Aussie teams bounce back
After a disastrous Round 9, Australian franchises enjoyed a far more prosperous weekend, with the Waratahs, Rebels and Reds chalking up momentous victories. The Brumbies – who suffered an upset loss to the Rebels – remain the only side from the conference in the top six, but the teams from Sydney and Melbourne are not too far behind the cut-off and both have a game in hand. Meanwhile, the embattled Force assumed last spot from the Reds via a 13-6 loss to the Stormers in Perth. Incredibly, the Highlanders were the only home side to record a win in Round 10.
Waratahs’ title defence gets kick-start
The Waratahs’ stop-start campaign received a much-needed boost, inflicting the Hurricanes’ first defeat of the season in a thrilling, seesawing 29-24 result in Wellington. The champs were forced to claw back from behind on several occasions, while the home side were left to lament a series of bombed opportunities and an intercept try they gifted to Peter Betham on the stroke of halftime. Coming into the side for Taqele Naiyaravoro, Betham’s second try of the half saw the teams head to the sheds locked at 19-all, while Israel Folau’s sizzling five-pointer helping the ’Tahs clinch a bonus-point triumph.
Rousing Rebels down undermanned Brumbies
The plucky Rebels ended the conference-leading Brumbies’ 11-match winning streak in Canberra with a 13-8 upset on Saturday, keeping the Melbourne-based franchise’s hopes of an unlikely maiden finals appearance alive. Leading 13-5 at the break, the Rebels’ stoic second half effort sealed a watershed victory for the perennial strugglers. The Brumbies’ recent injury crisis, with Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua and Scott Sio all sidelined, took the steam out of their winning run. The Rebels, who have played one less game than all but three teams, are in 11th spot but are only seven points outside the top six.
Reds break the drought
The Reds snapped a six-match losing streak by pipping the Cheetahs in an 18-17 thriller in Bloemfontein. Winger James O’Connor played a starring role, brilliantly laying on both of the Reds’ tries, while Karmichael Hunt came up with some big defensive plays at fullback. A Nick Frisby drop goal gave the visitors the match-winning lead, but they were forced to endure a last-minute penalty goal attempt by Joe Pietersen that cannoned off the upright.
Chiefs compound Crusaders’ woes
An aggressive and enterprising Chiefs outfit confirmed their title favouritism with a commanding 26-9 defeat of the woeful Crusaders in Christchurch. A sizzling long-range try by boom winger James Lowe on the cusp of halftime gave the Chiefs, who lost flyhalf Aaron Cruden to injury during the first half, an 18-6 lead and Liam Squire’s superb five-pointer in the second stanza sealed the result. It was the Crusaders’ second straight loss at home to a conference rival, with the 10th-placed heavyweights copping a pasting from the Kiwi media as their campaign teeters on the brink.
Highlanders the dark horse
Boasting the third-best record in the Super XV (behind the Hurricanes and Chiefs), the overachieving Highlanders remain the team to watch out for in an intriguing title race. The Dunedinites held off the resurgent Blues 30-24 after building a big first half lead through the brilliance of winger Waisake Naholo and centre Malakai Fekitoa. Despite fielding one of the least heralded forward packs in the competition, the Highlanders keep producing the goods, while their crack backline – which also includes Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Lima Sopoaga – can match it with any team. The Jamie Joseph-coached outfit are still a genuine chance of topping the conference – but a trip to South Africa and the enforced resting of their All Blacks contingent shape as potential speed-bumps.
SUPER XV ROUND 10 RESULTS
Chiefs 26 d. Crusaders 9 at AMI Stadium
Waratahs 29 d. Hurricanes 24 at Westpac Stadium
Highlanders 30 d. Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Rebels 13 d. Brumbies 8 at GIO Stadium
Stormers 13 d. Force 6 at nib Stadium
Bulls 17 d. Sharks 10 at Kings Park
Reds 18 d. Cheetahs 17 at Free State Stadium