We are more than a third of the way into the season, and plenty happened over the weekend. Some good, some bad, and some plain ugly.
Here are five things we learned from Round 7.
The Sharks circle
On paper three weeks back, I mused that the Sharks have one of the most talented 1-23 rosters in Super Rugby.
I then got egg on my face when they were soundly beaten in their next two encounters.
However, on Saturday night against the Blues, they were outstanding. Defensively, they still have questions to answer, but in winning 60-43 in a 103 point try-fest over the Auckland franchise, they put to bed any doubts about their attacking potential.
The Blues even tried to do what most Kiwi sides do, and fly home with a wet sail in the second half. They scored three times in 10 minutes to be leading with half an hour to play, but the Sharks steadied, reloaded, and went again to run away with the win.
Flyhalf Robert Du Preez had comfortably his best game of the season, whilst brother Jean-Luc Du Preez was immense. Their back three is improving too, and Curwin Bosch continued his run of good form, scoring in the 80th minute to seal the impressive performance.
I don’t know whether it’s fair to say this, but I feel as though this year’s Super competition is somewhat disparate from those that have come before it (at least in the past few seasons).
Yes, there are benchmark teams, and yes, there are teams that will likely end up in the bottom few on the table – but there’s nowhere near the difference in standard week in, week out, that we’ve come to expect.
On their day, teams like the Sharks, the Jaguares and the Sunwolves will believe their form from the weeks previous, and beat whoever is in front of them. For me, at least, that’s a positive step forward.
The Rebels are brought down a peg
At the 30-minute mark of the Rebels vs Hurricanes clash on Friday night, Dave Wessels’ side was leading their New Zealand counterparts 19-8, and looked dominant.
Amanaki Mafi was ridiculous in this period, racking up over 100 run metres from 15 carries, while Will Genia and his loose forwards were getting the Rebels over the advantage line without an issue.
From there, as they did against the Waratahs, they went to sleep.
Pushed passes, kicks out on the full, and basic turnovers were their kryptonite as the Hurricanes did what only the Hurricanes can, and put the blowtorch on a suddenly misfiring Rebels outfit.
Beauden Barrett is a magician, and he, with TJ Perenara ruddered the comeback-cum-thrashing. Ben Lam scored four times as the Canes scored 42 unanswered points to pummel the table-topping Rebels.
The first test was always going to be when the Melbourne side came up against Kiwi opposition, and, bar the first half hour, they failed it badly.
No Izzy, no worries for Waratahs
The NSW Waratahs recorded a solid, but unspectacular win against the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday night, in the process, breaking a four-year losing streak at GIO Stadium.
Perhaps the biggest story of the night wasn’t the game itself, but the hamstring injury picked up by Israel Folau in the third minute of the game.
Speaking after the fixture, Darryl Gibson suggested he could be missing for a month or more, so we’ll await further news on his condition.
The absence of the Wallabies fullback did nothing to stop the Tahs in the end, a plucky second half defensive performance was just enough to take the win.
Taqele Naiyarovoro scored his second double in as many weeks to push the Waratahs ahead, and, despite Bernard Foley’s wayward goal kicking, they were never really pushed until the final five minutes when the Brumbies were able to string together consistent phases in the Waratahs 22.
Both benches performed admirably in news that will please both coaches. Alex Newsome was more than solid when he replaced Folau in the fourth minute, while young prop Harry Johnson-Holmes was a rock at scrum time for his stint on the field.
For the Brumbies, Kyle Godwin was outstanding off the bench, and outplayed the man he replaced, Christian Lealifano, in a strong show of straight running and astute tactical kicking.
For the Brumbies, this loss puts a major dent in their finals ambitions – as the Rebels and Waratahs kick clear at the top of the Australian conference. With two of their next three opponents being the Hurricanes and the Crusaders, it’s do-or-die time for their season.
The Kiwi derbies are awesome viewing
The Chiefs vs Highlanders fixture on Friday night was close to the game of the round. Pre-game, experts were divided about who would take the honours, and, in the end, the Chiefs prevailed 27-22, courtesy of some resolute last-minute defending.
Damien McKenzie was outstanding for the Chiefs, orchestrating things from five-eighth, whilst Solomona Alaimalo continues to score tries for fun.
For the Highlanders, they pressed and pressed and continued to press, but couldn’t break down the Chiefs defence in the dying minutes.
They also lost flyhalf Lima Sopoaga to an Achilles injury early in the piece, compounding the defeat.
The game itself was a goodie, but it was the little things that stuck out for me.
It seemed as though every lineout, every scrum, and every bit of loose ball action was scrapped for, and heavily contested. If Brad Weber would scoot from the base of a ruck and find a little hole, Aaron Smith would turn around and do the same.
When Rob Thompson cross kicked for a Waisaki Naholo classic in the corner, Damien McKenzie waited ten minutes, then himself cross kicked to Toni Pulu in the corner who tapped back inside for Alaimalo to score.
When the Kiwi players start to throw the ball around and try to one-up each other; it makes for fun viewing.
Jaco, put the damn whistle down
The Crusaders vs Lions Sunday night fixture should’ve been the game of the round.
In sunny South Africa, a grand final rematch between two attacking oriented sides promised much, but failed to deliver.
Yes, the Lions and the Crusaders delivered uncharacteristic performances littered with errors, but referee Jaco Peyper did his best to slow the game from a gallop to a mere canter.
I counted 15 scrum resets in the second half alone, often trivial and unnecessary.
I’m a stout defender of the scrum laws, and think there needs to be a set of stringent rules in place at scrum time to ensure both a fair, and safe means of executing the set piece, but when referees over adjudicate these laws to within an inch of their lives, it becomes tiresome viewing for everyone involved.
Add into the mix a number of missed forward passes, it wasn’t a good night for the South African referee.
As for the game, the Crusaders won it 14-8, courtesy of two second half tries to Sam Whitelock and Jack Goodhue.