By Roger Childs
It’s the weekend that hundreds of thousands of rugby fans look forward to with eager anticipation -– the opening round of the trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition.
In the first match last year’s champions — a nearly full-strength Crusaders team – met the Chiefs in Christchurch. An easy result to predict – 31-10 as it turned out – but unexpectedly it was the Waikato franchise who won.
The Blues meet the Highlanders on Saturday night and the fifth New Zealand team — the Hurricanes — play the Queensland Reds across the Tasman.
There is a particular edge to the 2023 tournament as the World Cup will be taking place in France later in the year. Players are vying for positions in the All Blacks and the Wallabies, and they know that there are only so many spots available and plenty of competition.
Chiefs in fire in the second spell
The local fans in Christchurch were not disappointed to see their team get out to a 10-0 lead early on the basis of a David Havili try and a Richie Mo’unga penalty, but a late first half try to the visitors’ captain, Sam Cane, closed the gap to three points at half time.
Each team conceded a yellow card, and also had players going off with injuries Crusader Cullen Grace (shoulder) and Anton Lienert-Brown (ankle).
The second half was all Chiefs and they ran in three tries, which Damian McKenzie converted. McKenzie was one of the stars of the match and organized the Chiefs attack brilliantly from first five. He ran strongly, passed quickly, tackled solidly and kicked with precision, and he was ably assisted by Shaun Stevenson who made several telling breaks from full back. In the second half Josh Ioane added some penetration from first five when he came off the bench.
In the forwards Brodie Rettalick was the star with consistent takes in the lineout, powerful running in the open and strong work in the tight. He was well backed by the other forwards with Luke Jacobson busy at the breakdown, and Samisoni Taukei’aho always making ground with ball in hand.
Other teams on notice
This convincing bonus points victory sends a clear message to the other franchises that the Chiefs are not to be messed with. It is of course very early days, but the Waikato boys will be delighted to have convincing bonus point win against the champions on their home turf.