A round-up of matches outside that didn’t involve teams from the Australian conference.
There were no matches involving South African teams this week. Their season started a week earlier than for the Australasian sides, to accommodate their Test against Wales in Washington DC.
Highlanders 30-14 Hurricanes
The Highlanders continued their unbeaten run at home on Friday night, handing the Hurricanes their second defeat in as many weeks.
The opening quarter was very much an arm wrestle, both sides making errors in potential scoring positions, and only an 11th minute penalty from Highlanders 5/8 Lima Sopoaga troubling the scorers. There was some drama soon after, Highlanders loose forward Liam Squire dropped a shoulder into Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara. He was penalised and subsequently cited, but the charge was dismissed.
In the 23rd minute, the Hurricanes were awarded a penalty in front of the posts but elected to take a scrum. With centre Ngani Laumape running a great decoy line, Beauden Barrett put brother Jordie into a hole and he crossed the line with ease. The conversion giving the ‘canes a 7-3 lead.
The arm wrestle resumed and the next moments of note weren’t until the 37th minute when Squire was adjudged to have collected the head of Julian Savea. After aTMO review, he was handed a yellow card. There was more than a suggestion of Savea throwing a retaliatory punch, but the camera panned away before any contact was visible. When play resumed, the Hurricanes fullback Jordie Barrett, who had been receiving medical attention, got to his feet and raced away for an apparent try. Due to the proceeding melee, the try was disallowed.
Shortly after the half time siren, the Highlanders were awarded a penalty that everyone expected them to kick for touch. However, the ‘Landers kept the ball in play and were rewarded when wing Tevita Li eventually scored in the corner. Sopoaga wasn’t able to convert.
Half time: Highlanders 8-7 Hurricanes
When play resumed, Ben Smith fielded a mis-directed Beauden Barrett clearance and set off on one of his trademark gliding runs. Smith was aided by Jordie Barrett colliding with another defender and was able to pass to an unmarked Aaron Smith, who ran in the try. Sopoaga’ conversion attempt hit the post.
The Hurricanes struck back with fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea combining to put prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen over in the corner with 30 minutes remaining, Barrett’s sideline conversion snatching a 14-13 lead for the visitors.
Back-to-back penalties, a botched defensive lineout and a fumble cost the Hurricanes dearly, reserve Highlanders prop Tyrel Lomax barging over adjacent to the posts on the 60 minute mark. Sopoaga converted the try, giving the Highlanders a 20-14 lead.
The lead soon became 27-14 when wing Waisake Naholo sprinted 40 metres to score, with Sopoaga nailed another conversion. Sopoaga then made the game safe with a 72nd minute penalty.
The Highlanders have leap-frogged the Chiefs into third on the Conference table but are five points adrift of second. As things stand they’d play the Hurricanes in Wellington rather than the Waratahs in Sydney in the quarter finals.
The Hurricanes meanwhile are now nine points behind the Conference- and competition-leading Crusaders and even with a game in hand are now reliant on other results (that is, the Crusaders choking) to improve their position.
Chiefs 20-34 Crusaders
The Crusaders made it ten wins in a row in 2018 against a typically combative Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday night, despite losing newly-named All Blacks Jordan Taufua (calf) and Jack Goodhue (hamstring) during the week. The Chiefs also had a late scratching; Sam Cane’s abdominal injury being judged not entirely healed, although coach Colin Cooper did say he’d have played if it were a knockout match.
The match was also notable for Wyatt Crockett becoming the first player to make 200 appearances for a Super Rugby franchise.
Four minutes into the match, the Crusaders won a penalty close to the line. Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor, seeing that the only defender was Brodie Retallick, took the quick tap and fed it to his No. 8 Heiden Bidwell-Curtis for the opening try. 5/8 Richie Mo’unga converted from just inside the touch line.
Mo’unga and Chiefs 5/8 Damien McKenzie traded penalties before the Chiefs scored twice in less than five minutes. First wing Sean Wainui was put into space by a McKenzie long ball (that looked forward but wasn’t checked), then flanker Luke Jacobsen barged over after centre Charlie Ngatai hacked a loose ball ahead and the swarming Chiefs won the ball back near the line. Neither try was converted but at 13-10 the Crusaders contingent in the crowd were feeling more than a little nervous.
That nervousness wasn’t helped by the Crusaders making a slew of errors. The Chiefs line speed forced some of the errors, but others just dumb footy. For example, fullback Israel Dagg took the ball into contact one-handed, and Mo’unga failed to find touch by trying for too much distance (though to be fair McKenzie did the same).
In the 35th minute, however, the Crusaders won another penalty inside the Chiefs 22. They kicked for touch, and from the lineout set up an unstoppable drive. Flanker Matt Todd scored the try, and Mo’unga converted. A penalty after the siren gave the visitors a handy lead at the break.
Half time: Chiefs 13-20 Crusaders
The Chiefs suffered a major blow during the break. Retallick did not return due to a pectoral injury that will have the All Blacks sweating. His locking partner Sam Whitelock continues to struggle with concussion symptoms a week out from the Test series against France.
The Crusaders doubled their half time lead four minutes after the resumption. Wing George Bridge finishing off after a series of pick-and-goes had sucked the defence close to the ruck, leaving only Ngatai to defend the tramlines. Mo’unga converted to take the lead out to 27-13.
The Chiefs needed to score next and they did, another breakout coming up just short. A wave of attacks from close range allowed Jacobsen to score his second try. McKenzie converted from near the posts, and at 20-27 with 30 minutes remaining, the Chiefs were right back in it.
Crusaders lock Scott Barrett made a crucial play in the 65th minute. He burrowed his way through a Chiefs maul from a lineout inside the 22 and got his hands on the ball as it went to ground. This enabled Mo’unga to clear the line and you could sense the crowd losing their belief that the game was winnable.
Barrett stepped up again to snare a Chiefs lineout on the Crusaders 22, the Chiefs having just stolen a Crusaders throw at the other end. As the clock ran down, McKenzie, in particular, tried to manufacture something out of nothing and getting no reward.
With five minutes remaining, the Crusaders strung together 14 phases inside the Chiefs 22. Replacement lock Luke Romano finally got the ball down on the chalk. Mo’unga converted to make it 34-20 and deny the Chiefs a losing bonus point.
The win puts the Crusaders in the box seat to win the New Zealand Conference and take top seeding into the playoffs. The Chiefs have now slipped behind the Highlanders but would have to totally implode to not make the finals. They would possibly prefer a quarter final in Sydney (if they finish sixth), rather then Wellington (if they finish fifth).
1. Crusaders 54 points (played 14)
2. Lions 40 (14)
3. Waratahs 35 (13)
4. Hurricanes 45 (13)
5. Highlanders 40 (13)
6. Chiefs 37 (13)
7. Jaguares 34 (13)
8. Rebels 34 (13)
If that were the finishing order the quarter finals would be:
QF1: Crusaders v Rebels
QF2: Hurricanes v Highlanders
QF3: Lions v Jaguares
QF4: Waratahs v Chiefs
Note that this year Semi Final 1 is between the winners of QF1 and QF2, not the highest- and lowest-seeded quarter final winners as was previously the case.
The June International window is upon us so Un-Australian Activities will be taking a break at least in terms of Super Rugby. In the meantime here’s a vid to help you with the correct pronunciation of some hitherto-mangled player names: