What a weekend of rugby we were treated to! We had some nail biters, some great tries, a huge upset, and plenty of quality rugby thrown into the mix.
Before we look at this week's rankings I'll mention the event that took place this week, which has been labelled as the biggest scandal in the history of Australian sport. I am talking, of course, about the discovery that the Melbourne Storm NRL team have been operating two books and have been paying their players in excess of the salary cap.
I was in shock for all of Thursday night after hearing the news and finding out that the Storm would be stripped of all their titles. I must say that I'm glad the Super 14 has no salary cap so we never have a problem like this one, as it would just kill the competition. It's also interesting that the former Melbourne Storm CEO, Brian Waldron, who has recently jumped ship to the new Super 15 franchise the Melbourne Rebels, has been sacked.
Anyway enough about the Storm and onto the Super 14. After no changes last week we see a lot of changes this week as we draw closer to the semifinals.
1. The Bulls (1): Last Week: Won vs Lions 51-11 Win/Loss: 8-2
The Bulls returned home in style with a 51-11 routing of the Lions. In saying this, though, it is an expectation that they will beat the Lions and I don't think we can read too much into this game. They will be tested in the coming weeks with the Stormers and Crusaders still to come.
Positives: Big win on the return home. Special mention to Morne Steyn for becoming South Africa's leading Super Rugby point scorer.
Negatives: As I said, they beat the Lions by 40 points, big deal, we'll see how good they really are next week.
2. The Reds (4): Last Week: Won vs Stormers 16-13 Win/Loss: 9-3
The Reds have to be considered the form side of the competition after coming off back-to-back wins over the two South African giants, the Bulls and the Stormers. Will Genia was once again fantastic as he sniped dangerously from the ruck. They must now be seen as a top four team with the Hurricanes, Brumbies, and Highlanders to come.
Positives: This is a team playing with so much confidence. I love there 100 mile-per-hour approach to the game.
Negatives: I'm struggling to find any at the moment. If they keep doing what they're doing there is no reason why they couldn't win the whole thing.
3. The Crusaders (2): Last Week: Lost vs Force 24-16 Win/Loss: 7-2-1
The Force have become somewhat of a bogey side for the Crusaders since their inception to the competition in 2006. After a 13-0 lead, the Crusaders could only muster three more points as the Force cause the biggest upset of the competition to date, winning the second half 24-3.
Positives: As long as the Crusaders make this a one-off loss, they should be okay.
Negatives: In saying that, this is the first game of a three game road trip where they still have to play the Bulls and the Stormers. This loss could very well cost them a spot in the top four.
4. The Waratahs (5): Last Week: Won vs Brumbies 19-12 Win/Loss: 7-3
Lachie Turner's try proved to be the difference in the Waratahs win over the Brumbies last night. It was a tightly fought game, but the Waratahs tend to be good at winning close games and this win will be crucial in their bid for a semifinal spot.
Positives: In a game that could have gone either way, they won, lets just stick with that.
Negatives: I wouldn't relax yet if I was a Waratah, their win was far from convincing. They'll have to be up for the Highlanders next week, who could give them a few problems.
5. The Stormers (3): Last Week: Lost vs Reds 16-13 Win/Loss: 7-3
The Stormers lost a close one to the Reds, which could prove to be detrimental to their championship bid, given that they are yet to play the Bulls and the Crusaders. At least those two games are both at home. I wouldn't be panicking just yet, but their Top Four spot doesn't look as secure as it did a week ago.
Positives: They didn't look bad against the Reds; they still defended well and really should have won had Bryan Habana not sustained an injury that hampered him throughout the second half.
Negatives: They have a tough run in, but there's no reason why they can't win all three remaining games; they are certainly good enough.
6. The Brumbies (6): Last Week: Lost vs Waratahs 19-12 Win/Loss: 6-4
The Brumbies loss to the Waratahs pretty much spelt the end of their season. They will struggle to crack the Top Four now, given that they still have to play the Reds and the Crusaders. They stuck with the Waratahs the whole way, but their inability to cross the line proved to be the difference.
Positives: As I said, they were close to the Waratahs, but close isn't good enough for a Top Four contender.
Negatives: They don't look like they will be making the Top Four. So there is a definite gap between them and the Top Five teams, despite this there is also a definite gap between them and the seventh best team, showing that they are still clearly in the upper half of the competition.
7. The Sharks: (9): Last Week: Won vs Blues 23-10 Win/Loss: 5-5
The Sharks finally crack the top half this week after winning their fifth straight game. Ruan Pienaar is playing well and has to be the second best half back in the competition next to Genia. They may have left their run a bit late, but there is still the slimmest of chances they will make the Top Four. and they'll never die wondering if they would have the way they're playing.
Positives: Five from five now and have their real test against the Bulls next week.
Negatives: Not too many at the moment, just the same as I say every week...that slow start cost them in what could have been a successful season.
8. The Blues (7): Last Week: Lost vs Sharks 23-10 Win/Loss: 5-5
The Blues got their road trip off to a poor start as they went down to the high flying Sharks 23-10. Consistency is still a problem. Until they can sort that out, they won't be making any finals any time soon.
Positives: None after a 23-10 loss to the side ranked seventh in these rankings. Need to get up for the rest of their road trip.
Negatives: Consistency. Sort it out Blues, I'm sick of writing that word in this space every week.
9. The Hurricanes (8): Last Week: Won vs Highlanders 33-31 Win/Loss: 5-4-1
The Hurricanes win over the Highlanders was far from convincing. In what was the most exciting game of the round the Hurricanes scored five tries as they ran through some weak Highlanders defence. They also let in five tries; against an injury-ridden Highlanders side, that is as good as a loss.
Positives: A win is a win despite what I said above. Five tries also must be seen as a positive.
Negatives: Defence seemed to be lacking at times as the Highlanders cut them open on many an occasion.
10. The Chiefs (10): Last Week: Drew vs Cheetahs 25-25 Win/Loss: 4-5-1
Missing eight from eight kicks is horrible and cost them what should have been a comfortable win over the Cheetahs.
Positives: Like the Hurricanes, they scored five tries.
Negatives: Unlike the Hurricanes, they failed to kick a goal; they lost a potential 19 points here.
11. The Force (11): Last Week: Won vs Crusaders 24-16 Win/Loss: 3-7
The Force produced the upset of the season as they downed the Crusaders 24-16. The season may be over for them but three wins in their last four games is encouraging, and we will hopefully see them grow in confidence and be a better team next year.
Positives: A win over the Crusaders, forget the technicalities, we'll just stick with that.
Negatives: They gave the Crusaders a 13-0 lead, they won't get away with that every week.
12. The Highlanders (12): Last Week: Lost vs Hurricanes 33-31 Win/Loss: 2-8
The Highlanders actually looked quite good against the Hurricanes as they took in a new positive game plan. Crucial moments cost them though as they turned down a penalty shot, which the Hurricanes then scored off. That's a 10 point turnaround. And there was Ben Smith's dropped catch; simple things like that are going to continue to cost them games.
Positives: They showed that they can play some good rugby. Adam Thompson was superb.
Negatives: As I said, those crucial moments cost them.
13. The Cheetahs (13): Last Week: Drew vs Chiefs 25-25 Win/Loss: 2-7-1
The Cheetahs managed a draw against the Chiefs, which would have to be a positive result rather than a negative one for them, given that the Chiefs were so heavily favoured heading into the game. They were lucky though, those missed kicks were a blessing.
Positives: They managed to register some points on the competition table.
Negatives: The road trip has killed them, but they are back home next week.
14. The Lions (14): Last Week: Lost vs Bulls 51-11 Win/Loss: 0-10
Ten straight losses for the Lions. This week it was to the Bulls. I really have nothing more to add, they haven't looked good at all this year.
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