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Fitting end to a great player

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Plaudits started flowing for Brian O’Driscoll, minutes after he played his last match – the world’s most capped international finishing as a champion.

Ireland held on to beat France 22-20 to win the Six Nations title and give a fairytale ending to the career of O’Driscoll in a gripping climax to the 2014 Championship.

O’Driscoll, who finished his career with 142 Test caps (134 for Ireland and eight for the British and Irish Lions), was congratulated by England coach Stuart Lancaster in the immediate aftermath of Ireland’s dramatic win in Paris.

Joe Schmidt’s side finish level on eight points with England, who defeated Italy 52-11 earlier in the day, but Ireland prevailed thanks to a superior points difference.

In a compelling match at the Stade de France, France held a 13-12 half-time lead thanks to two Maxime Machenaud penalties and a conversion of Brice Dulin’s try, while Ireland scored two tries through Jonny Sexton and Andrew Trimble, the former missing two of his three kicks.

Sexton converted his second try early in the second period, followed by a penalty, but France fired back through a Dimitri Szarzewski try after some sustained pressure, Machenaud converting to make it 22-20.

French replacement Jean-Marc Doussain missed a penalty attempt with 10 minutes to play and the Irish defence held out, despite a late disallowed Damien Chouly try, to secure only their second win over France in Paris in 42 years and hand O’Driscoll the perfect send-off.

In Rome, Mike Brown scored two tries while Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, Mako Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Robshaw also crossed over for England, with Leonardo Sarto securing Italy’s only try of a one-sided encounter.

In the day’s other match, Wales inflicted a record 51-3 defeat on Scotland in Cardiff.
Jamie Roberts and George North both scored two tries for Wales, while Scotland were forced to play most of the match with 14 men after Stuart Hogg was sent off for a late tackle on Dan Biggar.

“Credit to Ireland,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said. “They are deserved winners and it’s a fitting finale and send-off for Brian O’Driscoll, a legend of the game whom everyone in this squad respects massively. “We always knew this was going to be one of the tightest Dix Nations tournaments and go down to the wire.”

Lancaster said he was “proud” of what England have achieved over the tournament, both in how his young group of players developed and also their intent to play attacking rugby.

“We have fielded 28 players, but it’s been a whole squad effort from players, coaches and management,” the England coach said. “I’d also include the supporters in that, both at Twickenham and away, because they have been brilliant and bought into what we are trying to achieve. “With other guys coming back from injury we are massively excited about the New Zealand tour which will give us further options to grow as a team.”

S15: Cell C Sharks 35, Reds 20

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The Sharks have won six of eight Super Rugby clashes against the Reds. They won the first three before losing the fourth clash and this pattern has been repeated in their last four meetings. However, that trend could change, as the reds’ two key playmakers – Will Genia and Quade Cooper appear to have regained their best form.

Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White knows all about what makes winning teams and he felt the key to beating the Reds is to minimise the contribution of the Wallaby duo. “There is no doubt, teams that have won this competition, the consistent theme [to winning this competition] is having good No.9s and No.10s,” White told a media briefing. “When the Reds won this competition, these two were on fire, but they were young and now much more experienced.

“The challenges are there, we have to make sure we step up to the plate. “We know that the only way to put pressure on No.9 and No.10 is to make sure you do your job in the forwards.” The Sharks feel they have the firepower to do the job up front.

“We’re lucky enough to have a good pack of forwards,” White said, adding: “[Captain] Bismarck [du Plessis] has 100 games, Jannie [du Plessis] and Beast [Tendai Mtawarira] have 90-odd, Ryan [Kankowski] and Willem [Alberts] have 80-odd each. “So we have an experienced pack of forwards. “There is a lot we have in our favour, but we need to make it count. It’s simple: pressure gets applied by the forwards and we have to make sure we don’t give them time and space to play because if you do, they can carve you to pieces.”

The Sharks skipper, Bismarck du Plessis, spoke to the value an experienced campaigner like Wallaby lock James Horwill – with 90-odd Super Rugby caps – will bring to the game. “They won the competition [in 2011] and he has been a really influential leader for them, he really plays well,” Du Plessis said, echoing his coach’s views.

“We want to put them under pressure in the set phases.” Du Plessis admitted playing an Australian team – after a few rounds against South African teams – mean you face very different challenges. “South African sides, like the Bulls and Lions we’ve faced so far, like to drive the ball. “The Australian players like to play it off the top, although they do drive as well. They want to get the ball into their play-makers’ hands.”

Recent results:
2013: Reds won 32-17, Brisbane
2012: Sharks won 30-17, Brisbane (preliminary play-off)
2012: Sharks 27-22, Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-28, Durban
2009: Reds won 25-13, Brisbane
2008: Sharks won 22-10, Durban

Teams:
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 TBC, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Jaco van Tonder.

Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Dom Shipperley.

Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

S15: Lions 39, Blues 36

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imagesIf it is true, as the adage states, that it starts up front, then the Lions have a big advantage. Their set pieces and kicking game have been among the most effective in the competition.

The Blues, in contrast, are among the worst. The Blues’ scrum success rate (57 percent) is certainly the worst in Super Rugby this season. Conversely, the Lions have a scrum success rate of 89 percent. However, the Lions have scored just five tries and let eight in, in four matches. They have relied heavily on the super boot of flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff, who has displaced Springbok Elton Jantjies for this week’s outing.

Boshoff has a goal-kicking strike rate of 95 percent, a Super Rugby high. After beating the Cheetahs and Stormers in the first two weeks, the Lions have come unstuck badly against the Bulls and Sharks. That, according to coach Johan Ackermann, is because they gave the opposition a head-start. “We had a very poor first half, but we were still in the game, down by just seven points, late in the match,” Ackermann told this website when asked about the reason by his team’s slump in form in the past fortnight.

“The positive is the fact that the guys never stopped playing. “However, we can’t afford to play that poorly in the first half and think we will win games – we have to make sure we have better starts. “The players have to realise that in Super Rugby, if you gift a team chances, like we did, they will punish you. “We will have to be a lot more accurate in everything we do.

“The guys learnt a tough lesson, but hopefully it will improve in the next few weeks.” The Blues, who solitary win against the Crusaders is sandwiched between two defeats, do have the ability to punish teams that are even just slightly off their game. They scored four scintillating tries in a 20-minute blitz on the way to a 35-24 win over the Crusaders.

And the Lions’ tackle success rate of 87 percent is pretty average by Super Rugby standards – which means the visitors could punish them if they are not on top of their fame. Blues coach John Kirwan said the focus this week had been on keeping it simple, and he was expecting a similar game to what the Bulls produced last week against the Lions. “The Lions play a similar type of game to the Bulls,” Kirwan said.

“We have to match their enthusiasm, we have to be patient with the ball, cut down our errors and take our points when they’re there. We can’t let them get away to a good start.”

Kirwan said it was important to head home to New Zealand with points from South Africa. “It’s not desperation time but if you want to be around at the end of the tournament then you’ve got to keep in touch with the leaderboard,” he said. “If we do that this week we’re totally in touch with the leaderboard and we’ve played four games with a 50 percent winning record heading home and South Africa out of the way with what would be seen as a pretty difficult start to the season so if we can come home from South Africa with some points we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

Recent results:
2012: Blues won 25-3, Auckland
2011: Blues won 41-32, Johannesburg
2010: Blues won 56-14, Johannesburg
2009: Blues won 36-12, Auckland
2008: Blues won 55-10, Johannesburg
2007: Blues won 41-14, Auckland

Teams:
Lions: 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Ruan Combrinck.

Blues: 15 Benji Marshall, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu , 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Brendon O’Connor, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Sam Prattley, 18, Angus Ta’avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Jordan Manihera, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Jackson Willison.

Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Christie du Preez (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

Six Nations: France 20, Ireland 22

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Gauls against Gaels. It is the last of 2014’s Six Nations matches and Paris will certainly be the focus of attention.

By then England will have played – and probably beaten – Italy. Unusually, they will be backing France with great fervour.

If it is a victory for France or, better still, the third draw in a row between France and Ireland, England will rejoice at winning the Championship, which they probably deserve, for after all they were a better side than France who scored more points than they did when they met this year.

A win for Ireland will probably secure them the Championship on points’ difference, unless England have a huge win over Italy.

France must have a chance of winning, too, but it would take a miracle of gigantic proportions, like moving Montmatre. Italy would have to beat England for starters and France would have to beat Ireland.

In the Six Nations, Ireland have scored 81 more points than their opponents in their four matches, England 32 points more and France three points more.

To top Ireland, England would have to beat Italy by more than 49 points, which is not impossible.

By the time the Paris match gets under way, the England position will be clear. Let’s say that both France and Ireland are equally intent on victory and that Ireland need only to win to win the Championship and burst out with three days of celebration ending on St Patrick’s Day.

That could produce a great match.

There would then be an intense battle up front. At the scrums, there would be a great battle between the front rows and one hopes that the surface of Stade de France can stand up to it better than when they played Italy there. The battle at the scrums has a huge effect on team morale and loose forward agility.

In an equal battle between loose forwards, Ireland could well have the beating of France, especially now that marauding Peter O’Mahony is back. Big Louis Picamoles is back, on the flank this time, but more of a muscle man than a clever poacher. In fact Ireland have a better record at the breakdowns in this year’s Six Nations.

They also have a better record at the line-outs, losing just four out of 61 throws into the line-out. Out of 10 line-outs against Scotland France lost three and threw in skew three times. But then Brice Mach has been dropped right out and Dimitri Szarzewski is hooking with Guilhem Guirado to back him up.

Ireland have the much more settled pair of halfbacks in Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray while France have chopped and changed. One would expect Ireland to be better here with Sexton to dictate play. France will be hoping for a more charismatic performance from Rémi Tales after the shyness of Julien Plisson.

In the backs Ireland pass more than France who kick more than Ireland but there is in the outside backs speed and creativity if it is allowed to function though here, too, Ireland look more settled and cohesive. Ireland have scored 13 tries to the seven of France.

Discipline counts. Ireland have conceded under seven penalties a match on an average, France more than eight.

Goal-kicking counts. Sexton is a more reliable kicker than France’s Maxime Machenaud, Jean-Marc Doussain and Rémi Tales. Ireland have goaled 15 out of 19, France 10 out of 15 – 79% vs 67%.

Recent results:
2013: France and Ireland drew 13-13, Dublin
2012: France and Ireland drew 17-17, Paris
2011: France won 26-22, Dublin
2011: France won 19-12, Bordeaux
2011: France won 25-22, Dublin
2010: France won 33-10, Paris
2009: Ireland won 30-21, Dublin
2008: France won 26-21, Paris
2007: France won 25-3, Paris (World Cup pool match)
2007: France won 20-17, Dublin

Teams
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Rémi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Louis Picamoles, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 21 Wenceslas Lauret, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Date: Saturday 15 March 2014
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 18.00 (GMT 17.00; 17.00 UK time)
Expected weather: Clear skies with little to no chance of rain. Hi of 15°C and a low of 5°C
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

S15: Brumbies 28, Waratahs 23

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Brumbies Director of Rugby Laurie Fisher put it in a nutshell when he said: “There’s a lot at stake, both teams need a win here against an Australian rival.”

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika also shared some wise words with the media this week when he suggested the game could be so close that it will be a case of “who blinks first”. The Tahs, one of three unbeaten teams, have scored 10 tries in their two outings – suggesting they have again found their attacking mojo. And while the Brumbies may not yet be the smooth outfit that played in the Final last year, they have improved steadily since their loss to the Reds in their opening match.

“To win on Saturday we are going to need an 80 minute effort. “They [Waratahs] are a side with a lot of forward power who can supply plenty of opportunities for their backs.

“It’s important for us to have our own plan and detail right so we are prepared to counter that and win the game.” Saturday’s match will be the 23rd time the Brumbies have faced off against the Waratahs, with NSW holding an advantage over the Canberra-based side 12 wins to 10 with no draws. The Waratahs have not won in Canberra since 2011 and the last time the two teams met in Canberra the Brumbies walked away 35-6 winners. The Waratahs coach, Cheika, said the Brumbies – Australia’s best-performing franchise last season – will be a real challenge at home.

“The question for us is do we try and not make a mistake or do we counter attack hard and play our best footy….I think you know what we are going to choose, so we’ll see how good we are.”

Recent results:
2013: Waratahs won 28-22, Sydney
2013: Brumbies won 35-6, Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 19-15, Sydney
2012: Brumbies won 23-6, Canberra
2011: Waratahs won 41-7, Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 29-22, Canberra

Teams:
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Leon Power, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Jean-Pierre Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Locky McCaffrey, 21 Andrew Smith, 22 Michael Dowsett, 23 Lionel Cronje.

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements – from: 16 Tola Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Rob Horne, 24 Matt Carraro, 25 Jonno Lance.

Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffman, Graham Cooper
TMO: Peter Marshall

S15: Highlanders 28, Force 31

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imagesThe Western Force’s in-form No.8 Ben McCalman feels his team needs to repeat last week’s fast start if they want to stay on the winning track.

After going down to the Waratahs and Brumbies, because of slow starts, they blitzed the Rebels in the first half last week and walked away with a 32-7 triumph that saw them move off the foot of the table. The Force scored four tries in the opening 27 minutes to beat the visitors from Melbourne.

McCalman said his side’s goal to dominate from the outset had not changed. “The focus is on the first 20 minutes; really starting well, playing as a 15, knowing your role and how they help out the rest of the team on the field,” he said in an interview on the Force website.

“While it’s 15 who start, the value we got from our bench last week is something that was also very important in the win and it will be this week as well.”

The Highlanders are coming off their bye and have an even ledger at one win and a loss this season.

Both their games have been against New Zealand franchises – with their win coming against the Blues and their loss in a tight affair with reigning back-to-back champions, the Chiefs. McCalman, who has been one of the stand out players for the Force in their first three matches, says they will need to be prepared for the physical Highlanders outfit.

“They are a team that are looking to take it to us early on in the game – we are trying to do the same so it should be a great battle,” he said. “After losing our first two games and winning the third, we can go two from the first four and that is certainly a big step in setting up our season.

“We were not happy with our first two games but we were happy with our last game.”

Recent results:
2013: Force won 19-18, Perth
2011: Force won 21-14, Dunedin
2010: Force won 41-27, Queenstown
2009: Force won 33-28, Perth
2008: Force won 36-28, Queenstown
2007: Highlanders won 8-7, Perth

Teams:
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Kurt Baker, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 John Hardie, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Craig Millar, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.

Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman ,20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Ben O’Keefe (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

S15: Hurricanes 60, Toyota Cheetahs 27

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imagesThe Hurricanes got their first win of the season as they hammered the Cheetahs 60-27 in an open encounter in Wellington on Saturday.

Both teams are known for their attacking prowess and they did not disappoint as 12 tries were scored in Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith’s 100th Super Rugby game. The Hurricanes took a much-needed full house of five points to move off the bottom of the standings whilst the Cheetahs fell short of a bonus point and remain winless on tour.

The Cheetahs took the game to their hosts early on, spending a fair amount of time in opposition territory as they looked to assert themselves, but the Hurricanes scrambled well on defence to keep them out.

The hosts struck first when Johan Goosen was caught in possession and the ball was quickly swung wide to hooker Dane Coles who showed good pace to score in the corner, with Beauden Barrett’s conversion putting them 7-0 up. The response from the Cheetahs did not take long as centre Johann Sadie burst through a gap before giving it to Willie le Roux who scored under the poles to level things up, and they had taken a 13-7 lead soon afterwards as Goosen knocked over two penalties.

However, it was not long before the Hurricanes were back in front as Barrett collected his own grubber to go over for a great individual try which he converted himself. That gave the Hurricanes a boost, and they kept the pressure on the Cheetahs as Barrett added a penalty to take their lead to 17-13. However, the Cheetahs hit back with their second try as Philip van der Walt brushed off a few tackles after getting a good pass from Le Roux who had opened up the Hurricanes defence.

The see-saw battle continued as the Hurricanes ran in their third try on the half-hour mark, with scrumhalf Chris Smylie getting over after some neat offloads by Barrett and Alapati Leiua. The hosts had the bonus point wrapped up just before half-time as some more slick handling from centurion Smith saw fullback James Marshall cross for a try which put them 29-20 up at the break.

The Cheetahs were struck a blow early in the second half when Le Roux was shown a yellow card after knocking down a pass which would have meant a certain try, and it did not take long for the Hurricanes to exploit their advantage as Barrett went over for his second try on the overlap. They were not done there as the wave of attacks continued, and lock Jeremy Thrush was next to cross the whitewash to take their lead to a commanding 43-20 with half an hour to play.

The Cheetahs hit back when lock Francois Uys crashed over the line after breaking from a driving maul, but the Hurricanes would hit back as Matt Proctor dived over in the corner after some good hands from Marshall. The half-century was brought up fittingly by Smith before Alapati Leiua put the final nail in the Cheetahs’coffin with the Hurricanes’ ninth try right at the death.

Man of the match: There was much to admire from an attacking perspective, and the man who orchestrated things for the Hurricanes was flyhalf Beauden Barrett.

The scorers:
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Coles, Barrett 2, Smylie, Marshall, Thrush, Proctor, Smith, Leiua
Cons: Barrett 6
Pen: Barrett

For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Le Roux, Van der Walt, Uys
Cons: Goosen 3
Pens: Goosen 2

Yellow card: Willie le Roux (Cheetahs, 43 – deliberate infringement)