In Round 9 of the Super XV:
Blues 16 – 14 Brumbies
Crusaders 20 – 25 Highlanders
Waratahs 18 – 32 Stormers
Force 15 – 24 Cheetahs
Lions 23 – 21 Sharks
Bulls 43 – 22 Reds
So the Blues, finally back home at Eden Park, finally get their first win of the season. The good news is that they won ugly, the bad news is that they had to win ugly. The hope would be that, with the monkey off their back, they will start to play with more confidence and poise. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Crusaders, at home, lost to the Highlanders. It’s hard to put your finger on what’s going not quite right for the red-and-blacks, but I’ll have a go: not enough midfield penetration. Their pattern has them going side to side for long periods. That’s easier pickings for a well-organised defence. They need to go up the guts more.
In Sydney, the Waratahs lost to the Stormers. Most significantly they lost the final quarter badly. Have a look at the tape: the Tahs were out on their feet in that period, letting the Stormers storm home with a couple of late tries for the bonus point. That’s not just a physical conditioning issue, it’s also about mentality and cohesion.
Completing the Aussies’ woes, the Force lost at home and the Reds lost away. Four of their five teams are now ranked in 10th to 15th on the table.
But the South African sides are playing with verve and skill. The Lions-Sharks match, in particular, was a great exhibition of enterprise and physicality. They have depth across the park for the Springboks later in the year.
A couple of great matches in prospect next weekend: Crusaders vs. Chiefs and Hurricanes vs. Waratahs. Yum yum.