It was an egg-cellent weekend of Easter Super Rugby action, with the Blues, Reds, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Waratahs all enjoying victories in Round 9.
Following their heart-stopping win in Christchurch, the Blues now sit atop the ladder on 31 points, the Kiwis above the Brumbies because of for-and-against.
The Reds are in third, one point further back, with the Crusaders rounding out the top four on 28 points.
Read on as we review some of the Super — and Not So Super — action from Round 9.
Blues, Crusaders deliver in a [potential] grand final preview
It had been billed as the game of the season and the Crusaders-Blues clash in Christchurch on Friday night certainly didn’t disappoint.
From Beauden Barrett’s two sublime try assists in the first half, to the Crusaders’ fightback following the dismissal of skipper Scott Barrett, to the gut-busting, match-clinching tackle from Rieko Ioane and Dalton Papalii, this game really had it all.
After 18 long years of defeats in Christchurch, the Blues at last triumphed 27-23 down south, in doing so firmly installing themselves as competition favorites ahead of the long-awaited trans-Tasman fixtures.
They begin with Super Round in Melbourne this weekend, where both the Blues and Crusaders will be unbackable favorites to defeat the Fijian Drua and Rebels respectively.
In fact, both the Blues and Crusaders will be confident of sailing through the back half of the season with no further defeats, which would have the two teams on a collision course for a rematch in the competition’s final, this time at Eden Park.
There is a lot of rugby to be played before then, clearly, but there will be few complaints if they are to meet in the decider on June 18, such was the intensity, skill and all-round quality of their gripping encounter on Friday night .
Marvellous McReight can’t do much more
Fraser McReight knows he must sit and wait for his opportunity to come at Test level.
The fact he plays the same position as Michael Hooper means McReight is destined to be limited to a few minutes off the bench here and there, or potentially even the odd start when Hooper is resting – not that the Wallabies skipper is really into that – until it is that the veteran no. 7 decides to call it a day.
All McReight can do in the meantime is continue to play his heart out at Super Rugby Pacific level and be ready for the opportunity if and when it does pop up.
And he is doing just that, with fans getting a glimpse of his brilliant breakdown work in the Reds’ 36-32 victory over the Rebels on Friday night.
With the hosts on the attack down the left-hand touchline, looking like they were about to answer the Reds’ earlier try, McReight swooped on a breakdown after Angus Blyth had tackled James Tuttle. Straight on the ball, McReight picked off the turnover and charged off in the other direction, drawing a defender with a pass to Harry Wilson, who then turned the ball back inside to Tate McDermott who sprinted away for the try.
It was a piece of breakdown brilliance from McReight, just when it looked like the Rebels were going to be scoring at the other end.
Unfortunately for the hosts, history repeated in the second half when replacement Lawson Creighton picked off an intercept and charged off in the other direction, again when it seemed for all money the Rebels were going to go in.
McReight, meanwhile, finished with a forwards-high 46 meters from five runs with two clean breaks, the flanker adding nine tackles in defense for good measure.
He is destined to wear the Wallabies No. 7 jersey at some stage, just when that is wrests with Michael Hooper.
Edmed has given Coleman a Waratahs head-scratcher
Tane Edmed continues to go from strength to strength with the Waratahs, who on Saturday night cut the Force apart to head into a huge game against the Chiefs full on confidence.
While they will need to step up considerably against the Chiefs, and the other Kiwi teams that follow, the Waratahs are a completely different outfit to the one that went winless through 2021.
At the heart of their impressive recent play has been Edmed, who has been deputising for the injured Ben Donaldson.
Edmed made the break that set up the Waratahs’ second try, scored by center Lalakai Foketi, and added a second try assist with a beautiful cut-out pass to Alex Newsome following the sin-binning of Reesjan Pasitoa.
In between all that, Edmed has been leading the Waratahs around superbly, presenting coach Darren Coleman with a real selection headache when Donaldson does return, which could be as early as this Friday.
And there is the bigger question of whether the Waratahs will be able to retain each of Donaldson, Edmed and Will Harrison, all for whom fly-half is their favored position.
NOT SO SUPER
Clean-out appeared to warrant another look
Last week the Hurricanes were left crying foul over the lack of a Television Match Official review on the final play of their loss to the Crusaders. On Saturday, they seemingly received the square-up, after Asafo Aumua was cleared of a dangerous clean-out late in the dramatic win over the Highlanders.
While the visitors were also probably fortunate to not concede a try after the final siren, a play that was reviewed by the TMO and considered not to have been scored, Aumua’s clean-out of Gareth Evans certainly appeared to have met the threshold for foul play .
While a close-up angle was never shown on the sky sport broadcast, Evans fell back behind the ruck after he was hit by Aumua, while sideline broadcaster Kane Hames said the Highlanders back-rower let out a “helluva scream”.
But perhaps the big giveaway was the black eye that had popped up in the moments following the incident, which then forced Evans off for an HIA.
Highlanders co-captain Aaron Smith was left seeing after the incident, particularly given his side had lost Josh Dickson to a red card earlier in the match.
“[It] could have been a try at the end [to Saula Ma’u]; maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but that’s rugby,” Smith told sky sport.
“But, you know, we’re getting robbed all the time and… we had a red card [Josh Dickson] for contact to the head and one of our guys blatantly gets a black eye and touchies and refs just walk it off like it’s nothing.
“All we want is consistency as players, and we’re just getting no rub of the green at the moment, and it’s pretty hard to swallow.”
Barrett’s blunder a throwback to 2019
Crusaders captain Scott Barrett could do little else but shake his head as he trudged off Orangetheory Stadium on Friday night.
With the game inching towards halftime, Barrett was given his marching orders for a high shot where his right shoulder had collected Blues prop Alex Hodgman flush on the chin.
Leaving his team a man down for 20 minutes, against the hottest team in the competition, was one thing, but the All Blacks lock will now likely be set for at least a three-week stint on the sidelines. When you consider his shoulder charge on Michael Hooper from the 2019 Bledisloe in Perth, that suspension could yet run longer.
And the worry for both the Crusaders and the All Blacks will be that Barrett hasn’t fixed a technique that had already been flagged before his hit on Hooper at Optus Stadium.
Speaking after that incident, then All Blacks hooker Dane Coles said Barrett clearly had an issue to work on.
“Nothing against Scooter [Barrett]but he’s got a little bit of a habit of using that shoulder,” Coles said.
“We know if you’re going to hit their head, you’re going to get done.
“We need to develop a technique to make sure we don’t hit them in the head and then we’ll be sweet.”
Barrett certainly won’t be sweet and with the Crusaders’ lock stocks already affected by injury – Mitchell Dunshea is already gone for the season and Quinten Strange is also currently sidelined – coach Scott Robertson can’t be thrilled by the recklessness of his skipper.
Stan Sport goes to air … unintentionally
There’s a golden rule in broadcasting that reads “the mics are always hot”.
Thankfully, no huge crimes were committed on Friday night when Australian broadcasters Stan Sport put over two minutes of television to air when their commentators, Nick McArdle, Drew Mitchell and Morgan Turinui, had no idea they were live.
Apart from getting an insight into the horse racing punting strategies of Mitchell and a couple of rogue f-bombs, the Stan crew came through the experience relatively unscathed – an achievement the likes of Andrew Symonds and the late Shane Warne were unable to manage during a recent Big Bash call.
“Oi, guys, we’re live, this has all been going to air,” Mitchell said alarmingly having received a text message.
It seems someone in the control room must have ducked out for smoko.