5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby Round 6
The points continue to pile up in Super Rugby.
Round 6 saw the Highlanders and Hurricanes share nearly 70, the Blues and the Cheetahs do exactly that and the Waratahs rack up over 30 against the Rebels.
There were also shocks, as the Bulls downed the Sharks and the Western Force toppled the champions in Perth.
Here’s what we learned.
1. Refs Get Relegated
There are, it would seem, no second chances for officials in the Super XV.
Three of them were stood down for next week’s fixtures, following complaints from players and coaches.
Lourens van der Merwe, Francisco Pastrana and James Leckie will all have the weekend off.
Pastrana was criticized for his handling of the game between the Cheetahs and the Blues, while Van der Merwe’s performance in the Western Force’s win over the Chiefs has earned him a break.
Leckie was not on duty in Round 6, last officiating over the Waratahs’ defeat of the Rebels.
Referees boss Lyndon Bray told Super Rugby the move indicated, "who has performed to expectation and who has not."
2. Smith in Line for All Blacks 15 Jersey
Ben Smith played at full-back as the Highlanders held on to beat the Hurricanes in Dunedin, and his form is making him a hot favourite to land the job for the All Blacks.
Smith sliced the Hurricanes’ defence apart in the first half with a snaking run that set up a try for Phil Burleigh. He is now being tipped in New Zealand as the man to start at full-back for the All Blacks ahead of Israel Dagg.
The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray said, "His Super 15 form, like last year, is consistently strong as he continues to suggest to the national selectors he is the best No15 in the land and would bring even more edge to the All Blacks."
3. Beale Beds in at No. 12
The Waratahs' Kurtley Beale had a torrid first start in the No. 12 jersey against the Brumbies, but we saw what he can bring as an attacking force against the Rebels.
Beale made two sumptuous offloads for tries for Israel Folau, the second of which was completed after a neat step allowed Kurtley to escape heavy traffic in his own half.
He delivered another sweet pass for Peter Betham’s try to underline his quality.
Defensively, Beale will remain a target for hard-running back rowers and more muscular centres; but as a creative player, there aren't many better inside centres around.
4. Matfield as Good as Ever
Old stager Victor Matfield was handed the Bulls' captaincy after the withdrawal of Flip van der Merwe two days before their game against the Sharks.
And he delivered a display that showed just why the 36-year-old made the right decision to return to the game.
He marshaled his pack well all day against the league leaders and dominated the lineout in vintage style.
The Bulls have recovered well from a poor start to the season, and the introduction of Matfield to the side has helped to no end.
5. On-Song Sopoaga Saves Highlanders
Running rugby abounds in the Super XV, but it was the boot of one man that ensured the Highlanders’ victory over the Hurricanes.
The fly-half nailed nine out of his 10 kicks at goal to help the Highlanders to a 35-31 win, staving off a late fight-back led by his opposite number Beauden Barrett—who scored twice—but couldn’t get the better of Sopoaga’s impressive seven penalties and two conversions.
Both Barrett and the Reds Quade Cooper scored braces for their sides in Round 6, but both ended up on the losing team.
Sopoaga proved it's not all about crossing the whitewash to secure a high-scoring victory in this tournament.
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