Ratings for the games:
Crusaders Highlanders: 6/10
Jaguares Chiefs: 6/10
Hurricanes Bulls: 7/10
Brumbies Sharks: 4/10
Crusaders 38 – Highlanders 14: After the game scheduled in Christchurch was vacated earlier in the season, there was only the one data point in which the Crusaders won 43-17. Similar story this time, and the first of probably three teams were put to the sword this finals season. The Highlanders were simply outclassed by a better team in the Crusaders. Ben Smith’s return was not enough to swing this one, and the Saders move on to the highly anticipated battle with the Hurricanes next week.
Jaguares 21 – Chiefs 16: Last week I said this would be the match of the week, featuring the two danger teams in the finals. Turned out to be a letdown in that regard. A close and competitive encounter, no doubt, but repeated handling errors and set piece malfunction disabled the Chiefs’s attack and the usually electric Jaguares’s offense did not have their usual spark. Certainly the better team of the day won, with credit to their defensive lineout and defensive linespeed in taking control of the game. Pablo Matera set the standard for the Jags with crushing defense, the most carries of anyone on the pitch, and a try. Notably, however, despite complete dominance in the lineout the Jaguares’s scrum was pumped by the Chiefs repeatedly throughout the match. The Chiefs head home to contemplate life without King Brodie next year (though DMac will hopefully be healthy by then). Jaguares will host the Brumbies.
Hurricanes 35 – Bulls 28: Forget the Jaguares vs Chiefs, this was the match of the week. On consecutive weeks of intercontinental travel, the Bulls played the Canes close in Wellington and even had a chance to win at the end. Competitive, with action aplenty throughout. RG Snyman stood tall for the Blue Bulls and Cornal Hendricks scored twice. TJ Perenara and Ardie Savea were the leaders for the home side, with Dane Coles putting in a good shift as well.
Brumbies 38 – Sharks 13: Another home team victory. This one was pretty thoroughly dominated by the Brumbies who were really firing on all cylinders. They scored tries out wide and with the maul. The defense was solid and did not afford a platform for the Sharks to build an attack. All in all a dominant performance, with the reward of traveling to Buenos Aires to play the Jags.
The Final Whistle:
It’s just too hard to commit to a team beating the Crusaders in Christchurch. So I see them beating the Canes with some space for comfort, exposing the defensive frailties of the Canes’s back three in the process. In the other semifinal, the Brumbies have been hard to stop but face a poor matchup in the Jaguares. The best maul in the league will have trouble setting up against the best defensive lineout and without Pete Samu, the Brumbies will struggle to slow down the rampaging Matera, Kremer, Lavanini, and Petti. Jaguares, see you in Christchurch.