Round One Wrap: Kiwi sweep in opening round

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Apart from the results reflecting the more demanding rugby resulting from New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa over the past two seasons, they also showed those teams involved in finals, last weekend, were pushed hardest in games.

 

The Crusaders could have drawn if a last-minute conversion for the beaten Australian finalist Brumbies succeeded, and the second-placed Chiefs could have lost had a Force conversion gone over.

 

The Reds, the Australian winners, were well beaten by the Highlanders.

 

As the first of the quintet of games over the weekend celebrating the return of Tasman rivalry, a lot was centring on this contest involving the new Australian champions, under the guidance of a former Highlanders icon in coach Brad Thorn. Sadly, it never reached the hype, and while the Reds showed early determination to recover from a Highlanders try to Scott Gregory inside the first minute, it proved unsustainable. The loss of first five-eighths James O'Connor to an HIA possibly affected the Reds' kicking game which rarely tested the capable home defence. By comparison, Matt Hunt, his marker, helped show how effective an accurate kicking game could be. He pinned the Reds in their own 22m area and exposed them to some good old-fashioned mauling, with three tries scored in that vein by the home hookers Ash Dixon (2) and Liam Coltman.

 

Highlanders 40 (Scott Gregory, Ash Dixon 2, Palelei Tomkinson, Liam Coltman, Ngatugnane Punivai tries; Mitch Hunt 5 con) Reds 19 (Kalani Thomas, Suliasi Vunivalu 2 tries; James O'Connor con; Bryce Hegarty con). HT: 12-7

 

 

It's hard to say what value either team got from this try swap at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Comparisons with cricket and centuries of points are obvious, but not even centuries are notched with such haste, or reckless abandon, at the great old ground. It won't be hard to see long-time British critics of Super Rugby (you know who I mean) unleashing their barbs about the non-defensive rugby it produced. And it certainly looked like that. For the Hurricanes, the win will be a shot in the arm after their disappointments this year. But for the Waratahs, there is a realisation that they face a long road back to greatness.

 

Waratahs 48 (Harry Johnson-Holmes 2, Alex Newsome, Angus Bell, Jake Gordon, Lachlan Swinton, Jack Maddocks tries; Ben Donaldson 5 con, pen) Hurricanes 64 (Julian Savea 2, Billy Proctor 2, Jordie Barrett, Dane Coles, Brayden Iose, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Pepesana Patafilo, Asafo Aumua tries; Barrett 7 con). HT: 24-33

 

 

If there is life among the Australian sides, it was the Brumbies who showed it best. Had a defensive lineout ruling not gone against them, midway through the second half, they might have done better. As it was, the Crusaders took advantage of their luck and scored a try, which in the final count proved crucial. In the clutch, No8 Cullen Grace's try gave his side breathing space in a welcome effort. However, the Brumbies refused to die with fullback Tom Banks opening up the home defences to run in the individual try of the round. Discipline was again an issue for the Crusaders, and they were lucky that halfback Ereatara Enari 's late sin-binning didn't cost them more. As it was, Brumbies' No8 Rob Valetini crossed out wide but first five-eighths Noah Lolesio drifted just outside the left goalpost.

 

Crusaders 31 (Ethan Blackadder, Richie Mo'unga, David Havili, Brendon O'Connor, Cullen Grace tries; Mo'unga 3 con) Brumbies 29 (Scott Sio, Irae Simone, Tom Banks, Rob Valetini tries; Noah Lolesio 3 con, pen). HT 19-7

 

 

First-half scrum power set the Blues up for their dominating romp over the Rebels in Melbourne. It was a disheartening loss for the home team, who went through a coaching change ahead of the game – they have much hard work ahead of them. For the Blues, the dishevelled opposition allowed them to release some pent-up frustration with some solid defensive work, and that scrum, providing a foundation for some dazzling running by their backs. Flanker Tom Robinson continues to impress as a leader, and he and his fellow loose forwards Hoskins Sotutu and Akira Ioane, two tries each, and Adam Choate had a field day. Quick ball from halfback Finlay Christie was vital in the six tries posted.

 

Rebels 3 (Matt To'omua pen) Blues 50 (Hoskins Sotutu 2, Akira Ioane 2, Tom Robinson, AJ Lam tries; Otere Black 2 con, 3 pen; Zarn Sullivan pen; Harry Plummer 2 con). HT: 3-17

 

 

Reminders around discipline will feature high on the Chiefs' training menu this week when a red card to No8 Luke Jacobson came within a coat of goalpost paint of resulting in a loss to the Force. There was a penalty try conceded for collapsing a lineout maul and Jacobson's second yellow card infringement. The first occurring late in the first half when he and centre Anton Lienert-Brown shared the punishment bench. Up 20-7, the Chiefs had to absorb tries to wing Richard Kahui and five-eighths Domingo Miotti before Miotti's last conversion attempt just missed. However, tries to second five-eighths Alex Nankivell and wing Jonah Lowe, the second after a powerful break by No8 Pita Gus Sowakula, gave the Chiefs what proved the final advantage.

 

Force 19 (Penalty try; Richard Kahui, Domingo Miotti tries; Miotti con) Chiefs 20 (Alex Nankivell, Nathan Harris, Jonah Lowe tries; Damian McKenzie con, pen). HT: 7-10