Super Rugby Round 15 review: Brumbies' pleas for support after K-Train onslaught

The Jaguares produced another fine result on the road to highlight Round 15 of Super Rugby, keeping their unbeaten record against the Waratahs in the process.

The 23-15 victory moved the Argentine outfit three points clear at the top of the South African conference after the Bulls had been beaten by the Brumbies the previous evening.

Elsewhere, there were wins for the Chiefs, Rebels, Crusaders, Sharks and Stormers.

Read on for some of the key talking points from Round 15.


Kuridrani stars as Brumbies show fans what they're missing

The Australian conference appears to be a race in two after the Brumbies and Rebels pulled clear at the top of the division with impressive victories in Round 15.

They came in contrasting fashion but were equally vital given the closeness of this year's competition.

The Brumbies took to GIO Stadium in Canberra with doubts still circulating about their ability to mix it with the competition's top teams, and score points away from their powerful rolling maul.

And they could not have banished those questions any better in a brilliant display of attacking rugby that also saw a timely explosion of form from outside centre Tevita Kuridrani. Having an endured a somewhat quiet opening to 2019, Kuridrani at last produced the kind of game that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will find hard to ignore.

Having conceded an early penalty goal to the Bulls, Kuridrani responded almost immediately for the hosts with a five-pointer after a smart offload from another Wallabies hopeful, Tom Banks.

But the Brumbies didn't have it all their own way in the first half as the Bulls showed the effectiveness of their own rolling maul and then regained the lead through a pushover try to Hanro Liebenberg.

Just when it looked like the visitors would take a 10-5 lead into the break, Kuridrani ensured it would be the Brumbies who went to halftime with the lead; the centre hitting the perfect line back on the angle to cross over untouched.

The Fijian-born centre completed his hat-trick in the second half, after Irae Simone had earlier finished off a wonderful set-play from a scrum, while Pete Samu, who had been a notable omission from the recent Wallabies camp in Brisbane, also enjoyed a stellar outing that will has surely put him back on the World Cup radar.

The bonus-point victory was easily the Brumbies' best performance since their return from South Africa and arguably the most impressive yet this season, but it was one played in front of a crowd of just over 6,000 people.

Poor crowd figures are by no means the sole domain of the Brumbies in Super Rugby, but it again saw coach Dan McKellar plead with fans to come out and support the team or face the hard fact that it simply may not survive.

Their next assignment, away to the Sunwolves in Tokyo, offers up another bonus-point opportunity with the struggling Japanese outfit thrashed by the Rebels on Saturday.

Playing behind a dominant pack, Quade Cooper showed how effective he can be when he has space to work in, the fly-half throwing a number of sumptuous passes that saw him finish with two try assists in a 52-7 victory.

The Brumbies will be looking for a similar result in Round 16 while the Rebels are back at home for another crunch clash with the Waratahs. Wins for both the Brumbies and Rebels would almost guarantee Australia will have two sides in the Super Rugby playoffs, leaving a battle for top spot in the conference over the final two weeks of the competition.

They both have home games in the final round, too, and would dearly love a crowd to match the prospect of finals footy.


Mo'unga shakes off tough week but other NZ sides struggling

With just three rounds to play it appears as though New Zealand might only have two teams reach the postseason. That may not sound like such a bad result to an Australian rugby fan, but for a nation more accustomed to seeing four teams in the playoffs it has certainly filled some headlines.

But they can rest easy knowing their key All Blacks, and those who will add further depth to the World Cup squad, are in outstanding form, none more so than Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo'unga, while others are slowly returning from injury.

Mo'unga could have been excused for not being at his best against the Blues in Christchurch on Saturday following allegations he was one of a number of Crusaders players who misbehaved in South Africa. But he instead led the two-time defending champion to a grinding victory, Beauden Barrett's likely Test deputy producing a man-of-the-match performance that coach Scott Robertson was quick to laud after the final siren.

"Really pleased for him [Mo'unga], he had some pretty amazing moments. He's a special player, it just shows how professional he is how he can clear his head with a lot of clutter that's been around him during the week," Robertson said.

"Now that there is a process in place, it's probably cleared all our minds up. In the next two weeks, it will come out and we can stand up here and talk a bit more freely.

"We're just looking forward to singing our team song. Richie wrote it for us. So it's pretty special we get to stand along beside him."

Mo'unga finished with 14 points from the kicking tee and also played a part in his side's only try, scored by halfback Bryn Hall. The fly-half's efforts in attack were matched by Matt Todd in defence, the No.7 making a perfect 15 of 15 tackles to reaffirm his status as one of the hardest-working players in Super Rugby.

Just where Todd fits into the All Blacks squad later this year will be interesting, particularly given Sam Cane came through his first run-on start after a long lay-off with a neck injury. While Cane was outshone in defence by fellow Chiefs back-rowers Lachlan Boshier and Pita Sowakula, who made an extraordinary 49 tackles between them, Cane was a menace at the breakdown throughout as the Chiefs defied just a 29 percent share of possession to see off the Reds 19-13.

And in more good injury news for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo picked up a try on his return from injury. It wasn't enough to get the Highlanders over the line in Cape Town however, and leaves their season on life support as they sit out Round 16 with the bye.

The Chiefs, too, only have two games remaining, one of which comes this Saturday against the Crusaders in Fiji, while the Blues would likely need to win their final three games to scrape into the playoffs.

Given the injury toll that has hit New Zealand's team this season, it's unlikely the All Blacks selectors will be too perturbed if just two of the country's franchises reach the playoffs. And the Crusaders are very much still the team to beat for the title anyway.


Stormers overcome TMO shocker, are primed for closing assault

South Africa's Super Rugby referees and officials have been headline news in the past two weeks, in the light of skewed penalty counts and the botched TMO decision against the Crusaders, subsequently 'confirmed' by SANZAAR, that proved decisive in the Round 14 draw with the Stormers.

Overseas teams have lost the penalty count 96-47 when playing against the Bulls, Lions, Stormers and Sharks in South Africa with a South African referee in charge. Rasta Rasivhenge and Egon Seconds were singled out for particular notice last week given their combined 75-26 penalty count in favour of the home teams, and the Highlanders, and perhaps Super Rugby more broadly, were likely grateful that their weekend fixture against the Stormers at Newlands was handled by Australian referee Nic Berry; there could be no accusations of national bias, and the count in Cape Town was an even 7-7.

The decision-making of TMO Willie Voss, however, drew further focus on the (im)partiality of South Africa's officials in control of home fixtures against overseas opponents, as he made a dreadful howler when asked to adjudicate on a try to Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla.

Few spectators at Newlands, if any, had reason to doubt the score after Senatla had collected a delightful kick from Damian de Allende and scooted clear of the defence to touch down under the posts. Berry's onfield decision was to allow the try but he wanted TMO confirmation of the winger's positioning in relation to his centre.

Voss had no doubt.

"No compelling evidence that the player was in front of the kicker," Voss said with undue haste after a single viewing of the replay, which seemed, in fact, to display absolutely compelling such evidence.

"You've only got the one angle, you've got other angles," Berry said almost equally immediately while watching the replay on the single big screen at Newlands, responding before Voss had finished speaking.

"Just want to check that second angle!"

Voss replied: "You want to have a look at another angle?"

Absolutely, Willie.

Voss looked at a second angle, and swiftly -- and rightly -- came to the conclusion that Senatla "looks to be in front"; the try was correctly disallowed and the competition thankfully was spared another decisive error, although television pundit Nick Mallett suggested during South African broadcaster SuperSport's halftime analysis that "South Africa refs and TMOs need to be properly neutral; we have a look at it, and be fair".


The Hurricanes now arrive in South Africa to play the Sharks and the Lions in the coming fortnight, while the Stormers host the Sunwolves in the penultimate round of fixtures, and SANZAAR's refereeing appointments for the those fixtures will be awaited keenly; meanwhile, we can only be glad that Voss did not play a role in deciding the result at Newlands, and, primarily, that the Stormers' exceptional performance was not overlooked.

"Stormers" and "exceptional" are words that have not often featured in the same sentence this season, but the team's effort in Cape Town on Saturday was their best of the season by some way in terms of professionalism, execution, game plan, and mentality.

The Stormers showed an attacking hand throughout against the Highlanders, with the forwards -- Jaco Coetzee, Siya Kolisi and Cobus Wiese most notably -- getting over the advantage line, and the backs under the direction of Josh Stander were far flatter than in most other games this season, passing accurately and with pace to threaten dissection of the opposition; they combined that on the other side of the ball with a flat and aggressive front-foot defence that stopped many of the Highlanders' hopes on or behind the gainline.

Stormers coach Robbie Fleck did not say whether the 'criticism' from Crusaders counterpart Soctt Robinson after the 19-19 draw the week before -- that the Stormers "are going to have to score more tries... you have to defend well, but also be able to score tries" -- lit a touchpaper in sparking the hosts' more adventurous approach, but he was right to note that "we are starting to finish on a high... there is belief in the plan and now it is about managing players and getting them fresh for the weekend".

Finishing on a high, with similar attacking adventure to look beyond setting up a second phase, could even see the Stormers claim a playoff berth, something that even the most diehard of fans would have struggled to countenance through much of the season.

The Stormers remain last in the South African Conference, as the only team that has not topped the conference table this season, but their form in the past month has been good and their remaining fixtures are about as favourable as possible.

They head to Johannesburg this week to face the Lions, who are yet to defeat a South African opponent this season, before home fixtures against the Sunwolves and the Sharks, and hence the playoffs are both within reach and in their own hands; two victories likely will be enough to secure finals football, especially given the way the third-placed Bulls, without Handre Pollard for another two weeks, played and lost to the Brumbies in Canberra.

The Bulls entered the weekend on top of the South African log after a good away victory in Melbourne, but their performance in Canberra was confusing and puzzling. They missed the calm authority and game management of their injured playmaker, Pollard, and adopted in lieu a bewilderingly open and deep game plan that conceded every advantage to the Brumbies. More worryingly, they seemed to surrender as the result slipped away and there was a confounding absence of will even to seemingly try until way too late to claim a try that would have procured a losing bonus point; they looked tired and beaten, and, much as we have learned not to make dogmatic predictions in South Africa, gave the impression of being a side that could be in freefall.

Much as their run home -- Blues and Highlanders in New Zealand, Lions at home with Pollard likely back in the No. 10 jumper -- gives them reason to hope, their performance in Canberra equally will give those same opponents the same belief.