Local derbies enthuse Aotearoa rugby fans

With the Hurricanes breaking the Crusaders 36-game unbeaten streak by two points and the Blues hanging on by the skin of their teeth to defeat the bottom-placed Chiefs 21-17, Super Rugby Aotearoa is thriving.

More than 33,000 fans witnessed the hard-fought Eden Park spectacle, about 10,000 short of the new SRA opener, but still a telling acclamation for a format that embraces local derbies.

Now with moves afoot to introduce a Pacific Islands team in Auckland next year embracing Fijian, Samoan and Tongan players, the competition can only get better should it come to pass.

Just look at the support Tonga’s rugby league team got in recent years when defeating the Kiwis and Kangaroos before packed houses.

Understandably, South Africa and Argentina won’t be happy at being discarded from Super 12 but long, arduous trips to and fro are draining on the players.

Still it’s a bit unfair for former All Black coach Steve Hansen to claim New Zealand owe Australia nothing because of past perceived slights.

The Bledisloe Cup is still a treasured prize even if New Zealand has dominated it. And while the Wallabies are no longer the force they were, they produced great teams to win the Rugby World Cup in 1991 and 1999.

Only the All Blacks and Springboks with three apiece, have done better.

Furthermore, expect the Wallabies to improve under new astute coach Dave Rennie who won two Super Rugby crowns when mentoring the Chiefs.

Still the depth of talent in New Zealand is encouraging with man of the match hooker Kurt Eklund making huge headway since replacing the injured James Parsons and Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tu’ungafasi making strong runs and crunching tackles.

Rieko Ioane is developing nicely at centre where his sidestep, swerve,  pace and slick passes make him a danger. So much so that he probably had a slight edge in his clash with the talented Anton Linert-Brown.

It was Ioane’s perfectly timed pass that sent fullback Matt Duffie sprinting 45m for the first try after TJ Faine’s outrageous dummy run fooled the Chiefs defence.

Captain Tuipulotu  and lively halfback Finlay Christie also scored tries with first-five Beauden Barrett converting all three.

The Chiefs replied with tries to Lachlan Boshier and a beauty 80m effort to left wing Solomon Alaimalo after smart work from second half replacement Aaron Cruden and Leinert-Brown.

Fullback Damian McKenzie, the game’s most penetrative back, converted both and added a penalty. His courage and audacity never ceases to amaze.

Meanwhile another fullback, Jordie Barrett, scored 19 points as the Hurricanes upset the Crusaders 34-32 in Christchurch on Saturday night to continue his fine form.

However young Crusaders No 15 Will Jordon looked even faster and more elusive on a night when centre Peter Umaga-Jensen and right wing Wes Goosen (2) scored Hurricanes tries and Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge, Quinton Strange and Sevu Reece replied in kind for the Crusaders with Mo’unga adding 12 points from the boot.

However his potential last- minute equalising conversion from the right touchline shaded the left upright, spoiling what otherwise had been another excellent personal performance

Still the Hurricanes deserved their win to move to 16 points behind the Crusaders 19 and Blues 17 with the leaders having a game in hand.

 Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author