Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa presented us with some previews of finals football over the weekend.
To commemorate Anzac Day, all games held moving tributes and the matches were all played in a tremendous spirit.
There was brilliance, late-game heroics and history made.
But what else would you expect?
Super Rugby AU
Force 30, Reds 27
Sometimes in life you take on a good loan or a bad loan.
But in the case of the Western Force, they took out an excellent loan.
Back in early March, the Force signed Jordan Olowofela as a loan player from the Leicester Tigers.
While it was designed to give the young English outside back valuable game time and provide some much-needed depth for the Force – this loan paid in spades on Friday.
Olowofela became just the fourth Force player to score a hat-trick in a Super Rugby game and helped propel his side to a colossal upset win over the unbeaten Reds, while sending the Force into their first ever finals appearance.
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Tongan Thor’s remarkable solo try
The Reds entered Perth without having tasted defeat in 2021 amid uncertainty around the COVID situation in Western Australia, but still seemed in dominant form, with tries to Hunter Paisami, Taniela Tupou and Filipo Daugunu, all inside the first 25 minutes.
They didn’t score any more tries for the rest of the match though, as a fired up Tevita Kuridrani made amends for an earlier yellow card with a ferocious tackle on Hunter Paisami.
Old bull rocks young buck
The Force grabbed some momentum back and in the 73rd minute an inspired grubber kick from experienced back Richard Kahui sat up almost magically for Olowofela to grab his third try and put the Force ahead.
This sent the Sea of Blue into delirium and they held on for the greatest win in club history.
They now travel to Canberra to take on the Brumbies in Saturday’s qualifying final, while the Reds return home to prepare for a home final in a fortnight.
Rebels star loses the plot
Rebels 36, Waratahs 25
It was a tale of ‘what becomes of the broken hearted’ at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday.
The Rebels had just seen their finals chances go up in flames the previous evening, while the Waratahs were trying to avoid a winless AU campaign.
Inspired by some poignant Anzac commemorations and an indigenous verse of the national anthem pre-game, both teams actually put on a pretty good show.
In fact, the punters would barely have bitten into their hot dogs as the Rebels’ Stacey Ili grabbed a beautiful cross kick from Matt To’omua to score in the left-hand corner.
Rebels fly out of the blocks
Workhorse Rebels flanker Michael Wells added another try in the 11th minute following some brilliant work off the back of the scrum from No.8 Isi Naisarani.
Naisarani won’t have fond memories of the game though, as he went in for a big shot on Tahs lock Max Douglas, but hit him high and was duly given a red card.
This seemed to stir the New South Welshmen into action, as they added tries to Mark Nawaqanitawase and Jack Maddocks to round out the first half, before a real arm-wrestle emerged in the second 40 minutes.
Has rugby gone soft?
Carlo Tizzano nabbed a try from close range in the 48th minute and although it was perhaps a tad dubious, it was just reward for a player who has been one of the Waratahs’ most consistent performers all year.
The Waratahs would score no further tries though, despite the Rebels finishing the match with only 13 players from a yellow card and further red card in the dying stages.
Both teams now head home to prepare for Super Rugby trans-Tasman.
Clutch McKenzie does it again
Super Rugby Aotearoa
Chiefs 26, Hurricanes 24
Meanwhile in New Zealand, Super Rugby Aotearoa was drawing towards an exciting virtual playoff between the Blues and Chiefs to see who would progress to the final.
However, the Chiefs didn’t bother reading that script and decided to skip ahead by defeating the Hurricanes with yet another buzzer-beater penalty from Damian McKenzie.
Seriously, this guy may need to be renamed Damian ‘McClutchie,’ with his repeated late-game heroics.
The Hurricanes started strongly, but the Chiefs kept accumulating points from the boot of McKenzie to seem fairly comfortable throughout.
Big lock gallops for try
That was until a late Canes surge saw Asafo Aumua… well… surge over the line for a 67th minute try to steal the lead.
But 3 minutes into injury time, the Chiefs were awarded a penalty and up stepped ‘McClutchie’ to do what he does best.
Crusaders 29, Blues 6
Maybe it’s a hanogver effect of the heated historic rivalry between the Canterbury and Auckland provinces, but the Crusaders just seem to really enjoy hammering the Blues.
A packed crowd at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch witnessed a dominant four tries to nil display from the defending champs, which ended the Blues’ championship hopes.
Leon MacDonald’s men did enjoy a number of scoring opportunities, through line breaks and shots at goal, but were just unable to take any advantage of them to keep the game close.
The Crusaders on the other hand? Ruthless.
Will Jordan (two tries) showed his regular brilliance, as did Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece with tries of their own and that’s not even mentioning the play of David Havili and Richie Mo’unga in laying on the try-scoring movements.
The game would have been a real thrashing had it not been for the heroics of Blues captain Dalton Papalii, who snaffled key turnovers with the Crusaders hot on attack, as well as an incredible piece of support play on a huge Hoskins Sotutu line break despite having picked up a serious-looking knee injury just seconds earlier.
The Crusaders now get a week’s rest before hosting the final in Christchurch against the Chiefs.