If fans were looking forward to some high-scoring, and exhilarating action for the Super Rugby 2017 Quarterfinals, then they might feel slightly short-changed. They had action sure, but where was the high-scoring, fast-paced action that fans are so used to?
The truth is, knockout rugby necessitates a more strategic plan. Less razzle-dazzle, and more cut and thrust. More determined efforts to thwart efforts from the challenges are required. And that is reflected by these four close, low scoring games.
While many pundit predictions matched the odds makers, it wasn’t easy. And the outcomes from each of the four games, brought both positives and negatives. Some games were limited due to weather [CRUvHIG], or pressure [LIOvSHA] but players and viewers must expect that–and more–when the next stage of the championship continues next week.
Super Rugby 2017 Quarterfinals: the Outcomes, Highlights and Positives
ACT Brumbies 19 Hurricanes 35 – GIO Stadium, Canberra
The Brumbies are bad–not as bad as every critic makes out though–but clearly out of their depth in knockout rugby. Awarded a place by geography less than on merit, it was used as an internal motivator. They wanted to send a message to the doubters–and did so, for the first half at least.
With Christian Lealiifano restored, senior players like Scott Sio (below) and James Dargaville made a great effort, and that was a highlight for the small crowd who braved almost freezing conditions..
At 16-15, the home side were emboldened. Like in Napier, they were ahead yes, but the challenge was the hold out an slightly awkward Hurricanes team. The visitors would have usually been the forerunner, so with ‘work to do’ they soon repaired errors made. When the final whistle had blown, two further tries and penalties doubled the visitors score to deny any Australian team further participation in Super Rugby 2017.
A stronger Hurricanes team might have put 50 points on the Aussie men, they are that able. Post game head coach Chris Boyd was stern is his dismay at how unorganized his men were. Captain TJ Perenara and his side dispensed of the Brumbies yes, but will need to improve by at least 25% if they hope to go further in 2017.
Positives: Dane Coles returned, and that is fantastic news. With no further injuries, and no likely issues with the judiciary, it means the team is one step closer to retaining their 2016 title. Unfortunately, that step is towards Africa, and not back across the Tasman home.
Negatives: Beauden Barrett seems fatigued, possibly still injured. Missing Vince Aso, Jordie Barrett is a better fullback than center. Some will hope that the midfield can be shored up, before they face their next opponents.
Crusaders 17 Highlanders 0 – AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Who thought the weather gods didn’t influence results in 2017. Even the best prepared surfaces cannot withstand so much rain–fans wore snorkel masks and goggles to be safe! The players could have used those too, as the ball was kept close-in to secure territory.
The Crusaders used two strategies: (1) high kicks, and hope for a mistake by the Highlanders. Ben Smith was usually good but the many turnovers shared the ball too often for ‘Landers managements liking. It gave them territorial advantage. And then they (2) held the ball, with numerous phases before twice shunting the ball over the line from the pack.
The crusaders tactics equaled ‘perfect wet weather rugby’.
And by good fortune in the wet, they triumphed 17-0 accordingly.
At the end of the game, the Highlanders were wet and cold, and beat. At the end of the fixture, the Crusaders were equally wet and cold but delighted to,o to have won in painfully bad conditions. Scott Robertson will joke (as he usually does well) about Noah’s Ark but they put on a serious face tonight. Uncompromising and efficient, this highlight was what any good Northern hemisphere side would do on a night like that.
And sadly the Highlanders weren’t up to the task. Only the second time ever that a finals match has ever seen one team held to zero points.
Positives: Now they know they can win ugly–it doesn’t always have to be ‘throw it around’ footy. Adjusting to conditions; which includes a vocal away crowd, are the credentials of champions. Richie Mo’unga showed good stability, having learned from the British and Irish Lions clash in June.
Note – Liam Squire appears to be lucky, not to receive more of a sanction; than a yellow card, after his high-swing arm to Mo’unga Saturday.
Negatives: Christchurch needs a covered stadium. It would have demonstrated both teams skills, it may have seen the result go the visitors way. This quarter-final suffered for not having a well designed fixture, with the stadium also flooding which caused more headaches for locals and traveling sports fans.
The visitors will rue some poor defensive work, dropped ball and less than effective long kicking. The wind and rain did not help, but neither did the ‘Landers tactics.
Lions 23 Sharks 21 – Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
What if I told you that the African conference leaders had beaten this Sharks team twice before–you might expect this outcome. And what if I told you that the Lions scored 81 tries to date, that they only trail the Hurricanes in their attack. Sure, that is believable. But, when I say this match was only won with a final kick, you might answer ‘how could that be?’
Considering the Super Rugby 2017 Quarterfinals, it saw both good and bad. The Sharks were impressive, scoring two tries inside 16 minutes. The below highlights only show the scoring play, however the Sharks had much of the game in control, that is one major concern for the Lions; which will be consistency.
Outlasting the Sharks 23-21, they confirm a home semi-final. Holding such an advantage is worth more than most fans will realize. The local fans have enjoyed 14 matches unbeaten at home–but many will feel the Robert du Prez coached Sharks side would almost took the game away from the Lions. Almost an upset, however if anything is proved in Super Rugby it is that ‘almost is not good enough’.
Positives: Attacking options, like Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel mean the Lions are tough to beat. An buffet of talent throughout gives them confidence. Ruan Combrink is a game changer, and they play to the whistle so know that attack is the best option.
Negatives: Elton Jantjies can be a liability. He misses place kicks, restarts go over the sideline on the full, and if anything is known from the 2016 grand final, he can ‘go missing’. Tony Johnson on Prime TV’s RugbyNation believes the Hurricanes know this, and will target the Springboks flyhalf.
Stormers 11 Chiefs 17 – DHL Newlands, Cape Town
It was one of the most exciting games of the weekend, even if the scoring opportunities were limited. The crowds brought along an intense atmosphere; the avid Chiefs fans in the republic out in force. It made for the ‘match of the round’.
Some internal Visa issues meant that Chiefs veteran Stephen Donald was called on to fill a vacant place, and the 102 capped senior leader was ready to impress. He made several surging runs early, but the only chances were kicks from the boot of Damian McKenzie (below picture).
Having talent like Donald, Liam Messam and Michael Leitch was ultimately the difference. Composure and maturity in knockout rugby proved the Chiefs positive outcome. Even though Siya Kilosi was unable to enforce his charisma over the result, he is a similar model to Richie McCaw. Delivered leadership early, he may go far in future championship attempts for the Stormers.
Positives: The Chiefs are built-tough. From Brodie Retallick to Anton Lienert-Brown, their ranks are strong. And if this close-knit group want to send off some leaders like Aaron Cruden, then reaching the final is that one step closer to glory.
Negatives: Travel – the Chiefs only return to Hamilton on Tuesday. But coach Dave Rennie wants to embrace it as a challenge. If their fitness can support that, then by Saturday they will have a chance (if the field is dry by then).
Now that the results are in, who impressed most? The assured performance of the Crusaders benefits their chances the most. A home semi-final is a benefit. Yes, the Chiefs are a brutal challenge but at least it is local. One factor that the Hurricanes might pay much for.
The title holders were waiting idle in Sydney, watching the result before catching a long-haul flight to Africa, it just meant more fuss–rather than just head home to Wellington. Indeed, that result was only one kick away, as the Sharks fell agonizingly short.
The win by the Lions did little to boost their status, and they might pay for that minor slip, in the first clash against a New Zealand team all year.
In conclusion, the immediacy of taking small advantages in Super Rugby is higher now. No playoff for third place means ‘who is beaten by the least amount’ is considered the third best team. Not really a title that any of these four Super Rugby 2017 quarterfinals winners will want to inherit after next weekend. But they will all be pleased to be here, at least.
“Main photo credit”