Round 4 of Super Rugby produced one incredibly surprising result. The Chiefs lost at home to the Highlanders.
Despite having the bulk of possession and attacking opportunities, the Chiefs could do little but shoot themselves in the foot against the plucky Clan from Dunedin.
After four rounds, there are only two unbeaten teams left and both will be looking to extend their streaks.
1. Hurricanes (up 1 place) – despite having the week off and dropping to fourth on the ladder, the Hurricanes find themselves on top of the Super Rugby Power Rankings. They’re three from three and play their first home game in Palmerston North on Friday due to the Cricket World Cup forcing the ‘Canes away from the Cake Tin. They’ve looked great this season and should account for the Blues without too many difficulties. They should take a lesson from the Chiefs though and realise that any team can cause an upset if the favourite is off their game. Beauden Barrett has been great this season and is surely the early frontrunner to be the All Blacks first choice 10.
2. Stormers (up 2 places) – it wasn’t always pretty but the Stormers are now four from four and sit alone atop the Super Rugby ladder. They beat a disappointing Sharks team and the goal kicking of the Greek God, Demetri Catrikilis was again superb. What he lacks in attacking nous, he makes up for with his metronomic goal kicking. Many doubt that he’s the fly half that could lead a team to Super Rugby glory but at this stage he’s a big part of the Stormers undefeated run.
3. Brumbies (no change) – the Brumbies got the job done in Canberra against a much-improved Force team. Whilst the Force enjoyed plenty of possession and field position, they were never really in it. The Brumbies’ ability to score points when they enter the red zone will worry every team in the competition and certainly makes them one of the favourites. If they fire, they could embarrass the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday night.
4. Chiefs (down 3 places) – they were on the receiving end of possibly the biggest upset of the season so far. Few gave the Highlanders any hope of getting close to the Chiefs in Hamilton but they came away with the win. The Chiefs dominated the stats and had a mountain of opportunities but butchered just about all of them. Aaron Cruden’s goal kicking was a disaster and his form really needs to improve if he wants to start for the All Blacks this season.
5. Waratahs (no change) – they should have put 50 points on the hapless Reds but they still came away with the win. A litany of dropped balls and silly penalties need to be excised from their game but the physicality was top notch. Better execution should give them a strong chance of coming away with points against the Highlanders in Dunedin. With the Brumbies the week after, the next two weeks could be pivotal to the Tahs’ season.
6. Bulls (up 2 places) – the Bulls have risen 7 places in two weeks and now need to be taken seriously. They’re strong on paper and they accounted for the Cheetahs easily in Bloemfontein. The young superstar, Handre Pollard shows experience beyond his years and is leading the side around nicely. His ability to accumulate points for the Bulls will make them a tough proposition for any team.
7. Highlanders (up 3 places) – pulled off a major upset away from home against the Chiefs as reserve fly half Marty Banks proved calm under pressure to slot two late penalty goals to steal the game. Facing the Waratahs in Dunedin is their biggest test yet.
8. Cheetahs (down 2 places) – they’ll be disappointed to have been convincingly beaten by the Bulls at home. They remain in Bloemfontein against the Sharks in what is a crucial game. With the Stormers well on top of the South African conference, the others can’t afford to slip far behind if they want to feature at the business end of the season.
9. Rebels (no change) – The Melbourne boys have had the week off and now head to Perth against a Force team that put in a much better performance last week against the Brumbies. The Rebels have been close in both their losses and will be looking to completely reverse the embarrassment handed to them in the equivalent match last year. Expect a big game from Luke Jones in his 50th.
10. Sharks (down 3 places) – There are plenty of shark attacks in Cape Town, but the men from Durban were largely toothless last weekend getting soundly beaten by the Stormers. They’re on the road again against the Cheetahs and have to produce a good performance. If they lose four of their first five games their season is almost gone already.
11. Crusaders (no change) – coming off the bye the Crusaders have welcomed back all their All Black superstars plus their rampaging winger Nemani Nadolo. They face the plucky Lions at home in Christchurch and will surely be looking for a confidence boosting win to get their season on track.
12. Force (up 1 place) – despite a loss to the in-form Brumbies in Canberra, the Force regained the pride that was missing for the two weeks prior to that. They were physical and had great continuity but just couldn’t match it with the red hot Brumbies. They return to Perth to face arch-rivals the Rebels and will be looking for a win. Chris Alcock was a big inclusion last week and the Badger will be out for more meat.
13. Lions (up 2 places) – the Lions secured their first win of the season over the Blues in Auckland. The Lions backrow is their strength and tackled themselves to a standstill to produce the upset. It’s going to get much tougher for the Lions against the Crusaders this weekend.
14. Reds (down 2 places) – there’s trouble in Queensland and it’s not looking like getting any better this weekend against the Brumbies. They were beaten in every facet of the game by the Waratahs and their team list looks worse this weekend. With so many players out injured in key positions, it’s hard to see the Reds improving anytime soon. Calls for Richard Graham’s sacking are becoming deafening from the Reds faithful.
15. Blues (down 1 place) – the Blues turned down shots at goal but couldn’t convert their opportunities and were humbled at home against the Lions. They’ve never lost their first four games of the season before and now they face the unbeaten Hurricanes. Sir John Kirwan could be under immense pressure to keep his job if things don’t improve soon.