Its been a fantastic opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa with two outstanding matches of rugby in front of two fantastically loud crowds! The Highlanders stunned the world by picking up all the firsts, including the single point win against the Chiefs. Then the Blues followed up the home team double, putting on a second half clinic against the Hurricanes.
HIGHLANDERS 28-27 CHIEFS
Where does one start with this game? How about the end? With only three minutes remaining it looked like the Chiefs rare minutes in the lead thanks to a Damien McKenzie drop goal, would be enough to get the job done. But welcome, the unlikely hero, from the Chiefs head coaches son, Bryn Gatland. The Chiefs had a continued lack of ability at the set piece and that gifted an instant chance to hit back in the final two minute and Gatland did not disappoint. Stealing a single point victory to the home side.
How did they manage to pull it off? The Highlanders did themselves no favours over the eighty minutes, suffering two yellow cards for dangerous tackles that if anything somehow boosted the home side who came out on top whilst down a man. This game came down to the old rugby cliches, win it in the forwards, win the set piece and defend well. The Chiefs line out was a disaster and losing Mitchell Brown early should have made things worse. Step up Naitoa Ah Kuoi, the youngster was the best performer for the Chiefs pack but sadly could help a wayward line out from Samisoni Taukei’aho. I talked about in the preview how the Highlanders needed to match the Chiefs back row and that was the catalyst for the win. Dillon Hunt and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u were top of the class. Ash Dixon and his packs driving maul was a standout and Josh Dickson dominated the line out.
Both sides struggle to adapt to the new breakdown laws and were often caught out from the stricter offside line. The Chiefs had plenty of chances to take control of this game and quite often ignored the outside areas that worked best for them the few times they ventured that far. Instead hammering their heads into an evenly matched, if not losing, forward battle. Aaron Cruden didnt have the impact he would have liked off the bench, but Kaleb Trask was solid enough starting. A truckload of work on’s for both sides, but a brilliant spectral for the Super Rugby Aotearoa opener. A double drop goal finish to decide the result, breathtaking rugby!
BLUES 30-20 HURRICANES
A remarkably different game at Eden Park to the opener the night before, which had massively different feeling about thanks to Beauden Barrett’s transfer to the Blues, some clever matching from NZR. It was certainly a game of two very different halves as the Blues learnt from their first half errors to adapt to the games rulings much faster than the Hurricanes. Add that to a flawless kicking night from – no, not Barrett – but instead Otere Black, the Blues ran off with a pretty comfortable victory.
Much like the opening match, there was plenty of penalties throughout the game but it has really opened up for teams and certain players to excel in the breakdown area. The players seemed a step ahead of the Highlanders and Chiefs from the night before, especially the Blues who had players making the breakdown a lot faster to secure the ball. The referees are being very quick on players not releasing the ball at the rucks. Hoskins Sotutu was another shining light with a number eight on his back and he snaffled plenty of ball from the Hurricanes. The Blues midfield defence was sound against a much favoured Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso but did conceded two first half tries leaving a man unmarked on both edges. Dane Coles winding back the clock to his glory days for one of them. That midfield of TJ Faiane and Reiko Ioane, with a career best performance from Black, created space and we found another finisher on the left wing with the much bulkier Caleb Clarke, surprising speed with power. Much like we talked of in the opening match, the line out proved to be a key factor. The Blues stealing five from the Hurricanes with captain Patrick Tuipulotu continuing on his rise in stature for the Blues.
Is this panic time for the Hurricanes after the poor second forty? Definitely not. We have seen over the last couple of years now the Hurricanes have been comprehensively smashed by sides in the opening rounds of Super Rugby. Brumbies and Stormers fans will remind you very quickly. This is not a trashing and breaking it down if they can clean up their penalties they would be right in that game. They will be back at home for round two and do not write them off, although against the Crusaders, they have their work cut out. The Hurricanes scored three tries and where they did something well, they matched it up with a poor decision or an error. They sorely missed a fully fit Ardie Savea and Jordie Barrett. The occasion may have also been a bit too much for the them and it seemed to be the case for TJ Perenara, whose frustrations got too much for even the referee to listen to, as he requested to instead talk to Gareth Evans as opposed to the captain.
Don’t put this Hurricanes side in the skip bin just yet, but there is an awful lot for them to work on this week. The Blues just looked much more composed and prepared. It is difficult to hold momentum from their very good start to pre-covid Super Rugby, somehow they have managed it. The effects of Barrett, more confidence in your team mate and ability to adapt has put the Blues in the limelight early in this season and with it they go top of the table. Can we just leave the fancy big city hair dos at home though Auckland boys?
Finally I wanted to put a word for the referees here. Despite a lot of the rugby world having a good moan about the amount of penalties in this opening weekend, I can not agree with their complaints. Yes, there was more than expected but its was extremely clear, concise and deadly obvious what each and every penalty was for. The new laws and focus’s were judged evenly between sides and were in a way that even new comers to the sport could see why they were happening. Both games were well controlled and lets now put the onus on the players to step up and abide by these rulings better each week, like we already saw develop over this weekend.
Its fantastic Super Rugby Aotearoa is underway and with great support too. Long may it continue! Ill be back again in a couple of days to look into Round Two, with another two matches. Until then, thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!