Round Four Wrap: Chiefs continue to set the pace
Still setting the pace in the DHL Super Rugby Pacific competition, the Chiefs head the Brumbies by two points after four rounds.
The Blues, despite their loss to the Crusaders in an Eden Park classic, are fourth behind the Hurricanes and one point ahead of the Crusaders and Reds.
The Hurricanes regained their form to claim third place three points behind the Brumbies and three ahead of the Blues.
Invercargill came up trumps for the Highlanders again as they beat the Force for the sixth consecutive time and lifted themselves from the scoreboard cellar.
Hurricanes 34 Waratahs 17
How the swirling winds affected play at SKY Stadium in Wellington was evident in the restart after Hurricanes' second five-eighths, Jordie Barrett landed a penalty goal to open the scoring. Wing Julian Savea could not control a swirling kick to restart, and the ball went to the ground and into the appreciative hands of wing Nemani Nadolo. But undeterred, the Hurricanes got back on attack. After several drives at the line, halfback Cameron Roigard took advantage of the hesitation so often created when a ball goes to ground to gather it and find a way over between the posts. However, the Waratahs replied with a touch of class from lock Taleni Seu providing a well-timed offload that allowed fullback Max Jorgensen to get across, corner flag and all, to touch the ball down before landing in touch. In a fast-moving response, the Hurricanes saw first five-eighths Brett Cameron take the ball right towards the line. But as the ball moved to the left, Kini Naholo cut inside Devan Flanders to take a pass and cut through to the line.
Both sides looked to gain an early advantage in the second half as play went to and fro before a nowhere pass was snapped up by Flanders, who tore down the sideline and kicked slightly infield for the flying Roigard to gather and score. The second try in four minutes went to Naholo after a long breakout by the home team, and to ram home the win, replacement hooker Dane Coles crossed from a driving lineout maul.
Hurricanes 34 (Cameron Roigard 2, Kini Naholo 2, Dane Coles tries; Jordie Barrett 3 con, pen) Waratahs 17 (Nemani Nadolo, Max Jorgensen, Langi Gleeson tries; Ben Donaldson con). HT: 17-12
Chiefs 44 Rebels 25
Starting with the rare sight nowadays of a hooker, Alex Mafi, scoring on the end of a backline movement, the Rebels looked set to take the game to the Chiefs in Hamilton. But wing Emoni Narawa had other ideas in ripping the Rebels' defence to shreds when returning, kicked ball, and then passing to support player, second five-eighths Rameka Pohipi to score. Pohipi then reciprocated by offering a chip down the sideline, allowing Narawa to run onto the ball to score in the corner. Fullback Shaun Stevenson was on the end of a chip by centre Alex Nankivell to toe the ball to the in-goal and win the race to score. However, the Rebels weren't done as wing Lachie Anderson joined the backline from the blindside wing to take a gap and give second five-eighths Stacey Ili the try.
Quick tries at the start of the second half to hooker Tyrone Thompson and another from the Nankivell-Stevenson combination took the Chiefs to a 39-15 lead. Fullback Nick Joost scored for the Rebels, but more class from the home backs saw left-wing Etene Nanai-Seturo complete the Chiefs try-scoring for the game while replacement David Feliuai scored another for the Rebels.
Chiefs 44 (Rameka Pohipi, Emoni Narawa, Shaun Stevenson 2, Tyrone Thompson, Etene Nanai-Seturo tries; Bryn Gatland 4 con, 2 pen) Rebels 25 (Alex Mafi, Stacey Ili, Nick Jooste, David Feliuai tries; Reece Hodge con pen). HT: 27-15.
Blues 28 Crusaders 34
The Blues struck early on the back of an outstanding solo effort by in-form wing Mark Telea at Eden Park. Telea appeared sewn up by Crusaders defenders in midfield, but, somehow, he cork-screwed out of their clutches, broke clear, fended off first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga's tackle attempt, and scored. The Crusaders resorted to their trademark teamwork to reply as makeshift fullback Fergus Burke scored out wide 15 minutes into the game. Four minutes later, they scored again after a probe by wing Sevu Reece which allowed flanker Ethan Blackadder to score. Blues halfback Finlay Christie caught the Crusaders napping out from their line after a decisive break by lock Cameron Suafua when taking a tap penalty and feeding wing Caleb Clarke in for a try. The home team backed that when second five-eighths Roger Tuivasa-Sheck stepped back against the grain to go under the posts. The Crusaders responded by punishing a Blues turnover to give wing Leicester Fainga'anuku the room he needed to go in at the corner.
But then, in an unsettling period, the Blues, who had already replaced their starting props Alex Hodgman and James Lay in the first 15 minutes, lost replacement Jordan Lay to the sin-bin. That necessitated playing 'Golden Oldies' scrum rules, the penalty for which meant the Blues lost another player. In the immediate aftermath of the decision, Fainga'anuku scored his second. That saw the Crusaders take a 24-21 to the break, a lead extended before the Blues had 15 on the field again, with Fainga'anuku scoring his third. That was especially frustrating as the Blues had been hard on attack only to see Fainga'anuku outreach Tuivasa-Sheck and then run 55m for his try. However, with balance restored, the Blues' attack was rewarded when fullback Stephen Perofeta scored on the blindside to reduce the margin to five points. When the Crusaders lost K Sykes-Martin to the sin-bin, the Blues responded through replacements, lock Tom Robinson and second five-eighths Bryce Heem, only to have a try ruled out for lock James Tucker, a situation repeated when No8 Hoskins Sotutu crossed. Both players had the ball knocked from their hands in the dive. It was that sort of night for the Blues.
Blues 28 (Mark Telea, Caleb Clarke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Stephen Perofeta tries; Beauden Barrett 4 con) Crusaders 34 (Fergus Burke, Ethan Blackadder, Leicester Fainga'anuku 3 tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 con, pen). HT: 21-24
Brumbies 62 Moana Pasifika 36
Moana Pasifika enjoyed a dream start in Canberra, scoring two tries in the first 11 minutes through loose forwards Miracle Failagi after a 70-minute intercept and Alamanda Motuga from a lineout drive. But in a trend that reflected the game, the home side came back as second five-eighths Tamati Tua and No8 Pete Samu scored to claim a 15-14 lead by the 22nd minute before a penalty goal by first five-eighths Christian Leafi'ilano put the visitors back in front. A try to wing Fine Inisi, getting the perfect assist from centre Levi Aumua, was undone by a double to flanker Luke Reimer in the last 10 minutes of the half to edge the Brumbies ahead 29-22 at the break.
A second try to Motuga, again set up by Aumua cutting back, was countered when home wing Andy Muirhead scored on the end of a lovely backline movement. But Moana Pasifika refused to bow down, with hooker Samiuela Moli scoring for Leali'ifano to convert for a 36-34 lead with 27 minutes remaining. But once replacement first five-eighths, Jack Debreczeni stepped through close to the line to score with 22 minutes left, and the Brumbies ran in three more unanswered tries to inflate their final winning margin.
Brumbies 62 (Tamati Tua, Pete Samu, Luke Reimer 2, Andy Muirhead 2, Jack Debreczeni, Ben O'Donnell, Corey Toole tries; Noah Lolesio 3 con, pen; Ryan Lonergan 4 con) Moana Pasifika 36 (Miracle Failagi, Alamanda Motuga 2, Fine Inisi, Sione Moli tries; Christian Leali'ifano 4 con, pen). HT: 29-22
Highlanders 43 Force 35
Replacement hooker Rhys Marshall stepped up big-time for the Highlanders when claiming a long lineout ball and then kicking it into touch in the Force 22, 10 minutes from the end of the game – a 50/20 which allowed the Highlanders to claim the lineout and see wing Jonah Lowe cross for his second try. That broke a to-and-fro scoring impasse that saw the lead change six times during the game. But once they had their noses in front, the injury-hit Highlanders built on it with a deserved try to hard-working No8 Hugh Renton to claim their first win. The only blot on their effort was gifting the Force two late tries.
The home team in Invercargill recovered from the loss of All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell before the game with a groin injury and then the first-quarter loss of hooker Andrew Makalio to produce a steely performance against a highly-efficient Force side around the ruck. But every time the visitors scored, the Highlanders responded with second five-eighths Thomas Umaga-Jensen and fullback Sam Gilbert running hard at the defences to give the side momentum. The collective calmness of the home side was a sign of better things ahead after their tough start.
Highlanders 43 (James Lowe 2, Mitch Hunt, Sam Gilbert, Sean Withy, Hugh Renton tries; Gilbert 5 con, pen) Force 35 (Zach Kibirige, Tom Horton, Bryce Hegarty, Siosifa Amone, Ollie Callan tries; Hegarty 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 15-13
Reds 27 Fijian Drua 24
Write off the Fijian Drua at your peril. That was the warning after the side who beat the Crusaders a week earlier found themselves down 3-24 heading into the last 30 minutes of their game with the Reds in Brisbane. Wing Josh Flook scored two first-half tries and just missed out on a hat-trick when dropping a tactical kick by first five-eighths James O'Connor. He was followed over the goalline by No8 Harry Wilson and replacement back Suliasi Vunivalu, with the Reds appearing assured winners up 24-3 early in the second half.
Replacement forward Leon Rotuisolia set the recovery wave rolling after the Reds lost Seru Uru to the sin-bin by scoring in the 55th minute. Replacement back Kalaveti Ravouvou crossed 10 minutes later after a tap penalty provided room for him. Crucially, replacement Reds first five-eighths Tom Lynagh landed a penalty goal before centre Iosefo Masi showed great balancing skills to avoid touch to score in the corner. Attacking from the restart, the Drua were quelled when they were penalised for not releasing the ball at the breakdown, and the Reds were able to hold on through the final moments.
Reds 27 (Josh Flook 2, Harry Wilson, Suliasi Vunivalu tries; James O'Connor 2 con; Tom Lynagh pen) Drua 24 (Loene Rotuisola, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Iosefo Masi tries; Frank Lomani 3 con, pen). HT: 12-3