Chiefs 27-22 Highlanders
A late try to winger Sean Wainui and some desperate defence saw the Chiefs come from behind to down the Highlanders in Hamilton.
Two early Damian McKenzie penalties had the hosts up 6-0 before Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo scored one of his trademark cross-kick tries, this one laid on by centre Rob Thompson. The Chiefs replied in kind soon after, fullback Solomon Alamailo finishing from a McKenzie kick-pass that wing Toni Pulu spectacularly kept in play and passed infield basketball-style. Hooker Nathan Harris extended the lead shortly after halftime.
Down 7-20 the Highlanders needed something special and they got it from Aaron Smith who put wing Tevita Li in untouched with a perfect pass. They then took the lead with a nicely worked try to replacement Paletasio Tomkinson that began with hooker Ash Dixon latching onto a McKenzie clearance that rebounded off his own man.
The Chiefs had the last say, however, Wainui crossing with ten minutes remaining and their trademark defensive effort running the clock down.
The win lifts the Chiefs to third in the New Zealand Conference with the Highlanders now fourth. Overall they sit fifth and seventh, respectively.
Sharks 63-40 Blues
The Sharks humiliated the Blues at Eden Park prompting many fans to leave early in disgust, and many of those who remained to boo the home team as if Quade Cooper was out there.
There were six tries apiece but flyhalf Robert du Preez converted all six for the visitors, added seven penalties, and also scored a try to finish with 38 points.
The Blues were dreadful in the first half, continually turning over possession with aimless kicking and an obsession with taking the ball into contact and trying for the miracle offload. The concept of an offside line also seemed alien to them, for which they were punished both on the scoreboard and territorially.
Incredibly the Blues fought back from 7-26 at halftime to briefly lead when Sharks wing Sbu Nkosi was sin-binned early in the second half, scoring three tries in 12 minutes with running rugby before inexplicably returning to kicking away possession as they had in the first half, with similarly disastrous consequences.
The Sharks are now equal second in the South African Conference and just outside the top eight while the Blues are dead last in the New Zealand Conference and second-last overall.
Bulls 33-23 Stormers
Bulls hooker Adriaan Strauss became South Africa’s most-capped Super Rugby player and celebrated with a hat-trick of tries at Loftus.
It was an entertaining match, both teams having adopted expansive game plans of late, with eight tries in all. The Bulls went out to a 19-6 lead after 30 minutes before the Stormers scored twice to trail by just a point at the break.
Two second-half tries, the second featuring an astonishing offload by flanker Roelof Smit, and some brutal defence were enough to secure the Bulls their second win of the season. They’re now fourth in their Conference while the Stormers are second-equal and just outside the playoff zone.
Crusaders 14-8 Lions
A two-try second-half blitz clinched the 2017 Final repeat for the visiting Crusaders.
Lions wing Madosh Tambwe scored the only points of the first half, dotting down after 14 minutes on the back of some quick hands down his flank. The Crusaders then had two tries denied with passes from 5/8 Mitchell Hunt to winger George Bridge being adjudged forward’ all though the first in particular looked flat. Hunt also missed a penalty from in front, albeit 40 metres out.
Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock got his side on the board after 50 minutes, Hunt nailing the conversion from out wide to snatch the lead. Centre Jack Goodhue then benefited from a strong carry by his wing Manasa Mataele, Hunt converting for a lead of 14-5. Fullback David Havili looked to have added a third try soon after, but on review, Mataele was found to have stepped on the sideline.
Lions 5/8 Elton Jantjies narrowed the gap then George Bridge had a nervous few moments after colliding with Marnus Schoeman. Referee Jaco Peyper, who famously Red-carded Kwagga Smith in the 2017 Final, ruled it just a penalty. To add insult to injury the Lions driving maul from that penalty was nullified, allowing the Crusaders to again come away from Ellis Park with a win.
Despite three losses, the Lions remain top of the South African Conference and second overall, while the Crusaders are now second in the New Zealand Conference and fourth overall.
Next weeks fixtures (times are AEST):
Hurricanes v Sharks 17:35 Friday
Chiefs v Blues 17:35 Saturday
Lions v Stormers 1:15 Sunday
Jaguares v Crusaders 7:40 Sunday