Super Rugby Review: Round Two
Sunday, February 24, 2019 Lynn McConnell Getty Images
QUICK TAP: CHIEFS TRAMPLED BY RAMPAGING BRUMBIES
New Zealand Conference
Strong finishing got the Highlanders home late again in their 36-31 win over the Reds in Dunedin on Friday, but coach Aaron Mauger will be keen to see things improve during the middle stages of games. The Reds did give the Highlanders' defence a solid pounding and there will be some lessons to be absorbed. The Highlanders will also be keen to see how badly centre Rob Thompson's injury is because he is a key player in the backline for the side.
The unrelenting quality of the Crusaders is no surprise given the way they are adding to the already outstanding legacy of the franchise. Their 38-22 win in Christchurch was an early warning to challengers. But the way they shut out a Hurricanes team that was looking to make an impact was masterful. The chaos created by disrupting their lineout possession was vital to the outcome and when the backs get the heads up from their pack, the Crusaders are unstoppable. More than most, the Hurricanes have demonstrated how reliant they are on their key All Blacks and having them starting games will be crucial to a recovery.
The Chiefs' defences were blown apart by the Brumbies in Canberra in their 17-54 loss on Saturday. The speed at which the Brumbies got support in place when breaks were made was outstanding and Christian Lealifano looked right back to his best when calling the shots at first five-eighths while fullback Tom Banks showed his speed when punching through in midfield. The energy that marked their first up effort against the Highlanders was lacking and 0-2 will be tough for the Chiefs to stomach.
Also 0-2 are the Blues, and while that may be more expected of them, it will still disappoint that the Sharks were able to dominate from so early in the game en route to their 26-7 win. It left the Blues having to play significant catch-up and against a team as determined as the Sharks that was always going to be difficult. However, there was defensive pressure from the Blues to keep the score down, especially given the opportunities the Sharks created in the first half, and that was backed by more attacking effort in the second half.
It was expected the Reds would turn it on against the Highlanders, and they did, but their best wasn't quite enough as they went down 31-36. However, the lessons were basic. Against a counter-attacking side like the Highlanders it is dangerous to kick ball aimlessly. That was all it took in the dying stages of the game for fullback Ben Smith to field the ball and turn it back on the Reds for the match-winning try to be scored. But for a first outing there was enough seen from the Reds to suggest they are well on the road to recovering their former stature in Australia.
The Waratahs would not have expected to be looking down the barrel of defeat but they were only a dropped goal away from being humbled and Hayden Parker's effort near the end of the game drifted just wide. They held on to win 31-30. The Sunwolves were lively throughout the contest and wing Gerhard van den Heever showed a great turn of pace to support Ryoto Nakamura to score his first try and then to take an inside pass from Parker to outflank the defence for his second.
Making an emphatic recovery from their first round loss to the Rebels, the Brumbies turned it on to beat the Chiefs 54-17. It was a great scalp to claim but what was more pleasing for the management was the quality of the effort with players bursting onto the ball at speed, enjoying fine support and fully testing the Chiefs who missed 23 tackles compared to 12 by the home team who also made 463m to only 165 by the Chiefs. The turnovers conceded by the Chiefs were 14-7 and by allowing the Brumbies to make 15 clean breaks to only two of their own, they were up against it throughout.
By taking early control of their game against the Blues, the Sharks were able to make up for their failure to secure as many opportunities as they might have liked in their 26-7 win. In the process they moved to the head of the South African Conference and highlighted again the fact they are likely to be highly competitive by the time the playoffs roll around. Their defence was well tested as they made 134 tackles compared to 64 and they missed 24 while the Blues missed only 10. The Blues beat defenders 24 times to 10 but were unable to turn that advantage into points and that proved the difference in the end.
The Stormers needed a big effort after the manner of their first round performance and they got it, although it took nearly 85 minutes to get in front and win 19-17. Halfback Herschel Jantjies raced through a big gap by a goalline scrum to score the winner against last year's beaten finalists. While it was the only try the Stormers scored in the game, they were kept in touch as a result of the goal-kicking of SP Marais, who landed four penalty goals from handy positions. And in the end, indiscipline saw Marnus Schoeman sin-binned two minutes from time, an advantage the Stormers used to the fullest.
Transferring from the dry of the high veldt to the rain of Buenos Aires proved too much for the Bulls who went down 12-27 to the Jaguares in another turnaround result this week. Holding the Bulls tryless was an impressive effort by the home team who scored three tries of their own to claim a welcome bonus point. It was a notable first win for the new Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada who was appointed after Mario Ledesma stepped up to the Pumas role after the end of last year's competition.
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