FORCE 26 d. REDS 19 @ nib Stadium
The match: The Western Force chalked up their first home win since Round 13, 2015, accounting for the Queensland Reds 26-19 in a thriller at nib Stadium. Curtis Rona’s 69th-minute try proved the difference for the Force, negating a hat-trick from fellow NRL convert Eto Nabuli for the Reds.
The Force crossed the line after just one minute through a sizzling Chance Peni solo effort, but Nabuli struck twice in the space of two minutes quarter of the way through the match. The former St George Illawarra flyer’s second was a remarkable long-range effort from his own 22.
Matt Philip levelled for the Force before halftime, but Nabuli was in again in the 49th minute from a deft Duncan Paia’aua grubber. Ian Prior booted two penalties for the Force to trim the gap to one point, and ex-Bulldog and Kiwi Test winger Rona finished off excellent work by Dane Haylett-Petty and Pek Cowan to score the decisive try.
It was a gutsy effort from the Force after losing flyhalf Jono Lance and Wallabies lock Adam Coleman to injury during the match.
The man: Invercargill-born Peni, another ex-leaguie who played lower grades for the Newcastle Knights and Wests Tigers, had an outstanding game. His try was a belter, while he finished with a team-high 105 metres and beat nine defenders. The 23-year-old winger represented Junior Kiwis and Cook Islands in rugby league but never kicked on; it looks as if he may have found his niche in the 15-man game.
— Western Force (@westernforce) March 2, 2017
The moment: A yellow card to prop Sef Fa’agase for a second straight dangerous tackle proved vital for the Reds. The Force capitalised on the one-man advantage almost immediately to send Rona over for the go-ahead try.
— Western Force (@westernforce) March 2, 2017
CHIEFS 41 d. BLUES 26 @ Waikato Stadium
The Chiefs silenced a poor Blues side who came into Round 2 full of confidence with a six-tries-to-three drumming in front of their home fans in Hamilton.
The match: The Blues couldn’t kick on from an early 9-5 lead in an opening quarter that saw the penalty count heavily in their favour. Once Damian McKenzie scored the Chiefs’ second try to go up 12-9, it was all one-way traffic. A more powerful Chiefs forward pack produced three pushover tries, and the Chiefs set play had the Blues all at sea on defence.
The Chiefs led 41-9 before the Blues posted three consolation tries in the final 20 minutes.
The man: Brodie Retallick was crucial to the Chiefs’ success at lineout time. Several turnovers were due to his hands at the set-piece and in the loose.
This half has been all about belief. Chiefs are the best bullies in the game at home. #CHIvBLU
— Scotty Stevenson (@sumostevenson) March 3, 2017
The moment: Just before halftime, Steven Luatua was red-carded for a head high tackle on Chiefs runner Tim Nanai-Williams. Nanai-Williams didn’t have possession, leaving the referee no choice but to send Luatua from the field indefinitely. The Chiefs went on to score from the next play, putting them out to a handy 22-9 lead at the break.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) March 3, 2017
There were more than a few talking points to come out of Super Rugby Saturday in week two.
Hurricanes 71 d. Rebels 6 @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
The match: The Rebels looked like they may have come to play early on, but what followed was an absolute blowout of epic proportions. The Hurricanes scored five tries in the first half to take a dominant lead of 31-6 at the break.
The defending Super Rugby champions piled on another 40 points in the second stanza, winning 71-6 in a performance that saw Nehe Milner-Skudder nab himself a hat trick, while Vince Aso also scored a pair for the second week in a row.
The man: Beauden Barrett was back to his superb best after being given his first start of the season. Barrett played a key role in two of the Hurricanes tries, putting in his classic chip kick before running onto the ball and setting up his outside runners for a dash to the line. Barrett won the IRB World Rugby Player of the Year award in 2016 – and the scary thing is he looks to have brought that same form into 2017.
The moment: The Rebels should have gotten more than six points in what was a very solid opening 10 minutes. They were caught out by a lack of understanding on how the Hurricanes play rugby; a style that is expansive and can counterattack from anywhere. When Milner-Skudder easily stepped through the defence to score the first try, the onslaught began from there.
Crusaders 30 d. Highlanders 27 @ Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The match: Physical, fast and intense could be used to describe the encounter in Dunedin. Failing to break through the defence, the Crusaders had to settle for shots at goal in the opening half. The Highlanders didn’t have such problems, going in twice, one try coming from some brilliant vision from Aaron Smith – who put in a brilliant grubber – and finished off by Waisake Naholo.
The Highlanders led 17-6 at halftime. It wouldn’t be a southern derby without drama, and this encounter was no exception. Leading 27-6, the Highlanders appeared to have the game in hand, but the Crusaders would come storming back. The visitors posted 24 unanswered points to steal victory in the final minutes – with the last two tries coming after a controversial yellow card inside the final 10 minutes.
The man: Waisake Naholo had one of his best performances in the Highlanders jersey. The flyer scored two tries, both examples of both his blistering pace and his ability to put himself into the right place during attacking situations. His second try was the ultimate testament to that. Where a lot of players would have naturally tried to snap up the high ball, Naholo stuck in support with Malakai Fekitoa and had faith his teammate would make the play. Once Fekitoa had the ball, Naholo was there in support and unmarked, leading to one of the Highlanders’ more polished tries on the night.
The moment: Malakai Fekitoa was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle after going up for a high ball against the Crusaders’ David Havili, putting the Highlanders a man down with less than 10 minutes to play. The gap in the backline was exploited by a surging Crusaders side, and in the end there weren’t enough Highlanders players on defence to stop the match-winning try, scored by Seta Tamanivalu.
HOW DID THE AUSSIE SIDES GO ON SUPER SATURDAY?
The Brumbies staggered to their second straight defeat are failing to close out a resurgent Sharks side in Canberra. The visitors scored after the 80th minute to secure a 27-22 win.
Over in South Africa, the Waratahs proved worthy challengers for the Lions in what turned out to be a great exhibition of rugby. In the end, the Lions were too strong, getting the win 55-37 after leading only 33-24 at halftime.
Sharks 27 d. Brumbies 22 @ GIO Stadium, Canberra
Southern Kings 37 d. Sunwolves 23 @ Singapore
Lions 55 d. Waratahs 36 @ Emirates Airlines Stadium, Johannesburg
Stormers 32 d. Jaguares 25 @ Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Cheetahs 34 d. Bulls 28 @ Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein