There were more than a few talking points to come out of Super Rugby Saturday in week two.
Hurricanes 71 d. Rebels 6 @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
The match: The Rebels looked like they may have come to play early on, but what followed was an absolute blowout of epic proportions. The Hurricanes scored five tries in the first half to take a dominant lead of 31-6 at the break.
The defending Super Rugby champions piled on another 40 points in the second stanza, winning 71-6 in a performance that saw Nehe Milner-Skudder nab himself a hat trick, while Vince Aso also scored a pair for the second week in a row.
The man: Beauden Barrett was back to his superb best after being given his first start of the season. Barrett played a key role in two of the Hurricanes tries, putting in his classic chip kick before running onto the ball and setting up his outside runners for a dash to the line. Barrett won the IRB World Rugby Player of the Year award in 2016 – and the scary thing is he looks to have brought that same form into 2017.
The moment: The Rebels should have gotten more than six points in what was a very solid opening 10 minutes. They were caught out by a lack of understanding on how the Hurricanes play rugby; a style that is expansive and can counterattack from anywhere. When Milner-Skudder easily stepped through the defence to score the first try, the onslaught began from there.
Crusaders 30 d. Highlanders 27 @ Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The match: Physical, fast and intense could be used to describe the encounter in Dunedin. Failing to break through the defence, the Crusaders had to settle for shots at goal in the opening half. The Highlanders didn’t have such problems, going in twice, one try coming from some brilliant vision from Aaron Smith – who put in a brilliant grubber – and finished off by Waisake Naholo.
The Highlanders led 17-6 at halftime. It wouldn’t be a southern derby without drama, and this encounter was no exception. Leading 27-6, the Highlanders appeared to have the game in hand, but the Crusaders would come storming back. The visitors posted 24 unanswered points to steal victory in the final minutes – with the last two tries coming after a controversial yellow card inside the final 10 minutes.
The man: Waisake Naholo had one of his best performances in the Highlanders jersey. The flyer scored two tries, both examples of both his blistering pace and his ability to put himself into the right place during attacking situations. His second try was the ultimate testament to that. Where a lot of players would have naturally tried to snap up the high ball, Naholo stuck in support with Malakai Fekitoa and had faith his teammate would make the play. Once Fekitoa had the ball, Naholo was there in support and unmarked, leading to one of the Highlanders’ more polished tries on the night.
The moment: Malakai Fekitoa was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle after going up for a high ball against the Crusaders’ David Havili, putting the Highlanders a man down with less than 10 minutes to play. The gap in the backline was exploited by a surging Crusaders side, and in the end there weren’t enough Highlanders players on defence to stop the match-winning try, scored by Seta Tamanivalu.
HOW DID THE AUSSIE SIDES GO ON SUPER SATURDAY?
The Brumbies staggered to their second straight defeat are failing to close out a resurgent Sharks side in Canberra. The visitors scored after the 80th minute to secure a 27-22 win.
Over in South Africa, the Waratahs proved worthy challengers for the Lions in what turned out to be a great exhibition of rugby. In the end, the Lions were too strong, getting the win 55-37 after leading only 33-24 at halftime.
Sharks 27 d. Brumbies 22 @ GIO Stadium, Canberra
Southern Kings 37 d. Sunwolves 23 @ Singapore
Lions 55 d. Waratahs 36 @ Emirates Airlines Stadium, Johannesburg
Stormers 32 d. Jaguares 25 @ Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Cheetahs 34 d. Bulls 28 @ Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein