This week’s Un-Australian Activities produced a cracking local derby in each of South Africa and New Zealand, with the latter locking the Crusaders in firmly as title favourites. Other matches saw the Highlanders score an away win over the Bulls and the Blues too strong for the Cheetahs in NZ.
Blues 50 d. Cheetahs 32, Eden Park, Auckland
The Blues notched up a third win on the trot in this high scoring and entertaining encounter in Auckland, defeating the Cheetahs eight tries to four and securing an important bonus point in the process. The Blues look a markedly different team compared with the start of the season, the keys to their recent successes being their ruthlessness and resilience. The Cheetahs scored first with a Francois Venter try but it would be the only time in the game they would have the lead. The Blues struck back with four first half tries and went to the break with a 24-18 lead. The Blues ran away with it in the second half with another four tries, Rieko Ioane scoring a double for the game. Defence was a major concern for the Cheetahs who recorded their eighth successive loss.
Match of the Round
Crusaders v. Hurricanes, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
This match was always going to be a thriller, with the overall competition leaders, the Crusaders, up against last year’s champions, the Hurricanes, in an all Kiwi top of the table clash. The game had a feel of a test match, and while both teams exhibited plenty of attacking flair, both sides were able to effectively contain each other through some brutal front on defence and exceptional cover defence. The Crusaders’ game plan seemed to be centred around shutting down Beaudan Barrett and utilising their 5 All Black forward pack (even without Whitelock and Read) to its fullest advantage, and it was fitting that it was through this avenue that the only try of the match was effected. Aside from this, both captains elected for the goal posts whenever an opportunity arose and the Crusaders also won this battle – just – with a 15-12 advantage.
Mo’unga opened the scoring with a penalty in the 11th minute from a Hurricanes breakdown infringement, but Jordie Barrett was able to level up almost immediately, and then take a 6-3 lead only a few minutes later with a kick from near the sideline. A superb goal followed soon after from Mo’unga 35m out to again level up 6-6. Another one from this man followed in the 35th minute, but Barrett was again able to square up right on the stroke of half time. 9-9 at oranges.
10 minutes into the second half the Crusaders were able to secure the first and only try of the match with Matt Todd claiming the meat from a rumbling driving maul. Mo’unga missed the conversion but was able to compensate minutes later with yet another penalty goal, taking the lead out to 8 points. Barrett was able to reduce the deficit to 5 points off the next play, but that was the last time the ‘Canes would score with Mo’unga sealing the match with a further penalty goal 5 minutes from full time, the Crusaders able to hold that 8 point lead until the final whistle.
Crusaders 20 (M Todd try; R Mo’unga 5 penalty goals) d. Hurricanes 12 (J Barret 4 penalty goals).
Highlanders 17 d. Bulls 10, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
A poor crowd rolled into Loftus Versfeld for this match, the locals possibly more put off by the wet and stormy conditions than the expectation of another defeat at the hands of a visiting Kiwi side. In a muddy and slippery slogfest, both sides played a tactical kicking game and the scores were level at 10-10 with 17 to go when Naholo was red-carded for a shoulder charge. 10 minutes later the Bulls looked to have stormed to the lead with a try to Schoeman, however a TMO review of the lead up saw the play called back and lock Snyman also red-carded for a reckless shoulder charge. This would cost the Bulls dearly when a few minutes later a brilliant 40m try to Fekitoa secured victory for the visitors.
Kings 35 d. Sharks 32, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
The Kings started this match as big underdogs despite having the home advantage and once again showed that they are no easy beats. There wasn’t a lot of pre-game fanfare about the match, with the Sharks expected to dominate, however the match turned out to be a blockbuster which went right down to the wire. The Kings opened the scoring with a penalty goal and then a try, however the Sharks fought back to take the lead momentarily before Cronje scored to take the hosts to the sheds with an 18-16 lead. The lead was traded several times in the second half, with two minutes to go the Sharks held the lead 32-28 but then de Wet was able to take advantage of an overlap from a 5 metre lineout to secure a thrilling 35-28 victory for the Kings.