Super 15 Rugby Underway

super 15The Highlanders started their Super Rugby season in fine style as they clinched a surprise 29-21 victory over the Blues in Dunedin. Sky Sports

Worth waiting for

By Roger Childs

It’s the rugby competition rugby fans can’t wait to start. Now it’s underway and for New Zealand teams the opening round was a mixed bag.

• The Chiefs ground out a close fought victory against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
• The Highlanders caused an upset at home against the fancied Auckland based team.
• The Hurricanes were well beaten in Durban.

Another disappointing outcome was the failure by the three losing teams to pick up any points in the competition.

Form players

Every Wednesday, following the previous weekend’s matches, the Dominion Post picks a best New Zealand team: the Form XV. The selection shows no respect for reputation and usually bears no resemblance to the last All Black combination.

It’s a very good guide on who’s hot. This week’s team: Piutau, Buckman, Fruean, Saili, Tikoirotuma, Cruden, Perenara, Manu, Lam, Messam, Hoeata, S Whitelock, O Franks, Marshall, Mackintosh.

My only quibble would be at half back. Perenara had a great game behind a losing Hurricanes’ pack which was shunted back a great deal, however Aaron Smith was inspirational for the Highlanders and scored a brilliant try.

Super 15 coaches react quickly to poor form, and this week

• All Black fullback Israel Dagg is on the bench for the Crusaders.
• Blues first five Chris Noakes doesn’t even make the squad.
• Hurricane prop Toomaga-Allen sits on the bench.

Some thoughts on last week’s New Zealand team matches.

Hail to the Chiefs

Robbie FrueanDave Rennie is a great coach and he has the wily Wayne Smith as his deputy. Rennie did wonders with the underperforming Manawatu team in the 2000s and in his two seasons with the Chiefs has won the Super 15 both times.

Beating the Crusaders at home is never easy, however the Chiefs had a well-earned victory based on solid forward play, tenacious defence and outburst of brilliance from the backs.

The forwards were well led by Messam, and Cruden at first five was superb. Not wanted by the Crusaders, Robbie Fruean, back after heart surgery, punished his old team mates with a storming try on the left flank where he shrugged off four would-be tacklers.

The Crusaders had a good second half, but couldn’t penetrate to get the crucial second try. In the end it was an intercept by James Lowe and a run of 90m which sealed the win for the Chiefs.

Missing seven penalties didn’t help the Crusaders’ cause and there must be concern over the lack of imagination in their back play.

Highlanders on fire at home

Aaron SmithThe southerners had a hard time getting any victories last year and spent plenty of time languishing near the bottom of the table.

Last Saturday they got off to the perfect start with 5 points. They dominated the first half and lead 21-0 at one stage. There were two brilliant individual tries, one to Aaron Smith and an amazing touchdown by Auckland discard, Malakai Fekitoa. The latter had to go back to gather a poor pass near half way and then proceeded to run through the Blues defence to score by the posts: magic!

The Highlanders’ forwards dominated in the first half, despite the early loss of hard man Brad Thorn. Loose forward Nasi Manu was a tiger in the rucks and Taranaki man Jared Hoeata was an imposing figure in the tight and the lineout.

The Blues came back in the second half, but coach Kirwan was too slow in replacing the poorly performing first five, Chris Noakes. Why he doesn’t get the gifted league recruit Benji Marshall on the paddock quickly is hard to fathom.

Hard graft for the Hurricanes

Having your first game against the star-studded Sharks in Durban is tough. The 27-9 scoreline in favour of the home team suggest that the visitors were thrashed. In fact the Hurricanes showed a lot of grit and occasional brilliance against what may turn out to be South Africa’s best team.

However the Hurricanes’ forwards were massacred in the scrums in the first half and couldn’t cope with the Sharks’ rolling mauls. One on these mauls from a lineout led to the home team’s first try.

There was more steel from the visiting forwards in the second half and some exciting back play. TJ Perenara had an outstanding game at half back, and his quick passing and silky running showed why he became an All Black late last year. The team was still in the game until late in the piece when they gifted an intercept try. Also losing a man to the bin for the last few minutes did not aid the Hurricanes’ cause.

Round two

So it’s on to the second set of games with two more local New Zealand derbies. Meanwhile the Hurricanes head down the coast to Capetown for a rendez-vous with the Stormers who were also well beaten in their first match.

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