We are now four weeks into the Super 14 Rugby Tournament, and the competition is slowly starting to sort itself out. This week, the big stories were the upset wins by the Reds, who beat the Chiefs, and the Cheetahs, who defeated the Hurricanes. Each of the winning teams came in as heavy underdogs and delivered inspiring performances.
The weekend was good for three Australian teams in action, as each delivered a win. The Waratahs returned home from winning an exciting game in Sydney, the Brumbies defeated the Lions in their first home game of the year, and the Reds delivered a shocking win over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
This week's rankings are divided up into three groups: the real contenders, the middle bunch, and the stragglers. There is a definite line between each group, but within each it seems that there is little separation between each team. However, the unpredictability of this competition is shown by the fact that any team is capable of beating any other team on any given day.
1. The Bulls (1): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 3-0
The fact that the Bulls are still on top of the table after being one of the two first teams to have the bye says it all. Even if they weren't, it would be criminal to take them from their top spot given their form in their first three games.
Positives: They have gotten the bye out of the way, and they are still on top. Need I say anymore?
Negatives: None so far. They just need to keep doing what they are doing.
2. The Crusaders (4): Last Week: Won vs Blues, 33-20 Win/Loss: 3-1
The Crusaders jump two spots in the rankings this week after a strong second half saw them beat a Blues side who couldn't stick with them for the whole 80 minutes. A slow start saw the Crusaders lead by just one point at the break, but continued pressure saw the Blues make some critical mistakes, which the Crusaders capitalised on.
Positives: Another strong finish—looks as though they will fill one of the top four spots come semi-finals time.
Negatives: Slow starts against good teams may not lead to such good results. They look good in general, but this is the one thing that they will want to sort out.
3. The Chiefs (3): Last Week: Lost vs Reds, 23-18 Win/Loss: 3-1
The last thing I said about the Chiefs last year was to make sure they don't relax and to push on after such a successful road trip. Maybe I jinxed them. They looked good, 15 points up after just 20 minutes. They seemed to have thought they'd won after this, as they went to sleep and let the Reds claw their way back into the game and eventually in front. I keep the Chiefs in the same spot as last week in the hope that they can pick themselves up after their loss .
Positives: What a start! The Chiefs looked extremely dangerous in the first 20 minutes, scoring three quick tries showing us what a threat they will be to all teams.
Negatives: Mistakes cost them in the end and a poor second half saw them slip up in their first home match.
4. The Hurricanes (2): Last Week: Lost vs Cheetahs, 28-12 Win/Loss: 3-1
The Hurricanes were stunned by the Cheetahs, 28-12. This being the so-called 'easy' game of their road trip must spark some concern as they now travel to Cape Town and Pretoria to take on the Stormers and Bulls, who will both present mighty challenges.
Positives: They still look dangerous out wide with David Smith and Cory Jane both dotting down.
Negatives: Discipline was poor as they had two yellow cards this week.
5. The Stormers (6): Last Week: Won vs Highlanders, 33-0 Win/Loss: 3-1
The Stormers were brilliant as they beat the Highlanders in every facet of the game this week. They delivered a flawless performance which is reflected by the fact that the Highlanders failed to score a single point. It seems the Stormers will be destined to do well this year and will surely be among those fighting for top-four places come the business end of the competition.
Positives: They were brilliant in everything against the Highlanders—they just need to play like that every week.
Negatives: Very few—their scrum looked a bit shabby at times but was nothing to get too worried about.
6. The Brumbies (5): Last Week: Won vs Lions, 24-13 Win/Loss: 3-1
The Brumbies fall in the rankings this week despite a win over the Lions. The scoreline didn't reflect the Brumbies' dominance, as the Lions seemed more determined to keep the Brumbies to as few points as possible rather than actually score themselves.
Positives: A good performance which should have resulted in a bigger winning margin.
Negatives: Failed to come up with a bonus point against a team in which they should have been targeting to get one. This could prove crucial later on.
7. The Reds (8): Last Week: Won vs Chiefs, 23-18 Win/Loss: 2-2
The Reds provided the first upset of the weekend with a win over the Chiefs in Hamilton. The Reds trailed by 15 after just 20 minutes, and it looked as though the Chiefs were going to run away. No one told the Reds though, as they clawed their way back into the game and, for the first time this season, didn't give away a last-minute try.
Positives: Showed some great fight against the Chiefs. Will Genia has filled the captaincy role well, and is already showing his star qualities.
Negatives: A slow start saw them playing catch-up rugby for most of the game. Great defence in the second half.
8. The Cheetahs (11): Last Week: Won vs Hurricanes, 28-12 Win/Loss: 2-2
The Cheetahs jump three places this week after a shocking win over the rampant Hurricanes. Consistency is going to be the key for the Cheetahs, as the win shows they are capable of beating the top teams in this competition. However, beating the Hurricanes really isn't going to help their cause if they can't win a home game against the Highlanders.
Positives: They became the first team to beat the Hurricanes this year. Forget the specifics, just look at the scoreboard.
Negatives: Consistency isn't great.
9. Waratahs (10): Last Week: Won vs Sharks, 25-21 Win/Loss: 2-2
The Waratahs returned home Saturday night and beat the Sharks by four points. Despite the win, the Waratahs only jump one ranking this week, and don't look like they will challenge the top teams for a semi-final position. They struggled at times with their handling, and their defence seemed to go to sleep while the Sharks had a man in the sin bin. However, having already completed their trip to South Africa, the hardest part of their campaign is out the way and they can now concentrate on winning home games.
Positives: The scored three tries in their win over the Sharks.
Negatives: Looked average at times. They should have put the Sharks away by more.
10. The Blues (7): Last Week: Lost vs Crusaders, 33-20 Win/Loss: 2-2
It seems harsh to drop the Blues three places. After all, it was the Crusaders they lost to. But it was more the way they lost to them. Their loss came as a result of missed tackles, bad passes, and general mistakes. The Crusaders' two second-half tries were both avoidable, especially the intercepted one. They have a bye next weekend, giving them time to rest and get up for their next fixture.
Positives: Stuck with the Crusaders for the first half, as most teams have done.
Negatives: Self-inflicted mistakes cost them, a poor second half.
11. The Highlanders (9): Last Week: Lost vs Stormers, 33-0 Win/Loss: 1-3
It was tempting to drop the Highlanders below the winless teams. But I didn't since their performance against the Cheetahs hasn't been forgotten completely. As for this week, 33-0 says it all.
Positives: None from this week, and if you have any, you are really grasping for straws.
Negatives: Lineout, lack of creativity—just their whole game after this week.
12. The Sharks (12): Last Week: Lost vs Waratahs, 25-21 Win/Loss: 0-4
The Sharks didn't look bad against the Waratahs in Sydney as they continued their road trip. They really stepped up their performance when they were down to 14 men, but couldn't quite finish off a game that could have gone either way. It is really now or never for the Sharks, but making the semi-finals looks to be a long shot.
Positives: Ryan Kankowski is playing very well at the moment. They looked capable of beating the Waratahs, which is encouraging.
Negatives: Being capable isn't good enough in this competition, however. Wins are what counts.
13. The Lions (13): Last Week: Lost vs Brumbies, 24-13 Win/Loss: 0-4
The Lions kept the scoreline closer than most thought they would, but really didn't play well against the Brumbies. In the closing stages of the first half, their discipline was poor, which resulted in a penalty try. They seemed unable to get their hands on the ball and were just outplayed in general.
Positives: Kept the deficit to 11, but really look as though they are going to continue to struggle this year.
Negatives: Zero wins from four games.
14. The Force (14): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 0-3
The Force had a bye this week, so they weren't able to improve their record. Hopefully the week off will have them refreshed and will see that they can start stringing together some wins.
Positives: The bye may be just what the Force needed to change their ways this year.
Negatives: Nothing new, they just need to get a win on the board so they can't start trying to build some momentum.