Home stretch edition.
Ratings for the Games:
Blues Bulls: 5/10
Rebels Waratahs: 6/10
Brumbies Sunwolves: 5/10
Chiefs Crusaders: 8.5/10
Reds Jaguares: 7/10
Sharks Hurricanes: 4/10
Lions Stormers: 4/10
Talking Points:Blues 22 – Bulls 22: Not the result either team was looking for. Handre Pollard’s absence continues to hurt for the Bulls. Blues just doing Blues things (read: not winning, disappointing early season hopefuls). Blues going to lose their elder statesmen midfielders Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill too. Big Patty T and Rieko Ioane + co will have a tough go of it next year. Bulls still in playoff contention with the Landers and Lions remaining.
Rebels 15 – Waratahs 20: Rebels cannot close, both in their games and in their season. A very precarious position, as now they are on the cusp of a finals berth but play both the Crusaders and resurgent Chiefs to close their season. An unenviable position, to be sure. QC not exactly lighting the world ablaze seriously damaging his Wallaby prospects. Tahs played well and Foley piloted the ship with aplomb. Another team with a shot at some post season footy.
Chiefs 40 – Crusaders 27: Clear top match of the week. Suva, Fiji is cementing itself as home away from home for the Waikato side. Table topping Crusaders needed two competition points to lock in home field advantage through the finals coming into this week, and still need them on the way out with only the Rebels left to play. Crusaders jump to a 20-0 lead after 20′ of play and I would not blame you for tuning out at that point. Sublime play by the Chiefs’ backs, with All Black David Havili still reeling from Solomon Alaimalo’s devastating step and half of the Crusaders’ side out of breath from chasing Shaun Stevenson. Brad Weber must be hiding an army of doppelgangers as he appeared exactly where needed all over the pitch, all night. Bright moment for the Cantabrians was Scott Barrett channeling his brothers to run in a 40m try. Despite all that, Chiefs on the outside looking in and need help to make the finals. Only a desire for a bit more defensive competence marred what was an otherwise outstanding advert for the sport. Also, how good is Sam Cane? On his own try line with under 10 to play, he makes a tackle, gets up and poaches the ball to snuff out the scoring chance. Top shelf.
Reds 23 – Jaguares 37: This game played better than the scoreline and featured high tension and late match heroics. Jaguares are in peak form and would be an undesirable draw for any team in the playoffs. Taniela Tupou, a quiet man for much of the year, made some substantial impacts in a literal sense and a figurative sense with strong breakdown work winning a penalty for the Reds. Santiago Carreras displayed some nice football skills to kick the ball downfield and recover it for a try. Reds score late and regain possession looking to sneak a win but Carreras intercepted Kerevi for a length of the field try to seal it. That pass aside, he is the heart and soul of the Reds. Brad Thorn is really going to miss Kerevi.
Sharks 17 – Hurricanes 30: This game did not have much for me. Hurricanes seemed better throughout, but lots of stop start and mongrel kept it from flowing like the Suva game did. The interesting development was Vaea Fifita copping a red and subsequent three game suspension. As a potential All Black, being absent from now until the second round of finals earliest puts a damper on his chances. Steve Hansen has ruled out a Cane/Savea flanker pairing which helps Fifita’s case, but Squire, Frizzell, Jacobson, Franklin, and Taufua are all fighting for that same spot. Going to be tough sledding.
Lions 41 – Stormers 22: Lions the better team throughout. Kwagga Smith had a real blinder and will be hard to ignore for the Springbok side. His diminutive size certainly does not ingratiate him to the selection sensibilities of Rassie, but his play cannot be ignored. Stormers very obviously miss Kolisi, who has allegedly elected to decline surgery in hopes to play RWC 2019. Hopefully he does play; it would be a shame for the Boks to be without their captain at the sport’s pinnacle competition.
The Final Whistle:The finals are just around the corner, will your team make it? Hold on to your butts.
Home stretch edition.