With the Crusaders sitting out round six on the bye, it was effectively “the rest” going into battle for the other places, with the Blues fighting for bonus points to keep the dream alive. What come about from the two matches, was nothing short of world class, edge of you seat, brilliant rugby once again. Join me to take a look through the Hurricanes and the Highlanders doing the job on the buzzer over the Blues and Chiefs for round six of Super Rugby Aotearoa!
HURRICANES 29 vs 27 BLUES
As the sides were named for this opening match of Super Rugby Aotearoa, I sensed this game could be a lot tighter than initially thought, you can find those thoughts in my preview. Thankfully the weather stayed nice and an even bigger shock for Wellington was that the wind had stayed down leading into kick off.
The game kicked into gear with an early penalty for the Blues pretty much straight from the kick off for an early 3-0 lead. Some ferocious rugby by the home team followed soon after and it was all led by the destroyer Ngani Laumape. Not just a power runner, he took on Beauden Barrett around the outside, beating him for acceleration and pace and then powering over the top of Otere Black to score the opening try.
Some point proving was smashed straight back from Beauden who was out to prove hes still rapid by running a scorching line forty out off a Blues set play and showed just how quick he still is by out pacing everyone to the sticks.
Laumape wasn’t done either, very quickly after he rampaged again, this time flattening Beauden and just being dragged down short by young winger Emoni Narawa who never cleared the ruck and was sent to the bin with a yellow card, luckily for him no points were added while he was off.
As the rain started to fall, the Blues got their lineout maul rolling, making short work of the ten meters to the line, Dalton Papali’i with the ball in hand. Not to be outdone in the forwards, the Hurricanes hit back in exactly the same fashion. After turning down the three, a fantastic penalty kick to the corner from Jordie Barrett put the ‘Canes just five out and a little rumble later another five added by Reed Prinsep.
A late penalty was slotted by Jordie to bring the two sides level after the half time hooter, boy what a half of rugby that ended up 15-15 at the break.
Laumape has continued to dominate this game and his midfield partner Peter Umaga-Jensen is not too far behind him. Some thumping runs by those two got the Hurricanes close to the line and Dane Coles hit another sweet line right next to the sticks to put his side back in front.
The Blues used their pack to battle back an opportunity, getting close from their lineout and continued pick and goes from the pack before eventually crashing over with Akira Ioane to tie the game back up again.
As this match starting wearing into the final quarter, it has been hard to pinpoint areas where either side has controlled the game aside from the Hurricanes in midfield.
Both packs have had their moments but never more than brief occasions but that all changed late in the game, the lineout maul yet again proving an area the Blues are getting increasingly more control from, scoring their third try and second from the maul. Most importantly Beauden missed the conversion to leave the lead at only five points.
With less than five to play the Hurricanes had a big chance to steal the lead back and given the conditions in this half, just like the Blues they stuck to their pack, the maul driving the five meters required with Asafo Aumua sitting at the back to score just a few in from touch leaving an extremely tough kick for the lead by Jordie who absolutely nails it from miles back and Wellington has a new favourite son.
It was possession rugby for the remaining few minutes to hold out a real see-saw battle, almost war between the two side! Another fantastic game in Super Rugby Aotearoa!
Hurricanes confidence and belief has been in plain sight in this game and it was a massive motivator for them being able to get over the line. Ngani Laumape and Peter Umaga-Jensen led a fantastic midfield for the Hurricanes, smashing and slicing over the advantage line on nearly every carry. Cant leave this game without crediting Jordie Barrett, its impossible to look past him winning the Barrett battle tonight and to calmly slot that winning conversion, nerves of steel!
For the Blues, newcomer Emoni Narawa, despite his yellow card, was very strong on cover defence and saved a number of tries. Finally you cant leave out Finley Christy who was a massive spark for the Blues backline once again.
CHIEFS 31 vs 33 HIGHLANDERS
The final match of round six was the now likely battle for the wooden spoon after the Hurricanes pulled of the earlier minor miracle win against the Blues.
The afternoon started terribly for the Highlanders, who couldn’t even get the kick off to the match right, falling short of the required ten meters.
The Chiefs set about with early territory and possession on their side and an outstanding line from Lachlan Boshier broke the ankles of Rob Thompson in defence and gave a clean run to the line to open the scorers and an early Chiefs lead.
Not much went right for the Highlanders early on, dropped ball, missed shot at goals and anything you could think of, sad part is it was beautiful dry calm conditions. Only the Chiefs were playing like it though, as Damien McKenzie actually running forward for once this season and popped a brilliant ball to Anton Lienert-Brown to go over close to the line.
It went bad to worse for the Highlanders, Rob Thompson called up for a high tackle and was then sent to the bin for his efforts and allowed McKenzie to drop another three on the scoreboard which was up to 17-0 mid way through the half.
Penalties, penalties and more penalties against the Highlanders and the Chiefs were just getting an easy run up the field to set up a big lineout maul ten from the line. Bradley Slater picking up the try and the the score all the way to 24-0!
The Highlanders managed string together some phases for once and get themselves on the scoreboard as the half entered its final ten minutes. Consecutive penalties resulting in lineout drives for the visitors, got them very close to the line to allow a powerful pick and go from the outstanding Marino Mikaele-Tu’u. It ended up a double win for the Highlanders as well with Sam Cane sent to the bin straight after the try for another infringement the phase before the finish.
The Chiefs handled it well being a man down and lasted the full ten minutes without leaking any more points and took a tidy 24-7 lead into the half time break. One side finishing chances, the Highlanders unable to capitalise on their own.
The second half couldn’t have started any better for the Chiefs as Bradley Slater grabbed his second of the match, sitting on the back of another superb lineout maul from the Chiefs. At 31-7 the Chiefs looked like they were playing amazing rugby but the Highlanders had often been the better side. Its all about taking your chances.
That’s what the Highlanders finally started to do, a half chance sparked by Josh McKay on a switch of play set them away down the left wing. A superb dummy and great show of pace from Mitch Hunt, beat McKenzie and blitzed his way into the corner, 31-12, game on yet?
Its been a beautiful day in the Waikato, but it was until late in the game when saw some brilliant counter attacking rugby. McKay showing exactly what the Highlanders have been missing from him this season, he sparked from the kick return and offloaded to Aaron Smith who had a footrace with Brad Weber. A lost cause, he offloads, stays on his feet and gets back in support to take the pass back and crawl his way over.
The pace of the game has drastically picked up in the last ten minutes and the Highlanders are starting to find their play, passes are sticking and they look dangerous once more. Josh Ioanes return the Highlanders tonic!? Chiefs up 31-19 with twenty to play.
McKenzie has a try overturned for an accidental offside at the start of the phase. It was a great split of defence from McKenzie and a tough one to be called back, but ultimately the right decision that has set a bit of a fire under the Chiefs who were trying to put this game to bed.
Time certainly was becoming the enemy of the Highlanders, despite the fact they were spending so much time inside the Chiefs half and on the attack. After a number of clearing chances from the Chiefs, it just took one moment of brilliance from Jona Nareki, who turns the defence inside out and wins the race again to that left hand corner. They have been down and out for most of this match, the Highlanders, but with three minutes to go they are within five!
Time was out on the clock and the Highlanders were kicking penalties into the corner. Last chance salon for the visitors. They set about another maul from the set piece and charged their way towards the line. Backs and forwards joining in on the charge, sucking in defenders from the Chiefs. As more entered but the maul held still, Aaron Smith decided it was time to go. A dart to the left, sucking in two defenders and off loading a pin point dish to Sio Tomkinson to slip clean through the defence! The try was scored just to the left of the upright and Mitch Hunt had a chance to win to from the tee.
He duly delivered and set about glorious scenes of elation for the Highlanders players and staff! The most unlikely of come back victories for the Highlanders that will surely seal them away from bottom spot. Down 24-0 and 31-7 with time against them, somehow they have found a way to win.
There were plenty of stand outs for the Chiefs who could do no wrong in the opening half. Lienert-Brown really shined moving out one to thirteen and I feel that impacted the effect of McKenzie who had his best game of the season pushing into the defence more often and not skipping about sideways. Lachlan Boshier also had his best game of the season, it seems like he has finally got into the new ref system and is back to impacting the breakdown yet again and of course two tries to hooker Bradley Slater will always be a highlight.
For the victors, it was great cameos off the bench for Josh Ioane and Jona Nareki. Shannon Frizell and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u showed once again they are the form back row will Dillon Hunt in the mix. But my big game players were Mitch Hunt and Josh Mckay who had fantastic games for the Highlanders. Hunts running game is a massive threat more each week and the addition of McKay had the Highlanders looking so much more dangerous as he made every touch a forward gain, if not a half break at worst. Finally Aaron Smith, words cant express just how good he was in this game.
An amazing game for the Highlanders who were strong through out but only learnt how to finish in the second forty when they Chiefs were spent and had used all that golden magic dust. The Highlanders dominated all the key stats, broke the line for fun and forced the Chiefs to defend much more, but almost lost it from their inability to turn that into points.
What a weekend of Super Rugby!
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