5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby Round 9
The jostling for the playoff spots proceeds apace as the Sharks continue to lead the way.
Behind them, the Chiefs and Brumbies won to maintain their positions in the automatic playoff spots, but the results elsewhere saw the Western Force and Highlanders move toward the top of the wild-card spots.
With two hat-tricks and some full-blooded local derbies taking place in Round 9, there was plenty to enjoy. These are the lessons.
1. Waratahs Are Losing Their Way Without Folau
The absence of Israel Folau is blowing holes in the campaign of the Waratahs.
They have won just once without the full-back in the last three games, going down in Round 9 to the in-form Western Force after Folau was pulled out of the game by the ARU.
The throat injury that he suffered against the Rebels could see him sidelined for six weeks, which the code-crossing star is far from happy about, per SuperXV.com:
They said that I was good to go, with the risk that I was well aware of, but obviously the ARU have stepped in and I'm very disappointed.
I haven't had any contact with the ARU medical staff this whole week.
In this whole situation I think I'm the most important person they've got to contact and I haven't spoken to any of them, so in terms of that, I'm very disappointed.
After seeing the Force rip a game away from the Waratahs that they should have won on paper, they will want the man who gives them their cutting edge back on the field as soon as possible.
2. Nadolo Is the Real Deal
Any wing who arrives on the big stage with the sort of size and power reminiscent of Jonah Lomu is immediately put under the spotlight.
On Saturday, Nemani Nadolo lived up to the hype with a hat-trick for the Crusaders against the Cheetahs.
His first two efforts didn’t leave him with an awful lot to do, but his pickup and sprint from his own half for his third try was impressive.
He has work to do on defence, but as an attacking weapon, he is going to help the Crusaders make a charge up the table, especially on the back of two confidence-building wins on the road in South Africa.
3. Sopoaga Strengthens All Blacks Claims
The Highlanders came from behind to secure a 27-20 win over the Bulls in Dunedin on Friday.
And the home side's No. 10 Lima Sopoaga gave another stellar display. The fly-half scored 17 points including a try, three conversions and two penalties.
He has been kicking consistently well all season and also displayed composure to pilot his side back into this contest from 10 points down in the first half.
He was sure to have impressed the All Blacks selectors.
4. Holding Is Hurting the Game
The Brumbies' Stephen Moore escaped censure for a punch on the Reds' Ed Quirk as the Queensland man was deemed to be holding the hooker in at a ruck.
Whether Moore should have retaliated the way he did—and whether he was lucky to have gotten away with it—is one point for debate.
But players being held in at breakdowns is becoming all too familiar in both hemispheres.
However subtle and unnoticed these offences go by the referee, they cause players to lash out as Moore did, which can result in damage.
Holding needs to be stamped out before players take the law into their own hands.
5. The Honey Badger Is More Than Just a Soundbyte Machine
Nick Cummins' post-match interviews have entertained us all season as the Force have battled their way toward the top of the table.
But the wing showed he has much more to offer than a bit of after-game tub-thumping.
Against the Waratahs, he made some bruising tackles and importantly got off the mark with a thrilling hat-trick, including a well-timed interception and some expert finishing.
He and the Force are playing rugby with a smile on their faces, and it is producing results.