Super Rugby Review: Round Six
Sunday, March 24, 2019 Lynn McConnell Getty Images
QUICK TAP: WARATAHS END CRUSADERS WINNING STREAK
The Lions are in third place one point back with the Sharks fourth and the Waratahs and Stormers, who have played one game less than the leaders, on 14 points.
New Zealand Conference
The streak-breaking 33-26 win by the Blues over the Highlanders and the first win of the season by the Chiefs, 56-20 over the Bulls has tightened the New Zealand Conference. Only the Blues have had the bye to date in the Conference, something the Highlanders face at the weekend. It is unfortunate for the southerners that they will not play for two weeks out of three as a result of the abandonment of their game with the Crusaders. They played below their usual edge when losing to a Blues team that hinted at improved ability to seal off chances. Just how much they have improved will be tested by the Stormers on Saturday.
The Hurricanes may have one of the more pony packs in the competition but they are like pit ponies, hard and unrelenting. That proved invaluable in coming back against a Stormers side desperate for a first-up win in New Zealand but who went down 28-34. It was ironic that it should be undisciplined lineout play that cost the Stormers, whose three tries had all been the product of lineout drives. But in other crucial lineouts they failed to maximise their chances and from one, superb determination from flanker Ardie Savea punished them with what proved the match-winning try scored by Beauden Barrett.
Early pressure achieved by the Waratahs at the Sydney Cricket Ground was the basis of their 20-12 win over the Crusaders in the wet on Saturday. Always close after wing George Bridge capitalised on a clever lineout play, it wasn't until six minutes from the end that the Waratahs could breathe easier. That was when fullback Israel Folau emerged from a melee after a crossfield kick with the ball to score. Will Jordan responded for the Crusaders but they were well off the pace by that point.
It was a different matter in Pretoria where the Chiefs ran the Bulls off the park to take a stunning 56-20 win that relegated the home team to third on the South African ladder. On the basis of their performance on the day that may have been two places too high. Brodie Retallick, Solomon Alaimalo and Alex Nankiville share two tries apiece in the sort of comeback that will have restored confidence to the previously non-winning Chiefs who now head to Buenos Aires with a good chance of extending the Jaguares misfortunes.
Just how difficult it can be to win at the Sydney Cricket Ground will be apparent to the Crusaders. Apart from the poor quality of the turf and the rain, there is the distance from the crowd which is further than nearly all other grounds in the world. Certainly, the home side made the most of it and their first half tries to Jed Holloway and Cameron Clark were vital in applying the sort of pressure no other side has been able to impose on them this season. It lifted the Waratahs to the top of the Conference and the challenge will be for them to stay there.
The news didn't get any better for the Sunwolves in Singapore on Saturday as they went down 24-37 to the Lions. Having had their future in Super Rugby defined on Friday, they ran into a Lions team looking to restore its own fortunes. Against a team so proficient in the lineout mauling drive, it was always going to be tough for the smaller Sunwolves pack. They yielded four tries to the lineout drive and that summed up the difference in the end.
Hosting the Rebels, the Sharks made the most of their chances to snap out of a two-game losing sequence to secure a 28-14 win in Durban. It seemed every time the Rebels got themselves into a good position they would concede a penalty and Sharks kicker Robert du Preez would do the business. Up 16-13 at the break, the Sharks sealed the outcome with two tries in five minutes just before the three-quarter mark.
The Reds managed their second win when downing the Brumbies 36-14 in their Sunday game and claimed a bonus point scoring five tries to two. The win closed up the Australian Conference with the four Australian teams within four points of each other and of those four the Brumbies are the only one yet to have the bye. It was an improved performance from the homeside to give the Brumbies few chances and two tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half sealed the deal.
Relying on their lineout drive leaves the Stormers vulnerable and the Hurricanes exploited that in claiming their win in Wellington. The South Africans will need a rethink on strategy because the Blues are likely to have seen how the Hurricanes managed their game, especially with wing Wes Goosen scooting in for two key tries. The other factor about the weekend game against the Blues is that their pack will be bigger.
Knowing they face the Sharks in their next outing the Bulls have a big job ahead of them to bounce back from the thrashing they received at the hands of the Chiefs. It was a one-dimensional approach from the home side who offered nothing in the way or flair or enterprise to take the Chiefs on. They were caught well and truly napping.
The Lions will be happy with their return against the Sunwolves although their over-reliance on the lineout drive will not always work against packs with more size than the Japanese unit could offer. That the Sunwolves scored 24 against them suggest there is some work to do defensively before they head to Australasia in two weeks time.
ROUND 7? | With no unbeaten teams left in #SuperRugby, how difficult will it be to predict this round?#RaiseTheStakes pic.twitter.com/m9H9lpZHev— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) March 24, 2019
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