There were assumptions made during the build-up to Week 12 of Super Rugby. Supporters made claims that the NZ Super Rugby teams might have a ‘clean sweep’. They could wipe the floor with the opposition, over five separate matches. But in the end, sport prevailed because the old saying of “you can’t win them all” rang true.
Three wins from five contested matches happened. A good return, and it benefited the standings of the Crusaders and Hurricanes the most. Two sides who seem destined to challenge for the coveted New Zealand conference home quarter-final place.
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) May 5, 2018
3/5 returned for the conference also reinforced one admirable record. The Blues continued a staggering record of 38 matches undefeated against Australian conference teams. Incredible when you consider the challenge; not just for the streak, but also that the Blues managed to revive some lost credibility.
But, not every side accomplished their goals over the weekend.
You can’t win them all – 3/5 for NZ Super Rugby teams
For the Chiefs and Highlanders, it was commiserations. Neither could add to their standings in the championship. And while they have not fallen far down the ladder, it will have diminished some of their confidence. A loss will do that for the teams, and for their fanbase.
The Jaguares took a ‘bite’ out of the Chiefsmana. It was a glorious run by the South American team, but at the cost of the Chiefs. A loss that was made from the sides inability to complete their basics, and to use territory when they got within striking distance.
They could not have imagined this at the start of the season – the same way they could not imagine the impact such an injury toll has done to their strength.
Adding to their issues, they had to pack up and prepare to travel to South Africa. Gladly, for both their injured list and to combat the removal of four players a week into their trip, Colin Cooper got dispensation to take a large group of 29 players away. He will be hoping that no more injuries are added, when they face the Stormers next Saturday.
And the Highlanders will also need to be satisfied with a single win over in the republic. Last week, they stole a late win through the boot of Lima Sopoaga. This week, they ran into a Sharks team that had taken stock over their bye week. That must have been exactly what head coach Robert du Preez needed, as his side were much better in defeating the Highlanders.
An immediate try to kick off the game, the Sharks fans will have been more than satisfied, with the action, collecting a bonus point and boosting the sides chances in the South African conference.
So the Highlanders and Chiefs lose. Not losing any places against the other, with the Otago side holding a slender lead and needing to return home and immediately focus on the Lions at Forsyth-Barr Stadium next Saturday.
Wellington use the wind to blow past Lions
In more positive results, the home side faced a stiff breeze swirling around the Westpac Stadium Saturday night. They invited the Lions to replay the 2016 grand final – and gladly for fans, the home team repeated their Championship winning result of two seasons ago.
The form winger of the competition, Ben Lam was again impressive. Not perfect, and coach Chris Boyd is still wanting his side to make improvements. And next weekend they head up to Auckland, wanting to put together a full 80 minute performance to continue an eight game winning sequence.
Following that match, the Blues had to play the Waratahs at an rugby league ground. With a probable soccer fixture not being scheduled, the ‘Tahs might have hoped they were back on more familiar ground. The setting was more intimate too, but it also played into the hands of the team who could motivate themselves most.
With the thought of breaking the record of losses to NZ Super Rugby teams in the back of their mind, the home side wished for more ball security. They had the rugby skills of Israel Folau back but sadly for New South Wales and Australian rugby fans, the home side tripped-up when given a sniff by the Blues.
The narrow loss will feel worse, when the media and fans associate every loss as a step backwards to the New Zealand sides – now and looking ahead, to the Bledisloe Cup match in August.
The standout from this weekend, and the leaders on the NZ Super Rugby teams ladder, were the Crusaders. Playing for the second time in a week in Australia, they had stayed away and focused on the task. It turned out to be a great tactic from Scott Robertson.
The Melbourne Rebels have not traveled well recently. So they would have wanted to return to AAMI Park and face down the reigning champions. A good start, however they could not sustain their efforts over the full 80 minutes. Going into the sheds only 10-13 down will have given them heart, but to the dismay of home town fans, they gave up 42 unanswered points.
That loss will do two things. It reinforces the Crusaders as the most deadly side [again]. They have opened the points differential too. Accumulating 322 points, but only giving away 170, that is a key to claiming the conference lead. Those two numbers show the strengths of the Canterbury side; attack and defence.
For the Rebels, it further halts any points they can add to their place within the Australian conference. Amazingly, after 12 weeks of action, they have gained less points in the last five weeks, then they had accumulated after the opening rounds. They have hit the wall! [in points terms] – if they do not gain wins soon, they might be ‘frozen in place’ when the competition breaks for the June Internationals.
While the external competition is much needed, NZ Super Rugby teams will not always have it their way. Fans might too often think “we’ve got this” but every match is still a challenge.
Over the next weeks, the Blues endure several derby matches while the remaining sides play overseas teams. How the Chiefs emerge from their venture across to Africa, will determine where they find themselves during the rest window [week 15]. If they lose more ground to the leading sides, it will only make it more difficult to fight off the ‘wildcard challengers’ in the last fortnight of the season.
Still plenty of action to enjoy for NZ Super Rugby teams this season.
“Main photo credit”
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