5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby Round 10
Derbies across the board this weekend threw up some tight contests in each conference as the Sharks upheld their league lead with a win over the Cheetahs, while in Australia the Force fell to the Brumbies.
The Blues maintained their miserable away form with defeat to the Hurricanes, and the Crusaders edged the Chiefs in an intriguing Round 10.
Here's what we learned.
1. Chiefs' Champion Credentials Look Shaky
The Chiefs went down 17-18 at home to the Crusaders, a result that cuts their lead at the top of the New Zealand conference to just three points.
After a tour of South Africa that yielded two draws and that shock defeat away to the Force, it means Dave Rennie's side have won just once in the last five games.
The crown might just be starting to wobble on the champions' heads.
The New Zealand Herald identified their lineout as a major problem.
The Chiefs' paranoia about their struggling set piece led to some quick throws which simply put them under more pressure. It played straight into the hands of the Crusaders who wanted field position in order to turn the screw. The fact they were often giving away the lineout throw didn't concern them in the least because they knew they had a good chance of getting the ball back.
The champs go to the Brumbies next week, another side adept at picking mercilessly on their opponents' weaknesses.
2. Marshall Move a Timely Reminder for Burgess
Benji Marshall's disappointing half as a replacement No. 10 in the Blues' defeat to the Hurricanes looks like his last act as a rugby union player.
The league star is set for a return to the 13-man code after failing to come to grips with the union game.
Steve Deane of the New Zealand Herald wrote:
In a statement made this evening, the Blues and New Zealand Rugby confirmed they have received a request from Marshall to be released early from his contract.
"All parties are currently in discussions regarding this request and need to work through a formal process before making any further comment."
Marshall's manager, Martin Tauber, has been instructed to open talks with NRL clubs.
Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah did immediately return the Herald's call, however the New Zealand club has not so far been linked to the former Kiwis star.
Marshall has been given just 212 minutes of game time in eight Super Rugby matches this season.
An Australian newspaper reported the 29 year-old decided to seek a release after a meeting with Kirwan in which it was suggested he either play the rest of the season in the lower tiers to help prepare him for the 2015 Super Rugby competition or return to rugby league.
As England's Sam Burgess prepares to make the switch from the South Sydney Rabbitohs to Bath and a potential starring role for England at next year's World Cup, Marshall's disastrous attempt serves as a timely reminder that even the brightest lights can fail to shine in an unfamiliar environment.
3. Concussion Concern at Hamilton a Lesson to the World
Congratulations to both the Chiefs and Crusaders for their safety-first approach to players with head knocks in their battle in Round 10.
After 30 minutes, Kieran Read, unarguably the Crusaders' most influential player, was clattered to the jaw and clearly concussed. Having failed the pitch-side concussion test, that was his evening over.
When the Chiefs' Liam Squire was then on the wrong end of a heavy hit and struggled to get to his feet, his coaching staff didn't even wait for the result of a pitch-side assessment before taking him off.
They also acted with caution over Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who passed a concussion test after half-time but was still replaced just in case.
High-profile players being treated this way is an encouraging sign that this growing issue is being taken seriously at the top level. This columnist echoes the sentiments of the New Zealand Herald's Gregor Paul, who wrote:
Actions haven't always supported words when it comes to the management of players with head knocks, but on Saturday both coaching teams made decisions that illustrated their conviction there are no shades of grey when it comes to concussion.
4. Folau Proves His Value
Israel Folau scored the fastest try of the season with his 28-second effort that proved the difference against the Bulls.
The Waratahs beat the Bulls 19-12 in Sydney, and their talisman was the key man once again.
As if Folau's importance to this side wasn't underlined enough by his absence in recent weeks, he wasted no time in making the point again with that early try.
The Wallabies would be a far inferior side without him.
5. Aussie Derbies a Gambler's Nightmare
It's a brave man who puts an all-Australian clash down on his betting slip in this Super Rugby season.
Having thumped the Rebels a month ago, the Force, who were riding high on five straight wins, went to Melbourne and lost the return fixture.
That's after they beat the Waratahs, who had slaughtered them in Round 1. The Waratahs have lost to the Brumbies, beaten the Rebels and lost to the Brumbies, who themselves lost to the Rebels and have won one and lost one against the Reds.
The lesson? Keep your money in your pocket.