In Round 11 of the Super XV:
Chiefs 35 – 27 Force
Brumbies 31 – 18 Highlanders
Crusaders 29 – 15 Blues
Waratahs 18 – 16 Rebels
Lions 34 – 29 Cheetahs
Stormers 15 -13 Bulls
Reds 19 – 35 Hurricanes
The first thing to note from this weekend is the return of that old bully-boy Home Advantage. Only the Canes managed an away win, against the Rubbish Reds.
There were a couple of cracking matches in South Africa, with the Lions and Cheetahs both playing expansive rugby featuring scintillating running from depth. The Stormers-Bulls match was more of a smash and grapple affair, but of great intensity. If players’ form can be carried into the World Cup and melded into a team style, they will be very, very difficult.
The good news for the All Black selectors was the improved performance from the Crusaders. I particularly liked the way Colin Slade ran the ship, with fast, flat and wide passes putting people into space. The Blues? Still struggling to control a game for any length of time.
The Aussies? The Rebels are showing real development this year, and they’re not the easy beats they once were. The Waratahs hung on for the win, on the back of a couple of dubious ref decisions, but they certainly do not look like last year’s champions. The Brumbies scored a few tries from lineout drives, and the Highlanders got one back that way, but I thought the ref was way too lenient in how he was letting players join and go ahead of the ball carrier. Add that to the long list of refereeing interpretations to make you hang your head in despair.
The Canes were a bit hot and cold, but they showed the magic late in both halves. Beauden Barrett had a blinder: when he’s on form he looks so cool and relaxed, with all the time in the world to have a cup of tea and a chat before the opposition gets anywhere near him. And Ardie Savea is staking a claim for an All Blacks debut, possibly in the Samoa test. He’s always been fast and strong, but now he’s adding precision and smarts to his skill set.
The big match this week will be the Hurricanes hosting the Crusaders on Saturday night. Massive.
A couple of things to note in the competition ladder below: the Canes have had both their byes, while most of the chasers still have one to come. That makes their lead even more impressive.
Secondly, note that the Chiefs are ranked 4th on the table with 37 points, while the Brumbies and Stormers are ranked higher with 31 and 30 points respectively. Keep thumping that tub: the conference format is nuts.