Who could have predicted a weekend like the one we just witnessed?
A 10-year, 21-game drought finally over and in memorable fashion with the Reds finally ending their New Zealand hoodoo and ending the Chiefs’ 10-game unbeaten run while they were at it.
Elsewhere, the Crusaders held the Blues off in an almighty arm-wrestle, while the Brumbies put on the after burners to down the Highlanders.
Read on as we review some of the Super — and Not So Super — Rugby action from the weekend.
REDS SERVE UP HUMBLE PIE
There’s nothing quite like eating humble pie and this rugby reporter had to eat plenty of it on Friday night after the Reds shocked, well, everybody to end their decade-long losing run in New Zealand and become the first team to defeat the Chiefs this year.
Just a week ago, in this very column, it was noted there were only four games remaining in the regular season where Australian teams would be crossing the ditch to take on their Kiwi rivals – with this writer giving no chance of any team coming home with a win. Well, how wrong I was.
Downed by the Waratahs in Townsville last week, the Reds were given just a 2% chance of defeating the unbeaten Chiefs in New Plymouth. Naming a questionable side that had their best wing playing at outside centre, a player with international experience at outside centre playing at 12, their best flyhalf on the bench, and arguably their best player ruled out through injury, this writer predicted a long night ahead for Reds fans.
Instead, the Reds rolled up their sleeves, worked doggedly at the breakdown, constantly harassing Chiefs halfback Cortez Ratima, their attack found some fluidity that had been lacking through the season while their defence was tireless – especially in the minutes after the siren on their line.
Jock Campbell hits back for the Reds to take the lead over the Chiefs 💪
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— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) May 12, 2023
Jock Campbell excelled in Jordan Petaia’s absence, beaten by only Chiefs’ wing Emoni Narawa for metres run, making 17 carries and scoring a crucial try just after half time to put his side ahead. While James O’Connor looked back to his old self at inside centre, supporting his fly-half Lawson Creighton and then Tom Lynagh valiantly throughout the match.
Tate McDermott bounced back from a sub-par showing against the Waratahs with another inspiring performance which included a try on the halftime siren to send his side into the sheds with scores level after dominating the half.
But it was the backrow who deserved the plaudits for their tireless efforts. Liam Wright was the leading tackler of the night with 23, closely followed Connor Vest (20), Fraser McReight (16) and Seru Uru (14), while Harry Wilson (13) made an immediate impact off the bench. They were huge at the breakdown, menacing a Chiefs side missing the likes of captain Sam Cane and Samisoni Taukei’aho and gave little for Damian McKenzie to work with.
The final stand after the siren that saw them withstand 25 excruciatingly long phases to hold off a Chiefs side desperate to clinch the win and knocking back several penalty advantages that would have seen them level the scores, will live long in the memories of Reds players and fans alike.
Composure and relentless defence was behind the Reds’ 25-22 win, with Tom Lynagh’s 77th-minute penalty ending a 21-game, 10-year losing streak on New Zealand soil. Andy Jackson/Getty Images
A team that has been in this position several times before and denied at the death in New Zealand, and under so much pressure, instead of crumbling, they stood taller, worked harder together and withstood raid after raid. In the end it would be Chiefs hooker Tyrone Thompson who would attempt to do it all on his own and burrow over the line only to be sucked into a wall of red and white, and denied the match winner.
“I’m just so proud of the boys, you know. We said be brave. Obviously massively underdogs and coming off a pretty poor result last week, so it means everything. Gives us new life,” Tate McDermott.
The celebrations after the final whistle a clear sign of the emotion within the camp. A side that has failed to live up to expectations and with Brad Thorn signing off at the end of the season, the relief and exuberance was palpable. A 10-year, 21-game long losing streak over the ditch was finally over and in show of true heart.
COREY HOTLINE ON SPEED DIAL
One of the finds of the season, Brumbies speedster Corey Toole continues to make the game look easy, showing off his silky skills yet again on Sunday afternoon in a truly remarkable solo effort to help the Brumbies ice the game over a tough Highlanders in Canberra.
Kept relatively quiet last week against the Rebels, Toole made sure to make a mark on this match, getting his hands on the ball as often as possible and constantly taking on the edge in a player of the match performance.
Just your standard Corey Toole moment here 👌#SuperRugbyPacific #BRUvHIG pic.twitter.com/1u7vtqh9ou
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) May 14, 2023
Scoring back-to-back tries in the second half it was his second effort that had pundits stunned and rightly so.
With the Brumbies regaining the ball midfield after a miskick from Ollie Sapsford, the backline moved quickly. The ball was quickly swung from Noh Lolesio to Tom Wright, who spotted the mismatch on the edge and sent it wide to his speedster. Chipping it over Scott Gregory, Toole still had plenty of work to do to get around the covering Connor Garden-Bachop before he toed the ball ahead to dive over the line.
It essentially closed the door on a Highlanders side that had refused to go away, in a ding-dong battle the Brumbies were forced to fight through until about the 60th minute when the flood gates opened up and they powered ahead with four tries in the final 20 minutes.
It was an important win for the Brumbies as it elevates them back into two on the ladder with three crucial matches left in the run into the finals, but Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham was quick to hose down his team’s exciting attacking feats, with their defensive issues still giving him worries.
“We can score tries and we’re quite an exciting team to watch but defensively we’ve got to make some better decisions and we’ve certainly got to make some better tackle completions out there,” he said.
NOT SO SUPER
REBELS WITH ALL THE PROMISES BUT NO FOLLOW THROUGH
Bursting out to an impressive 14-point lead, the Rebels were dominating the Waratahs across the ground for the opening 20 minutes. How they entered the sheds with scores level at half time to be eventually blown off the park in the final 20 is sure to be eating away at the side with the run home for that final top 8 spot made even harder.
With 69% territory and possession in the first half, the Rebels looked a class above for the first quarter with Carter Gordon continuing to shine in his role; more than once he threatened to slice up the Waratahs all on his own. But ill-discipline and some butter fingers from Monty Ioane gave the Waratahs a sniff and as the Rebels become looser the home side continued to rise.
Brad Wilkin of the Rebels looks dejected Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
It was hardly inspiring from the Waratahs for much of the match, but it was enough to disrupt the Rebels who were their own worst enemy, down to just 14 players for 20 minutes of the match, while a restart straight into touch to start the second half from Reece Hodge exemplary of rocks and diamonds the side often produces.
Dropping five lineouts, including three crucial throws back-to-back midway through the second half, dealt the side a death blow as the Waratahs used their own set-piece to damaging effect.
With the Highlanders in Dunedin this weekend, Force at home, and the final round in Canberra, the Rebels’ loss to the Waratahs could prove the death blow to a season that showed so much promise but never followed through.