Winners and Losers from Super Rugby Qualifiers
The Super Rugby Qualifying finals saw two tantalising ties. The Brumbies took on the Chiefs in Canberra in a repeat of last year's final. The other contest saw a clash between the Sharks and the Highlanders. These were two ties that delivered all that they promised.
The Brumbies held on in the Australian capital to sneak through 32-30. The Waratahs await them in the semi final next Saturday.
The Sharks, winners of the South African conference, also snatched a place in the semis. They faced a fierce fight with the Highlanders in Durban. However, the home side came through 31-27, despite trailing 17-13 at half time.
With two such close encounters, the margins between winning and losing were minimal. Here are the winners and losers that shaped these Super Rugby Qualifiers.
The Brumbies bolted out of the gates against the Chiefs. It was a fast start that shocked the defending champions and ultimately left them too much to do.
Chiefs fly-half Aaron Cruden acknowledges that their slow start ultimately cost them the victory and a place in the semis.
We started pretty slowly and gave a quality side like the Brumbies a lead like that.
We did really well to peg it back and showed a lot of character, but in these play-off games you need to be clinical for 80 minutes.
The Chiefs did their best to end the Brumbies' seven-game winning streak in Canberra. However, when they took too long to start playing, this task went from tricky to insurmountable.
The Highlanders have a dangerous backline which takes some stopping. With Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa they certainly are a fearsome unit. However, it was the Kiwi side that were forced to make more and, as a result, miss more tackles.
Two tries for the Sharks after half time eradicated the Highlanders' lead and took the game away from them. Bismarck Du Plessis's score on 52 minutes was followed up three minutes later by replacement Tondi Chavhanga.
This second half pressure from the Sharks proved the deciding factor in this tie. The Durban side had 68 percent possession after the break, wearing their defence down through the high tackle count. Without time in possession the Highlanders could not utilise their attacking weapons.
Winners and Losers. Heroes and Villains. Ultimately Aaron Cruden falls into the latter categories. However, he was so close to becoming the former.
His sublime inside pass for Michael Fitzgerald created space for Tim Nanai-Williams to cross in the corner. It was a try that tied the scores, but Cruden was unable to add the conversion.
When Anscombe bundled over in the same corner, Cruden was faced with a conversion to level the scores once again. However, his effort drifted across the face of goal and the Chiefs lost their chance of a third Super Rugby title in as many years.
It is cruel that a player so crucial to the Chiefs will be seen by many as costing his team this game.
While Aaron Cruden will be seen as the villain of the first qualifier, Frans Steyn was the hero of the second.
Both the Sharks and the Highlanders notched up three tries apiece. The difference between winning and losing came down to kicking, much like in Canberra. Luckily the monster boot of Frans Steyn proved a reliable one for the Sharks.
The Springbok has looked rejuvenated since his return from France and was instrumental in guiding the Sharks to the semis. Steyn slotted four penalties and two conversions to send the Sharks through and the Highlanders crashing out.
A major world talent starting to fulfil his potential. Will his long kicks prove enough to carry the Sharks the distance?
Brumbies Driving Maul
The Brumbies' driving maul fuelled their fast start against the Chiefs. They took the initiative at the set piece and rattled the defending champions.
On five minutes, Sam Carter leapt high to claim the lineout and drew the forwards closely around him. The forward shove took the Brumbies up to the try line before scrum half Nic White took the ball blind to score.
It was a driving maul that gave the Brumbies their initial lead, and the same method put them in front at 25-25. Jarrad Butler controlled the ball from the back to make his first Super Rugby try a vital one.