With 1 week left of the round robin the Bulls have ensured they have sealed top spot!
The top 4 took on a new complexion with only the Bulls assured of a semi-final spot. Two Australian sides move in, whilst there are no Kiwi sides currently in the top 4. That could all change with the top 6 sides all playing one of the others in the last weekend of games.
One would expect the Stormers to make the semi-finals, but much depends on the Bulls approach to their game, whilst the other 4 sides take part in virtual quarter finals.
As this weekend showed, almost any side can beat one another on any given day, and attitude and commitment play the greatest role in determining a side's destiny.
Hurricanes (44) v Reds (21)
The Hurricanes got out to an early 8-0 lead before the Reds hit back with 3 tries. Once again captain Will Genia and Quade Cooper were instrumental in getting the Reds going forward with smart interplay and passing finding spaces in the Hurricanes defence.
The Hurricanes were winning the battle of the breakdown and although they trailed by 21-8 with half-time looming, a spectacular try from Hosea Gear after the half time hooter enabled them to narrow the deficit going into half time.
After half time Reds flank Andrew Shaw was yellow carded and the Hurricanes took full effect, swinging the momentum and scoring 2 further tries. The Reds could never recover and now look to be gone from the title race. Whilst dangerous out wide, they simply haven't got any forward power left to compete with the top sides on a weekly basis. The Hurricanes ended up scoring 36 unanswered points as the reds ran out of gas.
What I found most interesting was seeing Will Genia losing his cool towards the end of the game as he spat the dummy and punched the ball in frustration. And there is talk he is a future Wallaby captain!
The Hurricanes are running into form at the right time and if they make the semi-finals could be dangerous as they have the experience and are one of the most dangerous sides on their day.
Bulls (40) v Crusaders (35)
The Crusaders showed just why they have won 7 super rugby titles as they produced a great performance with their backs to their wall. They took the game to the Bulls, going wide and utilising their running skills to carve massive holes in the Bulls defence.
But just as the Crusaders have done for many years, the Bulls showed why they are now the most feared side in the competition as they remained in touch with Morne Steyn's boot, absorbed all the pressure and responded with superb counter attacking.
The Crusaders had scored 3 good first half tries as a result of patient build up and using the wrap around to create overlaps on each flank. But the Bulls showed they weren't to be outdone as they broke out with 2 long range efforts that were finished with clinical precision, firstly by Francois Hougaard and the second by intricate interplay between Gary Botha, Danie Rossouw and Victor Matfield.
After half time the complexion of the game changed as the Bulls dictated proceedings and were able to play a more forward orientated battle. The Bulls just couldn't get over for a try that threatened to break the game open, and the Crusaders managed one against the run of play to allow the game to be held on a knife edge as Morne Steyn and Dan Carter engaged in the battle of the boot.
Just when it looked like Carter had done enough to see his side through, and Morne Steyn's last gasp drop goal attempt was charged just before the hooter sounded, the Bulls showed the patience and nous to hold onto the ball, build phases to drag the Crusaders in before exploiting the space out wide.
It was an important win for the Bulls who remain unbeaten at Loftus this season, securing the home semi-final and probably knocking the Crusaders out of the title race.
Chiefs (19) v Waratahs (46)
The Waratahs thrashed the Chiefs in Hamilton to move back into third spot on the log, and signal they are still a force to be reckoned with.
After scoring their first try after just 3 minutes, the Waratahs scored a further 6 more as they attacked from all over the park to race to a 27-0 lead before the Chiefs could get on the board as late as the 61st minute by which stage the contest was over.
The Waratahsattack was a lot more cohesive with Berrick Barnes at flyhalf and Tom Carter and Rob Horne the centre pairing. It allowed greater space out wide, and this allowed the greater use of Wallaby Drew Mitchell. Can the Waratahs maintain this sort of form at a time they usually lose their way?
Brumbies (31) v Highlanders (3)
The Brumbieskept their semi-final hopes alivewith a comprehensive win in Carberra. The Brumbies played with great pace and intensity, getting their multi phase play going and the Highlanders had no answer.
The Highlanders initially stood up to the task, but a side can only make so many tackles and the Brumbiespatience eventually wore the Highlanders down. 2 Tries in the first half gave the Brumbies a solid buffer, and although the dominated most of the match it wasn't until the last minute before the Brumbies could secure the crucial bonus point.
The match will most probably be remembered for the last game in Canberra for Brumbies stalwart George Smith who has been an outstanding player over the years.
The Brumbies now have to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch to secure a semi-final position and depending on what happens with the Waratahs-Hurricanes may even sneak through with a close loss.
Lions (14) v Blues (56)
Pathetic. The Lions are the worst side in super rugby history.
The Lions have now set new records for the most losses in a season (12 so far) and points conceded (526) with an abysmal points difference of -266!
The Blues only had to pitch up as the Lions have a non-existent defence that allows a side to practice their training moves with semi-contact and walk away with the easiest of 5 log points. The Blues were far from polished but showed great character to play for the full 80 minutes, whilst the Lions looked clueless.
Carlos Spencer often seems unsure what to do and often throws hospital passes to his backs. On one occasion Tonderai Chavange did brilliantly to create a try for the Lions. He thoroughly deserved his yellow card for a foot trip that signified the frustration within this Lions side.
In the first half the Lions turned down a penalty attempt from in front of the poles only to attempt a drop goal from the ensuing lineout. Why would you do that? Is this side coached at all?
Ellis Park these days is empty for home games and the Lions will be taking their final match to Welkom. I'd suggest that unless the locals desperately want to see the Cheetahs, they'd be better off not wasting their money and stay at home!
Cheetahs (29) v Force (14)
The Cheetahs showed that you don't need a team of star players, but the determination and commitment to play to the best of your ability with what you have on offer.
Both sides showed a willingness to move the ball, but it was the Cheetahs who made greater yardage over the advantage line, allowing more space for their backs to move.
In Bjorn Basson (and Hennie Daniller) the Cheetahs had great aerial exponents, and the kicking of Naas Oliver and Daniller from fullback was used to great effect. The try where Olivier kicked cross field for Basson to run onto was pin point and one of the best of the year.
Unfortunately they could not keep up the intensity for the full 80 once they had opened a lead and both sides made too many errors in the final quarter to get anything going.
The Cheetahs moved up 2 spots on the log and that is just reward for their tenacity and attitude as in previous years they have simply thrown in the towel. The Force also showed a great attitude and have tried gamely all season long.
Sharks (20) v Stormers (14)
Why do South African sides suddenly come alive when they are playing their fellow countrymen who are semi-final contenders?
The Sharks had a mission for this game, and that showed in their attitude and commitment. The Stormers are probably the better side all around the field, but they could not match the hunger the Sharks had and were bossed around at the breakdown and in contact. That resulted in far too many errors for the Stormers who simply could not get anything going, and continually handed possession to the Sharks.
For all their territory, possession and opportunities created, the Sharks could only score 2 tries, and one was a gift at that after Sireli Naqelevuki botched an easy ball to force behind his goal line.
Some critics are saying that Kockott and Pienaar made a big difference and proved themselves as a halfback pairing. Considering we know what they are capable of and they've played many times before, I can't see why it has taken people so long to say this is the pair the Sharks needed.
What made the difference in my mind was the fact the Sharks ran straighter, harder and didn't kick possession away aimlessly. By going forward and building phases, they created pressure which created chances. It's a simple formula.
The Stormers were given a tough lesson and now need to regroup for one last league match to secure a home semi-final. Much will depend on what the Bulls do and how seriously they take a game they don't need to win.
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