Winning on the road can be crucial to a successful Super Rugby campaign, and likewise losing at home can end your hopes of the playoffs.
For the 2015 champion Highlanders, two defeats at their home stadium to open the season would have been unthinkable but following their capitulation at the hands of the Crusaders that is where they find themselves.
The Crusaders are now one of five teams to have won both of their fixtures in 2017, while there are still five winless teams, two of which are from Australia where the Western Force lead the way after 160 minutes of action.
Crusaders stun Highlanders in Dunedin with extraordinary comeback win
In the best game of round two, the Crusaders overturned a 21-point deficit early in the second-half to defeat the Highlanders 30-27 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
Having lost their first home fixture in the opening round last week, the Highlanders couldn’t afford another slip-up against an New Zealand conference rival and it looked as though they had learned the lessons of last week’s defeat to the Chiefs as they surged into a 17-6 lead at the break. Mitchell Hunt and Lima Sopoaga traded penalty goals, before a terrific first-phase play from the back of the lineout saw Gareth Evans race over untouched.
Hunt trimmed the deficit to four, before the Highlanders grabbed their second try of the game with Aaron Smith kicking behind the defence, allowing winger Waisake Naholo to race onto the ball and dive over for his first try of the season.
Not soon after the break, and Naholo had his second five-pointer, with Malakai Fekitoa catching Sopoaga’s chip before offloading to his All Black teammate who scorched away under the posts. The conversion put the home side 27-6 up and seemingly home and dry, before the Crusaders began their fightback with a dominant scrum leading to a penalty try.
Scott Robertson’s Crusaders started to gain the ascendancy and they were well and truly back in the contest with 15 minutes remaining, after a delicious offload from Seta Tamanivalu put David Havili over in the corner.
With eight minutes left on the clock, Fekitoa was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle and the Crusaders took advantage immediately with Whetu Douglas scoring for the second week running to cut the gap to four. The Highlanders looked shattered, and went down to their second straight loss when the ball was shipped wide to Tamanivalu who brushed off two defenders before dotting down in the corner to completely the remarkable turnaround.
Hurricanes and Chiefs maintain top spot with bonus point wins
The reigning champion Hurricanes still look like the team to beat after taking their season tally of points to 154 after just two fixtures following a 71-6 mauling of the Rebels in Wellington.
In what was close to being a complete performance by the Canes’, the returning Nehe Milner-Skudder stole the stole by scoring a hat-trick of tries, with fellow backs Vince Aso and Ngani Laumape each crossing twice apiece. Matt Proctor, Reed Prinsep and the Savea brothers, Julian and Ardie also scored tries to send the Rebels packing with their second heavy defeat to start the season.
On Friday evening, the Chiefs made it ten points from ten thanks to a 41-26 victory over the Blues in the Battle of the Bombays at FMG Stadium in Waikato.
The first forty minutes was a relatively even battle, with the Blues relying on penalty goals from Ihaia West to keep up with their hosts who crossed the try-line twice in the early stages through Liam Messam and Damian McKenzie.
The major turning point in the contest occurred on the cusp of half-time, with Blues flanker Steven Luatua red-carded, and subsequently banned for four weeks, following a reckless high-shot on Tim Nanai-Williams off the ball. The Chiefs turned down the easy penalty shot at goal which followed to kick for the corner, and it paid off with Hika Elliot scoring a try for the second week running to give them a 22-9 lead at the break.
Playing against 14-men, the Chiefs were rampant in the first 20 minutes of the second half, putting the game beyond doubt with Lachlan Boshier, James Lowe and Anton Lienert-Brown each finishing off flowing moves as the home crowd were treated to Dave Rennie’s Chiefs at their best. The Blues didn’t lie down though, and the impetus from the bench was clear with replacement trio Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina and Rene Ranger each crossing for tries in the final quarter to add some respectability to the scoreline.
Stormers go two-from-two at Newlands, while Bulls fall to Cheetahs
The Stormers claimed their second home win of the season in Cape Town, downing the Jaguares 32-25 in an entertaining fixture at Newlands.
There were just two points between the sides going into the final 20 minutes, after tries from Agustin Creevy and Santiago Cordero cancelled out efforts by EW Viljoen and Jano Vermaak from the hosts. Then, indiscipline sadly cost the Jaguares, with Pablo Matera and Matias Moroni each sent to the sin-bin within two minutes of one another for indiscretions close to their line, before Jaco Peyper awarded the Stormers a penalty try following a rampant scrum.
Astonishingly, the 13-man Jaguares responded with a breakaway try finished off by arch-poacher Cordero to trail by just two points going into the final ten minutes, but the Stormers had just enough in the tank to hold on with SP Marais dummying his man before crashing over for the game-winner.
In an Africa 1 conference clash, the Cheetahs claimed their first scalp of the season with a 34-28 win over the Bulls in Bloemfontein.
After battling in defeat to the Lions in round one, the Cheetahs flew out of the blocks on Saturday evening, with Clinton Swart doing just enough to score the game’s first try in the third minute. The Bulls then exposed a lapse in the home side's defence to score their only try of the opening half through Jason Jenkins, before their opponents hit back almost instantly with Oupa Mohoje scoring his first of the contest.
Having won the 2016 Currie Cup, the Cheetahs are hopeful of replicating the success of the Lions and their first-half performance lived up to expectations as they opened up a 28-14 lead over their rivals thanks to further tries from Justin Basson and Mohoje, who linked up well with fellow flanker Uzair Cassiem for his second five-pointer.
The Bulls threatened to take the win following two tries in the space of five minutes from Piet van Zyl and Jamba Ulengo as they cut the gap to three with nine minutes remaining, but a second penalty from Fred Zeilinga proved to be just enough as the Cheetahs hung on for the crucial four points.
The Sunwolves first game in Singapore this season ended in defeat as they went down to a disappointing 37-23 loss to the Southern Kings. The Kings controlled the game for much of the encounter, scoring four tries through Malcolm Jaer, Ruan Lerm, Chris Cloete and Rudi van Rooyen, with Kenki Fukuoka, Timothy Lafaele and Takaaki Nakazuru crossing for the Sunwolves.
Sharks & Lions down Aussie duo, while Force topple Reds
The Sharks came away from their Australian tour with one win and one loss following a last-gasp 27-22 win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
It wasn’t looking good in the opening stages for the tourists who were 12-3 down following tries from Henry Speight and Josh Mann-Rea, but they had the best of remainder of the opening half with eight points from the boot of Patrick Lambie, plus a Tendai Mtawarira try sending them to the sheds with a 15-13 deficit.
Lambie nailed three more penalty goals as the Sharks forged ahead by seven, before a below-par Brumbies side managed to hit-back with Tevita Kuridrani scoring under the posts following some excellent hands from both backs and forwards.
With the game level going into the final minute, the Brumbies looked in better position to score, but following a drop-goal miss and a knock-on they turned possession over and it proved costly. The ball was shipped wide by the Sharks to young full-back Curwin Bosch who surged to the 22’, before kicking the ball back inside where Lukhanyo Am was first to get his hands to the ball, sparking joyous scenes from the South Africans.
In Johannesburg, the Lions proved too hot to handle for the Waratahs, scoring eight tries in a 55-36 triumph.
The hosts scored five tries in a first-half dominated by their set-piece, with skipper Warren Whiteley and Ruan Ackermann each driving over from close range in the opening quarter-hour. Yellow cards to Reece Robinson and Sekope Kepu didn’t help the Tahs’ cause, with Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Andries Coetzee and Ross Cronje also crossing before the break, with the Australians hitting back at various points in the first-half through Rob Horne, Michael Hooper and Bryce Hegarty.
An Elton Jantjies drop-goal, followed quickly by Janse van Rensburg’s second try moved the Lions 19 points ahead, before a David McDuling try and a Franco Mostert yellow card gave the away side a little hope.
That hope was soon distinguished however, with Sylvian Mahuza and Malcolm Marx crossing for Lions tries seven and eight, before Israel Folau broke free for the first time this season to score for the Waratahs after the full-time siren had sounded.
Incredibly it is the Force who lead the way in the Australian conference after two rounds following their 26-19 win over the Reds in Perth.
The game started in perfect fashion for the Force, with Chance Peni scything through the Reds defence to score the quickest try in their history after just 74 seconds.
The Reds took some time to get going, but when they did they looked extremely dangerous with ball in hand and soon led 12-5 following a quick-fire double from Eto Nabuli. Young lock Matt Philip levelled things up at 12-12 with his first try for the Force, before Nabuli completed his hat-trick in the opening moments of the second stanza.
Two penalty goals from Ian Prior got the Force to within one, and following a Sef Fa’agase yellow-card, the ball was shipped wide by prop Pek Cowan to Curtis Rona who beat his man on the outside to put the Force ahead. Another Prior penalty in the closing stages extended the lead to seven, and that was how it remained as the Force gained their first win of the season.