With the Super Rugby season now past the half-way stage for most teams, the race for the playoff positions is beginning to hot-up with sides jostling for position in all four conferences, and there is no such thing as a meaningless game.
Battles are beginning to break out at the top of each conference which is exactly what the organisers would have wanted when they re-aligned the competition to welcome the new franchises.
This weekend saw a momentous moment in Tokyo, where the Sunwolves picked up their first ever Super Rugby victory. As the league continues to expand, wins for the new franchises are crucial to the development of rugby in the southern hemisphere going forward, making this weekend one to remember for the sport in Japan.
Chiefs & Crusaders continue to rule the roost in New Zealand following impressive road wins
In the game of the round, the Chiefs came away with an incredibly important away win, beating the Hurricanes 28-27 at the Westpac Stadium.
The match was billed as an All Black trial match, with plenty of head-to-head matchups between potential internationals, and it lived up to the hype, with both teams scoring four tries.
Seta Tamanivalu started the game on fire for the visitors, scoring two tries in the opening 20 minutes, replying to Cory Jane’s third-minute opener for the ‘Canes.
The home side then went up the other end and regained the lead, when captain Dane Coles crashed over, which gave his side a 15-14 lead they held up until half-time.
The opening ten minutes of the second-half was Super Rugby at its frantic best, with both sides throwing everything at their opponents. After Michael Leitch had gone over under the posts for the Chiefs, the home side hit-back within two minutes, when Coles offloaded to TJ Perenara who raced away to score and draw his side within a point.
Immediately though, the Chiefs got back on the front-foot and scored their fourth try after some wizardry from Damian McKenzie. The fullback, who had an excellent evening kicking at goal, was instrumental in the counter-attack which eventually saw Telani Seu drive over the line, which was followed by McKenzie knocking over the touchline conversion.
A moment of brilliance from Beauden Barrett saw the fly-half scythe his way through the defence to reduce the deficit to one point with ten minutes still left on the clock, and the visitors down to 14-men after injuries to the front-row.
With the clock on the verge of ticking to 80 minutes, Barrett made another break, before throwing a perfect pass to Jason Woodward, who somehow dropped the ball with the line at his mercy, handing the Chiefs victory at the end of a pulsating encounter.
In Canberra on Sunday, a David Pocock-less Brumbies were handed their second heavy home defeat of the season, going down 40-14 to the Crusaders.
After losing 48-23 to the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago, the Brumbies were outmatched once more by a New Zealand outfit, this time in the form of the Crusaders, who ran in four first-half tries through Codie Taylor, Israel Dagg, Nemani Nadolo and Jone Macilai to build a 26-7 lead at the break.
Taylor scored a second try following excellent play by David Havili, which was then followed by a debut try for Marty McKenzie who scored within moments of taking to the field to give the Crusaders their seventh-win on the bounce.
Joe Tomane and Robbie Coleman each scored tries for the Brumbies, who would now miss out on the playoffs if the season finished today showing how far the season has turned around for Stephen Larkham’s after they were the early frontrunners and tournament favourites.
Sunwolves see off Jaguares for maiden Super Rugby triumph
18-points from the boot of Tusi Pisi helped the Sunwolves to their first ever Super Rugby win over the Jaguares in Tokyo. The momentous victory saw the Sunwolves overcome a second-half deficit to beat the Argentinian side 36-28, just one week after suffering a 92-17 defeat at the hands of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
The Jaguares scored three first-half tries through Agustin Creevy, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino and Emiliano Bofelli, but could not build a large lead due to the poor kicking of Juan Martin Hernandez who failed to convert any of the scores. The Sunwolves loan first-half try came from Yasutaka Sasakura, who dived over in the corner following excellent handling from the backline close to the opposition line.
A Facundo Isa interception early in the second-half extended the Jaguares lead to nine points, before the home side fought back to steal the victory thanks to tries from centres Derek Carpenter and Harumichi Tatekawa sparking scenes of delight from the sell-out crowd at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
Rebels move top of Australian conference, whilst Waratahs show glimpses of return to form
On Friday in Melbourne, the Rebels put a couple of poor performances behind them with a 36-14 win over the Cheetahs at AAMI Park.
In what was an exciting match between two sides who were happy to ship the ball wide, the Rebels second-half performance was much too strong for their South African counterparts who had led at half-time thanks to tries from Torsten van Jaarsveld and Clayton Blommetjies.
Reece Hodge was the hero for the hosts, scoring two excellent tries after being forced to start at outside-centre for the first time in his Rebels career. Hodge scored in either half, adding to five-pointers from Lopeti Timani, Tamati Ellison and Jonah Placid, with Jack Debreczeni adding 11 points from the kicking tee.
In Perth, a dominant final quarter gave the Waratahs a big 49-13 win over the Force in a result which Daryl Gibson must hope will kick-start his sides poor season to date.
The under-pressure Gibson saw his side build a 17-6 lead at the break thanks to tries from Rob Horne and Nick Phipps, before the Rebels hit-back through Super Rugby debutant Harry Scoble to cut the deficit to just seven.
That was the final points the home side managed though, as the Waratahs ran away with the game late on, scoring four unanswered tries through Israel Folau, Jed Holloway, Angus Taavao and Reece Robinson to grab the crucial bonus point win.
Race for playoff spots in African Conferences hotting-up following wins for Lions, Stormers and Sharks
There is a clear separation appearing in the African conferences, which should make for a fascinating second half of the season. The Jaguares, Kings, Cheetahs and Sunwolves are all out of playoff contention unless they string a long run of wins together, whilst the other four teams look set to battle it out for the three playoff positions.
With the Bulls on a bye, the Stormers took advantage in the Africa 1 conference with a 40-22 win over the Reds at Newlands.
Robbie Fleck’s charges scored two tries in either half to claim the victory against a Reds side who have now suffered two-straight defeats on their South African tour. Wingers Jacobus van Wyk and Leolin Zas opened the scoring for the Stormers, before the visitors struck back through Liam Gill meaning they faced just a seven-point deficit at the break.
The Reds flew out of the gates in the second period, turning the game on its head with quick-fire tries from Eto Nabuli and Karmicheal Hunt to take a 22-17 lead with Samu Kerevi's devastating running once more to the fore.
The Stormers struck back immediately through Nic Groom, before the boot of Jean-Luc du Plessis took over, with the young fly-half knocking through three penalty goals, before Vincent Koch added some gloss to the scoreline with his late try.
In the Africa 2 conference, the Lions made it six wins from eight matches and continue to control the division after beating the Kings 45-10 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Lions scored seven tries, with Ruan Combrinck and Armand van der Merwe each crossing twice, adding to scores from Warren Whiteley, Courtnall Skosan and Rohan Janse van Rensburg. The Kings crowd had two big moments to cheer, when Chris Cloete and Luzuko Vulindlu crossed for tries, but they remain rooted to the bottom of the conference.
In the most surprising result of the round, the Sharks kept the pressure on the Lions after beating the Highlanders 15-14 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The game took a massive swing in the Sharks favour in just the 12th minute, when Highlanders centre Jason Emery was given a red card following a dangerous tackle in the air on Willie Le Roux.
As has been their way all season, the Sharks attempted to grind out the result, and this time it paid off, with five Garth April penalties proving to be enough to overcome the penalties.
Despite being down a man for over an hour, the Highlanders were always in the match, and scored the only try of the match when Matt Faddes leapt over in the corner on the hour mark. Following April’s final penalty five minutes from time, the Highlanders tried frantically to get back in front, but fell just short with Lima Sopoaga missing a late drop-goal attempt.