This week we look at Round 9 of the Super Rugby competition this past weekend and how the top ranked team in each of the three participating countries fared. This weekend New Zealand’s top team the Hurricanes had the weekend off, so we will only be looking at Australia’s Brumbies and South Africa’s Bulls. The Brumbies despite their squad boasting a significant number of Wallabies ended up coming short away to an Auckland Blues side that up till now has had a woeful season. In South Africa, an understrength Bulls side effectively demolished a weakened Reds side and in the process several of the Bulls players no doubt caught the attention of Springbok coach Heineke Meyer.
Blues vs Brumbies
Final Score – Blues 16/Brumbies 14
In probably the upset of the weekend, the Blues got their first win of the season in a game that surprised many and inspired few. The Brumbies for the most part didn’t show up in the first half and by the second half when they finally started to exert some long overdue pressure it was too little too late. A wake up call perhaps? To be fair to the Blues they played a strong first half which saw them with a well deserved lead of 13-0 after forty minutes. Brumbies and Wallaby scrum half Nic White showed that he had obviously taken some serious instruction from former Wallaby scrum half George Gregan, and proceeded to annoy and hassle beleaguered referee Andrew Lees for the full eighty minutes. To be honest if he had spent more time focusing on his game and less time on his acting career then the Brumbies might have pulled off the win, as White’s kicking was not quite up to scratch this match and Christian Leali’ifano’s was only slightly more accurate for the Brumbies.
In short there seemed to be a sense of arrogance emanating from the Brumbies right from the get go, that this game was supposed to be a walk in the park for them, and this attitude would cost them dearly. The Blues went at the Brumbies full of intent, and had their kicking game been stronger especially in terms of accuracy then the scoreline would have been much higher. The Brumbies were clearly taken aback by the sense of urgency from the Blues and conceded a series of penalties which got the Blues comfortably on the scoreboard. The Brumbies definitely looked out of sorts and Matt Tomua playing at halfback was having an error-strewn match. Furthermore the scrums for both teams were not going well and this only led to the penalty count growing in favour of the Blues.
By the twenty mark the frustration level on the part of the Brumbies was clear to see for all, as Nick White got into George Gregan Mk 2 mode. The more pressure the Blues were able to sustain the more confident they became and this ultimately led to a solid try from Blues fly half Daniel Bowden as he spotted some space. Bowden overall had a really good game for the Blues and with Captain Jerome Kaino providing some solid leadership, the Blues were finally showing some of their pedigree of years gone by.
Strong words were obviously the order of the day in the Brumbies half time dressing room chat. The Brumbies were clearly the dominant side in the second half, and were it not for some stellar defence from the Blues then they could have won the match. Leali’ifano’s accuracy with the boot was vastly improved and the Brumbies exerted all the pressure on their Kiwi opponents in the second half. The Brumbies were keeping possession and stringing together phase after phase which finally resulted in Lausii Taliauli making use of a well worked overlap and scoring the Brumbies only try.
However, all credit to the Blues as despite the game looking as though it was rapidly going to turn into yet another defeat, they just held their nerve and defence to claim a two point victory margin. Daniel Bowden’s boot just kept them ahead with a difficult penalty kick from out wide. The Blues were lucky to escape at the death after yet another scrum penalty, but Nic White, perhaps as just reward for all his annoying chirping throughout the match, missed the target and it was finally the Blues day! Like I say, not the most attractive of games at times, but perhaps a much-needed wake up call for the Brumbies.
Bulls vs Reds
Final Score – Bulls 43/Reds 22
Two things stood out for me in this match from a Bulls perspective, even without Handre Pollard they looked good and Jesse Kriel at fullback must surely now be on Heineke Meyer’s radar for the World Cup, especially as regular Spingbok Willie le Roux has been struggling to find form in the last year. One other point that came to the fore was that although Francois Hougaard may not play well in a Springbok jersey he more than makes up for it in a Bulls jersey – underlining the overall discrepancy in Super Rugby and International form, however in Hougaard’s case this may also be a result of playing him in the right position.
Although the Reds boast some big names, they like the Blues in New Zealand seem to be faltering badly this year. At altitude and against a fired up Bulls side they were destined to get a hiding and for the most part that is what happened. Ironically, in the second half they often enjoyed long periods of possession strung together through a remarkable number of phases but mysteriously seemed unable to translate it into any kind of serious points.
As mentioned above, Francois Hougaard playing on the wing was on fire and no doubt is trying to convince Springbok selectors that play him in the right position and he then has the potential to become a serious attacking threat. However, I would argue that much of Hougaard’s brilliance on the day was actually set up by Bulls fullback Jesse Kriel who was having an absolute blinder of a game, along with Bjorn Basson who was rediscovering some serious form under the high ball. Hougaard opened the try scoring jamboree for the Bulls after collecting off a superb break from Jesse Kriel. The Reds however, were not without inspiration as the Reds would soon hit back with a try from Lachie Turner, who sadly was unable to convert – indeed inaccuracy all night with the boot would be a significant component of the Reds undoing.
For the rest of the first half, the Bulls would essentially show their Australian visitors how the game of rugby should be played in the thin Highveld air. The Reds looked out of shape and out of ideas with no answer to the Bulls speed and power.
The second half however, showed some initial promise for the Reds as scrum half Will Genia managed to score between the uprights after another long set of phases by the Reds. The Reds continued to do this up to the 50 minute mark and scored another try only to once more miss the conversion. After that however, it was all the Bulls for the remainder of the match, as they proceeded to wake up and close the Reds out, despite some occasional periods of possession and pressure from the visitors. However, the Reds defence had been weak all night and the Bulls now knowing where the holes were comfortably found the gaps and kept the scoreboard ticking over in their favour, so that by the time of the final whistle the Reds had been comprehensively outplayed.
It was a solid performance from the Bulls which should see them as the team to take forward South Africa’s challenge in this year’s competition, especially on the road. As I say, not having had a chance to watch much Super Rugby so far this year, I found Jesse Kriel to be a revelation at fullback, and he surely must be an option for a position that is otherwise lacking in depth in terms of Springbok selection, despite many people hoping that Springbok incumbent Willie le Roux will return to form prior to the World Cup. This is a strong Bulls side which I only see getting better as they get to the business end of the competition.