Each one of the separate matches in Super Rugby Round Five of the 2017 season was a worthy contest. Across all four conferences, over four continents and involving many of the best rugby players today. No wonder it was best referred to as ‘Super Saturday’.
Saturday March 25 – Blues v Bulls, Albany | ACT Brumbies v Highlanders, Canberra | Sunwolves v Stormers, Singapore
There was something for everyone. And it began in Auckland, New Zealand, where the traveling Bulls would try their hardest to break a losing sequence. Across in Canberra, it was a battle of attrition and up in Singapore, the Sunwolves were leading until a late flurry secured the Stormers a ‘get out of jail’ victory.
Last Word On Rugby was on hand in Auckland to witness the Blues result first-hand, with the match in Canberra a riveting one to follow on radio traveling home. The audio heightening the dramatic conclusion. Then, to top it off watching the all out scoring action between the ‘Wolves and Stormers (see main picture) was a terrific end to the night–that small selection made this Super Saturday one to savour.
Super Saturday: Excitement, High Tension and Thrilling Victory
Blues 38 – Tries: A. Pulu, M. Duffie (2), I. West, M. Moulds, M. Nanai; Conversions P. Francis (2) I. West (2)
Bulls 14 – Tries: L. Gqoboka, R. Paige; Con: H. Pollard, C.Schoeman.
In front of one of the highest turnouts at QBE Stadium in Albany for many years, the two sides would go to war. A strong ex-pat African turnout, kept the attendance balance at approximately 80/20%.
This match opened immediately with an excellent early phase from the hosts. Industrious use of the blindside saw a breakout from Augustine Pulu (pictured below) that kicked off the scoring inside two mins. That should have seen more running rugby continue, and while the Bulls scored a forwards try, too many unforced handling errors shared between each side was disappointing in the dry conditions.
7-7 was all the scoring allowed in a error ridden first half. Tit-for-tat rugby, but too many mistakes and more dropped ball after the restart was continually disappointing the crowd. Agonizing at times, it meant they lacked continuity. Plenty of energy, just poor execution. Where was the accuracy? Head coach Tana Umaga would later state that;
“we had our opportunities, but just needed to build our confidence”.
It took some patience to show that, but after multiple phases, the rewards came. First, Piers Francis gifted a perfect ball for Matt Duffie to run under the black dot. Try! Crucial points, and Collins was more spritely, Duffie and George Moala working well in the backline. Even an own mistake at an attacking lineout was repaired by some Jerome Kaino strength turned over the ball. The attacking scrum with 5 meters to the line was the right area of the park to play, and after forward momentum, Francis played his final act of the game–a nicely weighted kick, for Duffie’s second try.
Confidence Grows with Good Substitutes
Ihaia West then came in as replacement for Francis, and he played very well. It might have been undone when Jimmy Tupou was seen using an illegal head-roll. Ten minutes in the bin is often an action that can diminish all the good done, so the crowd held it’s breath. The side now confidently spread the ball and it paid dividends. A gap opened up and West showed his Hawke’s Bay flair. Control of the ball was questioned though, so fans were grateful benefit of the doubt was given by the TMO.
At 24-7, the bench was cleared and the confidence rose even higher. Real positive use of the ball saw commentators ask “where had this been all night?” That was expressed best with a Blues special that revived the ‘hooker on the wing’ move to benefit Northland player Matt Moulds with a try. Fantastic attack now infected the side. It was classic Blues, and well worth the wait for fans. The video package below shows it best, as Melani Nanai scored a 70 meter brilliant attacking movement.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) March 25, 2017
Apart from a last second try to Rudy Paige, the Bulls were spectators tonight. Their own worst enemy. They lacked self confidence, and that factor helped the hosts to grow into theirs. Umaga highlighted how his men stayed on-task. He went on to say;
“We went in there with a plan, and we stuck with it.”
Even when Tupou was sin-binned, he was generally pleased. “That’s again the resilience and fortitude we are trying to build,” and the coaches are looking toward a tough next-up match. The Western Force are “not going to be easy” and is another development step for the Blues to tick off. If the enthusiasm can be used more productively, then the overall satisfaction will be more emphatic. Umaga commented that his group were ‘99% happy’ and yes, there is room to improve.
Blues Send Fans Home Happy
Last night, fans were delighted by ‘Man of the Match’ Matt Duffie (see below image). A two-try a stellar night for him, with Umaga praising his game and his strong voice from the back. Just one of the senior men who ‘backed it up today’ that earned the coaches praise.
More hard work is needed, but the belief that Umaga is speaking of, is now reinforced by on-field results.
“We are not going to get ahead of ourselves, at this stage.”
That statement from victorious captain James Parsons was absolutely right, as the Blues need to put in plenty of work at home, and especially on the road. Their away record is poor, so that step-up is still to be cracked [even considering the Round One win in Melbourne].
Brumbies 13 – Try: C. Alcock; Vonversion: W. Hawera; Penalty: Hawera (2)
Highlanders 18 – Tries: S. Tomkinson, A. Seiuli; Con: M. Banks (2); Pen: Banks
Often, the audio heard from a rugby match adds to the senses. Without visualizing the play, the listener feels changes in the game intently. And the match in Canberra had many corrections over the course of the game.
— ABC Grandstand (@abcgrandstand) March 25, 2017
Only the Brumbies troubled the scoreboard early, when Chris Alcock crossed. The game was frought with pressure and young Fletcher Smith was under-performing. The loss of Lima Sopoaga was obvious, but thankfully just before the close of the half…Bingo! Captain Ben Smith came ever so close, and debuting winger Sio Tomkinson earned his first try in Super Rugby.
At 10-5, it was finely balanced. Tony Brown put Marty Banks in, hoping that he would bring more invention. It wasn’t entirely working, but the pressure-point was in the tight forwards. George Whitelock was very impressive. He faced Scott Fardy, and the Brumbies were not without their own firepower.
Brumbies Apply the Torch, but Highlanders Enjoy the Heat
The audio illustrated the action, back-and-forth. Kick, counter-kick. The maul was a collision point, yet penalties and scrums were hard going. With any penalty earned, the choice was to take the points. After a Banks kick, it was 13-11. With a quarter of an hour to go, the air was tense. Small mistakes occurred, knock-ons and charged down kicks all added to the tension.
Right when it was needed, Aki Seiuli crossed for the Highlanders try. It motivated the home side, but they ran out of ammunition, going back to their only option. Forward play. The scrum/maul ploy was not pretty. As the desperation increased, little mistakes were costing time–just what the ‘Landers wanted. Time simply ran out, and great defense from the visitors earned them the win, 13-18.
“It was a bloody tough battle,” Highlanders coach Tony Brown told media. “For us, it was just a huge relief to get the job done in the end. Our scrum, held up under real pressure. And that was always going to be key to winning the game.”
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham might have wanted his side to use more options, but it seems like they are forward-bound. With Henry Speight and Aidan Toua making meters, they should have returned more. With the ball going back into the ruck and maul, it seems to limit their effectiveness. How Larkham addresses this during the bye, will determine the near-future prospects.
Sunwolves 31 – Tries: Carpenter (2), Emi, Moli; Conversions: Ogura (4); Penalties: Ogura
Stormers 44 – Tries: Viljoen, Elstadt, Louw, Duvenage, Mbonambi, Basson; Cons: Du Preez (4); Pens: Du Preez (2).
Any match with ten tries, would normally see one side thrash the other. At Singapore National Stadium, the home side scored four tries, and were leading, before the visitors finished with a flurry. It would have been disappointing, but the excitement was such that one just had to applaud the efforts of all 46 men.
It might not be too much to say, that the Stormers were frightened. Not scared of the attack, but of the heart and resolve of the Sunwolves. It is common knowledge, as the Asian side always ‘put on a show’ but it is always memorable. And the memory of last years drawn match might have motivated both sides.
‘Wolves coach Filo Tiatia would have been sending down messages, asking his men to withstand the pressure–and it came thick and fast. At 24-10, it resulted in an converted Rynhardt Elstadt try to show that it would be a true contest. Halftime at 24-20 looked even, but the home side were not done yet.
Sunwolves Put All on the Line, but Stormers More Practiced
Derek Carpenter scored his second try, which saw the ‘shell-shocked’ Stormers committing errors. Too many kicks went aimlessly to the opposition, and while the ‘Wolves would run at all chances, the visitors managed to take the lead when halfback Dewaldt Duvenage scored. 31-34 was still too close to break, and it would take a moment to open the game.
Then a high tackle from Oli Kebble looked to have cracked the Stormers chances. The missed penalty was costly, but with a man advantage, they have their moment. The Sunwolves are quick, but sometimes over-eager. Tiny errors now cost them, and when Kaito Shigeno managed to get himself a yellow card, it resulted in a double-blow of tries for the Stormers. BoomBoom! And that was game over.
It was just a little too wild, too unorthodox that the better practiced side prevailed. Tiatia will know ‘heart gets you so far, but precision gets you a win’. That maybe the story so far, and now the Stormers sit comfortably, undefeated. Although, their test is still to come. In a months time, they travel to New Zealand.
So another Super Saturday saw moments of exhilaration, and tremendous ability play out. Games in Auckland, Canberra and Singapore; only a handful of games, but highly entertaining and examples of the high standards of Super Rugby. The forecast is that next week, teams will each perform the same, and fans will sit back, watching or listening intently.
I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a Saturday night.
“Main photo credit”