After something of a soft start with just two matches last week, Super Rugby roared back into life with a full round of matches including four that had no Australian teams involved. Here’s how those matches played out.
Highlanders 41-34 Blues in Dunedin
Every Super Rugby season should start with a match of this quality, a nine-try stunner under the roof in Dunedin with multiple lead changes and the hosts having to hold on to a seven-point lead well after the final siren had sounded.
The Blues scored the first try and added further tries at regular intervals but, as has become a habit that must be driving coach Tana Umaga mad, were unable to consolidate any of those leads, the Highlanders invariably scoring next and often soon to level up or at least trail by three points or less.
Fun fact: it’s now 730 days since the Blues won a match against New Zealand opposition.
Crusaders 45-23 Chiefs in Christchurch
Thirty minutes in the Chiefs, trailing 3-19 and unable to capitalise on a one-man advantage, looked very much like a possum caught halfway across the highway and staring into the headlights of a truckie in a hurry.
That they were able to turn it around to trail just 12-19 at halftime, then take the lead midway through the second half, is testament to the leadership of the old hands – notably Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, and Charlie Ngatai – and the resilience of the younger players who seemed immune to the scoreboard pressure.
The turning point for the Chiefs was the sin-binning of Michael Ala’alatoa for a high shot – it could just as easily been a Red Card – late in the first half, Richie Mo’unga having been binned earlier in the half. The Chiefs cleverly took a scrum option, forcing the Crusaders to sacrifice a loose forward. Damien McKenzie then blasted through the hole where Jordan Taufua would probably otherwise have been to set up the try that got the Chiefs back in touch at half time.
McKenzie got the visitors in front 20-19 as three-quarter time loomed and at this point, the Chiefs were also leading the possession and territory stats. The Crusaders regained the lead courtesy of a Sam Whitelock try sparked by a sensational Jack Goodhue line break, McKenzie pegging the lead back with a 48-metre penalty.
In the 71st minute Ryan Crotty looked certain to score in the corner, only for Chiefs flanker Lachlan Boshier make what appeared to be a try-saving tackle. On replay, though, there was clear contact with the head. Initially, it seemed as though referee Ben O’Keefe and his TMO were looking at it as a Yellow Card and penalty, then O’Keefe started talking about a potential penalty try, which is what he finally awarded.
Down to 14 men for the final eight minutes and again behind on the scoreboard the Chiefs threw caution to the wind and conceded two intercept tries for their troubles. It was a disappointing end to what had until then been a hard-fought contest with no obvious winner.
By the Laws and current interpretations, thereof O’Keefe and the TMO made the right call, but it does pose the question of how one is meant to defend your goal line against a player coming at you head first and with his shoulders less than a metre off the ground.
Fun fact: the Chiefs have played 10 of their last 11 first-round matches away from home whereas the Crusaders have played their last five at home. Clearly, the Law of Averages isn’t part of the SANZAAR draw algorithm.
Lions 47-27 Jaguares in Johannesburg
The visitors scored in the third minute and added a penalty shortly after to take a shock 10-0 lead before their Achilles heal, indiscipline, again kicked in, conceding a 33rd-minute penalty try that left them a man short for the remainder of the half. The Lions capitalised to lead 19-10 at the break.
The second half was pretty much one-way traffic until the Jaguares picked up two late tries to make the scoreline a little more respectable.
Bulls 21-19 Hurricanes in Pretoria
For a team playing their first match of the season, the Hurricanes looked tired almost from the get-go and generally speaking out of sorts. Passes that would normally stick didn’t, options that wouldn’t normally be taken were. It was all in all a very un-Hurricanes-like performance.
To be fair the Bulls were mostly on point, Lood De Jäger and locking partner RG Snyman running rampant at times, and flyhalf Handre Pollard steering his side around the park in the manner we’ve come to expect from him.
Round 3 fixtures:
Blues v Chiefs
17:35 Friday 2 March*
Crusaders v Stormers
17:35 Saturday 3 March
Bulls v Lions
02:15 Sunday 4 March
Jaguares v Hurricanes
08:40 Sunday 4 March
*times are AEDT.