It is a mouth watering opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa! The Highlanders hosted the opening match of the season at Forsyth Barr Stadium under the roof against the defending champion Crusaders on the Friday night. Following that on Saturday the Hurricanes get their season underway against the Blues. The chiefs stayed at home for the weekend on the bye.
HIGHLANDERS 13 – 26 CRUSADERS
Before the match had even begun, the competition started with a bang as the Highlanders produced a haka that had the crowd and players fired up for kick off!
The first real talking point of the match come very early on as the Highlanders were on the attack, breaking away from a maul was Jack Regan getting slapped in the face from Joe Moody! Remarkably only the existing penalty was called but an early precedence was set by the referee for contact to the head and I’m sure we will here a lot more on this topic as weeks go by.
Into the rugby on the field however, it was the Highlanders who were all over this match for most of the opening stanza but couldn’t get points onto the board and turned down a number of chances to take three, instead going for the corners.
In typical Crusaders fashion with their backs against the wall, they stuck over the try line first and second, just to add to the pain.
Codie Taylor grabbed the first try from a short Bryn Hall pass and he showed all his pace to allude the defence in his twenty meter scamper.
Wasn’t too long following the first try that the backs got into the action for the visitors. Sevu Reece had been a danger all night with his twinkling feet, but this time after breaking down the right he slipped in a banana kick back infield and find about five open Crusaders play and Bryn Hall was the lucky one to pick it up and score. So quickly it was 14-0.
The penalties inside their own half starting costing the Crusaders and finally the ref had no choice but to send someone to the bin and it was Ethan Blackadder who paid the price.
Things finally went right for the home team late in the half with a man advantage. It just took something special from a set piece, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u crashing off the back of the scrum took the Highlanders forward, for Aaron Smith to quickly switch it back on the scrums head to give the powerful Shannon Frizell a chance to crash over, which he took.
With half time begging, the home side finally roared into the game and it was the youngster starved of opportunities from injury who set this game alight. Connor Garden-Bachop sped down the right wing to score but the hands from Mitch Hunt created the chance for Jona Nareki to cut the defence to bits and set his young winger away and it was game on!
Despite the late surge, the Highlanders went into half time still trailing the Crusaders 14-10.
The Highlanders brought the game within one off the boot of Mitch Hunt early in the second half, but it was the Crusaders with Sevu Reece who struck himself with an outstanding finish in the right corner, diving through the tackle and reaching out the plant it down before going out.
The match became an arm wrestle for the next twenty minutes. The Highlanders with constant opportunities to put points on the board but the Crusader defence was solid as a rock. The dominant scrum was key for the visitor who were just happy to play the game out of their half and make the Highlander make the plays happen.
As usual, the Crusaders love the final ten minutes and that’s where they take yet another game away from their opponents. A penalty giving the Crusaders a lineout just a few out from the line, they turn the Highlanders lacking weapon against then. Driving the maul easily towards the line and over by Brodie McAlister to put an end to this contest with a thirteen point lead.
The Highlanders attacked the game again late to try regather any respectability but were a victim of errors and poor finishing against the strong Crusaders defence and just couldn’t add to their total.
Not the result for the home team but a promising start to their season with some good take away. Both sides were rusty and made many errors but the Crusaders produced a typical clinical display. Garden-Bachop and Nareki were the standouts for the Highlanders, which Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece has fantastic games for the Crusaders. Key difference, the Highlanders pack wasn’t at the game.
HURRICANES 16 vs 31 BLUES
Game two of the weekend saw a battle at the captial with the big city slickers from Auckland travelling down to Wellington to meet at the cake tin.
The game kicked off with a hiss and a roar as expected under a cracker of an evening. The Blues struck first, cleaning up some loose passing from the Hurricanes after soaking up a lot of pressure near their own line. Dalton Papali’i scooping up the mess for the opening points.
The Hurricanes hit straight back through Asafo Aumua who gets the credit, but it was all created a long way back. The Hurricanes turn into offloading champions for around halfway and make short work of the Blues defence to get onto the board.
The opening half was full of errors from both sides but it was the Hurricanes who paid the price for consecutive penalties inside their own twenty two with James Blackwell receiving the yellow card and continuing on an average night overall for the lock.
With the man advantage, the Blues were looking for only additions in fives or sevens and turned down at least six chances at posts for three points. Unrewarded, the Blues frustrations created opportunity for the Hurricanes who don’t need to be inside the opposition half to take shots at three, which is what Jordie Barrett does…. Twice! Both from around or over half way, incredible kicks.
Those last minute cracks at goal drastically changed the game at half time with the Hurricanes surprisingly leading 11-7 at the beak.
The Blues backrow started to get into the action in the second spell, scoring early in the half from a play that was all started by Akira Ioane breaking the tackle of Ardie Savea. The superb field position gave Otere Black the time to launch a cross field kick to an unmark and unopposed Caleb Clarke who had time to wait for the ball and dot down on the left edge.
It went even more downhill for the Hurricanes soon after when Du’Plessis Kirifi was sent to the bin just moments after arriving off the bench for ruck infringements and from the set piece scrum the Blues went off through fullback Stephen Perofeta.
The Hurricanes delivered a lifeline soon after despite being a man down. Long period of possession and constant phase attack saw Aardie Savea crash over the line only to be disallowed for being held up over the line. The boys from the captain didn’t give up there, from the proceeding lineout move Aumua sliced through the Blues defence like a highly skilled back to blow life back in this game.
Being just a one score game heading into the final ten minutes, that next big chance was crucial. It was the Blues who brought the finished, but very much against the run.
The Hurricanes were the team on attack, risking it all for the last chance at victory. But an error in a cross field kick that bobbled free allowed Reiko Ioane to pounce and let the legs do the talking. With all Hurricanes players up in the line attacking it was a footrace for Ioane and one he was well up for, cantering away to seal victory, but more importantly, he put the ball down correctly, diving on it, rather than his silly usual slap down placement! What a sight to see that finally was!
That was the final nail in the Hurricanes coffin with no time left, the Blues celebrating victory in round one. Dalton Papali’i was the Blues standout but the whole pack deserve the credit as they held a huge advantage over the Hurricanes. For the home side, Asafo Aumua was brilliant, Ardie Savea his usual classy self but sadly James Blackwell had a clear shocker this weekend.
Previews and reviews are right here Behind The Posts for each and every round of Super Rugby Aotearoa! Let me know your thoughts on the action this weekend in the comments and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts. If you would like to have your say here, get in touch on the contact page today!