Super Rugby Aotearoa came to a close this weekend with sadly only one match for the final round with the Blues vs Crusaders match cancelled due to the Auckland lockdown. We did however, get to see the Highlanders host the Hurricanes behind the closed doors of Forsyth Barr Stadium which was a entertaining fixture. Lets take a look at the weekends action……
HIGHLANDERS 38 vs 21 HURRICANES
It wasn’t to be the spectacle we were expecting the close out this fantastic tournament but hopefully it could do some justice to the final weekend, albeit sadly without fans in the stands.
The Highlanders had the better start to the match with a decent period of possession, but it was the Hurricanes who were the first to strike the scoreboard with one of their first touches of the ball. Jordie Barrett again to spark it out on the left wing, he is an expert in finding support and picking great passes. Jamie Booth was delivered the ball back toward to middle of the park and delayed the play enough for his support to catch up and eventually use the numbers out wide for Vince Aso to score on the right.
The Highlanders struck back very quickly after a run of penalties getting them deep in Hurricanes territory. Quickly recycled phases caught the Hurricanes defence short out wide and Mitch Hunt fooled the rushing defence to get in behind and gift and easy run in for replacement winger Ngane Punivai to tie it back up.
The Hurricanes have two tried disallowed for being in touch and a forward pass when the forward get a bit fancy. Third times a charm though as the Hurricanes attack from inside their own twenty two, Jackson Garden-Bachop draws and offloads to Peter Umaga-Jensen who once again has Booth on hand who uses his pace and step to beat the cover defence to score under the sticks.
As they have done all night, the Highlanders trike right back! Of course its how they have done it all season long. From the lineout just ten meters out its that usual play that has Ash Dixon smashing it off the back and planting down the instant reply! This really is a cracking contest of attack at all costs and disregard all else.
An entertaining first half that could have seen the Hurricanes up by a lot more. Its been a fun game, the players are out to have a blast where it all about entertainment. Tries only allowed, 14-14 at half time.
Josh Ioane is not interested in tries in the second half though, an early chance to take three off the tee and the lead is taken and just like that, things start to get serious….
The Highlanders are really stepping up the pace as they dominate the opening period of the second half. Michael Collins support lines finally paid off as a great offload from Jona Nareki set his free through the middle of the park. Add in a little bit of power to keep away the covering defence and the Highlanders extend their lead!
The Hurricanes get their third try of the afternoon disallowed from a lineout set piece for obstructing a defender as Chase Tiatia sliced straight through the defence all a little too easily. TMO being kept busy today.
The Highlanders are dominating the second half so far and go back to the lineout maul when gifted with another oppitunity. The Hurricanes mess up defending it terrible and not only watch Ash Dixon crash over but also lose Ardie Savea to the bin for coming in from the side and stopping the ball being placed down, a free seven pointer for the Highlanders who see their lead rocket up to 31-14 and a man advantage just before the hour mark.
Despite being a man down, the Hurricanes manage some possision down into the Highlanders territory and start to look dangerous. A loose carry puts an end to that which Aaron Smith picks up and releases Mitch Hunt from eighty meters out and he shows some burners like we have not seen from him before, to outpace the defence for the full length of the field to give a huge counter punch to extend the lead even more!
With fifteen men back on the field, the Hurricanes start to get back into the game. Working into good position on attack, they mix things up with a little grubber in behind the Highlanders defence. Mitch Hunt makes a hash of covering it in his in goal, it bobbles free for Peter Umaga-Jensen to clean up just before the line. Another Hurricanes seven, does that breath life back in the match at 38-21 with eight to play?
Its not to be for the Hurricanes! The Highlanders hold things much tighter for the final stanza of the match and claim themselves a quality 38-21 victory. Full of entertainment, tries, line breaks and excitement. A packed Forsyth Barr would have sounded spectacular, but sadly that wasn’t to be.
The home side were extremely impressive during the second half after a tight opening forty minutes. It was a great occasion for Ash Dixon in his 100th match and Aaron Smith who cracked up an extraordinary 150th Super Rugby cap with the Highlanders. They produced a strong squad game but their real strength for the first time this season came from the bench. Manaaki Selby-Rickit had his best game in a Highlanders shirt. Michael Collins looked solid in midfield and the team continuity was the best its been all season.
It was a festival type atmosphere from the Hurricanes who seemed to be out for a bit of fun to finish their season, score some tries and have a blast. Jordie Barrett was again a standout and Scott Scrafton is a glue to the Hurricanes pack but the real star was Jamie Booth. Booth and Finlay Christie at the Blues have been the best performing scrum halves in this competition and Booth for me has done enough to be a starting nine somewhere, I doubt at the Hurricanes but he needs to be playing first team rugby.
BLUES v CRUSADERS – CANCELLED
What could have been the greatest game of our Super Rugby Aotearoa season, has been torn away at the last minute thanks for COVID yet again. With Auckland back in lock down, this game was never going to go ahead.
Lets hope if anything, this fires the Blues on to better things next season, whatever format that may be, and to get themselves up to that Crusaders level. Lets hope so.
A no result draw was the ending of the season, but just imagine if the Highlanders had won last weekend and this was the decider and it couldn’t be played…. imagine that…. We wouldn’t hear the end of it…. The Crusaders the rightful champions of whats been the best season of Super Rugby in quite some time.
We can all agree though, this game would have been a ripper! Maybe in 2021, boy it better be an improvement of a year…
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