By Roger Childs
New Zealand’s truncated version of the old Super Rugby competition kicked off last week and in the two matches played the visiting teams – the Crusaders and the Blues – took the honours. The country has five very good teams who would all beat most international rugby sides. Consequently the standard of play is high and the all four matches so far have provided plenty of entertainment. If one team lags a little behind it is the Chiefs and fans will recall that they failed to win a game in last year’s post-lockdown competition.
On Friday night they were playing at home in Hamilton against the Highlanders who had lost at home to the Crusaders last weekend.
Southerners crush the home team
The Chiefs looked impressive in the first half and were ahead 20-6 at one stage on the basis of tries to Luke Jacobson and Damien McKenzie close to the posts. The Highlanders didn’t help their cause with first half yellow cards to Sio Tomkinson and Ash Dixon. Then in the 32nd minute with Dixon still in the sin bin, the Chiefs were passing 10 metres from the visitor’s line when they lost the ball. Highlanders left wing Jona Nareki grabbed it and ran 90 metres to score. It was the turning point in the game and the momentum shifted to the visitors.
The home team would only score 3 more points, while the Highlanders in a seven minute burst midway through the second half grabbed three tries including two more to the dynamic Nareki. Another try later in the half gave the visitors a commanding 39-23 victory. In addition to Nareki, half back Folau Fakatava and loose forward Shannon Frizzell stood out.
For the Chiefs it was a disappointing 10th successive loss. Their next match will be at the Sky Stadium against the Hurricanes who also lost over the weekend.
Crusaders far too good for the Hurricanes
The Christchurch fixture was delayed one day to allow crowds to attend after the city returned to Covid Level 1. The fans were rewarded with plenty of entertainment. After an early penalty the Hurricanes should have been 10 points up but Jackson Garden-Bachop butchered a certain try when he picked up a loose ball well inside his own half and ran hard for 60 metres. But close to the try line he unaccountably hesitated and was bundled into touch by the corner.
The Hurricanes lost their skipper Ardie Savea to the sin bin later in the half and the home team ruthlessly exploited their advantage, They scored three tries while Savea was off the field and the game was all but over. With a 33-6 lead the Crusaders seemed to ease off the pressure and the visitors did score two consolation tries in the last quarter to end with 16 points.
Overall the Crusaders were just too slick with their rapid passing, excellent backing up and power in the scrums. Codie Taylor was outstanding scoring two tries; Mohunga’s goal kicking and general play was efficient and captain Sam Whitelock was prominent in the lineout and rucks. The Hurricanes had their moments on attack, but made too many handling errors, gave away a number of penalties and often lacked the finishing touch.
The Christchurch franchise has two wins from two starts and are looking odds on for another Super Rugby title.