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Unbeaten Crusaders down Chiefs to stay top

May 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders maintained their unbeaten run with a 31-24 win over the Waikato Chiefs in Suva on Friday, extending their lead at the top of the Super Rugby table.

Crusaders

The Crusaders only scored three tries to four against their closest New Zealand rivals but fly-half Richie Mo’unga’s two conversions and four penalties gave them the win.

The result boosts the Crusaders chances of finishing top of the ladder and claiming the reward of home-ground advantage in the play-offs.

Captain Sam Whitelock said it was pleasing to see his backline take control after the forwards delivered victory against the Wellington Hurricanes last week.

“The whole year we’ve had the balance right between forwards and backs,” he said.

“Either unit can step up when they need to, that’s awesome as a captain.”

There was a concern for All Blacks selectors when Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty left the field with possible concussion, adding to a growing injury list ahead of the British and Irish Lions series.

But they could take heart from the fact that fly-half Aaron Cruden was in sparkling form, despite being on the losing side.

The fixture was nominally a Chiefs home game but they moved it to Fiji to recognise the contribution Pacific islanders make to New Zealand rugby.

The meeting between New Zealand’s top-performing sides lived up to expectations as the lead changed four times before the Crusaders took control in the second half.

The Chiefs looks set for an upset win with a 17-13 lead at the break but conceded too many penalties as the Crusaders remained disciplined.

Cruden set up the opening try, accelerating into space then sending a floating pass to set up Tim Nanai-Williams on the wing.

He then followed up with a kick from deep within his own half that bounced perfectly for the onrushing James Lowe.

The Crusaders hit back with a Heiden Bedwell-Curtis try but the Chiefs scored another when Kane Hames managed to ground the ball through a tangle of bodies.

The Crusaders began the second half with a magnificent David Havili try after Richie Mo’unga intercepted a Cruden kick and sparked an attack that left the Chiefs defenders grasping at air.

Ben Funnell consolidated the lead off the back of a jinking Mo’unga run, only for Cruden to claw one back for the Chiefs after dodging past three defenders.

The Chiefs had a late chance at a lineout but squandered it by knocking on the ball.

Crusaders beat ‘Canes in Super Rugby heavyweight fight

May 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders have strengthened their claims for an eighth Super Rugby crown with a dominating win over defending champions Wellington Hurricanes to stay unbeaten this season.

Crusaders

Crusaders’ forward pack crushed the Hurricanes 20-12 in Christchurch to remain unbeaten after 11 games and open an eight-point lead in the formidable New Zealand conference.

Kiwi teams have dominated this season’s Super Rugby competition ahead of next month’s much-anticipated British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

Saturday’s showdown between the two Super Rugby heavyweights was expected to be a try-fest. But at half-time it was locked up at 9-9, with all the points from penalties.

Eventually, the power of the Crusaders’ All Blacks-laden forward pack and the smart direction of centre Ryan Crotty defused the Hurricanes strike force of Beauden and Jordie Barrett and kept them tryless for the first time in three years.

The Crusaders had more than enough power up-front despite being without injured All Blacks Kieran Read and suspended Sam Whitelock.

Scott Barrett (ankle) and Matt Todd (concussion) also had to leave the field during the game.

“It was such a massive effort,” said Crotty, who ended up captaining the side in the absence of Todd.

“We didn’t let them get anything going off set-piece, which was massive, a credit to the tight five.”

South Africa’s Golden Lions won their third Australian tour game with a resilient 13-6 win over the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.

The Lions scored the only try of the dour contest through Springbok Sevens star Kwagga Smith early in the second half after trailing the Australian conference leaders 3-0 at half-time.

It was only the second win for the Johannesburg-based Lions in Canberra, with the result lifting them to a 13-point lead over the Coastal Sharks in the Africa 2 conference.

“It was a grind. Gee, it was a tough battle, the conditions were tough, the ball was slippery and we had to keep it tight, so I am extremely proud of the boys,” Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said.

The Sharks went down 35-32 to the revitalised Southern Kings — who are under threat of the axe when Super Rugby reverts to only 15 teams next year — in Port Elizabeth.

It was the seemingly-doomed Kings’ fourth win of the season and their first over a fellow South African side.

All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa scored a brilliant solo try to give New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders a 17-10 win over the Northern Bulls in Pretoria.

The Highlanders are fourth in the New Zealand conference but in contention for a berth in the post-season eight-team finals with 36 points.

Skipper Samu Kerevi scored a last-minute try to grab a thrilling 29-24 victory for the Queensland Reds over the Rebels in Melbourne.

The Reds scored five tries to two to stay alive for the finals but found it difficult to put away the Rebels, whose place in next year’s competition is still to be determined.

Queensland’s win pushed them above the NSW Waratahs into second place in the Australian conference and three points behind the Brumbies.

All Black prospect Rieko Ioane scored a try double as the Auckland Blues trounced South Africa’s Central Cheetahs 50-32 at Eden Park.

Australia’s Western Force won on the road in Super Rugby for the first time since last May when they upset Argentina’s Jaguares 16-6 in Buenos Aires.

The Waikato Chiefs, Western Stormers, Sunwolves and Waratahs all had byes.

Crunch time for Crusaders in stellar Super Rugby season

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Table-topping Canterbury Crusaders defend their unbeaten run against the Beauden Barrett-influenced Wellington Hurricanes on Saturday to start a season-defining fortnight of Super Rugby.

Crusaders

In the fiercely-contested New Zealand conference, the Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs, who the Crusaders play the following week, have only lost one game and are within striking distance of the top spot and its reward of home-ground advantage in the play-offs.

Keeping a close eye on the torrid New Zealand derbies are South African front-runners Golden Lions, who have also lost only one game and as long as they don’t falter are poised to take the overall lead should the New Zealand trio cancel each other out.

Under the wieldy Super Rugby set-up — due to be changed next year — the Lions do not play any New Zealand sides during the normal season.

“I suppose the next two weeks, the local derbies against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes, is the real test,” Crusaders assistant coach and former All Blacks fullback Leon MacDonald said.

“Once we get through the next two weeks we will know really where we are at, and things will be a little bit more real.”

The Crusaders have won 10 out of 10 in the best winning streak by any team in a season since MacDonald was playing when they went through 2002 undefeated.

But to preserve that record, they will have to pay particular attention to the skills of Barrett who has consistently boosted the Hurricanes this year with his deft kicking skills.

“The fact he has got a short one, and a long one, it makes it difficult to cover. He is a special player and we all know that. It is just one of the challenges of playing the Hurricanes,” MacDonald said.

“The real strength, especially, of Beaudie’s play is his ability to read the play on the go. It doesn’t need to be pre-called. He will see space and attack it.”

While the Chiefs have a bye this weekend, and a chance to freshen up before they play the Crusaders in Suva next week, the Lions are in Canberra to face top Australian side ACT Brumbies.

After racking up bonus-point wins over the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, the Lions know they are in for a much tougher battle against the Brumbies in the final match of their swing through Australia.

“They’ll test us physically, that’s for sure. I like to think of them as a Bulls-like team, big and strong, and always looking to disrupt their opponents’ rhythm,” coach Johan Ackermann said.

Although the form book backs the Lions, Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has warned his side should not be underestimated as they look to turn around what has been a sorry year for Australian rugby.

Australian teams have won just three of 27 games against international sides so far this season, have not beaten any New Zealand teams, and the Brumbies lead their conference with only three wins from nine games.

“Three wins is not good enough for us. We’ve lost our last three but we’ve had good focus this week. We just want to win the game in front of us and not worry about the ladder,” Larkham said.

Should the Lions lose they will still be the premier South African side with their nearest rivals, the Coastal Sharks, 10 points behind.

The Sharks this week play the struggling Southern Kings.

Sonny Bill joins All Blacks injury concerns

May 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Sonny Bill Williams has become the latest addition to the All Blacks injury concerns, suffering possible concussion in the Auckland Blues’ Super Rugby win over the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

Sonny Bill Williams

 

Captain Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino and Dane Coles head a list of senior players already in a race against time to be match fit before the British and Irish Lions arrive next month.

Double World Cup winning centre Williams left the field for a head injury assessment just before half-time and never returned.

Coach Tana Umaga told the New Zealand Herald he could not confirm the result of the assessment but Williams displayed concussion “symptoms”.

Williams was injured when team mate and prop Pauliasi Manu landed on him and Umaga said the team doctor advised he was not fit to return to the game.

“It will be a wait and see how he responds,” Umaga said.

“It’s just how he pulls up today, how he pulls up tomorrow. He was still having symptoms after the game.

“What’s happened with concussion in the past … sometimes people respond well and can play next week and sometimes they don’t.”

Williams’s injury comes as Charlie Ngatai returned to the Waikato Chiefs after a year sidelined by concussion.

He scored a crucial try in the Chiefs win over the Queensland Reds to join a logjam of fit centres with Test experience.

Also vying for a midfield slot against the Lions are Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Leinert-Brown, George Moala and Seta Tamanivalu.

Lions roar to seventh straight win with Rebels rout

May 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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South Africa’s red-hot Golden Lions posted their biggest win in Australia with a thumping 47-10 Super Rugby victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday.

Lions

The Johannesburg-based Lions hammered the hapless Rebels seven tries to one for their seventh straight win in this season’s competition.

The Lions, losing finalists to the Wellington Hurricanes last year, further extended their lead at the top of the South Africa 2 conference with their bonus-point romp.

The injury-depleted Rebels, fighting to stay in next season’s Super Rugby competition, trailed 14-7 late in the first half but were no match for the slick Lions steered by their classy halves combination of Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje.

A highlight of the free-scoring victory was a sensational try by winger Sylvian Mahuza from his side of halfway in the 50th minute where he toyed with the Rebels defence.

“Momentum is building, but there is still a lot that needs to be worked on,” skipper Warren Whiteley said.

“We still have some soft moments within the game. We’re hard on ourselves, we want to keep on improving and this competition keeps you on your toes.

“It will get no easier next week against the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.”

Lions flanker Kwagga Smith opened the scoring after 20 minutes following sustained pressure and Cronje crossed five minutes later.

The scrum-half swept on to an inside ball from hooker Malcolm Marx and beat two defenders to open up a 14-0 lead.

The Rebels worked hard and grabbed their only try of the match when a grubber kick from scrum-half behind the Lions line was pounced on by Tom English.

The home side, watched by a small crowd, trailed by seven points but nearing half-time Lions winger Courtnal Skosan dashed over to lead 19-7 at half-time.

It was one-way traffic in the second half with four Lions tries, including Mahuza’s scintillating effort, bouncing off five Rebels players to score under the crossbar.

The Lions were awarded a penalty try midway through the half with Rebels lock Cullum Retallick yellow-carded for intentional offside as he tried to prevent a try-bound rolling maul.

Further tries from Anthony Volmink and Whiteley completed the Rebels misery.

The Rebels remain anchored at the bottom of the Australian conference with just one win.

Super Rugby front-runners Crusaders soldier on without Whitelock

May 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The front-running Canterbury Crusaders have decided against appealing captain Sam Whitelock’s Super Rugby suspension and will take on the Northern Bulls on Saturday without two senior All Blacks.

Crusaders

In addition to losing Whitelock, who copped a two-week ban for striking an opponent during last week’s 48-21 win over the Central Cheetahs, the Crusaders will also be without All Blacks’ captain Kieran Read, who broke a thumb in the same match.

The loss of the veteran internationals for round 11 will impact on the Crusaders’ pack against the renowned power of the Bulls’ forwards.

With the Crusaders the only unbeaten side in the competition after 10 rounds, coach Scott Robertson said after Whitelock’s suspension that they were considering an appeal.

However, a team spokesman confirmed to AFP on Thursday they had decided to accept the judiciary’s ruling and Matt Todd would take over the leadership.

The Bulls have not enjoyed the best of seasons, with only three wins so far, but two of them have been in their last two games.

They also have homeground advantage, having beaten the Crusaders for the last five times they met in Pretoria dating back to 2008, and coach Nollis Marais said the team was entering this contest with a lot of self-belief.

“The last two wins confirmed that we can indeed compete against anyone,” Marais said.

“We have a massive hurdle to overcome on Saturday though, as the Crusaders have been setting a number of benchmarks to other teams this year.

“They remain a classy side and despite not having Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read available for this match, remains one of the top teams in the competition.”

Poised to hit the top spot should the Crusaders fall are the Golden Lions, the Africa 2 conference leaders, who are in Melbourne to play the struggling Rebels.

Read’s broken thumb, which puts him in a race against time to be fit again for the June Test series against the British and Irish Lions tour, added to the All Blacks’ injury woes.

The injury concerns had worsened this week with news that Dane Coles, initially sidelined with a knee injury, now had concussion.

For weeks, the defending champions Wellington Hurricanes have explained the absence of their hooker and captain as down to a struggle to overcome a calf problem.

“Subsequent to his knee injury, he not only developed a calf strain but also some headaches,” coach Chris Boyd said when Coles’ name was missing from the team-sheet for Friday’s clash with the Western Stormers.

“He is now under a return-to-play protocol for concussion.”

The Stormers still lead the Africa 1 conference despite losing their past three games and coach Robbie Fleck has said it was time to arrest the slide.

“We have had to learn some hard lessons on this tour which will be good for us going forward,” he said.

“We face the defending champions and the players are determined to make an impression.”

While the ACT Brumbies have a bye, the NSW Waratahs have a chance to move to the top of the Australian conference.

But to do that they will have to be the first Australian side to beat a New Zealand team this year, and with a bonus point, when they host the Auckland Blues.

Canterbury Crusaders charge on without injured skipper Read

April 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders won a ninth Super Rugby game this weekend, but the result was soured by an injury to All Blacks skipper Kieran Read.

Golden Lions' Lionel Mapoe (R) is tackled by Canterbury Crusaders' captain Kieran Read. (AFP/Marty Melville)

The rampaging Crusaders squashed the threatened South African team Central Cheetahs 48-21 in Bloemfontein to stretch their lead in the New Zealand conference to four points, but they could be without the influential Read for up to six weeks.

Read left the field just before half-time and later had surgery on a fracture at the base of his right thumb in concerning news for the All Blacks ahead of their looming British and Irish Lions home series.

“Read’s anticipated return to play will not be known until post-surgery assessments are done, however surgery of this sort would generally require approximately six weeks of recovery,” the Crusaders said in a statement.

It continues a troubled season for the 97-capped Read, who missed the first six rounds of the competition following wrist surgery.

The seven-time Super Rugby champions were too strong for the Cheetahs, running in seven tries to secure a bonus point and remaining the team to beat in the 18-team competition.

It was the seventh loss in nine matches for the Cheetahs, who along with the Southern Kings are expected to be axed in next year’s revamped competition.

The Chiefs kept in touch with the Crusaders with an unexpectedly tense 27-20 win over Japan’s Sunwolves in Hamilton.

They were denied a bonus point despite the Sunwolves having two players sent from the field in the penultimate move of the game.

For much of the game, the unfancied Sunwolves were the dominant side as they humbled the Chiefs’ forwards in the set pieces and floored the Waikato backs with crunching tackles.

South Africa’s leading contenders the Golden Lions survived a major scare from the endangered Western Force to claim their sixth-straight win in Perth.

The Lions were strong favourites against the struggling Force, also threatened by the 2018 season cull, but the game was in the balance until the dying minutes before the Johannesburg-based team prevailed 24-15.

The resurgent Otago Highlanders humbled South Africa’s Western Stormers 57-14 for their fifth straight win.

The Highlanders scored nine tries to two, while the Stormers slumped to their third-consecutive loss after winning their opening six matches of the season.

Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley kicked five penalty goals, the last two minutes from time, to give the NSW Waratahs a morale-boosting 29-26 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

The Waratahs closed to within four points of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies, who were playing New Zealand’s Auckland Blues in Canberra later Sunday.

Teenage fly-half Curwin Bosch kicked 18 points as South Africa’s Coastal Sharks downed Argentina’s Jaguares 33-25 in Buenos Aires.

Success gave the Sharks an eight-point advantage in the standings over the Jaguares with six rounds left as the teams battle for a quarter-finals place.

South Africa’s Southern Kings won back-to-back matches for the first time and achieved a record victory margin by trouncing the Melbourne Rebels 44-3 in Port Elizabeth.

All Blacks count injury toll ahead of Lions

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Auckland Blues hardman Jerome Kaino has joined a growing list of All Blacks sidelined by injury as the Super Rugby competition takes its toll ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour.

All-Blacks

Kaino is to undergo surgery on an injured knee on Friday and will be out of action for six weeks, putting him in doubt for the first Lions Test against the All Blacks on June 24.

The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders head to South Africa for their round 10 match against the Central Cheetahs still without Israel Dagg, who has not been sighted since injuring a knee in their third-round clash with the Queensland Reds.

Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder from the Wellington Hurricanes, Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Elliot Dixon and Lima Sopoaga (Otago Highlanders) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato Chiefs) are also sidelined.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen took a philosophical view early in the season, saying the threat of injuries highlighted the need to develop depth.

“We can’t control it, so it’s no good worrying about it,” he said of the impact Super rugbyinjuries would have on the Lions Tests.

“We’ve just got to get on with getting them right and if they’re not going to be right by the time the Lions are due to play us, then we have to make other selections. That’s just part and parcel of the game of rugby,” he said.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read has travelled with the Crusaders to Bloemfontein despite a minor hip complaint and is expected to be fit for Saturday.

The Crusaders are enjoying a hot streak of form and the way they thumped the Western Stormers 57-24 last week underscored their ability to match the physical style of South African rugby then attack with daring offloads.

“We try not to inhibit the guys, and if it is on, to back themselves,” coach Scott Robertson said of the audacious passing.

The Cheetahs are still smarting from the way they yielded a 24-0 lead over the two-time champion Chiefs to lose 41-27 two weeks ago.

Coach Franco Smith has warned his players to shut the Chiefs debacle out of their minds or “we’re going to get a big klap”, he said, using the South African term for smack.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to get the players up again to play an international side, to play an All Black side will be a challenge.”

The Chiefs are not alone in coming from behind to beat the Cheetahs, who have lost six games after leading this season.

The struggling Blues, with only three wins on the board and now without Kaino and Tuipulotu, offer the ACT Brumbies the best chance yet for an Australian side to score a win over a New Zealand franchise this year.

The record so far stands at 14-0 in New Zealand’s favour and includes the Brumbies losing to the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

The Brumbies, like the Blues, have only three wins but while the Blues are bottom of the New Zealand conference, the Brumbies top the Australian sector where the game is struggling.

The NSW Waratahs had their lowest home crowd of all time when only 10,555 fans turned out to see them lose 26-24 last week to the Southern Kings, the worst-performing South African side.

This week they play the Reds in a battle to be the second-best Australian side, with neither team in a position to overtake the Brumbies.

Cruden kicks Chiefs to tight win over Force

April 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Waikato Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 Super Rugby win over the determined Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

Cruden

Cruden landed a conversion and three penalty goals from his four attempts to prove the difference after both sides finished with a try apiece.

In winning the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s Super Rugby.

The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, never gave the Chiefs a moment’s peace and kept them under the shackles.

The Chiefs finished off a gruelling tour where they split their two games in South Africa against the Western Stormers and Central Cheetahs.

The Chiefs remain in third spot three points behind the Canterbury Crusaders in the New Zealand conference after seven wins from eight games.

“I was proud of the way the boys were able to dig in in that second 40 minutes and grind it out,” Cruden said.

“We knew that the Force coming off a bye and obviously everything they are going through would show an immense passion and pride and that’s certainly what they did.”

Parent body RugbyWA has launched legal action against the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in a bid to keep threatened Force franchise afloat as the axe hovers over the Perth-based club.

Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR announced earlier this month that two South African teams and one from Australia would be axed from 2018, streamlining the 18-team competition to a three-conference 15-team format.

Both tries were scored in the first half with Liam Messam plunging over in the eighth minute and Force skipper Matt Hodgson scoring off the back of a rolling maul from a lineout win.

The Force suffered an injury setback midway through the opening half to their Wallaby back Dane Haylett-Petty, who came off with a damaged right hamstring.

The Chiefs have now won nine of their 11 meetings with the Force, but both of their losses have come in Perth.

Unbeaten Crusaders lead Kiwi Super juggernaut

April 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders remained unbeaten as New Zealand teams dominated Super Rugby this weekend ahead of June’s British and Irish Lions tour.

Crusaders

The seven-time champions smashed leading South African contenders Western Stormers 57-24 in Christchurch as Kiwi teams won all four of their encounters.

George Bridge claimed a hat-trick and Kieran Read added a double in the Crusaders eight-try romp to remain unbeaten after eight matches.

The Crusaders raced to a 36-3 lead by half-time as the Cape Town-based Stormers suffered back-to-back losses after falling to the Golden Lions last week.

The Christchurch team lead the powerful New Zealand conference by three points from defending champions Wellington Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs.

A hat-trick of tries for centre Vince Aso helped the Hurricanes to a 56-21 thumping of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies in Napier on Friday.

The Hurricanes scored eight tries to three in the bonus-point win, piling on 42 unanswered second-half points after trailing 14-21 at the break.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was in the stands to run his eye over the Hurricanes ahead of the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour.

“There’s so many guys putting their hands up it’s great,” Hansen said.

In Perth, All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 win over the endangered Western Force, landing a conversion and three penalty goals with both sides finishing with a try each.

In winning, the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s competition.

The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, fought to the end but the Chiefs were too strong.

The Otago Highlanders were the fourth Kiwi winners with a 40-15 bonus-point victory over Japan’s Sunwolves in Invercargill.

South Africa’s threatened Southern Kings rose above their off-field turmoil with a spirited 26-24 upset win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.

The Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who are also fighting to stay in next year’s competition along with the Central Cheetahs, fought back from 17-0 down to win only their fourth game in two years.

“It has been an absolutely emotional tour for us with all the news regarding Super Rugby,” Kings skipper Lionel Cronje said.

The Golden Lions are the clear leaders of the second South Africa conference, edging out the Jaguares of Argentina 24-21 win in Johannesburg.

Melbourne Rebels, another team under threat of being culled, drew 9-9 with South Africa’s Coastal Sharks in Durban.

The Northern Bulls won the all-South African encounter with the Cheetahs 20-14 in Pretoria.

The Auckland Blues and Queensland Reds had byes this weekend.

Stormers, Lions battle for Super Rugby supremacy in South Africa

April 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Western Stormers square off against the Golden Lions in a blockbuster South African derby while Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett sets a match record in Super Rugby this weekend.

Stormers

The Canterbury Crusaders and Stormers are the only unbeaten sides remaining going into round eight of the competition, which next year will revert to a 15-team format from its current 18.

The fallout from governing body SANZAAR’s announcement to axe three teams — two from South Africa and one from Australia — has dominated the past week.

Threatened franchise Western Force have launched legal action against Australian rugby chiefs.

Seven-times champion Crusaders ease back into the fray following a bye by hosting the Sunwolves who won their first match of the season last week.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read is back for his first outing of the season having recovered from wrist surgery.

And the match will be a significant milestone for fellow All Black Crockett as he makes a record 176th appearance in Super Rugby.

The 34-year-old will overtake former All Black Keven Mealamu’s record of 175.

SANZAAR chief Andy Marinos described Crockett’s record as “a tremendous achievement for a player who is at the coal face of one of the hardest and most competitive rugby competitions in the world”.

The Crusaders feel comfortable enough to make a raft of changes to the side that beat the Waratahs a fortnight ago. Just five players of their 23 remain in the same position

In the showdown between the top two South African sides, the Stormers are brimming with confidence after inflicting the first loss of the season on the Waikato Chiefs last week while the Lions are coming off a bye.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the week off came at the right time as it allowed several key players including Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Ackermann, and Elton Jantjies to get over niggling injuries.

The Stormers “are the team to beat in South Africa and it’s going to take something special to get the better of them at Newlands,” Ackermann said.

“They’re playing an exciting brand of rugby and their skill levels are extremely high so it’s going to be a huge challenge going there.”

The Stormers, though, have injury woes after the punishing outing against the Chiefs with flanker Cobus Wiese and locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth unable to train early in the week.

They are also in a tough sequence of matches with home games against the Chiefs and Lions to be followed by a trip to New Zealand to face the Crusaders, Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes.

The Chiefs, looking to get their season back on track, are in Bloemfontein to face a Central Cheetahs side desperate to prove they deserve to survive the Super Rugby culling process.

“These are challenging and uncertain times,” the Cheetahs said in a statement this week.

“We strongly believe that through an honest and fair process we stand a strong chance of retaining our Super Rugby status.”

The defending champion Wellington Hurricanes are in Auckland to face a Blues side which has Sonny Bill Williams starting in a new unique jersey which does not feature the logo of team sponsor Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) to conform with his Muslim beliefs.

But Williams has agreed to wear, instead, the logo of child health service Plunket whose principal sponsor is the BNZ.

In the remaining matches, top Australian side ACT Brumbies play the struggling Melbourne Rebels, who along with Western Force are under threat of being kicked out of the 2018 competition.

Elsewhere, the Queensland Reds are at home to the Southern Kings and the Northern Bulls return to South Africa after an unsuccessful road trip to host the Jaguares.

Barrett off the hook over red card

April 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett has escaped further punishment after receiving a red card in the Wellington Hurricanes’ Super Rugby win over NSW Waratahs last week.

Barrett

The current World Rugby player of the year was sent off late in the match after receiving two yellow cards for deliberately knocking down the ball during Waratahs’ attacks.

The SANZAAR judiciary said it took Barrett’s exemplary disciplinary record into account before clearing him to play against the Auckland Blues this weekend.

“The player is therefore free to play and will serve no suspension,” it said in a ruling issued late Monday.

Barrett argued after the match that he was trying to intercept the ball but poor technique meant he knocked it down, rather than taking possession.

Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu was banned for one week after earning a yellow card in the same match for a dangerous tackle.

The judiciary said he received the suspension because it was his third yellow this season for similar offences.

Stevenson sparks Chiefs revival over Bulls

April 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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A piece of individual brilliance by Shaun Stevenson sparked a Waikato Chiefs revival to maintain their unbeaten record with a 28-12 victory over the Northern Bulls in Hamilton on Saturday.

Stevenson

The Bulls evoked memories of their past glory days when they stunned the Chiefs to lead 9-3 at half-time and continued to apply pressure after the resumption.

But with 30 minutes to play, Stevenson received the ball near the 10-metre mark, stepped around his opposite Jamba Ulengo, kicked ahead and won the race for the ball to score in the corner.

It started a three-try, 25-point spree which earned the Chiefs a bonus point to give them 24 points out of a possible 25 from five games.

“Coming off the bye we were eager to start well but it didn’t transpire that way. The first 40 was pretty disappointing and when we review it I think there’ll be a few hard truths,” captain Aaron Cruden said.

“But that second 40 was really for the fans. They came out to see an exciting brand of footy and I think we produced that in the second half.”

It was another disappointing finish for the Bulls, who last won in Hamilton in 2010, the same year they last held the Super title.

This year they are now one from five but captain Adriaan Strauss felt they are showing improvement.

“At times we showed some excitement, and some intent but the execution at vital times and pressure moments is not there yet. But we’re working on it,” he said.

In the first half, the Bulls dominated possession and worked the Chiefs around the ground.

But they were unable to cross the line, and for all the pressure they applied their only points came from three Handre Pollard penalties.

Cruden landed one penalty for the Chiefs but with two other potential shots at goal they opted for the line out drive and lost the ball on both occasions.

The game turned with Stevenson’s try in the 50th minute with Cruden’s conversion putting the Chiefs ahead for the first time.

Cruden landed a further two penalties and Pollard one to push the Chiefs out to a 16-12 lead before the Chiefs stepped up a gear in the last 10 minutes with tries to Damian McKenzie and Atu Moli.

The Chiefs head to South Africa to play the Stormers next week while the Bulls are in Tokyo to play the Sunwolves for the second time in three weeks.

Waikato Chiefs told to shape up for Super Rugby clash with Bulls

March 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Waikato Chiefs have been told to get their act together for their Super Rugby clash with the Northern Bulls after an unconvincing win over the struggling Melbourne Rebels.

Chiefs

Coach Dave Rennie read the riot act to the two-time champions after they needed a late burst to overcome Australia’s bottom-placed team in their last outing.

“There were some carefully chosen words,” Rennie said, after showing his players images from the Rebels match. “When the guys looked at it, they were pretty embarrassed.”

The Chiefs return from a bye with a record of four wins out of four games so far to lie second in the New Zealand conference behind the Canterbury Crusaders.

The Crusaders will also need to improve after being sent to scrum school following a series of collapses in their recent wins against the Queensland Reds and Western Force.

Despite having a pack bulging with All Blacks, the seven-time champions have been put through a refresher course in scrum techniques ahead of their game against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.

“We want it to be a contest, and we don’t want re-sets like that,” said assistant forwards coach Jason Ryan.

The Wellington Hurricanes will need to contend with the after-effects of Cyclone Debbie as they take on the Queensland Reds in storm-soaked Brisbane.

As well as the severe weather, the Hurricanes will also have to cope with the loss of captain and All Blacks hooker Dane Coles, who is nursing an injured knee.

Meanwhile the Western Stormers revealed an unusual approach to training ahead of their game against the unfancied Central Cheetahs.

While the Cheetahs may not pose formidable opposition, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck is taking a long-term view and preparing his side as if facing a New Zealand franchise.

A quirk of the draw meant the Stormers did not play a New Zealand side last year until the quarter-finals when thrashed 60-21 by the Chiefs.

They play all five New Zealand teams this year, starting with the Chiefs next weekend, and flyhalf Robert du Preez said preparations were already under way.

“Our training has changed a lot,” Du Preez said. “Every Thursday we do what we call a ‘Kiwi Day’ just to prepare for them because we knew that they pose a different threat.

“We go hard at each other on Thursdays.”

In the congested Africa 2 conference, the Golden Lions play the Coastal Sharks with both sides having one loss from five outings so far.

Argentina’s Jaguares, with a similar record, have a bye and will drop down the ladder as a result.

In Australia, the ACT Brumbies also have a bye leaving the way open for the Waratahs and the Reds to challenge them for the top spot.

The remaining two matches see the Otago Highlanders play the Rebels in Dunedin on Friday, while the Auckland Blues host the Western Force on Saturday.

Perfect Crusaders march on, Jaguares beat Reds

March 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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New Zealand’s Canterbury Crusaders won their fifth-straight game to be one of only three unbeaten teams in this season’s Super Rugby as Argentina’s Jaguares won again this weekend.

Jaguares

The seven-time champion Crusaders whipped the hapless Western Force of Australia 45-17 to stake their claim for this year’s southern hemisphere provincial crown.

Fellow Kiwis Waikato Chiefs and South Africa’s Western Stormers are also yet to lose with the Stormers denying Japan’s Sunwolves 44-31 in Singapore while the Chiefs had a bye.

Across in Buenos Aires the Jaguares won for the fourth time this season, downing Australia’s Queensland Reds 22-8 to lie just one point off the lead held by the Golden Lions in the Africa 2 conference.

The Lions overpowered the endangered Southern Kings 42-19 in an all-South African derby in Port Elizabeth, while the Coastal Sharks won a high-scoring derby 38-30 over the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

There was little joy for the beleaguered Australian hopes with the ACT Brumbies succumbing to an 18-13 loss at home to New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders, while the NSW Waratahs won a thrilling derby with a last-minute try 32-25 over the Rebels in Melbourne.

In the remaining game, the Blues downed South Africa’s Northern Bulls 38-14 in Auckland, while the defending champions Wellington Hurricanes had a bye.

The Crusaders posted seven tries to two and kept the Force scoreless in the second half to make it five wins from five this season.

It was a lopsided defeat the Force could have done without amid speculation the Perth club faces the axe as governing body SANZAAR look to revamp the dysfunctional competition.

The Stormers survived a​n audacious challenge from the struggling Sunwolves to maintain their unbeaten start, winning a 10-try thriller at Singapore’s national stadium.

Trailing for most of ​what was a high-paced, free-flowing match after being caught out by the Sunwolves’ innovative attack, the South Africans needed all their extra big-match experience to wear down the tournament newcomers, who faded badly in the last quarter of the match.

“The Sunwolves are a smart side and they’re very well coached,” Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said.

“We knew it was going to be tough but they still surprised us with some of the things they did, especially when they kicked in behind us.”

The Jaguares fortunes continue to improve this season with a side-stepping try by winger Ramiro Moyano the highlight of a bruising battle with the Reds.

Democratic Republic of Congo-born Madosh Tambwe scored his first Super Rugby tries as the Lions pounded the Southern Kings.

Tambwe took just four minutes to score, intercepting a pass before collecting a pass on the tryline to dot down for his second try.

Teenager Curwin Bosch proved an outstanding back-up for injured skipper Patrick Lambie, kicking 18 points in the Sharks win over the Cheetahs.

The 19-year-old fly-half slotted four penalties and three conversions from eight attempts and was voted man of the match as the Sharks made it four straight wins since losing the opening game of the season.

Centre David Horwitz scored a try in the final minute to cap a second-half fightback to give the Waratahs a thrilling win over the Rebels.

The Waratahs trailed 25-6 at half-time but squeezed home on the back of four second-half tries to deny the Rebels a prized victory over their better-resourced Australian rivals.

The Highlanders returned to the ground where they knocked the Brumbies out of last season’s quarter-finals to overturn a 10-5 half-time deficit.

Otago’s victory extended Australian teams’ misery against Kiwi opposition this season with New Zealand boasting a 7-0 winning record so far this year.

A second half revival sparked by two Matt Duffie tries gave the Blues a comfortable win over the Bulls.

Hurricanes brace for ‘brutal’ Super Rugby Chiefs derby

March 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Defending champions Wellington Hurricanes are relishing the prospect of “brutal” clash with the Waikato Chiefs on Friday in what will be their first real test of the Super rugby season.

Hurricanes

“It’s going to be a real scrap,” Hurricanes assistant coach Richard Watt said of the showdown between the only two sides to take maximum points from the first two rounds.

After scoring 24 tries and amassing 154 points against the Sunwolves and Melbourne Rebels, Watt said the Hurricanes were looking forward to the intensity of playing a top New Zealand side.

“The boys love these home games and they hate losing to each other,” he said, describing New Zealand derbies as “pretty brutal” affairs.

“You don’t even have to mention anything to the boys this week. They’re so up for this game.”

The Chiefs, who had to work hard for their wins over the Otago Highlanders and Auckland Blues, have received a boost this week with the return of flanker Sam Cane who will clash with his All Blacks understudy Ardie Savea.

While the battle of the New Zealand titans headlines round three, Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has taken a long-term view to tip South Africa’s Golden Lions as the likely winners of the competition.

The unbeaten Lions have sent a depleted squad to Argentina to play the Jaguares in the Africa 2 conference while Africa 1 leaders Western Stormers are away to the bottom-ranked Southern Kings.

The only other unbeaten side after two rounds, the Canterbury Crusaders, travel to Queensland to face the Reds on Saturday.

- Lions favoured -

Boyd believes the complicated Super rugby draw which sees the Lions avoid all the New Zealand sides during the conference phase should see the South Africans top the regular season and be set to host the final.

The Lions, beaten by the Hurricanes in last year’s final, are without five Springboks for their Jaguares match.

It was the banana-skin game for them last year when they were also under strength and lost to the Jaguares in the final pool match, costing them the top spot in the playoffs.

The Stormers should be untroubled in maintaining their unbeaten start to the season when they face the Kings in Port Elizabeth and the Crusaders are expected to be too strong for the Reds in Brisbane.

The test for the Reds, up against an All Blacks-laden pack, is how they bounce back from their surprise loss to the Western Force last week.

“Every player should be highly motivated to compete for every minute of this game. It’s what you have to do against the Crusaders, because if you are not as relentless as they are, you are going to pay,” Reds coach Nick Stiles said.

Two years ago the Otago Highlanders were Super champions but this year they have been hard hit by injuries, are winless after two games and will be hard pressed to get on the board against the Auckland Blues.

Fresh from beating the Reds last week, the Force head to Canberra to play the ACT Brumbies who are trying to avoid a hat-trick of losses for the first time since 2011.

The Waratahs, with Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley still sidelined by concussion symptoms, are in South Africa against the Coastal Sharks while the Central Cheetahs are at home to the luckless Sunwolves.

Big names shine as Hurricanes humiliate Rebels

March 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Defending Super Rugby champions the Wellington Hurricanes trounced the Melbourne Rebels 71-6 Saturday, with returning All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Nehe Milner-Skudder playing starring roles.

Rebels

Milner-Skudder scored three of the Hurricanes’ 11 unanswered tries, while Barrett set up three and kicked six conversions.

It was the Hurricanes second highest score ever, bettered only by the 83 they scored against the Sunwolves last week in Tokyo, when they notched 13 tries.

“When we were quite direct and kept things simple, we opened them up,” said captain Dane Coles, who sat out the Sunwolves game, along with Barrett and Milner-Skudder.

“It’s very pleasing, the attack’s going good and we’re going to enjoy the win.”

It was the Rebels, who received a tongue-lashing from coach Tony McGahan after a 56-18 loss to the Auckland Blues last week, who made the early running.

They were rewarded with two penalties to Reece Hodge before Barrett and Milner-Skudder sparked the Hurricanes to life in the 17th minute.

Barrett drew in three tacklers then sent a short pass to Milner-Skudder, who showed no sign of rust after 12 months out with a shoulder injury, launching into a trademark sidestep before crossing the line.

Barrett’s chip kick set up winger Vince Aso for the Hurricanes’ second a few minutes later.

Ngani Laumape made it three on the back of a dominant Hurricanes scrum then Aso broke down the wing with TJ Perenara to add a fourth.

It was Aso’s second brace in as many matches but the Hurricanes were not done, with Barrett setting up another try before half-time, this time for Matt Proctor.

Ardie Savea piled on more misery for the Rebels two minutes after the restart when his older brother Julian set him up for a five-pointer.

Hurricanes players were lining up to score by this stage, with Reed Prinsep and Julian Savea dotting down tries before Milner-Skudder completed his hat-trick.

He outpaced the defence to dive into the corner for his second and his third came after a surging run from Jordie Barrett.

Laumape then intercepted a loose pass and dashed two-thirds the length of the field for his second to complete a horror night for the Rebels.

Hurricanes blow away Sunwolves to launch Super defence

February 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Wellington Hurricanes swamped Japan’s hapless Sunwolves to launch the defence of their Super Rugby title in spectacular fashion as New Zealand teams again dominated in the opening round of the new season.

Hurricanes

The Hurricanes demolished the second-season Sunwolves 83-17 in Tokyo in an embarrassingly lopsided game, while fellow Kiwi teams, Canterbury Crusaders, Auckland Blues and Waikato Chiefs all won.

The seven-time winning Crusaders struggled to put away Australia’s ACT Brumbies 17-13 in Christchurch, while the Blues trumped another Australian side the Rebels 56-18 in Melbourne and the Chiefs downed the Otago Highlanders 24-15.

Last season’s beaten finalists, the Golden Lions, won 28-25 through a late try over fellow South Africans Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Argentina’s Jaguares won in South Africa 39-26 over the endangered Southern Kings, while the NSW Waratahs slugged out a dour 19-13 win over fellow Australian side Western Force in Sydney.

In the weekend’s remaining game, the Western Stormers put paid to the Northern Bulls 37-24 in the all-South African derby in Cape Town.

The Hurricanes were awesome in Tokyo with Ardie Savea, Vince Aso and Michael Fatialofa all scoring twice as the Sunwolves looked to rebound from last year’s baptism of fire where they won just one of 15 games in their inaugural season.

“It was a tough old day at the office,” Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia said.

New Zealand teams, who dominated last season with four spots in the top-eight finals, picked up where they left off.

The Crusaders dominated for most of the game, but the points did not come and they ended up struggling to hold out a late surge by the Brumbies.

Rising star Rieko Ioane scored a hat-trick of tries as the Auckland Blues crushed the Rebels.

The game marked the Blues’ first victory in three trips to Melbourne and it was their biggest winning score in Australia.

Last season’s semi-finalists, the Chiefs ended a six-game losing streak against the Highlanders in their three tries to nil opening win in Dunedin.

A late Rohan Janse van Rensburg try gave 2016 runners-up the Lions victory over the Cheetahs after they trailed by 10 points at one stage.

Half the Jaguares team handled the ball in a dazzling move originating from inside their 22-metre line before scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou crossed in the Argentines’ win over the Kings in Port Elizabeth.

The revitalised Queensland Reds scored two late tries to grab a fighting win over the Sharks after trailing 26-18 with 17 minutes left.

Springbok Patrick Lambie, who had not missed a kick in six goal attempts, had the chance to boot the Sharks to victory but missed with a long-range effort four minutes from full-time.

It was a big tonic for the Reds, who won just three games last season but have significantly bolstered their squad with the signings of Wallabies Quade Cooper, Stephen Moore, George Smith and Scott Higginbotham.

Siya Kolisi celebrated his first game as the Stormers skipper by scoring a try in the victory over the Bulls.

It was the sixth consecutive home win by the Stormers over the Pretoria outfit in the competition.

Super Rugby has plenty to tackle in 2017

February 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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A new Super Rugby season kicks off this week with bosses pledging to tackle its unwieldy conference structure, exhausting travel schedules and lopsided contests.

Hurricanes

There will be a first fixture in Samoa in June, meaning the 2017 Super Rugby season will now straddle 17 time zones and four continents.

The competition will retain the much-criticised four conference format, while tweaking kick-off times to trial Thursday night matches and increase the number of afternoon games.

“Our biggest challenge is obviously the geographical expanse we’ve got to cover,” said Andy Marinos, the chief executive of Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR, while promising that team schedules would be managed better this year.

“We’ve had some key learnings out of 2016 that we can implement into 2017 around how we manage the players during the week and how we work the travel schedule,” he said.

The far-flung tournament has its critics, notably England’s former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who bluntly observed last season: “Some of the games put me to sleep.”

With six franchises in South Africa and five each in Australia and New Zealand, plus Japan’s Sunwolves, and Argentina’s Jaguares, organisers are wrestling with the conflicting interests of the five competing nations.

Each Super Rugby team plays 15 matches and has two byes in the 17-round regular season. The competition final is on August 5 with a short mid-season break in June and July.

The teething problems of last year’s expansion to 18 teams have forced a rethink with the heads of Australian, New Zealand, South African and Argentinian rugby convening in early March to finalise competition changes for 2018 after an urgent strategic review was announced by Marinos last month.

South Africa, with just three titles in the 21 seasons of Super Rugby, are mostly concerned about their arduous travel schedules.

Oregan Hoskins, who resigned as president of SA Rugby last August, stated South Africa would be better off aligning to European leagues rather than with SANZAAR, which would mean few time differences for their matches.

Alternatives to the confusing four-conference competition could include a return to 15 teams, with Australia dropping one team and South Africa cutting two.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Steve Tew has called for patience as the problems are tackled.

“Long-term if the foundations are laid we may be able to expand the game in a way that’s more sensible from a travel, player workload, cost and time zone point of view, but that’s going to take some time,” Tew said.

NZR’s main problem is the guaranteed home advantage for the four conference winners after New Zealand teams occupied four of the top five places on the overall standings in 2016.

NZR are pushing instead for a straight top-eight play-off system which Tew argues would produce a fairer outcome. But the proposal is being opposed by Australia and South Africa.

“I’m stubborn and we’ll keep plugging away because we think it makes much more sense,” Tew said.

“It makes it a lot easier for the fans. They can almost disregard the complications of the conferences and just look at the log and say ‘is my team in the top eight’.”

Australia are not happy with the reduced number of money-spinning local derbies.

The Waratahs will only play their century-long rivals Queensland once this season and there is a solitary Waratahs-Brumbies match.

Super Rugby will further expand its boundaries when the Auckland Blues playing the Queensland Reds in Samoa in June while the Waikato Chiefs will take their game with the Canterbury Crusaders to Fiji.

With 15 players of Samoan heritage in Blues squad, American Samoa-born Jerome Kaino said they were looking forward to it.

“The possibility of having a fixture in the islands every year is really special for us, but also for Samoa, Fiji, whatever nation it is because they offer so much to our game here in New Zealand and it’s important that we give back,” Kaino said.

The new season kicks off with the Melbourne Rebels playing Auckland at home on Thursday, while the Wellington Hurricanes open their title defence against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.

Super Barrett gives Hurricanes maiden crown

August 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Wellington Hurricanes ended a 20-year nightmare Saturday when Beauden Barrett in scintillating form engineered a 20-3 victory over the Golden Lions on Saturday for their maiden Super Rugby title.

Hurricanes

On a miserable, wet night in Wellington, man-of-the-match Barrett was everywhere for the Hurricanes and settled the outcome of the final with an audacious try 12 minutes from time.

There were tumultuous scenes in the packed stadium as the Hurricanes, a team which often promised plenty but never delivered, became the fifth New Zealand side to be crowned Super champions.

“There’s been a lot of sorrow for this club and tonight we can finally say we’re champions for a Hurricanes team that’s been trying for a lot of years,” captain Dane Coles said.

“This goes out to all the Hurricanes players who have played for the jersey. We finally did it.”

Lions skipper Warren Whiteley accepted the Hurricanes deserved to win, but said his side only back in the competition three years since being dumped, would continue their meteoric rise next year.

“We feel the best is yet to come. This is only the start for us. We’ll have the same squad next year and we’ll learn from this,” Whiteley said.

The atrocious conditions dictated the outcome would rest on which of rival fly-halves Barrett and Elton Jantjies could best direct play.

It was a kicking duel Barrett won as he kept returning the Hurricanes to point-scoring positions despite the Lions dominating territory.

Cory Jane also scored for the Hurricanes with Barrett adding two conversions and two penalties while the Lions points came from a sole Elton Jantjies penalty.

It has been a long road to the top for the Hurricanes who lost the 2006 and 2015 finals as well as being beaten five times in the semi-finals.

But 2016 was not going to elude them, particularly with their local knowledge of Wellington’s wintry conditions while the arduous travel from South Africa eventually told on the Lions as the game wore on.

When the Lions used their big men to ram a pathway forward in the first half they were stopped in their tracks time and again as Brad Shields and Victor Vito, in his 100th game, led a bruising defence.

If the Lions went wide they were rattled by the Hurricanes line speed which directly led to the opening try.

Lionel Mapoe was forced to rush a clearing kick which went straight into the arms of Jane a few metres away and the former All Black wing had an easy run to the line.

The Hurricanes thought they had first points on the board six minutes into the game when Jane fielded a Barrett cross kick and crossed the line wide out only to be brought back for an earlier knock on.

But Jane was not to be denied the second time and with Barrett and Jantjies exchanging penalties the Hurricanes led 10-3 at the turn.

The Lions believed they had a try scoring chance late in the first half when they turned down a close-range penalty in favour of a scrum only to be pushed off the ball by a ‘Canes pack that was otherwise beaten in every other scrum.

A further Barrett penalty early in the second half extended the lead to 13-3 and as the Lions desperately tried to close the gap Barrett settled the outcome 12 minutes from the end.

The Lions won a defensive lineout only to fumble the ball which allowed the ever-alert Barrett to race through to score under their noses.

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