Round 12 of Super Rugby has come to a close with early bragging rights within the New Zealand conference decided, and the race is on for the top sides to put themselves in the best possible positions come the playoffs.
The Lions sweep their Australian tour
The Lions have become known for their enterprising attack but in Canberra showed they are more than capable of slugging it out in the trenches in a tense and tight affair over the Brumbies by 13 points to 6, a 70 meter run away effort from flanker Kwagga Smith proving the difference.
Canberra is always a tough place to play and on the third week of their overseas tour, the Lions were not the cohesive unit one would expect while the Brumbies made life very difficult for the visitors, competing hard across the park but ultimately for the home side, their inability to find the try line for the second week in a row proving costly.
For the Lions, it was an important victory and now head back to South Africa. They certainly look capable of sweeping through the rest of the round robin and are in a prime spot to earn the top qualifying position come the playoffs.
(AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Crusaders reign supreme
In an eagerly awaited clash, the Crusaders repelled the challenge from the Hurricanes to win by 20 points to 12 in a tense and additional encounter in Christchurch.
The defence from both sides was intense and the usual attacking flair we have come to expect from these sides was snuffed out time and time again and it was ultimately the better set piece from the Crusaders which proved the biggest point of difference between the two sides.
The Hurricanes had a night to forget in the lineout, squandering several opportunities within the Crusaders 22, succumbing to the pressure placed on them from the Crusaders pack and the difference maker being a well taken lineout maul by the Crusaders as they fractured the Hurricanes defensive effort for Matt Todd to score the only try of the match.
It was a tremendous performance from the Crusaders, fresh off the plane from South Africa to continue their unbeaten run in 2017 and still missing some of their biggest names while the Hurricanes have suffered the second defeat of the season, again to one of their closest rivals within New Zealand and again due to their tight five being outplayed.
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Suva shapes as a defining match within the New Zealand conference
With the Crusaders getting over the top of the Hurricanes, they now face another stern challenge from fellow conference rivals the Chiefs away in Suva which could prove a definitive match in the race for top spot within the New Zealand conference, another win for the Crusaders would make it very difficult for either the Chiefs or Hurricanes to catch them.
Alternatively for the Chiefs, with a game in hand, a victory in Suva will drag the Crusaders back to within reaching distance for them and will give them the chance for an assault for the top position. They will certainly fancy their chances, given the Crusaders have only just come back from overseas and being fresh from the bye, it is a prime opportunity.
The Hurricanes are not quite out of the race as yet, with return matches against both the Chiefs and Crusaders in Wellington to come but after their loss in Christchurch, they will now need some help with the heavy lifting if they are able to catch the Crusaders on points.
(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
The Australian conference gets tighter
With the Brumbies going down to the Lions on Friday night and the Waratahs enjoying the bye this weekend, the rest of the Australian sides had the opportunity to make up some ground on the conference leaders and so it has proved for both the Reds and Force, scoring valuable away wins over the weekend.
The Reds withstood a late comeback from the Rebels in Melbourne to earn a bonus point win in a thriller by 29-24 and the Force ground their way to a hard-fought win in an ill-tempered affair over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires by 16 points to 6.
While the Brumbies still look to be in the box seat, they now have to embark on their overseas tour while their conference rivals do not need to stray too far away from home, one slip up will open the door wide for their conference rivals to overtake them and the Reds and Waratahs in particular have reasonable draws ahead of them. The Australian conference is wide open.
(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Back to the future for Cheika
With the absence of David Pocock this season one cannot help but notice the superb form of the evergreen George Smith for the Reds who week in and week out continues to impress for his Reds side to arguably be their most consistent performer.
I can’t help but wonder if Wallaby Coach Michael Cheika will be considering a recall for the Wallaby great? And why not, he is playing tremendously and his experience would be a valuable asset for the Wallabies in 2017 and shapes as a like for like replacement for Pocock.
Forget the ‘Pooper’, maybe the ‘Smooper’ will be the talk of the town. Scott Higginbotham too is looking good for a recall with a solid 2017 for the Reds and would certainly add some valuable depth and experience to the Wallaby loose forward stocks.
So there are my five major talking points from this round as the race for the playoffs begin in earnest and for something a bit different, check out the Hurricanes lineout with Jordie Barrett and Julian Savea taking part, Barrett actually winning the ball and perhaps proving Harry Jones’ point in one of his latest pieces.
Until next week then!