Highlanders throw down the gauntlet in twelfth weekend of Super Rugby

Dunedin- The Highlanders sounded a warning to their opposition that they will not be dethroned easily in 2016 after they beat the high-flying Crusaders in the twelfth weekend of Super Rugby at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. Reports Piet Lategan.

In a crackerjack encounter where both sides showed plenty of enterprise the Highlanders ran out 34-26 winners against the Crusaders to hand them their first defeat after eight victories on the bounce. The Crusaders had 70% of the ball and territory in the first half, but without any meaningful penetration. The Highlanders scored a try with their first opportunity after a deft chip from flyhalf, Lima Sopoaga, resulted in a try for right wing, Waisake Naholo, who plucked the ball out of the air only to dive over and score. The Highlanders were quick to score again after a sweeping backline movement saw scrumhalf, Aaron Smith, loop around and present outside centre, Matt Faddes, with a great pass only for Faddes to put the hammer down and beat the defensive line on the outside to score a excellent try. The Highlanders were not quite done in the half as Naholo completed his brace before the break. Faddes first beat the defence with a good run on the left as the Highlanders recycled the ball and they again looped around to create the overlap for Naholo to canter in as they led with 20-12 at the break. In the second stanza Faddes once again tore the defence of the Crusaders to pieces in midfield as he put the hammer down from 50m out to score a remarkable try. The Crusaders never quite recovered and although we saw tries from fullback, Israel Dagg, and blindside flanker, Jordan Taufua, another try from replacement flanker of the Highlanders, Liam Squire, put the result beyond doubt. With the victory the Highlanders moved up to 37 points on the log and the Crusaders still lead the Australasian Group with 37 points on points difference, despite the loss.

In the second game on Friday the Brumbies beat the Rebels with 30-22 at AAMI Park in Melbourne to score a vital away victory in the context of the Australasian Group. The game began with both sides giving the ball a lot of air as we went to-and-fro across the field with both sides scoring a try. In the next quarter the  Brumbies looked far more enterprising with ball in hand as they scored tries through lock, Rory Arnold, and flyhalf, Christian Lealiïfano, as they went into the sheds with a lead of 20-10. There were more to-and-fro rugby in the second stanza as both sides scored two more tries, but when Brumbies-right wing, Nigel Ah-Wong, scored with 10 minutes left to go on the clock the Rebels were down for the count.

On Saturday the Hurricanes beat the Reds with 29-14 at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. South-African born left-wing of the Hurricanes, Wes Goosen, and hooker, Dane Coles, scored tries before the break which meant the Hurricanes had the psychological advantage going into the second half. In the second half the Hurricanes smothered the Reds in squeezing the life out of them as Hurricanes-right wing, Jason Woodman, completed a brace of tries with the last one being an intercept on the hooter to rub salt into the wounds of the Reds. With the victory the Hurricanes moved to 36 points in the Australasian Group to keep the pressure on the top three sides in the Group, all sitting on 37 points. At the Allianz Stadium in Sydney the Waratahs were too strong for the Bulls in winning with 31-8. Initially, it was a war of attrition as the Waratahs got the edge in the last 10 minutes of the first half as scrumhalf, Nick Phibbs, scored a converted try with the Waratahs leading 7-3 at the break. In the second stanza the Waratahs gradually wore the Bulls down as blindside flanker, Dean Mumm, scored a try with Phibbs completing his brace. The Bulls came back with a try of their own before replacement prop of the Waratahs, Angus Taavau-Matau, wrapped up the bonus-point victory for the Waratahs with a try of his own at the end. The Waratahs moved into top spot in Australia and second place in the Australasian Group on 30 points with the victory as it became fairly evident that only one Australian team will make the playoffs in 2016. At the Singapore National Stadium in Kellang the Stormers were extremely lucky to escape with a 17-all draw against the Sunwolves. The Stormers were ringrusty after their bye and their decision-making and execution were poor as they allowed the Sunwolves to dictate the pace of the game. Stormers-lock, Pieter Steph du Toit, and fullback, Cheslin Kolbe, were standout in-between a mediocre bunch as the Sunwolves gave their all to cause an upset. A try by replacement prop, Vincent Koch saved some blushes for the Capetonians as the Sunwolves nearly claimed their first big scalp of 2016. The Stormers moved down to second spot on 31 points in the South African Group after the draw and their fixture against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld next weekend, will be a deciding factor in the struggle for playoff spots in the South African Group.

The Cheetahs beat the Kings with 34-20 at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein in a battle of the basement as both sides produced some enterprising and attacking rugby with the Cheetahs already leading 17-6 at the break. Both Cheetah-centres in Francois Venter and Michael van der Spuy enjoyed good games as they got the Cheetahs across the advantage line. They led 34-13 after 60 minutes as they decided to shut up shop with the Kings coming back strongly in last 20 minutes of the game. The Kings were very innovative, but had major trouble with their set pieces and one cannot really play with a wrong or weak base to launch your attack from. The Kings also had major drama going on behind the scenes so their whole season basically was a recipe for disaster. One would hope this get sorted out come 2017. The Lions easily got past the Blues as they won with 43-5 in teeming rain at Emirates Airlines Park. The Lions were extremely quick out the blocks as they scored three tries within the first 10 minutes to race into a 19-0 lead which was also the score at the break. Lions-flyhalf, Elton Jantjies, enjoyed a massively impressive and assertive game as he reminded of a circus master cracking the whip.  The Lions ran riot in the second stanza as they scored four more tries that included a hat-trick from outside centre, Lionel Mapoe, as he ran superb angles off the shoulder of Jantjies. The Lions moved into pole position in the South African Group with 32 points after the victory.

In the last game of the weekend the Sharks managed to beat the Jaguares with 25-22 at Estadio Jose Amalfitani in Buenos Aires via a last-minute penalty from flyhalf, Patrick Lambie. Both sides played some impressive, attacking rugby with the Jaguares outscoring the Sharks three tries to one. The difference in the game was ill-discipline by the Jaguares and  the amount of kickable penalties they conceded which was converted into points by dead-eye dick, Lambie who kicked six penalties and a conversion to add to the try of the Sharks scored by eighthman, Daniel du Preez. The Sharks moved into the wildcard spot on 30 points in the South African Group after the victory and the competion for playoff spots in the congested Group will be fierce as we enter the home straight in the season.

However, the disconcerting fact for the Springbok supporters is that none of the teams in the South African Group deserve to win Super Rugby and none of them have looked like title contenders in 2016 with the teams in the Australasian Group setting the tone in terms of the overall standard of rugby and also the quality of the game we play with the oval ball.

Pic: Stuff