Round 14 of Super Rugby channeled the 2002 Olympic speed skating final as the Highlanders and Chiefs fell on the final turn and allowed the Crusaders to cruise into the break at the top of Scotty Stevenson’s power rankings.
Rd 14: 26-21 v Blues
Last week: 2 (up 1)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Crusaders are the Dipak Patel of Super Rugby. You keep waiting for one to turn but they always go straight. There is nothing fancy about the way this team plays its footy, but they keep playing it with enormous belief that their way is the only way. It’s actually impressive. More impressive was the composure to come back in the second half, just when it seemed the Blues might pull away. Played a lot of footy inside their own 22 and never looked worried about it. They’re as a calm as a cadaver.
Rd 14: 56-20 v Bulls
Last week: 4 (up 2)
Forget the running of the Bulls, this was the running over of the Bulls. It is a rare day indeed when a team travels to Loftus and absolutely smashes the home side, but this Lions team have been the real entertainers of Super Rugby (for anyone who can look past New Zealand’s borders) and they showed why again in Pretoria. And it’s not just the seven tries that impress – the Lions missed just 4 tackles in the match, and limited the Bulls to 189 running metres, one of the lowest returns of any team in any game this year. This is the best feel good Lion story since Born Free.
Rd 14: 27-20 v Highlanders
Last week: 6 (up 3)
It’s not often a team out-kicks the Highlanders, but the Hurricanes’ boot game was on point on Friday night, and gave them plenty of impetus to finish the job late against the defending champions. The Hurricanes were better in all the key attack stats, and at times looked like they were playing on a sunny afternoon rather than a typically crappy capital winter night. Even though the match wasn’t settled until right on the buzzer (by Ardie Savea, a freak) this was the most complete Canes performance of the season, built upon outstanding defence and a season-high 18 tackles from Reggie Goodes.
Rd 14: 20-27 v Hurricanes
Last week: 1 (down 3)
The Highlanders lost the game and still provided the best highlight of the match courtesy of a Tony Brown-inspired Lima Sopoaga spin-and-kick backline move that came straight out of the Jonah Lomu Rugby beta release. That the Highlanders had an off night in the small percentages yet were still level with the Hurricanes right up to the end should give the southern men plenty of heart, but again their first up tackling is a concern, with 28 missed efforts in the match.
Rd 14: 45-25 v Chiefs
Last week: 9 (up 4)
Where the hell did this performance come from? After berating them for their dishwater dull attack all season, I am forced into a tip of the cap to the Tahs after they mesmerised the Chiefs in Sydney. Israel Folau was hands down the best player on the park, his two tries and 156 running metres off a game high 16 carries piggy-backing the Waratahs to a decisive win. It is not often you see a team run twice as many metres than the Chiefs in a game, but that’s exactly what the Waratahs did. Also, that result was the worst possible outcome for the New Zealand conference.
Rd 14: 25-45 v Waratahs
Last week: 3 (down 3)
It’s complete bullshit that the Chiefs are all the way down here this week, but what can you do? This was as absolute ambush, and you can’t be going around getting ambushed in this competition. The Chiefs will be crushed that the Waratahs were able to run them down in the second half – they’re a team that prides itself on its fitness and fortitude – but they will have to once again address their turnover rate, and figure out just how they spent so little time inside the Tahs’ 22.
Rd 14: 66-5 v Sunwolves
Last week: 7 (N/C)
I need to be delicate here because I am a convert to the way of the Sunwolf. I want to give the Brumbies some genuine credit, but there’s a part of me that knows it was only the Sunwolves, as much as I never want to say ‘only the Sunwolves’. I have a conundrum! I’ll just say this: sometimes performances like this – accurate, relentless, outstanding – have rejuvenating qualities for a side. I suspect the Brumbies feel rejuvenated. That’s not good news for other teams.
Rd 14: BYE
Last week: 5 (down 3)
Not the Sharks fault that they slip a couple of places this week, but them’s the breaks. Don’t blame me, blame the schedulers. By the time the Sharks return to action they’ll need to be reintroduced to each other. “Hi, I’m Lubabalo! No, the other Lubabalo”
Rd 14: 31-24 v Cheetahs
Last week: 11 (up 2)
On the plus side, the Stormers are back on top in their conference. On the negative side, they’re still struggling to grasp the concept of attack. Sure, three tries is a good return in any game, but not when you spend so much time camped inside the opposition red zone. Put it this way, two offloads in a match is a pretty good indicator that you are playing in the 1980s.
Rd 14: 21-26 v Crusaders
Last week: 10 (N/C)
As much as the Blues have a right to be slightly pissed off at a couple of non-calls from the officiating team on Saturday night, including a terrible miss on a Crusaders obstruction, they’ll have to search a bit deeper for reasons as to why they let a famous win at Eden Park slip through their fingers. The Blues were good on Saturday night, but if you want to beat the best teams in the competition you need to win more than 91% of ruck ball (more like 96% at least) and you also have to make your line breaks count. The Blues were hearty on defence, but are still unable to sustain their attack for long enough periods in the match.
Rd 14: 20 -56 v Lions
Last week: 8 (down 3)
Sucked badly, but are still hanging around the top of their conference, which is a typically bewildering South African situation.
Rd 14: 27-22 v Force
Last week: 12 (N/C)
The Rebels attempted to play an entire season of rugby in eighty minutes against the Force, who Tony Abbotted the home side by refusing to crawl away and die quietly. Putting together 147 carries and 192 passes is expert-level possession greed but walking away at the end of it all with just one extra try and a 5-point sweaty crack victory? That’s flat out demoralising. I’ll say this for the Rebels: they give their fans great value for money.
Rd 14: BYE
Last week: 13 (N/C)
It’s State of Origin time. No one in Queensland missed watching the Reds this week.
Rd 14: 24-31 v Stormers
Last week: 15 (up 1)
I was kind of hoping the Cheetahs would go batshit nuts in this game, just to be banana-skin, late-season, no-chance-at-a-playoff-ourselves-so-let’s-ruin-someone-else’s-chances assholes. Disappointingly they were more like over-fed domestic house cats than the princely predators they are named after. The Cheetahs ran up against the famed wall of Cape Town defence, and had no way to scale it.
Rd 14: 5-66 v Brumbies
Last week: 14 (down 1)
How good was that try the Sunwolves’ sensational winger Akihito Yamada scored against the Brumbies? You know the one? Yeah, their only one. This was an emotionally draining game of footy. By the end of it I needed a king size block of dark chocolate and a Reiki session.
Rd 14: 22-27 v Rebels
Last week: 16 (N/C)
I have said everything I can say about the Force. I have nothing left. I watched this game for you so you could go and do something else with your day. I feel like I have now watched the same Force game 12 times this year, and the ending is always the same.
Rd 14: 29-22 v Jaguares
Last week: 18 (up 1)
To sum up: The Kings won a game against 12 men. All hail the Kings.
Rd 14: 22-29 v Kings
Last week: 17 (down 1)
Surely these guys are now just taking the piss. It’s one thing to have all the discipline of a hyperactive three year-old (which they do) but it’s quite another to have two players red carded while you’re playing the worst team in the competition, and then to have another yellow carded for good measure. Someone needs to get a grip in Jaguareland – this was the ugliest week yet for the dirtiest team in Super Rugby.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.