Blues 15-36 Hurricanes

After 50 minutes of mostly forward-oriented and at times pedestrian play, the Hurricanes roared back into life in the last 30 to rack up their ninth straight win of the season.

Things began badly for the Blues, conceding back-to-back penalties in the fifth minute that saw them go from attacking the Hurricanes 22 to defending their goal line. Hooker Ricky Ricitelli scored from the lineout drive launched on the back of the second penalty, Beauden Barrett adding the extras.

The momentum then swung in the Blues favour as the Hurricanes gave away penalties and got bogged down in their own half. 5/8 Stephen Perofeta got the Blues on the board with a 15th-minute penalty, then in the 25th minute Sonny Bill Williams made one of his trademark offloads, setting up Orbyn Leger for his first Super Rugby try. Perofeta missed the conversion.

Minutes later the Blues were guilty of a schoolboy error: penalised close to their line, several players turned their backs on the player with the ball. Hurricanes No. 8 Gareth Evans took the quick tap and by the time the Blues defenders realised what was happening he had scored. Barrett knocked the conversion over for a 14-8 lead that was maintained until half time.

Ten minutes after the resumption Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi crossed the line with ball in hand and referee Paul Williams, who had replaced an unwell Jaco Peyper at half time, made the on-field call of try. The TMO found no evidence to overturn the call, although there was more than a hint of a Hurricanes hand between ball and ground. Perofeta converted to put the Blues ahead, 15-14, for the first time in the match.

The arrival of TJ Perenara, in his return from injury, drastically altered the complexion of the match and it wasn’t long before Nehe Milner-Skudder fished off an Ardie Savea line break to regain the lead at 21-15 after the conversion. Lock Sam Lousi scored next, after some good lead up work and made possible by Evans stealing a lineout literally out of the arms of the Blues jumper. Barrett made it 28-15 going into the final quarter.

The Blues tried to mount a fightback but continued to concede penalties, including one which Barrett converted with ten minutes left to make it 31-15. Matt Procter completed the scoring with a minute left, finishing off a Barrett kick-pass to his brother Jordie with Ardie Savea providing the link play. An unsuccessful conversion meant it finished 36-15 with the Hurricanes picking up their fourth bonus point win of the season.

The Hurricanes are now in the box seat to win the New Zealand Conference, a point off the lead with a game in hand, and with it most likely top seeding going into the playoffs.


SANZAAR match page:

Highlanders 39-27 Lions

New Zealand teams have a tendency to struggle in the game immediately following their return from South Africa, but there was no sign of post-flight sluggishness as the Highlanders cruised to what was in the end a comfortable victory.

An early run from Ben Smith saw lock Tom Franklin attempt a catch-and-pass that went awry but Lima Sopoaga was on hand to tidy up and cross adjacent to the posts for a 7-0 lead after the conversion.

Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies got his team on the board after nine minutes before Highlanders hooker Liam Coleman scored under penalty advantage, bursting onto a lovely bullet pass from halfback Kane Hammington, deputising for the rested Aaron Smith, from the base of a ruck five metres out. Sopoaga made it 14-3.

Ben Smith crossed in the 25th minute but was ruled to have picked up the loose ball in an offside position. The ball having contacted the referee would also have been a factor but the Highlanders were under penalty advantage at the time so were able to keep the pressure on.

Aphiwe Dyantyi, Lionel Mapoe and Kwagga Smith combined for a movement that swept from the Lions 22 to within centimetres of the Highlanders line, only a handling error from Harold Vorster preventing a try. Instead it was the Highlanders who scored next, No. 8 Luke Whitelock finishing off a sensational break by Rob Thompson. The conversion missed.

It was vital the Lions score next and they did, Smith tidying up a messy lineout and Jantjies making good ground before delivering a no-look inside ball for Vorster to crash over. A successful conversion made it 19-10 and when hooker Robbie Coetzee was adjudged to have scored in the corner well into injury time, the Highlanders found themselves just four points in front despite having by far the better of proceedings.

Waisake Naholo started and finished the opening try of the second half, a gem of an effort with Sopoaga, Teihorangi Walden and Ben Smith making major contributions. Sopoaga converted from out wide to take the lead out to 26-15.

The Lions struck back through Coetzee, his second of the night coming from another lineout drive. Jantjies couldn’t convert but the Lions were now right back in it just as the Highlanders could be expected to start feeling the effects of the long flight home from South Africa.

After banging away with no reward for ten or so minutes the home side finally unlocked the Lions defence, Thompson grubbering through, regaining the ball, and popping it up for Walden to finish. Sopoaga extended the lead to 33-20.

Into the last ten minutes the Lions won a penalty to set up a lineout five metres out, but instead of driving they took it to a ruck more towards centre field and two passes later Marnus Schoeman scored, Jantjies successful again to make it 33-27.

Sopoaga kicked two late penalties to restore the scoreline to a fairer reflection of the match and run the clock down in doing so.

The win keeps the Highlanders in fifth place overall (third in the New Zealand Conference) while the Lions remain top of the South African Conference but three consecutive losses has seen their once commanding lead reduced to seven with the chasing pack (Jaguares, Bulls and Sharks) all having a game in hand.


SANZAAR match page:

Stormers 9-15 Chiefs

The Chiefs are well known for having one of the best backlines in the competition, but it was their often underrated scrum that was key to them grinding out a win in Cape Town.

The opening quarter saw a flurry of penalties, including one against Liam Messam for a high shot that caused a few anxious moments before being adjudged a penalty only, of which only one resulted in points, Stormers flyhalf Damian Willimse successful in the 15th minute. Earlier, and in a sign of things to come, the Chiefs had destroyed an attacking Stormers scrum to earn a relieving penalty.

Anton Lienrt-Brown scored the first try of the match, Solomon Alaimalo collecting a freakish bounce from a Damian McKenzie cross and setting up his inside man with a nice offload. The scorers weren’t troubled again in the half, the Chiefs leading 5-3 at the break.

McKenzie, having missed a long shot well into injury time, was astray again soon after the break. This allowed Willemse to regain the lead at 6-5 after 54 minutes.

The decisive moment of the match came in the 67th minute. After conceding four scrum penalties within five metres of their line the Stormers went down for a fifth time and, inevitably, had a penalty try awarded against them. Credit should be given to the Chiefs for turning down a certain three points two or three times in pursuit of the seven.

The closing minutes saw the Chiefs try to unleash their backs but to no avail, a forward pass ending one promising movement and a prior knock-on denying them a try when Shaun Stephenson did get across the line. They were, however, under penalty advantage and McKenzie duly added the final points of the night.

The win keeps the Chiefs in sixth place overall ahead of what could be their toughest assignment of the year, away to the Sharks and with their leading players either injured or back in New Zealand attending an All Blacks training camp. The Stormers meanwhile missed an opportunity to leapfrog from last to second in the increasingly congested South African Conference where they’re now a point behind the Jaguares, Bulls and Sharks but have played one game more than them all.


SANZAAR match page:

Bulls 39-33 Sharks

Nine tries, three Yellow cards and over 70 points scored. This game had everything and showcased the best and worst of rugby. In the end, even the Ref looked to be cramping and the players were spent.

Both sides looked to play free flowing rugby but it was the Bulls who backed it up with power from their forwards. While the Sharks looked to push the pass or off load at every occasion the bulls made more effort to cherish procession and took the ball into contact when it was needed while still showing some flair. This showed in the 5-3 try count.

Both sides scored great tries from up close and from their own half, none better than the first try of the match which saw Gellant run on to a Pollard grubber only to drop and then regather the ball in the air before falling over the try line.

Most of the try scoring advantage the Bulls had was lost with the 10-5 penalty they conceded allowing the Sharks to stay in touch through the boots of Robert du Preez and Curwin Bosch. Bosch’s long-range shot was an amazing kick and hopefully makes the highlight reel.

In the end the Bulls managed to pull out to a 9-point lead and the Sharks only managed a penalty kick after the hooter to salvage 1 point from the match.

Bulls 39

Tries: Warrick Gelant(11′)Jesse Kriel(15′)Roelof Smit(27′)John-Ben Kotze(54′)Lodewyk De Jager(65′)

Conv: Handre Pollard(16′, 27′, 55′, 67′)

Pen: Handre Pollard(38′, 69′)

Sharks 33

Tries: Curwin Bosch(23′)Jacques Vermeulen(34′)Jean-Luc du Preez(70′)

Conv: Robert du Preez(23′, 35′, 71′)

Pen: Robert du Preez(46′, 52′, 81’+1)Curwin Bosch(41’+1)


SANZAAR match page:


1. Crusaders 42 points (played 11)
2. Lions 31 (12)
3. Waratahs 26 (10)
4. Hurricanes 41 (10)
5. Highlanders 32 (10)
6. Chiefs 31 (10)
7. Rebels 25 (11)
8. Jaguares 24 (11)

If that were the finishing order the quarter finals would be:

QF1 Crusaders v Jaguares
QF2 Hurricanes v Highlanders
QF3 Lions v Rebels
QF4 Waratahs v Chiefs

Note that in the semi finals the winners of QF1 play the winners of QF2, and the winners of QF3 the winners of QF4, regardless of where the teams are ranked (in previous years it was highest-ranked v lowest-ranked), with the higher-ranked teams hosting.

This weeks matches (times are AEST):

Sunwolves v Stormers 15:15 Saturday

Blues v Crusaders 17:35 Saturday

Sharks v Chiefs 23:05 Saturday

Jaguares v Bulls 7:40 Sunday

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