Round 12 Wrap: Australian teams make moves
A first loss for the Chiefs at the hands of the Queensland Reds and a win to the Crusaders over the Blues has resulted in four teams each from New Zealand and Australia making the top eight with three rounds before the playoffs of DHL Super Rugby Pacific.
The Reds sit in seventh spot, eight points ahead of the eighth-placed Force, who have the Fijian Drua one point behind and the Rebels and Highlanders three points back.
The Hurricanes reclaimed third place with a big 71-22 win over Moana Pasifika, while the Blues slipped out of the top eight when going down 15-3 to the Crusaders, who are fourth.
On the individual performances, Chiefs five-eighths Damian McKenzie has been joined in the century makers club by Hurricanes second-five Jordie Barrett, whose 21 points haul against Moana Pasifika lifted him to second place on 110 points, 19 behind McKenzie, while Crusaders five-eighths Richie Mo'unga is on 102.
Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson has been joined on 10 tries for the season by Crusaders wing Leicester Fainga'anuku, while Force wing Zach Kibirige has eight with Hurricanes No8 Ardie Savea, wing Salesi Rayasi and halfback Cameron Roigard on seven with Reds fullback Jordan Petaia.
Chiefs 22, Reds 25
Reds coach Brad Thorn drew on last year's Chiefs semifinal loss to the Crusaders as the inspiration for his game plan against the unbeaten Chiefs in New Plymouth on Friday. His charges responded superbly for an upset win that strengthened the Reds' hopes for a playoff place. Their win also added spice to the last rounds of the competition. The Chiefs played much of the rugby, carrying 699 metres to 479, with 177 carries to 133 and beating 23 defenders to 15. The Reds needed to make 220 tackles to 169 and missed 23 to 15. And in losing 101 rucks to 136, they held on to the ball better in their mauling play, with their lineout performing better on the night 17-14.
Chiefs wing Etene Nanai-Seturo's two tries looked to have assured them of a seven-point halftime lead, his second coming from a Reds backline lapse that allowed Nanai-Seturo to toe ball ahead and claim the bounce to run beneath the crossbar. However, the Reds, who had seen goal-kicker Lawson Creighton unable to complete a conversion attempt for their first try when the ball fell off the tee, drew level late in the half when halfback Tate McDermott slipped easily around a ruck five metres from the line to score. Then, three minutes into the second half, fullback Jock Campbell stayed wide from a ruck and took a pass to cross unchallenged for a critical try. A second go at the line from a lineout drive saw replacement prop Zane Nonggorr score with 25 minutes left. Finally, a 17-phase assault produced a try for Samipeni Finau, allowing the home team to level the scores 22-22. But five minutes out, a penalty conceded created a penalty chance for replacement five-eighths Tom Lynagh to land the match-winner.
Chiefs 22 (Etene Nanai-Seturo 2, Samipeni Finau tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, pen) Reds 25 (George Blake, Tate McDermott, Jock Campbell, Zane Nonggorr tries; Lawson Creighton con; Tom Lynagh pen). HT: 12-12
Force 34 Drua 14
Better ball security paid big dividends for the Force in Perth as they gained 535 metres carrying the ball compared to 415 by the Drua, while the Fijians conceded 20 turnovers to 11 by the Force. The Drua also had to make 209 tackles compared to 123 by the Force. The home team also dominated the breakdown 126-69, the mauls 5-1 and the scrums 11-6. The Force scored two tries in the first 10 minutes, wing Manasa Mataele scoring on the blindside wing after a long pass direct from the base of a ruck, while hooker Folau Fainga'a scored his first soon after, the reward for good support play.
But the Drua struck back with two good tries and only missed taking the lead to the break after Force's first five-eighths Max Burey landed a penalty goal. Then, early in the second half, the Force scored through lock J Williams barging his way over while a lineout maul produced an inevitable second try for Fainga'a. And while the Drua failed to lie down, a try to flanker C Tizzano sealed the win for the home side.
Force 34 (Manasa Mataele, Folau Fainga'a 2, Jeremy Williams, Carlo Tizzano tries; Max Burey 3 con, pen) Drua (Eroni Sau, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta tries; Frank Lomani 2 con). HT: 15-14
Hurricanes 71 Moana Pasifika 22
Statistics don't always tell the stories of games. Moana Pasifika edged the possession slightly and made only 114 tackles compared to 182 by the Hurricanes, missed 30 tackles to 24 yet won 101 rucks to 74, only to concede 11 tries to three when unable to produce the sort of performance that carried them so close against the Blues a week earlier.
Sixty-eight seconds into the game, centre Billy Proctor slipped through the weak Moana Pasifika defence to open what became an avalanche of scoring. Moana Pasifika scored three of the eight tries, but the home team went to the break up 29-12 with support play prominent as second-five-eighths Jordie Barrett, first-five Aidan Moran and Kini Naholo (twice) crossed. Resorting to tap penalties out from the Moana Pasifika line, the Hurricanes kept their scoring momentum going in the second half. When they had established a solid lead, they unleashed a show of their skills with No9 Ardie Savea picking up a hat-trick of tries, hooker Jacob Devery, wing Salesi Rayasi and replacement Caleb Delany helping themselves to a try each, while Barrett finished with eight conversions and a match-haul of 21 points.
Hurricanes 71 (Billy Proctor, Jordie Barrett, Aidan Morgan, Kini Naholo 2, Ardie Savea 3, Jacob Devery, Salesi Rayasi, Caleb Delany tries; Jordie Barrett 8 con) Moana Pasifika 22 (Henry Taefu, Anzelo Tuitavuki, Danny Toala tries; Lincoln McClutchie 2 con, pen). HT: 29-19
Crusaders 15 Blues 3
One step ahead best describes the Crusaders when preparing for the Blues, and they did that by drying up possession and tying things so tight the visitors had to resort to kicking and risky moves to make ground. That returned the ball to the Crusaders, who made the most of it. Defensively, the Blues were forced to make nearly twice as many tackles 203-131 while they missed 30-15 and conceded 11 turnovers to eight. Playing with 39 per cent of possession was never going to be enough. And it didn't help at turnovers when losing skipper and flanker Dalton Papali'i to the sin-bin and a red card when his offence of shoulder contact to Crusaders' first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga's head was upgraded to a red card.
Compared to the Blues, who spent little time in the Crusader's 22m area, the Crusaders showed commendable patience and discipline to score a try in each half. Lock Quinten Strange scored the first when picking up the ball from downed hooker Codey Taylor to drive over the goal line, and then a second-half try to Leicester Fainga'anuku made life more desperate for the visitors. They went close on one occasion, but luck didn't go their way, and their solitary mark on the scoreboard came from a penalty goal.
Crusaders 15 (Quinten Strange, Leicester Fainga'anuku tries; Richie Mo'unga con, pen) Blues 3 (Beauden Barret pen ). HT: 10-3
Waratahs 38 Rebels 20
Two clever contributions from first five-eighths Carter Gordon saw the Rebels score the first two tries, the first to Reese Hodge off a double pump from Gordon that left a gap for Hodge to surge through while an impressive run doubling around the outside saw Gordon break out and then cut in to be grounded short of the line but with a quick clearance allowing wing Monty Ioane over in the corner. Ioane missed a long pass from fullback Andrew Kelleway that would have seen him extend the lead. Instead, the Waratahs got onto the attack and, in working a lineout drive, won a penalty try. Moments later, a Force lineout mistake was latched onto by Waratahs halfback Jake Gordon, and he cleared out on a 40m run to score. While Ioane missed another scoring chance, Hodge landed a penalty goal to give the Rebels a 17-14 lead at the break.
A second penalty try was awarded against the Rebels at a second-half lineout maul allowing the Waratahs to reclaim the lead. Wing Mark Nawaqanitawase extended the lead on the end of a clever backline movement when going over in the corner. But it was left to first five-eighths Ben Donaldson to make a superb break to match Gordon's earlier before slipping the ball to centre Izaia Perese to round out the win with a bonus point try two minutes out from the end.
The Waratahs have now won three in a row and are breathing down the necks of fifth-placed Blues on the ladder.
Waratahs 38 (Jake Gordon, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Izaia Perese tries; Penalty tries 2; Ben Donaldson 3 con, pen) Rebels 20 (Reese Hodge, Monty Ioane tries; Hodge 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 14-17
Brumbies 48 Highlanders 32
The Highlanders' 32–48 loss to the Brumbies wasn't the only game that didn't reflect the action on the field. It wasn't until the last 10 minutes that the Brumbies edged their way ahead. The lead changed 10 times in Canberra, and sadly for the visiting team, mistakes that cost them, as typified by a lineout ball won from a Brumbies throw in the last moments, only to be turned over in the transfer with the Brumbies running into space downfield with No8 Pete Samu on hand in support to score his second try. Wing Corey Toole continued with his try-scoring by adding two tries as well.
The Highlanders led 20-19 at the turn but try as they might, running 431 metres to 384 by the Brumbies and beating 22 defenders to 17, making 191 passes to 111 and 12 offloads to five, they couldn't transfer those opportunities to points. Forcing the Brumbies to make 153 tackles to 109, they won 88 rucks to 60, and they had 55 per cent of possession. As captain and flanker Billy Harmon said, it reflected how their season had gone for them and left them struggling to stay in the playoffs hunt, although in their last three games, they had home advantage against the Rebels and Reds before their last game against the Blues.
Brumbies 48 (Leni Ikitau, Jahrome Brown, Darcy Swain, Corey Toole 2, Pete Samu 2 tries; Noah Lolesio 5 con, pen) Highlanders 32 (Jona Nareki, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Folau Fakatava tries; Freddie Burns 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 19-20