This round would best be forgotten about for the Australian teams, while the banged-up Chiefs will no doubt enjoy their rest after a bonus point win over the Reds in Brisbane. In South Africa, the two teams that play an exciting, fast-paced brand of rugby are looking like the sides likely to make it into the playoffs in 2018.
Zero from four: Aussies falling short
All early-season hopes of a Australian rugby revival were crushed this round when all four teams fell woefully short to their overseas opposition.
From a Waratahs side held scoreless for the first time on Friday night, to the Brumbies closing out the shocking round with a wasteful performance against the Jaguares in Canberra on Sunday afternoon, the Aussies copped a harsh reality check.
The Waratahs managed to maintain their lead on top of the Australian conference despite making unwanted history against the Lions at home, with conference rivals the Rebels suffering their third straight defeat.
Failing to measure up, the Tahs were taught a humbling lesson from the African conference leaders who ran in four-tries-to-none in a display that saw the crowd booing and flooding out of the stadium with more than 10 minutes left to play.
Competitive in the opening 20 minutes, the Waratahs had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board, but as has plagued them this season, execution was poor and several tries were bombed. By the 50th minute, the game was over with two quick tries, before the Lions added insult in the closing minutes to claim their fourth.
With a bye weekend, the Waratahs will be doing a lot of “soul searching” according the coach Daryl Gibson and captain Michael Hooper before they play out their first clash with New Zealand opposition in Round 11.
“We’ll be right, this week will be good for us,” Hooper said following the match. “The next couple of days, and today … will be a bit of soul searching but we’ll make the pact to move on.”
The trend continued across the weekend with the Reds losing their fourth straight game of the season, blown away early by New Zealand rivals the Chiefs in Brisbane.
Off the pace early in their 1000th game, the Reds watched as the Chiefs took just 10 minutes to open their try-scoring account before they quickly built to a hammering 24-0 heading into the break. Luckily for the Reds, Samu Kerevi appeared to be one of the few players firing as he busted through twice to add respectability to the scoreline.
It was Australia’s 35th straight loss to Kiwi opponents, a trend that looks set to remain following the poor weekend’s results.
In the Republic, the Rebels fell to their 14th straight defeat in South Africa and will continue to search for their first win across the Indian Ocean.
Early-season pacesetters, the Rebels have struggled in recent weeks with their poor form compounded with the 28-10 loss to the Bulls. The disappointment was compounded with injuries to captain Adam Coleman, brothers Dane and Ross Haylett-Petty and hooker Jordan Uelese, adding to the loss of scrum half Will Genia.
Punters were treated to another woeful Aussie performance in the final match of the round with the Brumbies left to rue passive early play before they were simply out-gunned by the Jaguares in Canberra.
Asleep in the first half, the Brumbies were forced into chasing mode from the early minutes as they fell 13-0 down. While Tom Banks brought them within a sniff of victory in the second half, the Brumbies inability to post any points against a 14-man Jaguares proved costly.
With Aussie sides set to take on overseas opponents for the next few rounds, including the Waratahs four game stint against Kiwi opposition, it may be a long wait for a win in the Australian conference.
New Zealand Conference
Bye week coming at right time for Chiefs
Halfway through their season and sitting with a 6-2 record, the Chiefs’ second and final bye has come at the exact right time as they get set to re-energise heading into the final block of regular season clashes.
Sitting right amongst the action of the New Zealand conference, the Chiefs’ bonus point win over the Reds in Brisbane will have them heading into their off week in good spirits as they trail just two points behind conference leaders the Crusaders and just one point behind the Hurricanes.
The extra recovery time will be handy after another two players were added to the Chiefs’ ever growing injury list on Saturday night.
The side lost fly-half Damian McKenzie early in their win against the Reds, when he was brought from the field with a head knock, before winger Sean Wainui came off with a shoulder concern. Both were set for further tests, but with a bye week they’ll have even more time to recover.
Heading into their last clash, the Chiefs already had 14 players unavailable for selection, a list that seems to be continually growing throughout the season, but it hasn’t slowed them down yet and is unlikely to with the Chiefs already through five of their eight tough derby games.
Now focus turns to ladder placement heading into the final rounds, and with such quality New Zealand sides, there is sure to be a scuffle between sides for conference placings.
While the top qualifier from each conference still hosts a quarter-final, the change in format from four conferences to three this year, means there are five wildcard spots that can come from any conference.
With the Crusaders (29) leading the New Zealand conference and the Hurricanes (27), Chiefs (26) and Highlanders (24) trailing only a few points behind, it’s likely three wildcards could head New Zealand’s way, but a scrap is likely to ensue with the second placing ensuring a home advantage in the final series.
With two of their three remaining derby clashes at home and one in Fiji, and three of their five games against non-Kiwi opposition at home, the Chiefs have set themselves up well as they chase down a finals place.
South African Conference
Lions, Bulls show how it’s done
The two South African teams that play an exciting, fast-paced brand of rugby are looking like the sides likely to make it into the playoffs in 2018.
The top-of-the-table Lions and the eighth-placed Bulls are getting the results with an all-encompassing style of play, while the Sharks and the Stormers look clueless and flat-footed on attack and defence.
The Sharks and the Stormers dished out one of the most error-strewn and boring halves a rugby in the competition’s history in Durban on Saturday night, while the Lions and the Bulls showed their quality against the Waratahs and the Rebels respectively.
The resurgent Bulls managed their third bonus-point win in a row and impressed with their willingness to play with ball in hand. But their game is more than just throwing it around, as their pack of forwards have laid in the platform for victory in those matches.
The Lions have got back to their ruthless best over the last couple of weekends, and have also mixed their attacking prowess with a strong forward and defensive effort.
The biggest lessons the Bulls and Lions have taught the other South African teams is that you can get results with an attacking brand of rugby, especially if you don’t neglect the basics of the game.
Rugby is a simple sport, but the Lions and the Bulls have added a dash of excitement. It’s something the bland Stormers and Sharks need to discover if they want to fight for a playoff berth.