A 5-0 whitewash to New Zealand teams in the opening round of Transtasman Super Rugby failed to do justice to narrow losses suffered by the Brumbies and Western Force against the top ranked Crusaders and Chiefs.
In fact, the Crusaders struggled for rhythm in their 31-29 Christchurch win against the Australian competition’s runners-up and were lucky not to have been held to a draw.
Likewise the Chiefs conceded too many penalties in a Perth match also riddled with too many reset scrums that became an eye-sore and didn’t allow the game to flow.
Just as the Crusaders squandered a 31-17 win with 17 minutes remaining, so did the Chiefs who led 20-7 before Luke Jacobson was sent off after he and Anton Lienert-Brown had been yellow-carded.
In contrast the Highlanders and Blues were impressive in beating the Australian champion Reds 40-19 and woeful Rebels 50-3 respectively.
No 8 Hoskins Sotutu and late replacement Akira Ioane demonstrated their class with two tries each in the six amassed by the Blues on a day their scrum demoralised the Rebels in Melbourne.
That destruction worsened with the late arrival of replacement props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi to reinforce front row confidence that had faltered during Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Meanwhile Crusader Ethan Blackadder demonstrates much of the workaholic tenacity of his All Black father, Todd, at blindside flanker where he is also making claims for national honours alongside Shannon Frizell, Lachlan Boshier, Tom Robinson and Akira Ioane.
In scoring one of the Crusaders’ tries against the Brumbies, only a magnificent tackle prevented Blackadder from scoring another upon leaving several defenders in his wake. It was an effort that would have made his dad proud in the knowledge such a scathing run was beyond him.
Young Blues fullback Zarn Sullivan has the size, speed and raking boot to ensure a bright future and Finlay Christie is easily the Blues best halfback despite being given limited starts this season.
It was also good to see second-five TJ Faiane get a start. However the jury is still out on whether champion wing Rieko Ioane can successfully convert to centre where his power and pace has so much to offer. Unfortunately, he fumbled too many balls and his passing needs fine tuning.
Defence was practically non-existent when the Hurricanes scored 10 tries to the Waratahs seven in their 64-48 victory.
With veteran Julian Savea and young centre Billy Proctor each scoring a double, the Hurricanes don’t lack incisive attackers and will welcome TJ Perenara back from Japan after the nuggety halfback finally opted out of his offer to play league for the Sydney Roosters.
Had he joined the 13-man game I believe his combative instincts would have seen him mature into an absolutely outstanding hooker.
Sad, however, to see tough Ngani Laumape lost to a wealthy French club. No New Zealand back is harder to tackle and he surprised most of us last year when his pace was such Beauden Barrett couldn’t catch him.
Even with Jack Goodhue sidelined with injury, competition for All Black midfield berths between Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili and Rieko Ioane is fierce with the former the only certainty barring injury.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer