed time in South Africa. And yet, they still managed to get the job done. I don’t even know why I am dropping them down the rankings. Well, Let’s face it, The Hurricanes can’t get no respect.

7. Brumbies
Rd 12: 30 – 22 v Rebels
Last week: 7 (N/C)

I don’t mind telling you, I was rooting for the Rebels on the weekend, but there was something different about the Brumbies, and I almost liked them by the end of the match. I was trying to figure out what it was and then it hit me: for the last eight weeks the Brumbies have been that team that arrives at your party with a six-pack of Do-Bros and ends up drinking all your top shelf while boring everyone to sleep telling shitty yarns around the barbecue. This week they came with a half decent bottle and told a half decent story. The Brumbies kicked just 16 times in the match, down 45% on their kick rate the week before. It makes a difference.

8. Waratahs
Rd 12: 31-8 v Bulls
Last week: 8 (N/C)

I was trying to think whether the Waratahs deserved to leap ahead of the Brumbies after cruising to victory against the Bulls when two things struck me. One, the Bulls are genuinely terrible when they leave South Africa. Two, the Waratahs lost Kurtley Beale, which is too much of a price to pay for the win. So much is going to ride on Israel Folau at centre now, and on who the Waratahs decide to put at 12. Also, when the Waratahs figure out they can also score in the first half, they will be much better.

9. Stormers
Rd 12: 17-17 v Sunwolves
Last week: 6 (down 3)

You know how last week I cautioned against over-confidence. Yeah, well, there you go. This is the same Stormers who crushed the Moondogs 46-19 a month ago, yet on the weekend they were rudderless, scoring just three points in 60 minutes, before snatching a draw with a 79th minute try. They will be thanking their lucky stars the Bulls were so bad against the Waratahs.

10. Rebels
Rd 12: 22-30 v Brumbies
Last week: 11 (up 1)

With the loss against the Brumbies, the Rebels may well have kissed goodbye to any chance they had of finishing top of the Australian conference and advancing to the play offs for the first time. The Rebels only have themselves to blame – they had the better of their opposition for long periods of the game, but conceding two late first half tries meant they were always chasing the result. They don’t have the patience for that.

11. Sunwolves
Rd 12: 17-17 v Stormers
Last week: 15 (up 4)

I’m just going to say this: of all the new sides in Super Rugby this year, the Sunwolves have by far and away been the most exciting addition. Yes, they don’t have a lot to show for it, but given their unheralded squad and a complete lack of preparation, this is still shaping up as a successful debut season. They probably deserved to win against the Stormers, but lacked the finish.


12. Bulls
Rd 12: 8-31 v Waratahs
Last week: 12

The sooner Tiann Schoeman stops kicking the ball away, the better. The Australian tour has been a disaster for the Bulls, but this is where things get really crazy: if they beat the Stormers next week at home, they will go top of the conference. Top of the conference! Unable to score a single try against the Brumbies or the Waratahs, the Bulls need to find the line next week against a Stormers side that dusted them 33-9 in round 1 which was, before the Australian tour, the last time the Bulls were held tryless.

13. Blues
Rd 12: 5-43 v Lions
Last week: 10 (down 3)

The Blues found it hard to chase a game in the rain? The average May rainfall in Johannesburg is 13 millimetres. The average May rainfall in Auckland is 112 millimetres. Which team do you reckon is more experienced at playing in the rain?

14. Cheetahs
Rd 12: 34-20 v Kings
Last week: 17 (up 3)

After three straight defeats to Australian teams, The Cheetahs finally returned home to the Free State Paradise of Bloemfontein and found themselves back in the winner’s circle with a tradesman-like performance against the Kings. The Cheetahs have scored 71 points in their last four games, 21 points short of the 92 points they scored against the Sunwolves a month ago, which is actually quite funny. Sergeal Petersen continues to be the most exciting player in the side and they now have nothing to lose, meaning they are likely to completely screw with someone’s play-off chances over the final rounds. If I were the Stormers, the Sharks and the Bulls I would be very edgy about playing this team.

15. Jaguares
Rd 12: 22-25 v Sharks
Last week: 13 (down 2)

One day the Jaguares will wake up and realise that they are not playing in the French Top 14, and find a way to hold their discipline for 80 minutes. And it’s not the penalty count per se that is costing the Jags, but where and when they are giving those penalties away. They are one of the most creative attacking teams in the competition but have exploding brain syndrome, and Patrick Lambie took full toll on their own half penalty concesion. Serial thug Tomas Lavanini was in sparkling form though, running for 73 metres on 15 carries. That’s a big day out for a lock.

16. Force
Rd 12: BYE
Last week: 14 (down 2)

A little stiff on the Force here, but what can you do? The team are a little like the Cheetahs in the sense that they can really start messing with teams still in the hunt for play-off spots, and despite their ordinary season, they are just good enough to cause a ripple or two over the closing weeks.  What better way to start the last part of their season than with a home game against the Blues this weekend – a team that found it very tough to exit their own defensive third last week…

17. Reds
Rd 12: 14-29 v Hurricanes
Last week: 16 (down 1)

No offence to Jake McIntyre but someone ought to tell him that it’s okay for a first-five not to touch the ball on every single phase. The Reds have been brave for no reward over the last couple of weeks, and every week a new player is standing up. This week it was Chris Feauai-Sautia, who was the best of the backline for the Reds. Problem is, the Reds are rugby’s Rubik’s Cube: just when one side of their game looks complete, five other areas need more work.

18. Kings
Rd 12: 20-34 v Cheetahs
Last week: 18 (N/C)

Actually played some half decent rugby against the Cheetahs, and still got easily beaten. Won’t win again this year.


Keep going!