Thriller at Forsyth Barr
By Roger Childs
The days of cricket giving way to rugby and other winter sports about Easter are long gone.
The Black Caps have a limited over series and a couple of tests against the English coming up, but Super 15 always starts in late February. (Two matches were played in South Africa last weekend to get things underway.)
And what a start it was! In front of a large crowd in the covered Dunedin stadium the home team beat the visiting Blues 41-34. But for a yellow card against Blues forward Antonio Kirikiri, it could have been even closer.
There were nine excellent tries and both teams played quality rugby with few mistakes.
Plenty of talent on show
More than half the players have All Black caps and they all played well. Aaron Smith was particularly sharp behind the Highlanders scrum and Ben Smith was back to his old self after the concussion concerns of 2017.
Lima Sopoaga didn’t miss any kicks in 6 attempts and he was matched by Bryn Gatland’s four conversions and two penalties. The son of the Welsh coach was a late substitution and, as well as scoring a try, had an impressive all round game.
The Ioane brothers were in great form and while Reiko demonstrated plenty of clever running, Akira picked up two tries.
Rob Thompson showed plenty of punch and pace in the Highlander backs as did Matt Duffie for the Blues.
There was also plenty of strong running from forwards on both sides and Auckland hooker James Parsons and the home side’s Liam Squire were particularly impressive in open play.
A sign of things to come?
This was a great match to set the New Zealand season underway and if this standard is maintained in subsequent games the fans will come pouring into the grounds.
The Chiefs and Crusaders will battle it out in Christchurch tonight and the Hurricanes are away to the Bulls in Pretoria.
If they can produce the quality and excitement of last night’s game, they will be doing very well.