Super Rugby made it’s month-long return from the international break, doing what it had as a competition all season, by breaking new ground.
Following the integration of three new franchises, including the Japanese Sunwolves, SANZAR took their first game to the Pacific Islands, with Suva in Fiji hosting the Chiefs-Crusaders clash on Friday evening.
This was not some run-of-the-mill fixture, this was pretty much the New Zealand conference decider, and in front of a sell-out crowd at the ANZ Stadium, the Chiefs claimed victory on a historic occasion. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come in the future with Fiji, Samoa and Tonga rewarded for the amount of players they have seen represented in the Super Rugby competitions over the years.
Chiefs leapfrog Crusaders after completing season double
After claiming a 27-21 victory in Christchurch on the opening week, the Chiefs completed a sweep over the Crusaders this season after beating Todd Blackadder’s men 23-13 in the Fijian capital.
Having held out following early Crusader pressure, the Chiefs opened the game up around the 20 minute mark, scoring the first try through James Lowe, after he pounced on a chip through from Fijian-born centre Seta Tamanivalu.
The ‘home’ side then scored their second try soon after following a stunning break from Damian McKenzie. Having had a month out after missing out on All Black selection, McKenzie wasted no time at all in reminding people of his talents, making a typically arching run through defenders before offloading to scrum-half Brad Weber who raced under the posts.
With half-time on the horizon, the Crusaders got themselves back into the encounter, thanks to their Fijian wingers. Nemani Nadolo’s rampaging run set up the Crusaders in a strong position, and the ball was then sent wide to his fellow winger Jone Macilai who had enough strength to barge over and cut the gap to seven.
The second-half saw neither side able to add any more tries to their account, but with McKenzie knocking over two penalties to Richie Mo’unga’s two, the Chiefs prevailed by ten points to leave the Crusaders without a bonus point and usurping them at the top of the New Zealand conference.
Lions boss Sharks to top overall ladder
After demolishing the Bulls 56-20 in their last fixture before the international break, the Lions picked up where they had left off with an equally dominant 37-10 victory at home to the Sharks.
The first hour of the game was men against boys as the Lions layed down a marker for the weeks ahead despite being without inspirational leader Warren Whiteley who was injured on Springbok duty.
A 37-0 lead after 60 minutes was nothing less than their performance deserved, with five tries coming thanks to Ruan Combrinck, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Malcolm Marx, Ruan Ackerman and Jaco Kriel.
The Sharks fought to the finish and crossed twice in the final quarter through Lwazi Mvovo and Chilliboy Ralepelle, but the gulf in class between these two sides was clear to all, with Kriel in particular putting in a masterful performance.
Hurricanes and Highlanders maintain wildcard spots after dominant second-half performances
At the Cake Tin, the Blues were in must-win territory, and it showed with their first-half performance, before they fell away against the Hurricanes who eventually prevailed, 37-27.
An incredible start to the match saw the teams score five tries between them in the opening 25 minutes, before the Blues fell off the pace and the Hurricanes grabbed the initiative and the win thanks to Vaea Fifita's second-half double.
Jerome Kaino scored twice for the Blues to add to Kara Pryor's early try as Tana Umaga's men built an early lead, but the home side always kept in touch thanks to tries of their own from front-rowers Reg Goodes and Dane Coles.
Fifita crossed in the 54th and 70th minutes as the Hurricanes roared back to claim the win, with Beauden Barrett playing a starring role as well as adding 17 points from the tee.
Matt Faddes scored a hat-trick, as the Highlanders toppled the lowly Kings 48-18 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
One of the breakthrough players of the season, Faddes started at full-back in the absence of Ben Smith as the Highlanders elected to rest the majority of their All Blacks.
Jack Wilson and substitutes Patrick Osborne, Dan Pryor and Aki Seiuli also scored five-pointers as the Highlanders clung onto seventh in the overall standings.
Stormers hit Rebels for 57 in astonishing road victory
The Stormers took control of the Africa 1 conference after stuffing the Rebels 57-31 at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
After the game was tied 31-31 at the hour mark, the Stormers pulled away, scoring 26 unanswered points to secure the bonus point victory.
The Rebels started the faster, scoring the first two tries of the game through Sefanaia Naivalu and Ben Meehan, before the Stormers got on the board thanks to Jean-Luc du Plessis' solo effort. Vincent Koch then crashed over from five metres out to hand the South African franchise a 23-17 lead at the break.
The kickers then shared penalty goals before the game shot to life just before the hour mark with Jonah Placid and Jack Debreczeni's tries sandwiching an effort from Eben Etzebeth to tie the game up.
A yellow card to Rebel flanker Scott Fuglistaller then handed the Stormers the initiative which they took with open arms, scoring 12 points while up a man thanks to tries from Nic Groom and Damian de Allende.
In the final moments, an interception from Leolin Zas, and a drive over from Scarra Ntubeni pushed the score too and then past 50 as the Stormers all-but booked their place in the final eight.
Brumbies and Waratahs claim big bonus point wins
A large number of players involved in the recent Australian 3-0 home defeat against England, returned to their clubs this weekend and put in good performances in big wins for the Brumbies and Waratahs.
Stephen Moore scored two tries against a Reds side he is joining next season, with fellow front-rower Ben Alexander also crossing the line just before half-time in the Brumbies big 43-24 victory.
Christian Lealiifano, Tomas Cubelli and replacement winger Lausii Taliauli also scored for the home side at GIO Stadium after the break, with Andrew Ready, Duncan Paia’aua and Taniela 'Tongan Thor' Tupou crossing for tries for a Reds team who are already looking ahead to next season after a disappointing campaign.
In Tokyo, the Waratahs kept level with the Brumbies atop of the Australian conference thanks to 57-12 win over the Sunwolves.
After trailing 9-7 despite Matt Lucas' early try, the Tahs then scored five tries in the space of 20 minutes to end any hopes of the Japanese fans witnessing a victory for their heroes in their final home game of the season.
Jack Dempsey, Israel Folau and Andrew Kellaway all scored in the moments before half-time, with Reece Robinson then adding a two tries soon after the break. Lucas then scored his second just before the hour mark, with Matt Carraro and returning winger Taqele Naiyaravoro adding tries eight and nine.
Jaguares and Cheetahs claim home victories
In what everyone will admit has been an under-par debut season for Argentina's Jaguares franchise, they picked up just their third victory in a drenched Buenos Aires on Saturday evening, beating the playoff-chasing Bulls 29-11.
The Jaguares played the tumultuous conditions perfectly, with their forwards completely dominating the battle up-front and Pablo Matera crossing for the game's first try from close range.
The driving maul then took over, and bought a try for captain Agustin Creevy in either half, rendering Piet Van Zyl's loan try for the Bulls nothing more than a consolation.
In Bloemfontein, the Cheetahs came out on top over the Force in a pulsating fixture between two sides who have zero chance of making the end-of-season playoffs.
The Cheetahs scored four tries in the first-half to claim a massive 27-10 lead at the break, with Paul Schoeman, Clayton Blommetjies, Uzair Cassiem and Sergeal Petersen all crossing for scores.
The game's best player then got the Force back into contention, in the form of Wallaby Dane Haylett-Petty. The full-back scored a brace of tries, as well as topping the 200 metre mark in an open all-court encounter which saw the Force take the lead six minutes from time through the boot of Peter Grant.
They couldn't hold on for a memorable away victory though, with Fred Zeilinga knocking over a penalty for the Cheetahs in the 78th minute, before Grant missed a chance to retake the lead with the final kick of the game.