As ever, three Kiwi teams won, but the Waratahs had a major meltdown in the Australian conference. The Jaguares are sparking up in the South African conference. We are past the halfway mark and there will be some desperate jockeying for position in the coming weeks.
1 Hurricanes (Second in NZC)
The Hurricanes put their feet up over the weekend, losing their NZ conference lead but not their power ranking. They host the Sunwolves on Friday, so they will, at least temporarily, shoot back to the top of the NZ log.
The Lions went 6-3 after a 29-0 shutout of the Waratahs in Sydney, their first win in that city. The world’s best active hooker, Malcolm Marx, and Kwagga Smith were strong for the tourists, who are making no race of the South African conference.
3 Crusaders (First in NZC)
The stormy weather and some inaccuracy, not to mention the staunch Sunwolves defence, put paid to hopes of a scoreline blowout, but Mike Delany showed his class and Owen Franks and Israel Dagg made unscathed comebacks. There looks to be a ding-dong battle ahead with the Hurricanes for the top billing.
4 Highlanders (Fourth in NZC)
The Highlanders annexed the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy and unfurled their latest sensation, hat-trick loosie Shannon Frizell. But they did make a heap of tackles, and Sunday’s clash with the Bulls in Pretoria will show how much that took out of them.
As it turned out, Damian McKenzie’s early exit after a head knock did not harm the Chiefs as they took out the Reds 36-12 in Brisbane. But they have high standards, so the second spell will not please them. Liam Messam brought up the notable milestone of 100 wins as a Chief.
John Mitchell’s message is, it seems, getting through. The Bulls scored some sweet tries in the 28-10 defeat of the Rebels and now go 4-4. Victory against the Highlanders this weekend would be gold.
Alas, the Waratahs showed more intensity in the late scuffle than they did in most of the 80 minutes of their 29-0 defeat at the hands of the Lions. Coach Daryl Gibson has the bye to regroup and refocus.
The Rebels have never won in South Africa and they never really looked like doing so against the Bulls at Loftus. Now the hurting Stormers await. That swift start to the season seems like aeons ago.
9 Jaguares (Fourth in SAC)
They seem to have sorted out their defence, they are scoring more tries, and they are taking a liking to Australian teams. The Jaguares may not win the SA conference but they are going to take down some scalps. They may fancy beating the Blues, though they had several players go down heavily in the 25-20 win over the Brumbies. Just get the ball in space to prolific wing Emiliano Boffelli.
The Sharks can play at home, after all. There was a nagging feeling that they play better in Australasia, but they edged the Stormers 24-17 in Durban. The du Preez brothers, Robert and Jean-Luc combined for a decisive try. Now for the bye.
11 Brumbies (Third in AC)
Basic errors from the Brumbies, such as not finding touch from a penalty, gifted the points to the Jaguares 25-20. But the late penalty goal by Wharenui Hawera for the bonus point may yet be critical.
12 Stormers (Fifth in SAC)
The Stormers have now lost four on the bounce and sunk to the bottom of the South African conference. They need to beat the Rebels this weekend to right the ship.
The Chiefs were too good by half for the ailing Reds on Saturday in Brisbane. No 8 Caleb Timu will still be feeling that hit by Johnny Fa’auli, while James Slipper will be sore, mentally and physically, after leaving the fray early. George Smith has little to work off when he enters from the bench.
The Blues are trying hard, but they struggled with the Highlanders’ rush defence, and their backline passing is slovenly. Something drastic will need to happen to lower the Jaguares with any ease. They have now lost three straight at home in 2018, and that never used to happen, even in the bad years.
15 Sunwolves (Fifth in AC)
Most teams are trying to win their conference. The poor old Sunwolves are just trying to win a game. They are gaining in competitiveness, but the terrible conditions in Christchurch helped their game as much as it hindered the Crusaders. Hayden Parker is a goalkicking ace but will struggle to ignite his backline when he faces up to Beauden Barrett this Friday in the capital.