To me, Saturday night’s exhilarating match between the table-topping Chiefs and the cellar-dwelling Blues epitomized Southern Hemisphere rugby, and all that the Super Rugby competition represents.
Very few 70+ point games impress me. More often than not a game which features that many points has contained disgraceful defense from at least one of the sides. Take a game from a couple of years ago, which also featured the Chiefs. In a see-sawing encounter the Chiefs eventually defeated the Lions 72-65 in Super Rugby’s highest ever points tally, but the essence of the match, where nearly 2 points were scored each and every minute, was terrible, terrible defense. Games like that just provide fodder for Northern Hemisphere scribes to bemoan the degradation of the game, and point fingers at the glaringly obvious flaws in the Southern Hemisphere style of play.
But Saturday could not have been more different. It had it all: huge collisions, high emotion, massive defense, and of course, a sack-load of tries. And the tries were quality ones; tries that involved skill and execution, rather than tries that came about because of a lack of discipline or execution on behalf of the defending team.
The Chiefs had to play to the very best of their ability to conquer the beleaguered Blues, and some of the points they scored were absolutely dazzling. From 1-22 they have an inherent ability to make great decisions when they’re on the counter-attack, consistently choosing the right man to pass to, the right line to run, and the right time to kick ahead. While Sonny-Bill Williams is an unstoppable force on his day, their exceptional skill-sets are perhaps best summed up when you see players like prop Sona Taumalolo with ball in hand.
But the Blues also played their part in this captivating match, looking vastly different from the team that has laboured to just two wins this season. Rene Ranger, while prone to lapses of judgment, is capable of creating and taking opportunities which very few players in world rugby can replicate and Ma’a Nonu played one of his best games of 2012 in this often breathtaking encounter.
The Blues will hold on and win one of these games before the season is out, and it could well be in the crunch match against the Brumbies in the final round, where the Brumbies may be fighting to secure a play-off spot.
For the Chiefs, last weekend’s performances spoke volumes about the cohesion within their team, and their self-belief. There are plenty of teams with playing rosters which contain more capped players, and players with bigger reputations, but the Chiefs seem to have nailed the mix of youthful exuberance, hard-working grafters, and proven veterans, and if they manage to secure home games in the playoffs they will be incredibly hard to beat.
Guest Author: Tim Cronin