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The Drawing Board (04/05)

Hello and welcome to Who’s Playing Who?’s weekly rugby blog. This week saw the development of a bit of a gap emerging between the top teams and the rest. The Crusaders, who lie in 6th place, have now opened a six point gap over the Sharks. This is beginning to look tough for some teams to qualify for the top six, whilst others need to get a move on in order to keep their seasons alive. This could be a potentially deciding weekend in a few teams’ hopes. Bring on the desperation.

Super Wrap

It seems to me that the sides that are leading the competition have been the ones who have coped with their injuries the best. It is almost the case of who has the best ‘b’ team at this stage is leading. Obviously, depth is key in a long completion like this, and it will be interesting to see who gets in the top six come play-off time.  I heard an interesting proposal the other day to let some players from the southern hemisphere play in the northern hemisphere during the off season, and have the northern hemisphere players come down here for their off season. This is interesting, but in my mind, not feasible given the fact that there will be too much disagreement as to who pays who ect.

Blues 11 – 23 Reds

The Reds managed to get their campaign going again with a much needed victory over the hapless Blues. Will Genia put in a superb display, pulling the strings in a very impressive display.  He was outstanding as he managed to inspire the Reds to victory.  They were, however, helped by the Blues tactics, which were wired given the wet conditions. Attack from everywhere was not the right way to play.

The visitors raced into a 12-0 lead thanks to tries from centre Digby Ioane and fullback Luke Morahan and while the Blues rallied with a try from flanker Luke Braid, there was no coming back after Reds winger Dominic Shipperley crossed for his side’s third try shortly after the break.

Lions 20 – 34 Brumbies

The Brumbies managed to keep a tight grip of the Australian conference lead with an impressive win over the lowly Lions. This was a display of a form side, as they were ruthless in dispatching the Lions. Jake White’s side again showed their progress from last year, managing to secure all five points.

Loose head Ruaidhri Murphy got the scoreboard ticking over early on with Henry Speight and Andrew Smith also crossing in the first-half. The Lions offered little in return with the Brumbies adding a further three scores in the second-half. Speight grabbed his second with the other tries coming from Joseph Tomane and Wallaby Ben Alexander. The Lions crossed for two scores in the second 40 but it failed to halt the Brumbies’ charge.

Chiefs 33 – 14 Hurricanes

The Chiefs showed why they are becoming a champion team; with a big second half display getting them over the line against the Hurricanes.  The score line probably favoured the home side a bit, as the Hurricanes did manage to keep it close for most of the game. They lacked the killer punch though, and you always got the feeling that the Chiefs were going to be victorious. Fly-half Aaron Cruden’s boot gave the Chiefs a 12-8 lead at half-time with Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor keeping the visitors in touch with a first-half try.

The Chiefs stepped up a gear after the break and ran in three scores including yet another for prop Sona Taumololo who has now notched an incredible seven tries in nine games. Winger Lelia Masaga and replacement Toby Smith rounded out the scoring to help condemn the ‘Canes to their fifth defeat of the season.

Force 3 – 17 Stormers

The Stormers finished a great tour with a great win in dreadful conditions over the Force. They now hold the edge in the South African conference, with the Bulls starting their tour this week. The Stormers produced a fine defensive effort, and showed that they have the depth to match it with the best.

Torrential rain ensured endless unforced errors with Bryan Habana’s intercept try midway through the first half eventually proving to be the difference between the two teams. However, replays suggested the Springboks winger may have lost control of the ball before grounding it. Peter Grant added a second try in the 48th minute with the Force offering little in return and as a result they slipped to their seventh reverse of the campaign.

Cheetahs 33 – 36 Highlanders

The Highlanders managed to keep their hopes of reigning in the Chiefs alive with an incredible second half comeback.  Previous Highlanders sides may have lost this one, but this side managed to keep their spirits high and managed to pluck a victory from the jaws of defeat. First-half tries from prop Coenraad Oosthuizen and lock Andries Ferreira put the hosts in control and there was worse to come for the visitors when fly-half Johan Goosen added another after the break.

The key moment came when Goosen was injured in that try. His departure sparked the Highlanders comeback, with the Cheetahs defence looking ragged. The Highlanders scored a try from replacement Chris Noakes and two from fellow bench-warmer Jimmy Cowan to turn the game on its head. It was then left to Noakes, who finished the game with 17 points, to complete the comeback from the kicking tee.

Waratahs 33 – 37 Crusaders

The Crusaders managed to score a vital away win as they continue their march up the table. This was an important victory over the Waratahs, as it gave them some breathing space over their nearest rivals. The display was built on a massive performance from Robbie Fruean, who showed how lethal he could be.

A brace for centre Fruean and other scores for wingers Zac Guildford and Adam Whitelock saw the Crusaders home with fly-half Tim Taylor slotting 17 points and there was more good news with Richie McCaw making his long-awaited return from injury with a 25-minute cameo. A late try from replacement Sarel Pretorius ensured the Waratahs notched a valuable losing bonus point.

Bye: Sharks, Rebels, Bulls

Congratulations to:

Craig Clarke, Benson Stanley and Digby Ioane, who all played their 50th matches for their respective franchises this weekend. Clarke has also played three for the Crusaders and 14 for the Hurricanes, while Ioane has run out 20 times for the Force.

Tips

HURRICANES v BLUES – Both teams will be desperate to get their seasons back on track. The Hurricanes have not been good of late, whilst the Blues have not really looked good at all. On form, it is the Hurricanes who should take this one.

REBELS v BULLS – There was a time when the Bulls were horrible on tour, but those times are long gone. It gets a lot more difficult for the Bulls after this week, but they should start their tour positively.

CHIEFS v LIONS – I cannot see the Chiefs losing this one.

BRUMBIES v WARATAHS – This is a really important one for the Waratahs as they are looking to close the gap on the Australian conference leaders. The Brumbies are coming off a big tour to South Africa, and will be trying to extend their lead in the conference. Should be a close game, but I think the Brumbies should take it.

SHARKS v HIGHLANDERS – This promises to be a good game as both teams are looking to keep their aspirations in this competition on track. The Sharks are more in need of a win, as they are in a group lagging back a bit.  The Highlanders pulled a get out of jail card last week, but they cannot afford another display like that. The Sharks are my pick for this one.

CHEEETAHS v FORCE – The Cheetahs without Johan Goosen will be a different prospect for the Force, but I think that they will still be too much. Cheetahs to win this one for me.

CRUSADERS v REDS –  The Reds are starting to come right but the Crusaders owe them big time after last year and it would be a huge surprise were the seven-time champions not to avenge themselves in fine style on their 2011 nemesis. The Crusaders should take this victory.

Super XV for week 10:
15. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), 14. Henry Speight (Brumbies), 13. Robbie Fruean (Crusaders), 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs), 11. Julien Savea (Hurricanes), 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), 9. Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders), 8. Kieran Reid (Crusaders), 7. Matt Todd (Crusaders), 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders), 5. Andries Bekker (Stormers), 4. Craig Clarke (Chiefs

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