JOC impressive, but can’t get Reds over the line
James O’Connor’s belated first outing for the Reds in the No.10 hot-seat provided some encouraging signs for the embattled franchise’s campaign ahead, but the Highlanders were ultimately too strong in a 20-13 result in Dunedin. In a hard-fought encounter, a brilliant try to Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo proved the difference. O’Connor was strong off the kicking tee and in general play as Karmichael Hunt remains in limbo, but the versatile ex-Wallaby faces another step up in class this weekend in the Reds’ grudge match with the Waratahs.
Chiefs make a statement
The Chiefs solidified their standing as the 2015 Super XV favourites with a comprehensive five-tries-to-one, 40-16 thrashing of fellow Kiwi heavyweights the Crusaders in Hamilton. Dominant in the forwards and electrifying out wide, the Chiefs made their opponents – who are now desperately looking forward to the return of rested All Blacks Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock, and injured pair Dan Carter and Israel Dagg – look second-rate. Sonny Bill Williams’ presence adds so much to this ultra-talented, well-balanced side.
Plucky Rebels learning hard lessons
The Rebels have arguably been the 2015 surprise packets to date, but are sporting a 1-2 record after three rounds following tight home defeats to conference heavyweights the Waratahs and Brumbies. Vastly improved in every department after collecting the wooden spoon last year, the Rebels were kept in the contest against the Brumbies by Mike Harris’ boot, eventually going down 20-15. Unfortunately, increased respect from your rivals doesn’t earn you a top-six spot – the Rebels need to find the key to winning the tight ones, and they still appear to be at least one backline gun short of being a finals contender.
The Hurricanes, lampooned as underachievers and slow starters in recent years, now have their three longest road trips for the year behind them…and three outstanding wins on the board. The team from New Zealand’s capital ran five tries past the Force in Perth, romping to a 42-13 victory after leading by just nine at halftime. Few can match their attacking firepower, while their maligned pack is beginning to emerge as one of the competition’s most formidable. The ’Canes now have a well-earned bye before four straight home games.
SA conference is anybody’s…except Lions
The Stormers and Cheetahs remain unbeaten after eclipsing the Lions and Blues respectively, while the Bulls opened their account with a uncharacteristically high-scoring 43-35 defeat of the Sharks in the traditional heavyweight South African derby. The race to top the SA conference shapes as one of the season’s most fascinating aspects, with the Stormers (3-0) currently on top and the long-suffering Cheetahs (2-0) hot on their heels. The Lions joined the Blues as the only teams with 0-3 records – and the strugglers face off on Auckland’s North Shore this weekend.
SUPER XV ROUND 3 RESULTS
Highlanders 20 d. Reds 13 at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Hurricanes 42 d. Force 13 at nib Stadium
Cheetahs 25 d. Blues 24 at Free State Stadium
Chiefs 40 d. Crusaders 16 at Waikato Stadium
Waratahs 20 d. Brumbies 15 at AAMI Park
Bulls 43 d. Sharks 35 at Loftus Versfeld
Stormers 22 d. Lions 19 at Ellis Park