New Zealand rugby teams building points
By Roger Childs
As in the 2016 Super Rugby competition, it’s same again for this year. All five New Zealand sides are highly competitive, unlike the group across the Tasman.
Yesterday saw the Hurricanes, Crusaders and Chiefs win again, but only the Wellington franchise was totally convincing.
The latter beat the injury-plagued Highlanders 41-15 with seven tries to two, in an entertaining s display of running rugby.
The Crusaders had to come from behind, again!, to beat the Blues 33-24, and the Chiefs unexpectedly struggled to head off the lowly Rebels in Melbourne, but finally won 27-14 with three late tries.
Champions on fire
Early in the second half the men from the south were still in the hunt at the Caketin. TJ Perenara was sent to the bin for a dubious high shot, when the score was 18-8, but although the visitors immediately scored a try, the Hurricanes replied with one of their own.
The Highlanders injury woes continued with talented centre Malakai Fekitoa failing a concussion test. Once the home team were restored to 15 men, the flood gates opened. The Hurricanes backline is probably the best in the competition with All Black stars Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and TJ Perenara in good form. But it was the lesser lights who provided the real punch.
The pace and determination of Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso netted them two tries apiece, and Matt Proctor also scored. 20 year old Jordie Barrett was instrumental in setting up two tries, one with a perfectly placed cross-kick and a second with, what he described as a Hail Mary pass behind his back, for Proctor to run over unopposed.
The Crusaders will regret not having the youngest Barrett in their present backline, after his impressive debut for the southern franchise last year.
Crusaders win again, just!
For the third time in a row they came from behind to win late in the game. Two weeks ago at Forsyth Barr they would have lost to the Highlanders but for a 70 minute decision by the referee to send Malakai Fekitoa off after a Crusader jumped all over him in trying to win the ball in the air. The visitors needed two tries to take the game, and this they did by exploiting their 7-6 advantage in the backs.
In Saturdays game, the Blues had much the better of the first half and used their talented backline to excellent effect to be 24- 6 up at half time.
This was a classic “game of two halves” and the Crusaders pack, lead by Sam Whitelock, steam-rolled the visitors in the second half. The depth in the home team’s scrum was shown when two All Blacks, Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano, came on off the bench to provide “fresh legs” soon after half time.
Blues coach, Tana Umaga, opted to leave his forward replacements until the last quarter, which proved to be too late.
The first Crusaders try was dubious – the referee was not sure, but the assistant referee (AR) persuaded him to award it. The AR could not have seen a grounding as it “happened” on the other side of the goal line melee. The decision should have been made by the TMO.
Nonetheless, the home team deserved their win.
Exciting contests to come
The three winning New Zealand teams over the weekend have opened up a significant lead on the Blues and Highlanders. On the points table the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Crusaders are actually the top three. However it is early days, and there are no easy games when any of the Kiwi teams play each other.
Rugby fans will be eagerly anticipating two clashes in particular:
- Hurricanes v Crusaders
- Chiefs v Crusaders.