Thursday 22 March 2018 / 02:00 AM


Highlanders 16 def. Blues 12 @ Eden Park, Auckland

The Highlanders held on for a dramatic victory in what was, ironically, one of the worst New Zealand derby matches in recent history.

The match: The Highlanders were first to dot down over the line courtesy of Malakai Fekitoa. The Blues couldn’t get themselves into the opposition red zone enough to worry the visitors, but two penalties saw a narrow 10-6 margin at the break.

Neither side was able to gain any momentum in what turned out to be a scrappy second half, but towards the end of the game it looked like the Blues were beginning to surge. The amount of handling errors made by the Blues wasn’t helping, however and it kept them pinned down in their own half during the dying minutes.

But when the Blues forced their way into the Highlanders’ half, things got very interesting. Needing a try to win the game, a horrible error on the line cost the Blues, allowing the Highlanders to hold on for a dramatic 16-12 victory despite Gareth Evans’ late yellow card.

The man: Aaron Smith continues to prove that he has put his demons of 2016 behind him; at least in terms of his on-field performances. Smith was as vocal as ever, passionately leading his side around the park as several of his teammates, including Lima Sopoaga, went down to injury. Smith made it count when he kicked for territory and frequently got his side out of trouble.

The moment: It will be an incident that is discussed all week long. With time out on the clock, an extra man on the field, and less than a metre from the try-line, disaster struck for the Blues. Patrick Tuipolotu lost the ball in contact in the first carry after Evans’ sin-binning, ending the game. Had Tuipolotu held the ball, the Blues would almost certainly have scored – or at the very least had another phase to take the ball wide. The blunder was the final, awful act of the game for a Blues side that continues to look average at best.

Crusaders 22 d. Reds 20 @ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

It was a dramatic scene in Brisbane as rugby proved once again you can never be certain of the winner until the final whistle.

The match: The Reds stormed out to an early lead with two great tries set up by their dangerous backline. Halfback Mitch Drummond got some belated respite for the Crusaders, but Quade Cooper kicked well to put the Reds into a handy 20-7 position at halftime.

Bryn Hall was put into the match after the break and it proved to be a masterstroke as the replacement halfback went on to score two tries either side of Crusaders big man Jordan Taufua’s yellow card after a scuffle broke out off the ball.

After Hall’s second five-pointer with five minutes left, the Crusaders received a penalty in the dying moments, and Mitchell Hunt kicked the winning goal for the visitors after the siren.

The man: With two tries in the dramatic final 20 minutes, Bryn Hall proved a big difference-maker for the Crusaders off the bench. His side were down by 13 points, and Hall’s eye for the line brought back 10 of those.

The moment: Hunt slotted the penalty with time up to give the Crusaders a stunning come-from-behind victory. The penalty had been awarded as the Reds were trying to close out the game by keeping ball in hand. Hunt, who has been rushed into the starting No.10 role due to Richie Mo’unga’s injury, continues to prove he belongs in Super Rugby.

Cheetahs 38 d. Sunwolves 31 @ Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein

The match: In a tight first half, the Sunwolves kept the pressure on throughout with two well-worked tries. But the difference in power saw the Cheetahs forward pack able to break the line, leading to a pair of their own tries.

Boasting a 20-17 lead at halftime, the Cheetahs kept their advantage intact before a late surge from the Sunwolves looked producing an upset. But then a yellow card to the Sunwolves’ Takuma Asahara saw the Cheetahs able to take advantage and score late to seal a 38-31 win.

The man: Rayno Benjamin scored the match-winner in what was an unexpectedly hard-fought win, the hosts constantly letting the Sunwolves back into the contest.

The moment: A 64th-minute yellow card cost the Sunwolves as they couldn’t cope with being a man down. Not only did it lead to the late try, but it saw the Sunwolves lose what was beginning to look like their first-ever victory away from home.

Sharks 37 d. Waratahs 14 @ Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban

The match: The Waratahs’ Jack Dempsey was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle in the ruck, and it only added further momentum to the Sharks who had shot out to a 18-0 lead. The home side held a 31-7 advantage at halftime, and the Waratahs couldn’t claw back the margin as the Sharks ground out a comfortable 23-point win.

The man: Israel Folau was at his brilliant best; if only the rest of his Waratahs teammates had come to play. Folau’s double represented the only tries scored by the visitors, but they were a prime example of just why the versatile back is one of the best in the game today.

The moment: Dempsey’s dangerous tackle didn’t help the Waratahs early on in the match, costing him 10 minutes off the field and possible further sanctions.

Stormers 41 d. Kings 10 @ Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

The match: The Kings continued to show that they are a club in Super Rugby that just make up the numbers. A superior game all-round saw the Stormers ease their way to a clinical 41-10 victory, notching up six tries along the way.

The man: Stormers halfback Dewaldt Duvenage’s speed with the pass allowed the backline to form devastating counterattacks with speed and precision. This lead to a powerful first half performance, in particular, which saw the Stormers run away to a 17-3 advantage by the break.

The moment: There were several inept moments that showed that the Kings are just not up to competing in Super Rugby. How long does SANZAAR, the sport’s governing body, give them to prove they belong in this competition?

JAGUARES 36 d. LIONS 24 @ Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires

The Jaguares took an important towards competing for a place in the 2017 Super Rugby playoffs, racking up a 12-point win over last year’s runners-up, the Lions. The rivals scored four tries apiece, but the Lions’ ill-discipline – including yellow cards either side of halftime – and the boot of 20-point hero Nicolas Sanchez proved the difference.

[YouTube – SANZAAR]

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Michael Pulman

Based in Hamilton (NZ), Michael is Commentary Box Sports' rugby union and cricket expert

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