It’s time for Planet Rugby’s weekly round-up of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They’re on fire!
Hurricanes: Pushed close for the best performance of the weekend by the Lions and the Chiefs, but did you see the weather in Wellington? Noah deserved a spot on the bench. It’s almost wrong to single out individuals but TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett were both quite outstanding, as the Hurricanes conquered the conditions and produced remarkable tries through Vaea Fifita and Jason Woodward. Last year’s finalists, and this year’s number one seeds, are coming good at the right time.
Chiefs: Having travelled to Cape Town you’d have thought the two-time champions would tire in the closing stages. Instead they scored 21 points in the final five minutes. The result was in the bag by half-time and the Chiefs won’t lack any confidence heading back to New Zealand to face the Hurricanes. James Lowe’s try was a beauty too.
Lions: The tournament needed a non-New Zealand side in the last four, and the Lions got there in style. Ruan Combrinck’s try was the moment where Johan Ackermann must have known his young, rapidly improving side were through to their first semi-final since the Cats in 2001. In scoring over 40 points the Lions attack was impressive, but it was the power of their scrum and work at the breakdown and in defence which really stood out. They sure are contenders.
Highlanders lineout: The defending champions have plenty of weapons in their arsenal but the domination of the Brumbies’ lineout on Friday was a real shock, winning 11/12 on their own ball and making sure the Brumbies missed out on five of their own throws. In a tight game in Canberra against a side who rely heavily off that set-piece, it made a real difference – as did the Highlanders’ excellent defensive stand in the closing stages to keep the Brumbies out.
Angus Gardner and Craig Joubert: Two big calls rightly refereed to the TMO with the correct outcome. Lausii Taliauli looked certain to have scored a try with the game on the line before reviews confirmed he had lost the ball short and not made contact with it over the line. Then in Jo’burg after the first replay showing Israel Dagg and Faf de Klerk leaping for a high ball suggested Dagg had knocked on, further replays proved that wasn’t the case and the try for Mitchell Drummond stood. Good work.
Autocorrect: Sometimes, it’s just perfect, like this message from the Sharks to Paul Jordaan ahead of his move to La Rochelle.
— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) 24 July 2016
Stranded in an igloo…
Sharks: The first side to be nilled in a Super Rugby knockout match. It never seemed right that the Sharks, after a poor season, were in the final eight. This proved why. Sure injuries deprived them of a couple of top players, but as a side they were miles off the Hurricanes’ level. 41-0 – it doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that.
Stormers: Calls to alter the Super Rugby schedule so the Stormers have a crack at a New Zealand side earlier in the campaign are fair enough, because they just couldn’t match the Chiefs’ tempo and were punished as a result. Shipping 60 points at home is a disaster and a poor farewell for a long-term servant in Schalk Burger. And they were outscored 25-21 by Damian McKenzie alone.
Stephen Larkham: The Brumbies boss was naturally frustrated by his side’s exit from the competition, but criticising Gardner’s call regarding the Taliauli non-try was sour grapes. “It was clearly a try for everyone who saw it,” was Larkham’s review. Well no, it wasn’t. As the replays clearly show. And suggesting that’s the reason for defeat masks the Brumbies’ list of shortcomings, of which there are plenty.
Super Rugby crowds: Conditions were certainly horrendous in Canberra and Wellington – let’s hope all of those 2,000 free meat pies at the Brumbies game found happy punters on Friday – but to see row upon row of empty seats at the four games, Ellis Park especially given the Lions’ outstanding year, was hugely disappointing and reflects so badly on the competition.