If you’d only just tuned in to the commentariat around Super Rugby Pacific in recent weeks, you could be excused for wondering why people even bother.
All the talk of late seems to be about what’s wrong with the game: there’s too many cards, some of those cards are wrong, there’s too many stoppages, the refs are missing too much, the judiciary’s hopeless.
Some of my colleagues – and I don’t want to say I warned you this would happen after the whole training squad thing – have just decided to move right onto who’s going to get picked for the England series. There’s still seven rounds of Super Rugby Pacific and three weeks of finals to go.
And sure, I’ve contributed to some of this in recent weeks. It is quite easy get caught up in the wash and dragged along. Meanwhile the little bits of the English Premiership I’ve seen in recent weeks shows it’s still knocking out entertaining games regularly, and it’s not just England, either.
Leinster scored some great tries against Munster on the weekend in the URC. Hell, even the Stormers-Ulster game at Newlands the other week was fun to watch.
So, I wanted to do something about the situation this week, and noted the really good tries I enjoyed across Round 8, just to remind myself that there is still plenty to like down our way, too.
And there really has been. Plenty.
It started first game Friday night, in the rescheduled Round 5 match in Dunedin, where the Highlanders have drawn criticisms subsequently for daring to score four tries from lineout drives and perfectly within the laws of the game.
The critics seem to be forgetting that before Friday night, the Highlanders were averaging fewer than two tries a game; frankly, they’ll score tries however they come.
But their fourth of the night, to reserve hooker Rhys Marshall, was a really patient maul that took a couple of shoves to find an angle to get going, and with the no.16 piloting it at the back brilliantly, steering it, re-aligning it, using its momentum nicely before peeling off himself and barging over.
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Barely three minutes later, Moana Pasifika hit back under advantage after the Highlanders lost the ball forward on their own line.
Quickly spying a numerical advantage, Moana Pasifika threw two passes wide right to cover thirty metres, straightening the attack briefly through Danny Toala, before Christian Leali’ifano made a short break from the next phase, putting right winger Tima Fainga’anuku away in the corner beautifully.
The pass was outstanding – despite the TMO wanting another look – Fainga’anuku’s celebration was something else, and Leali’ifano’s superb curling conversion from the sideline made it 22-17 and game on into the last 23 minutes.
Later on Friday night over in the west, Manasa Mataele had already dazzled everyone with his acrobatics display to get the ball down in the 38th minute (which had to have come from a forward pass, because physics, but never mind), but his team-mates went pretty close to outshining him.
From a scrum on their side of halfway, and despite a bounce-pass to young flyhalf Reesjan Pasitoa, the Force played wide and flat to quickly shift from right to left, covering the forty metres between the tram tracks in less than ten metres of forward progress. By the time fullback Jake Strachan had the ball, the space on the left was already exploited.
Mataele drew in Andrew Kellaway and another Rebels defender before popping the overhead ball back in to Strachan. The fullback then chipped over the last line of defence, turning it into a foot race – a race that somehow Kyle Godwin won, despite being fifth in line, and after two cruel bounces for the players in front.
I’m not sure even Godwin knows how he scored that one.
Over in Wellington on Saturday, no-one was surprised when Crusaders fullback Will Jordan popped up on the typical Will Jordan support line to score in the ninth minute against the Hurricanes. He seems to do it weekly now.
The ‘Canes responded well though, with an otherwise unsuspecting short side raid in the Crusaders’ 22 producing a wonderful try for flanker DuPlessis Kirifi.
Josh Moorby looked to feed a bog standard three-on-three alignment to the left of the posts, but David Havili’s over-commitment second man out saw the Hurricanes fullback step off his left, straighten, and burst through the inside shoulder of Crusaders no.8 Cullen Grace scrambling to now cover the inside line.
With Moorby through, that previously bog standard three-on-three was suddenly a four-on-one, and a great offload with one Crusaders clutching his ankle put Jackson Garden-Bachop clear, with Kirifi on his outside to finish, and with Wes Goosen outside as well.
A great try from nothing, and certainly not the last lead change in what turned out to be a cracking game at the Cake Tin.
The Blues were simply outstanding in Hamilton, there’s no avoiding that issue. And when they’re scoring tries like Tom Robinson’s second of the night in the 53rd minute, it’s hard to not be impressed. And I have tried, believe me.
Beauden Barrett picked up a Chiefs kick on his own 22, drew in two defenders and offloaded away to Mark Talea on his left.
Talea somehow wound his way outward and back inward near halfway before releasing Reiko Ioane, who looked like he was away before being brought down in a desperate tackle inside the Chiefs 22.
From the quick recycle and eyeing a compressed Chiefs defence, Barrett punched a great cross-field kick to the five-metre junction, bouncing perfectly into the path of Robinson’s run for a genuine Try of the Year contender. Incredible accuracy, and annoyingly brilliant play.
In Brisbane on Saturday night to finish, I thought when Fijian Drua winger Onisi Ratave crossed for his first of the night, that it would take something special to top it.
From their side of halfway, the Drua went pass, pass, offload in contact, run, dummy, pass, line break to find themselves deep on attack in the Brumbies half.
Fullback Kitione Ratu crossed into the 22, shaping to pass while at the same time positioning three team-mates on his inside. With Brumbies fullback Tom Wright drawn to the tackle, offloaded over the top to Ratave on the inside, who shook Rod Iona off to cross, running around behind the posts.
But Wright may well have topped it with the last try of the round.
With the fulltime siren nearly a minute in the past, the Brumbies recycled ball just inside the Drua ten metre line and wanting to play for a bonus point before a bye this weekend.
Two second-man plays – the second from Wright himself – found Iona in midfield with deep support in the face of a Fijian defensive line madly scrambling to their left.
Replacement Hudson Creighton ran a good line before stepping back to the inside past a front line defender,
drawing in scrumhalf Simione Kuruvoli in the last line, putting Wright away on the outside from thirty out.
Bonus point secured, and good luck trying to find a definitive try of the week among that lot.
Of course, none of this is to suggest there is nothing wrong in the game, which is just patently untrue.
But with so much focus on what’s wrong, it’s a nice change to think about what is good about the game in our part of the world.
And this certainly isn’t a complete list, either – I look forward to hearing what you’re loving at the moment.