Super Rugby Pacific: Weekend’s results set up intriguing final weekend

Just when we thought things were pretty clear in terms of the play-off picture, the penultimate Super Rugby Pacific round threw us a couple of curveballs. The Crusaders’ upset win over the Blues and the Hurricanes’ humbling of the Chiefs means things are in motion at the top and bottom of the eight, so there’s a fair bit on heading into this weekend.

But that’s for later in the week to break down. Right now, it’s important to understand if this is actually a sign the Crusaders are a threat, or whether it’s the third false dawn this season from a now bafflingly underperforming team.

The reason it’s so hard to understand is because their 29-27 win over the Blues was full of the sort of things that have made the Crusaders so formidably successful. The sheer ruthlessness of their scrum, the targeting of the opposition lineout, the right decisions being made on attack and the punishment of even the slightest Blues mistake. It was all there – but it was all there when they beat the Chiefs and Rebels too.

Those fixtures were followed up with shocking losses to the otherwise hopeless Waratahs and good but certainly beatable Reds.

So, what does Rob Penney do to make sure that doesn’t happen again? Verbally abusing a journalist for a second consecutive week probably won’t do much but it would be funny if he gave it a try, so probably just hitting the scrum machine some more is in order.

Meanwhile, the Blues will be bitterly disappointed with the way that loss went, because they didn’t adapt quick enough and it loosened their grip on the top spot and home advantage for the finals. It was the sort of game this Blues team has been winning all year, with the sort of performances that’s made everyone feel like they’ve turned a corner under Vern Cotter.

Maybe it was a blip. But for which team?

Moana Pasifika heaped a bit more misery on the now coach-less Tahs at Mt Smart, in what was probably their most complete performance of the season. They’ll need to do it again on Friday night against the Crusaders but for now it’s worth acknowledging the talent they’ve unearthed in fullback Kyren Taumoefolau. The 21-year-old has made every post a winner and scored a great try against the Tahs, so the job now for Moana is to make sure he stays put.

Credit too has to go to the Highlanders, who are certainly coming right at the right time. Yes, the Drua are hopeless away from home, but this fixture was never in doubt. The one upside for the group of Drua supporters that made the long trip to Dunedin was that all the Highlanders’ players of Fijian heritage got on the scoresheet.

But the biggest winners of the weekend are the Hurricanes, who not only overcame a red card but also an almost full-strength Chiefs side in front of a sold out FMG Stadium Waikato. If anything, the Canes looked to be even better once they’d been reduced to 14 men.

It feels a bit wrong to bring up the officiating, given how the way the refs have approached this season is definitely a part of why the rugby has been so good to watch. But the deliberate knock-on rule is stupid and nothing about it makes sense. Stephen Perofeta was the latest victim in the Blues’ loss to the Crusaders, getting binned for simply trying to grab an errant pass.

Did it affect the result? That’s debatable because the Crusaders certainly deserved their win, but it would be a real shame for a call like that to pop up at a crucial moment over the next few weeks.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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