SENSATIONAL BLACK FERNS!
SENSATIONAL BLACK FERNS!
SENSATIONAL BLACK FERNS!
SIGNIFICANT returns from injury and another foul play firestorm provided the side bars to the weekend’s Super Rugby results.
Sonny Bill Williams was a good mix of solid and spectacular, TJ Perenara amped things up nicely on his earlier-than-expected return, and Nehe Milner-Skudder continued to get back into his happy feet, happy place.
Joe Moody also made his mark on return, part of a match winning scrummaging effort by the Crusaders, and finishing off a try that sparked the ‘Saders incredible comeback from 29-0 down.
However his off the ball shot on Kurtley Beale could have cost his team the game, and he’ll now sit out two weeks at the very time when he needs to be playing.
New Zealand Power Rankings:
1) Crusaders: Some comeback, the biggest in Super Rugby history. Took it back to their core strengths and scrummed the Waratahs into the dewy turf. However, had Moody been caught, and had Bernard Foley not whiffed a couple of very kickable penalties it might well have been a different outcome.
2) Hurricanes: Breathing fire down the Crusaders necks after the bonus point win in Auckland closed the gap to one, with a game in hand. With bad weather forecast they prepared for a forward struggle, and when the rain didn’t arrive, they just went through with it. That sends out a strong signal. They do the diamond dazzle, but they can hack it at the coal face too.
3=) Chiefs: Gutsed it out in Cape Town. Needed at least one win in South Africa, and with a bunch of their All Blacks now back doing homework with the All Blacks, this was the one that had to go into the book. Came up big at scrum time.
3=) Highlanders: Had the Lions chasing shadows for much of the first half with their brilliant offloading game and ability to move the ball to dangerous runners in space. Evened up in the second half, but another notable win, their eleventh straight at home.
5) Blues: Weren’t bad at Eden Park, but still not in the same class as the Hurricanes. Better defence, but seven minutes inside the opposition 22 compared to five in their own tells us they still can’t find a way to turn position and possession into points.
Brad Thorn’s devotion to uncompromising, physical footy served the Reds well early on, but it was never going to be viable long term. A three minute You Tube clip of Taniela Tupou’s contribution to the Tokyo game would not make for such good viewing.
In Sydney they’re bemoaning the refereeing, although there’s been little reference in the catalogue of “cheap shots” to two trademark head highs by Sekope Kepu. Once the Crusaders recovered from a bumbling start the Tahs were clutching at straws on defence, and as evidenced by the two Foley misses, looked a bit spooked.
Still, the atrocities missed by Ben O’Keefe gave the Aussie pundits something to yell about and deflect attention away from another dismal weekend.
That, and the circus in Perth, which seems to be as much about squillionire “Twiggy” Forrest performing to the cameras as it is about a viable alternate rugby competition.
While the Aussie group has become mired in mediocrity, the same can’t be said of South Africa, where every team is still in the hunt, and the stakes are going up with every game as we go into a sequence of matches that will sort out this hard fought, if erratic conference.
The Lions should be too good for the Brumbies this week, and they need the win as the pack closes in, while the Jaguares upcoming games against the Bulls and Sharks in Buenos Aires will be hugely significant.
Six of the Best:
1) Gareth Evans. Has always been a bit out of the ordinary, now thriving on regular game time at the ‘Canes. Showed smarts for his tap and go try, and pulled off a sensational lineout steal for the bonus pointer.
2) Brodie Retallick : Colossal.
3) Sam Whitelock: Unflappable
4) Hayden Parker: 36 points in a flawless kicking performance as the ‘Wolves made the Reds look silly.
5) Rob Thompson: Looks more and more a complete package. Deft touches, great timing, strong running, and not one miss on defence.
6) Waisake Naholo : The Highlanders back three threatened relentlessly and fan favourite Naholo was the pick, slipping 9 tackles and adding a try and a couple of turnovers.
Kiwi refs Ben O’Keefe (Christchurch) and Mike Fraser (Cape Town) are under fire, although Fraser is less deserving of criticism - its pretty much par for the course stuff coming out of South Africa.
However it does underline how much trouble Lyndon Bray and his team keep asking for by placing “aligned” refs in charge of such important games.
Why, for example, could Jaco Peyper not have been given Christchurch, and O’Keefe the all NZ clash in Auckland? Jaco could at least have had an extra day to get over whatever was ailing him.
And finally … Sevensational:
Having claimed one of their two big goals for the year at the Comm Games, the Black Ferns Sevens are in smoking hot form. They simply did not give the Aussies a look in in the Canada final.
Testament to the great job Allan Bunting has done with this team is the way Niall Williams and Ruby Tui have developed their attacking game on top of their outstanding work on defence and at the breakdown.
The Aussies would need to fall over before the final in Paris to give New Zealand a shot at the series title, but the GC Gold and, if all goes well, another at the World Cup in San Francisco in July would probably suffice.
* Catch Tony Johnson on Rugby Nation - Prime TV - 4.30pm Sunday
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