Sharks to play Chiefs in Super Rugby Final. By Mark Ella

What a great weekend of rugby which saw two thrilling games in two different countries to finally secure the last teams left in this season’s Super Rugby Championship with the Chiefs to host the Sharks in Hamilton this Saturday. Even though the Chiefs finished the regular season on top of the New Zealand conference and second overall behind the Stormers, most to the money was on the seasoned Crusaders ahead of the Chiefs because of their greater experience in finals rugby. But the Chiefs playing in front of 25,000 fans at Waikato Stadium took the game to the Crusaders who looked jaded after some heavy defence from the enthusiastic Chiefs who hardly missed a tackle all night and winning a close match, 20-17. There was plenty of aggression from both teams early in the match with referee Craig Joubert having to calm both sides down and the first 20 minutes of the match was scrappy as both teams used smothering defence to unsettle the others attack. After 26 minutes the score was tied at 3 all after early penalties to Aaron Cruden and Daniel Carter but continuous pressure on the Crusaders by the Chiefs resulted in the first try of the match to Chiefs prop Sona Tuamololo when he dived just short of the try line to be shunted over by his team-mates to give the Chiefs the advantage and Tuamololo his 9th try of the season. The Crusaders normally like to dictate the way the game is being played but too their credit the Chiefs took the game to them and never really allowed the likes of Carter and Ritchie McCaw to have much influence which was an important factor in winning the game. Their second try in second half came from some sustain pressure when Sonny Bill Williams picked up the football from a ruck and accelerated towards the try line before off-loading to blind side flanker Liam Messam to score which was converted by Cruden to give the Chiefs a handy 17-6 lead with 8 minutes until half time. With most of the play going the Chiefs way the Crusaders had the last laugh in the first half when centre Ryan Crotty scored in the 40th minutes to give the Crusaders some hope going to the break trailing the Chiefs by just 17-11. The second was all about defence and even though both teams moved the football from one side of the field to the othe,r no tries were scored with Cruden adding another penalty to his tally and Carter kicking two more penalties to bring the score to 20-17. Carter had a chance to take the match into extra time with 5 minutes of play left in the match when he attempted a 45 metre penalty goal which by his lofty standards wasn’t such a hard kick. Instead he gave the ball too much height landing underneath the goal posts to send the Chiefs fans into raptures and give the Chiefs a well earned victory in just their third semi-finals appearance. In Cape Town the Stormers ran onto Newlands as firm favourites against the Sharks who travelled back to South Africa after their sterling performance against the Reds in Brisbane last weekend. The Stormers had finished at the top of the South African and Super Rugby ladder so it was expected that they would finish stronger against an exciting young Sharks team particularly in Cape Town where they remained undefeated for this season. But like the Chiefs in Hamilton the underdogs took the lead for the entire match finishing on top of the Stormers 26-19 ably led by 56 test match veteran, Frenchman Frederic Michalak who has a great game. A penalty and drop goal by Michalak gave the Sharks an early lead 6-3 before Louis Ludik jumped higher than Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen to receive a midfield bomb from Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen at the Stormers 22 metres line to sprint to the try line to increase the lead over the Stormers 13-6 which was the half time score. An early seconf half penalty by Michalak was returned by Stormers No.10 Peter Grant in the 55th minutes which kept them in the game 16-9 but the game was all but over when the Sharks explosive centre JP Pietersen made the best defensive outfit in Super Rugby look ordinary when he sidestepped Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth to take to score to 23-9 after his try was converted by Michalak. Even though Stormers winger Gio Aplon made the score look more respectable when he went on to score the try of the match in the 66th minute, the game was beyond them and the Sharks thoroughly deserved their victory away from home. They now play the Chiefs for the Super Rugby title in Hamilton New Zealand on Saturday in what will be another great match in what has been an exciting year of rugby in this part of the world. Mark Ella


Crusaders and Sharks are still in the hunt after great victories on the weekend. By Mark Ella

When the Sharks half back Charl McLeod intercepted a pass from Reds No.9 Will Genia four minutes into the second half to run 75 metres to score under the posts the game was well and truly over with a commanding lead over the Reds 27-10. Without their chief playmaker Quade Cooper who spent the night running water for his hapless team-mates, the Reds never looked in the game as they were smothered by the rampant Sharks who didn’t leave anything to chance convincingly winning the match 30-17. The commotion leading up to last Saturday night’s game in Brisbane was all about Cooper and whether the Reds should appeal SANZARS decision to suspend the Reds super star for one match instead of focusing on the match itself. The Reds started the match poorly and after only eleven minutes into the game they were trailing the Sharks 10-0 after a penalty from No.10 Freddie Michalak and a superb try to Springboks winger JP Pietersen after some fantastic ball play from the Sharks three-quarters. To make matters worse their stand in five eighth Ben Lucas left the field with a badly damaged ankle injury after twenty minutes forcing the Reds to reorganise their backline with replacement Nick Frisby coming onto the field at half back with Genia moving to five eighth. Genia is a great scrum half and even though he did a good job filling in for Cooper and Lucas he looked lost as the Reds started to play aimless rugby and from this moment onwards they were never in the race. Leading at half time 20-10 the Sharks defended stoutly in the second half with the Reds throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at them but to their credit their defence held firm and it wasn’t until the full time hooter had sounded before the Reds put their only second half points on the board when replacement No.8 Radike Samo scored next to the posts. It was a disappointing end to the season for the Reds who did a wonderful job in making it this far after such a slow start to their season which was dominated by a spate of injuries but nothing can be taken away from a clinical Sharks performance. The Reds have not had a good year in terms of success against South African teams because in 2012 they only managed to defeat this year’s wooden spooners the Lions losing to the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and Sharks twice. In the other finals play-off last weekend the Crusaders made mince meat of a disjointed Bulls outfit who kicked away far too much possession and were never in the game losing 28-13. With No.10 Morne Steyn playing way below his ability the Bulls couldn’t get into rhythm and their incessant kicking did them no favours. The match was completely dominated by the Crusaders who put enormous pressure on the Bulls every time they had possession forcing them into making elementary mistakes and rather than fight their way back into the game they capitulated far too easily.  Their ill-discipline was their biggest problem and even though they outscored the Crusaders two tries to one in Christchurch they came a poor second against a very good Crusaders team who know how to play finals football. All Blacks five eighth Daniel Carter made the Bulls suffer for all of their indiscretions booting six penalty goals, a field goal and converting Zac Guildford’s try in the twenty fifth minute.     So this weekend the Aussies have a few more weeks to prepare for the upcoming Rugby Championship whilst the better teams in the Southern Hemisphere fight it out for the Super Rugby Championship. Next weekend we again have a couple of local derbies for the semi-finals play-offs with the Stormers playing the Sharks in Cape Town and the Chiefs up against the Crusaders in Hamilton.


Hurricanes defeat the Chiefs but fail to make Super Rugby finals. By Mark Ella

The Hurricanes went into last weekend’s match against the Super Rugby leaders the Chiefs without holding anything back in what was another exciting fast paced match in Wellington winning 28-25 in the 85th minute to keep the final chances alive.It was a great game with both teams spreading the ball wide at every opportunity and quickly recycling the ball at the breakdown to keep the speed of the game flowing from start to finish.The first try of the game came when Chiefs No.9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow scored a soft five pointer after three minutes of play when he used referee Jonathan Kaplan as a decoy to score next to the goal posts.His try was converted to No.10 Aaron Cruden to give the Chiefs at 7-0 advantage which was pegged back three minutes later when Hurricanes No.10 Beauden Barrett kicked his first of three penalties.At this stage in the game the Chiefs had the upper hand but the Hurricanes were playing with a sense of purpose and it didn’t take long for Barrett and All Blacks centre Conrad Smith to quickly change the momentum of the game when they broke the Chiefs defence from inside their own territory.The ball moved across the Hurricanes backline to Julian Savea who barged his way over in the left hand corner after 24 minutes of play for the first of his two tries to let the Chiefs know that this match was now becoming a battle.At the 36th minute of the game with the score favouring the Hurricanes 15-10 after penalties to both Cruden and Barrett, Cruden attempted a penalty goal from 50 metres out which hit the upright and a good chase from the Chiefs gave them a five metre line out.From this line out the Chiefs forwards used pick and drive to give their huge prop Ben Tameifuna his try to draw level with the Hurricanes 15 all.But as luck would have it and with 23,500 screaming fans supporting the Hurricanes at home in Wellington they went into the break leading the Chiefs 18-15 when Barrett kicked a penalty of the stroke of half time.The play from both sides in the first half was exceptional and at times exhilarating which was more satisfying for the fans when only one scrum was set which much be some sort of record.The first 10 minutes of the second half was dominated by the Chiefs who were desperate to finish the regular season on top of the table and they had a number of good scoring opportunities but failed to get the football across the line.It took 18 minutes into the second half for the first points to get on the scoreboard when Cruden anticipated his opposite number Barrett when he intercepted a stray pass to race forty metres to score under the posts which he converted to put the Chiefs in front 22-18.A couple of minutes later with the game going from one side of the field to another Barrett drew the Hurricanes one step closer when he kicked his third penalty to trail the Chiefs 22-21.The Chiefs keep the pressure on the Hurricanes when Cruden kicked another penalty goal to give them a four point lead 25-21 and what follows was an amazing phase of play that got the Hurricanes over the line and into final contentions.With the full time siren already sounded the Hurricanes controlled possession and after relentless phases of play five minutes later their hooker Dane Coles seemed to have scored the match winning try an incredible five minutes later.The match official took forever to make his decision in favour of the Hurricanes to give hope to their finals aspirations and move the Chiefs off the top of the Super Rugby table.Unfortunately it wasn’t enough with the South African games going to plan with no upsets which put the Hurricanes outside of the top six and they will be ruing their slow start to the season.The top six Super Rugby teams to figure in next week’s finals fixtures is an indication of the strength of the three nations at the moment with Australia being represented by the Reds, New Zealand by the Chiefs and Crusaders and South Africa by the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks.Mark Ella


Super Rugby: lo Springbok Wynand Olivier da Pretoria e Tokio. By Giorgio Sbrocco

Una Coppa del Mondo (2007) con la maglia degli Springboks, e 3 volte campione del Super Rugby (2007, 2009, 2010) con quella dei Bulls (maglia che ha indossato fin dai tempi del liceo), adesso anche lui ha scelto il Giappone. Wynand Olivier, 29 anni compiuti da poco, centro di grande esperienza e di notevole talento, che sta completando la stagione domestica nel Super 15 (venerdì contro i Lions ultimi in classifica) con la formazione di Pretoria, giocherà con i Ricoh Black Rams, squadra di Setagaya (Tokio) che milita nella lega pro nipponica. Ottenuta la dispensa della sua franchigia di appartenenza dagli impegni dell’imminente Currie Cup, il biondo atleta nativo di Welkom tornerà in patria per il Super 15 del 2013, per poi, pare, emigrare definitivamente in Giappone. E forse, a 36 anni, giocare da equiparato la Coppa del Mondo 2019 nel paese del Sol levante.Giorgio Sbrocco


Sharks enter Super Rugby top six after defeating the Bulls with one Round to go. By Mark Ella

In another epic match at Kings Park in Durban the Sharks convincingly defeated the highly rated Bulls 32-10 to enter into the top six with only one Round of the Super Rugby season to go.It was always going to be a fierce encounter and the Sharks showed their intent early in the match dominating possession and territory in a game they simply had to win to keep their hopes alive.Their forwards led admirably by captain and flanker Keegan Daniel keep the pressure on the Bulls and it didn’t take long for the Sharks to put first points on the board after 11 minutes when open side flanker Marcel Coetzee slipped a clever ball to rampaging hooker Bismarck du Plessis to give the Sharks the lead 5-0.No.10 Frederic Michalak filling in for the injured Patrick Lambie converted bringing the score to 7-0 and from this point the Sharks were never in doubt.In fact it took the Bulls 13 minutes to finally get out of their own half and their hard work was rewarded when some great work from their forwards paid off when Morne Steyn kicked his first penalty to put the Bulls on the scoreboard trailing the Sharks 7-3.But the first half was all about the Sharks who were playing without their three star players Lambie, lock Steven Sykes and tearaway flanker Willem Alberts all recovering from injuries picked up against England in the recent Test series.A penalty to Michalak and one from inside centre Francois Steyn from 50 metres out kept the pressure on the hapless Bulls who tried hard but couldn’t transfer their little time spent in Sharks territory into points.The Sharks second try in the first half came from some sustained pressure with the Bulls lacking the intensity and failing to stop the Sharks at the break down, aided by some ferocious defence put the Bulls on the back foot when winger JP Pietersen scored in the right corner in the 25th minute.Michalak converted from the side line and the confident Sharks went into the break leading the Bulls 20-3 and the signs were not looking good for the hapless Bulls who were struggling to get into the game.And to make the Bulls cause harder the Sharks didn’t waste time to rub it in when captain Keegan Daniel scored the Sharks third try only three minutes into the second half to lead 25-3 with a crucial bonus point only one try away.At this stage the Bulls finally snapped into action and put pressure on the Sharks by controlling the football for long passages before Bulls full back Zane Kirchner scored his 20th Super Rugby try to give the Bulls fans some hope, faint as it may have been.But the Sharks quickly regathered control of the match and the momentum began to swing back their way ending with a bonus point victory when full back Louis Ludik scored their forth try to send their fans into raptures and put the Sharks into sixth place on 54 points with only one Round left to play.Man of the Match was Sharks No.8 Ryan Kankowski who had a great game but who sadly will be heading to Japan after the Super Rugby season and no doubt he will be missed by his team-mates because he plays the game hard and direct.The Sharks chances of making the final six looks good because they play their last game at home against the lowly rated Cheetahs just as the Bulls play the last placed Lions almost guaranteeing that South Africa will have three teams in the finals play-offs.It was a great match between two traditional advisories but at the end of the day the Sharks simply wanted victory more than the Bulls who looked lethargic and uninterested.Mark Ella


Hurricanes dent Crusaders Super Rugby hopes with a great victory in Christchurch 23-22 By Mark Ella

Playing at AMI Stadium in Christchurch it was thought that the Crusaders would be too strong for the fast finishing Hurricanes who still fancy their chances of playing in this season’s Super Rugby finals.And that’s the way the game started with the Crusaders dominating possession and territory putting the Hurricanes under pressure giving away two penalties in kicking distance for Crusaders No.10 Tom Taylor to put his team in front 6-0 after the first ten minutes.The Hurricanes gradually received enough of the ball get some continuity giving newly appointed All Black No.10 Beauden Barrett an opportunity to kept the Canes in the game when he kicked a penalty to trail the Crusaders 6-3 after thirteen minutes into the game.Three minutes later Hurricanes full back Andre Taylor set up the first try of the match to Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith when his chipped over the Crusaders defence before regathering to give Smith a shot at the line.Smith was aided by some wayward running by his team-mate winger Julian Savea who appeared to run interference for Smith but was awarded the try by controversial referee Bryce Lawrence.With the Hurricanes leading 10-9 after another penalty from Taylor Crusaders winger Zac Guildford ran sixty five metres in traffic to score under the posts to regain the led for the Crusaders twenty minutes from half time 16-10.But the Hurricanes were not satisfied with second best when Smith struck again weaving his way through some soft Crusaders defence to score in the left corner with Barrett converting to give the Hurricanes a 17-16 lead going into half time.Their lead lasted only a minute after the restart when the Hurricanes were penalised for not retiring from chasing the clearing kick to give the Crusaders and gift three points to lead 19-17.It was a see-sawing match that could have went either way and at 23-22 in favour of the Hurricanes the Crusaders had the last say when they were awarded a penalty after smashing the Hurricanes scrum right on half way.Captain Ritchie McCaw decided to opt with replacement back Tyler Bleyendaal to make a name for himself on the bell but unfortunately his kick fell a few metres short and into the arms of Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith who had an enormous grin when he put the football into touch to keep the Hurricanes into contention for the Super Rugby play-offs.With only two Rounds left in the Super Rugby season the final six places are still up for grabs with the Chiefs leading the New Zealand conference on 62 points, the Crusaders on 52 and the Hurricanes 49.The Chiefs are overall leaders of the Super Rugby competition with the Stormers next on 58 points, the Brumbies and Bulls on 54 points, the Crusaders on 52 and the Hurricanes after a slow start the season making up the top six places.The Crusaders have a difficult match next week playing the competition leaders the Chiefs on Friday night in a must win game.Their last game before the Finals is against the lowly ranked Force in Christchurch but their season could almost be over if they lose to the Chiefs and without the fire power of Daniel Carter, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg they struggled to get any fluency to their game giving away far too many penalties for infringements at the breakdown.The Hurricanes have a bye this weekend which will give their coach Mark Hammett time to give his players a well earned rest before their final game against the Chiefs so it is shaping up as a thrilling finish to see who makes the final six.It was a wasted opportunity for the Crusaders and loosehead prop Wyatt Crocket playing in his 100th Super Rugby match because they lacked consistency without Carter and at this stage they are no guarantee to be in the play-offs.Mark Ella


Cheetahs continue Waratahs horror year with close win at home. By Mark Ella

The Waratahs travelled to South Africa hoping to return back to Australia still in contention for this year’s Super Rugby finals but a defiant Cheetahs side ensured that the Waratahs will miss out this year.Their defeat 35-34 to the Cheetahs followed up another loss to the Stormers last weekend 19-14 gave the Waratahs three points out of a potential ten and no doubt there will be changes within the coaching and playing group next year.Former Wallabies assistant coach Michael Foley has done little to improve the playing capacity of the Waratahs in 2012 and he must take responsibility for their poor performances in what has to be Australia’s strongest rugby state, NSW.The Cheetahs looked out of the game on a number of occasions but to their credit they never gave up and buoyed by the local fans they played with passion and commitment to deservedly to win the match. The Waratahs started the match on fire scoring two tries to flanker Dave Dennis and lock Sitaleki Timani within the opening five minutes of the game and the Cheetahs were struggling to keep up with the pace of the game.After last week’s disappointment when the Waratahs were severely chastised for kicking away far too much possession they punched through mid-field making breaks at will and doing it far too easily.The match was there to be taken and instead of putting the Cheetahs under more pressure the Waratahs took the foot off the pedal and allowed the Cheetahs to come back into the game when No.9 Piet van Zyl scored in the 14th minute followed up closely when winger Willie le Rouxx scored a great individual try four minutes later to even the score.With the match swinging both ways the Cheetahs continued their dominance when hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss intercepted the ball on half way to sprint to the try line to put the Cheetahs in front for the first time 19-14 followed by Riaan Smits conversion to make it 21-17.  This Cheetahs comeback snapped the Waratahs back into action when Adam Ashley-Cooper chipped over the top and regathered the football to combine with half back Brendan McKibbin to send centre Rob Horne underneath the posts.The Waratahs didn’t settle for second best when fullback Bernard Foley ran down the left hand side of the field before passing inside to Timani again to score his second try to give the Waratahs their bonus point.The score after the first forty minutes was 31-21 to the Waratahs and it could have been much more is the Waratahs have worked harder to control the football.Sadly it was all one way in the second half with the Waratahs scoring only three points from a penalty by McKibbin but the Cheetahs scored two converted tries to prop WP Nel in the 53rd minute and another great try to the flying le Roux who was the best player on the field.In the second half the Waratahs changed their tactics by playing field possession and not continue putting the Cheetahs under pressure by running the football.And whilst they didn’t kick as much against the Cheetahs as they did a week ago when playing the Stormers they simply lost their momentum and allowed the South Africans back into the game.When the Cheetahs took the lead with over 20 minutes left in the match there was still plenty of opportunities for the Waratahs to strike back as any good side would have done but this Waratahs side is deficient of hunger and they faltered because they didn’t want victory enough.  It was a deserving result in terms of effort and belief in each other with the Cheetahs holding on to outshine their more fancied opponents.This loss spells the end of the Waratahs who currently sit on 30 points, ten behind the Reds of 40 and fifteen behind the Brumbies on 45. With only one team in each Conference guaranteed a position in the finals it is time for the Waratahs to say grazie mille and see you again anno prossimo!Mark Ella


Stormers put an end to the Waratahs hopes of making this season Super Rugby finals. By Mark Ella

The Waratahs hopes of securing a finals spot in this year’s Super Rugby were all but dashed when they were defeated by the Stormers 19-13 in Cape Town over the weekend.Again in was a match of two halves with the Stormers dominating the first half to lead 16-3 at the break after playing attacking rugby with the ball in hand unlike the Waratahs who put up a barrage of high balls with little return.Waratahs No.10 Berrick Barnes never made much of an attempt to put the football through the hands and he kicked consistently which played in the hands of the Stormers.Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen and winger Gio Aplon took everything the Waratahs could throw at them and quickly defused the aerial assault to give the Stormers the advantage.Pietersen opened the scoring for the Stormers when he scored in the left corner after sixteen minutes to give the lead which the Waratahs failed to capture for the rest of the match.I would have thought that the Waratahs would have been desperate to win this game to stay in the race but their tactics were mis-guided in thinking that the monotonous kicking was ever going to win them the match.The Stormers second try came in the thirty second minute after some great ball skills from their forwards to put hooker Tiaan Liebenberg in the right corner to give the Stormers a healthy lead.After trailing the Waratahs for the first quarter of the game the Stormers managed to rally back with some entertaining rugby to control the back end half of the first half to finish with an overall possession statistic of seventy percent which reflected on the scoreboard.The Waratahs played much better in the second half but unfortunately they wasted the first forty minutes so it was a matter of playing catch up football and it didn’t take them long to score their first and only try.After two minutes into the second half the Waratahs centre Rob Horne crossed the line after some great lead up work from their forwards replacement lock Kane Douglas and flanker Dave Dennis to trail the Stormers 16-8.By this stage Barnes had stopped the incessant kicking and the Waratahs started to look like they knew what they were doing and they should have taken the lead when prop Sekope Kefu dropped the ball a couple of metres out from the Stormers try line.With penalties to both Peter Grant for the Stormers and Brendan McKibbin for the Waratahs the final score was 19-13 with the best team winning.The Stormers are at the top of the Super Rugby table and they deserve to be because they play with the right spirit that is enjoyed by all their players and it will take a good team to defeat them especially playing in South Africa.Fullback Joe Pietersen is only slight in stature but he plays with a big heart and gets involved in every aspect of the game which motivates his team-mates to rise to the occasion unlike the Waratahs who think they can win by simply going through the motions.For the Waratahs their season has just about come to an end after playing much of the year without many of the star players due to injury which shouldn’t be used as an excuse for many of their poor performances in 2012.They have lost four games in a row and eight losses from twelve matches which isn’t championship material and their coach former Wallabies hooker Michael Foley will struggle to hold onto his position.Players like Rocky Elsom and Adam Ashley-Cooper look disinterested and make little or no impact on the game anymore and it is about time that there was a thorough clean out of the Waratahs administration, team management and players roster. Mark Ella


Australian Teams fail to Keep Up The Pace. By Mark Ella

If Australian rugby thought that it was going to be a tough year in 2012 last weekends Super Rugby showed the challenges ahead for our Franchises who were off the pace and lacking creativity.The local derby's are great for building traditions of the game within Australia but at the end of the day rugby is a global product and until teams can compete on an international level life is always going to be tough.Round three of the Super Rugby competition saw the Brumbies up against the Cheetahs in Canberra, the Force facing a tired Hurricanes team on the way home from South Africa and the Waratahs trying to have enough players on their roster to come out on top against the Highlanders in Dunedin.And as I expected the results were far from satisfactory with the Brumbies winning in extra time, the Force blown off the park in Perth by a rampant Hurricanes teams and the Waratahs going down to the Highlanders by the narrowest margin 18-17.The Cheetahs are such an unpredictable side who have nothing to loose and accordingly like to throw the ball about and they were unlucky not to have come a way with a win against a Brumbies team playing within its limitations.In the early eighties Australian rugby was the entertainers of Southern hemisphere rugby with out Kiwi mates obsessed with playing a forwards games and kicking kicking far too much.Unfortunately for the rest of world rugby when the code went professional in 1996 the Kiwis realized that their global domination couldn't be sustained playing ten man rugby and they expanded their game which is far more polished than what the Springboks and Wallabies can put together.Like many others the Force expected the Hurricanes to tire towards the second half of the game as in the norm when traveling back from South Africa but to their credit the Hurricanes tore into the Force scoring six tires to two.You have to remember that the Hurricanes purged 12 leading players including many All Blacks from their starting 22 in 2011 but rather than feel remorse they have come together firing in this years competition.Their 20 year old half back TJ Perenara who was a former NZ Schoolboys captain scored three tries against the Force on debut which wasn't a bad effort not to mention that his No.10 Beauden Barrett who is just 19 also played Under 20's rugby for NZ continuing the rugby machine that keeps New Zealand churning out the next generation of champions.The Hurricanes did it easy against the Force winning 46-19 and it will be another long year for the Force who have a good pack lead by David Pocock and 150 Super Rugby veteran Nathan Sharpe but lack ideas in their three-quarters.The NSW Waratahs continue be hijacked with a large number of their leading players suffering from injuries when Wallabies No.8 Wycliffe Palu pulling out of last weekends match against a rejuvenated Highlanders team.And as much as the Highlanders dominated most of the possession and territory it took them sixty five minutes to finally get the lead over the Waratahs to finally hang on to claim a hard fought victory 18-17.The Waratahs again kicked away too much possession early in the match when they should have applied the pressure onto the Highlanders who looked dangerous every time they touched the ball.Like the Hurricanes the Highlanders looked as if they could have scored from any position on the field because they had confidence in their own ability and played with a positive outlook which is hard to find in all Australian teams with the Reds being the one and and only exception.The fact that it took the Waratahs thirty four minutes to finally make it into the Highlanders 22 metres says it all and they looked cumbersome and slow.I expected the return of Wallabies playmaker Berrick Barnes would have a huge influence on the Tahs but he kicked when he should have run and playing at inside centre doesn't do the team any justice.It is still early yet but the New Zealand teams are looking like they mean business with the South Africans introducing the next generation of Springboks with Australian teams already looking off the pace and in need of a good dose of enthusiasm. Mark Ella


Stormers hold off Sharks Attack, by Mark Ella

Rarely do rugby matches without any tries being scored be so entertaining but that's just what happened when the Stormers held the Sharks at bay to win 15-12 at Newlands over the weekend.It has been noted that prior to the start of the rugby season the South African Super Rugby franchises are getting a little tired of playing each other such is the regularity of playing against each other throughout the Currie Cup.So the last thing they want to do is play against their countrymen when there are Kiwi's and Wallabies to sink their teeth into.But the structure of Super Rugby is shaped that the first part of the series involves local derbies which is fine in Australia unlike South Africa and new Zealand where they have elite provincial competitions.But the standard of the match was fantastic along with the high level of intensity and even though there were more Springboks off the field than on the players threw themselves into the contest as if their lives depended on it.The first half was dominated by some entertaining and controlled rugby by the Sharks who took the challenge to the Stormers playing at home and were perhaps a little unlucky to have only led 9-6 at half time.Springbok winger JP Pietersen playing in the centers was involved in everything and looked at home having more involvement in the game.He linked well with his wingers particularly Mvovo who created havoc out wide but instead of controlling the football and dominating possession they tended to kick a little too much allowing Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen to easier return the ball with interest.At this stage of the game the Stormers with a star studded back line did very little to stem the tide and the likes of Aplon, de Jongh, de Villies and Habana had very little impact of the game.In the second half with the fans urging them on, the Stormers pack lifted their game and matched the Sharks up front to gradually bring them back in the game to give their exciting three-quarters the space that they lacked in the first half.It was strange watching French No.10 Frederick Michalak playing at scrum half for the Sharks inside of Pat Lambie and I thought that he looked out of place and it was no wonder that he was replaced by early in the second half.As the pressure gradually started to mount upon the Sharks their game started to fall apart and the smooth rhythm that they had in the first half was missing and so the mistakes began to put them off their game.The Stormers could have put this match to bed much earlier if their fullback Joe Pietersen had his kicking boots on landing only three out of six attempts and thankfully the experience of Peter Grant who landed the winning penalty from the sideline with only minutes remainingIt was a tough hard fought victory for the Stormers and again goes to show just how important it is to win home matches because the away contest will not be easy in this competition.After a disappointing RWC the young South Africans showed plenty of skill mixed in with the usual array of physicality up front to keep their fans entertained and on their feet.If both the Sharks and Stormers can keep their intensity at the same levels against the Australian and New Zealand teams then they will make sure that this years Super Rugby competition is far from being settled in Brisbane with the Reds as we Aussies are predicting. Mark Ella

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