Crusaders, Hurricanes still on top of Super 14   14 Mar 2006

Ellie van Baaren

After round five, New Zealand teams are occupying four of the top seven places on the Super 14 table, with the Crusaders and Hurricanes anchored at the top. However, with a few tough challenges up next week, that could all change. ELLIE VAN BAAREN takes a look at this week’s Super 14 action.

The Crusaders answered the Chiefs questions, the Hurricanes stormed home in the last few minutes, the Highlanders talked themselves into losing, while the Blues closed ranks on the sidelines. That was round five of the Super 14.

I feel sorry for the Chiefs. They played their best rugby of the competition so far, but they happened to be up against the Crusaders, whose best is simply so much better than the rest. Sione Lauaki had a great game and the Waikato team were leading 19-18 with just 18 minutes to go.

They more than held their own, continuallly putting the Canterbury team under pressure and winning their fair share of possession. But when it came down to it, they couldn’t finish off. The movement of the recycled ball was slow and both Rico Gear and Mose Tuiali’i’s last-minute tries came from Chiefs mistakes while receiving kick offs.

Wonderboy Daniel Carter kicked 15 points, but strained his knee in the process. At this stage he is still expected to take the field for the Crusaders’ clash with the Cats in Christchurch this weekend.

The Crusaders have a bye the week after and don’t head to South Africa until round 12, so they’re facing another five games in the southern hemisphere, three of which are at Jade Stadium. With no major injury worries, things are looking good.

The Hurricanes will also be pleased with most of their round five match, although it took them a while to get into the groove. The Stormers were ahead 19-13 with just five minutes to go when captain Rodney So’oailo ordered a kick for touch on a kickable penalty. That set an epic five minutes into motion with Tane Tuipulotu and Hosea Gear scoring the tries that kept the Wellington side in second place.

Next up, the Hurricanes take on the Bulls, the best of the South African sides so far, and very strong at home. The Pretoria team stopped the Highlanders in their tracks at the weekend, preventing the southerners from making the clean sweep of its South African tour.

Mind you the win couldn’t all be put down to the Bulls’ performance, the Highlanders did as much as they could to lose the game. Captain Anton Oliver and coach Greg Cooper were fuming at their team’s inability to score during the game, with Oliver claiming the team had opportunities to score at least two or three more tries.

First five-eighth Nick Evans was the best of the Highlanders, cutting through the defence and scoring the team’s only try. Unfortunately Evans left the field in the 56th minute with what has now been identified as a broken collarbone. He will be sorely missed by the Highlanders as they prepare to take on the last two of the South African teams – the Sharks and the Cats – in Dunedin and Invercargill respectively.

Despite having got the tough South African tour out of the way early in the competition, the Highlanders now face five more rounds before they get their bye. The Blues were no doubt grateful for their week’s break as they tried to re-group for the rest of the competition. The team’s fans and management will be hoping the team that runs out to face the Brumbies in Auckland this weekend is a different one entirely to the one that has lost three of its last four matches.

The Blues are currently 13th on the table with just four points and have several points to prove: firstly that they can still play the game and secondly that the Brumbies firing of coach David Nucifora was the Auckland franchise’s gain. The Blues beat the Brumbies last year when Nucifora was assistant coach, and this year the Brumbies fancy their chances. I don’t normally like saying this, but go the Blues.

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