BLUES 56 d. REBELS 18 @ AAMI PARK
THE MATCH: Alarm bells are ringing in Melbourne after just 80 minutes of the Super Rugby season, with the Rebels capitulating to an exciting, new-look Blues line-up. The hosts led 12-8 after 25 minutes following tries to captain Nic Stirzaker and new halves partner Jackson Garden-Bachop, but the Blues ran riot thereafter, scoring six unanswered touchdowns – including a hat-trick to teenage centre Rieko Ioane.
— The Blues (@BluesRugbyTeam) February 23, 2017
The Blues led 25-15 at the break and went into overdrive in the second stanza, the Rebels unable to handle the power and attacking class of the Ioane brothers and ex-Chiefs halfback Augustine Pulu, who already looks to be a buy-of-the-year contender. How good will this team be when combinations gel further and Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala are back on deck? And can the Rebels regroup?
— Fox Sports Rugby (@FOXRugbyLive) February 23, 2017
THE MAN: He may only be 19, but Rieko Ioane is destined to be the dominant midfield-back in world rugby over the next decade. Already a giant, Ioane was the standout player in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup and is geared up to set the Super 18 alight in 2017. A barnstorming treble was a handy way to start.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) February 23, 2017
Timeline full of Rieko Ioane.
*Watches highlights* pic.twitter.com/NZkW8HTXLg
— Arwel Jones (@agjones92) February 23, 2017
THE MOMENT: The Rebels trailed by just three points with two minutes to go until halftime when Jordy Reid fired an ill-conceived pass out wide. That man again, Rieko Ioane, snaffled the intercept and raced 50 metres to score. It was a bitter blow just before the break and the Rebels never recovered.
Blues 56 (Rieko Ioane 3, Paulasi Manu, Matt Duffie, Augustine Pulu, Melani Nanai tries; Ihaia West 6 conversions, 2 penalties; Piers Francis penalty) d. Rebels 18 (Nic Stirzaker, Jackson Garden-Bachop tries; Garden-Bachop conversion; Reece Hodge 2 penalties)
CHIEFS 24 d. HIGHLANDERS 15 @ FORSYTH BARR STADIUM
THE MATCH: The Chiefs ended a six-match losing streak against the Highlanders with a gritty three-tries-to-none, bonus-point success in Dunedin. The Highlanders had virtually all of the running in the first half, but a combination of sloppy handling and stoic goal-line defence kept the hosts at bay.
James Lowe snaffled two intercept tries in the first 20 minutes from passes by All Blacks Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo, while Hika Elliot put the Chiefs 21-9 to the good when he crashed over in the 47th minute.
The Highlanders had plentiful opportunities to bridge the gap in five- or seven-point increments, but had to settle for penalty goals due to the Chiefs’ impregnable line.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) February 24, 2017
Highlanders skipper Ben Smith left the field midway through the first half after a mid-air collision with opposite number Damian McKenzie, which seemed to affect the side’s cohesion. Meanwhile, Malakai Fekitoa’s dreadful night with ball in hand summed up the Highlanders’ performance.
THE MAN: Ex-Blues recruit Tevita Li was absolutely outstanding in a beaten side, running for a game-high 131 metres and three line-breaks, threatening every time he touched the ball. The 21-year-old winger already looks a blue-chip buy and an All Black in the making. Patrick Osborne and Matt Faddes will find it exceedingly tough to break into this starting backline, particularly with Naholo producing a monster game on the other wing.
tevita Li was gangs tonight can we swap him with matt duffie plz 😂
— CS (@Chrzko) February 24, 2017
THE MOMENT: Lowe’s second intercept off Naholo was brilliant, showing extraordinary anticipation and hands to scoot away for the second time in eight minutes. The 14-3 lead it provided was remarkable considering the early onslaught the Highlanders put them under.
REDS 28 d. SHARKS 26 @ SUNCORP STADIUM
THE MATCH: The Reds’ bold new era began with an important come-from-behind win over the Sharks in front of their home fans, scoring two tries in the final quarter and surviving a late penalty goal miss from Pat Lambie to take the spoils.
The match began disastrously for the Reds when a Quade Cooper fumble saw Jean-Luc du Preez streak 40 metres for a try in the second minute. But another veteran recruit, Scott Higginbotham, scored the hosts’ first five-pointer in the 32nd minute to cut the halftime deficit to three points.
Tera Mtembu put the Sharks 26-18 in front with a try just after the hour mark, but centre Samu Kerevi’s second try and the decisive try from James Tuttle – both unconverted – snatched back the advantage for the Reds.
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) February 24, 2017
Karmichael Hunt received a contentious yellow card for a high tackle with four minutes left, but Lambie’s penalty attempt from the sideline faded to the right and the Reds held on. It was a gutsy effort from the Reds, particularly after ragged performances from Cooper and halves partner Nick Frisby.
— Vaa Muliagatele (@VaaM77) February 24, 2017
THE MAN: Kerevi solidified his reputation as a world-class centre with a powerful second-half double. The 23-year-old’s tallies of 74 metres, 16 carries and three breaks were all game-highs.
— Super Rugby Fans (@SuperRugbyFans) February 24, 2017
THE MOMENT: Tuttle’s match-winner was a doozy, with Cooper serving up a superb (if marginally forward) pass to send Duncan Paia’aua into space, before the No.12 hit Tuttle on the inside.
HURRICANES 83 d. SUNWOLVES 17 @ PRINCE CHICHIBU MEMORIAL STADIUM
THE MATCH: The Hurricanes began their Super Rugby title defence in emphatic style against the hapless Sunwolves, inflicting the Tokyo-based side’s worst home defeat in their short history – but falling short of reaching a milestone that seemed inevitable with 20 minutes left.
The champs ran in 13 tries – nine of them converted by Otere Black, who started in the No.10 with Beauden Barrett coming off the bench – and didn’t go more than nine minutes without scoring for the first hour of the match.
But to their credit, with the score a humiliating 83-5 and Super Rugby’s first century appearing a formality, the Sunwolves kept their visitors scoreless in the final quarter and bagged a couple of late tries of their own. Injuries to Cory Jane in the captain’s run and Blade Thomson during the match soured the Hurricanes’ Asian sojourn somewhat.
THE MAN: Winger Vince Aso was a constant handful for the Sunwolves, racking up 164 metres from 14 carries and making a slew of breaks, as well as scoring the Hurricanes’ second and second-last tries.
THE MOMENT: The best of the Hurricanes’ 13 tries was their 21st-minute effort, which featured a brilliant cut-out ball by Matt Proctor and a break by Julian Savea, who then produced a majestic offload for Jordie Barrett, who flung it inside for TJ Perenara to score. Savea’s follow-up long-range effort from Black’s cross-field kick was a beauty, too.
Hurricanes 83 (Ardie Savea 2, Vince Aso 2, Michael Fatialofa 2, Ricky Riccitelli, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Ngani Laumape, Blade Thomson, Brad Shields, Wes Goosen tries; Otere Black 9 conversions) d. Sunwolves 17 (Ruan Viljoen, Shokei Kin, Willie Britz tries; Timothy Laefaele conversion).
CRUSADERS 17 d. BRUMBIES 13 @ AMI STADIUM
THE MATCH: The new-look Brumbies went within an ace of pulling off a king-sized upset in Christchurch, but the Crusaders kept their cool to close out a tense season-opening win.
The early signs were ominous for the visitors as Israel Dagg sent new recruit Seta Tamanivalu over for the first try in the fourth minute. The Brumbies resisted raid after raid from the Crusaders, but at the tail-end of James Dargaville’s highly debatable yellow card spell for taking Dagg out in the air, Dagg produced a brilliant flick-pass No.8 Whetu Douglas to crash over.
Trailing 12-3 at the break, the Brumbies enjoyed a dream start to the second half as Wallabies lock Rory Arnold crossed out wide less than two minutes in, but Peter Samu gave the Crusaders more breathing room when he rumbled over from a scrum near the Brumbies’ line in the 55th minute.
A penalty goal from new Brumbies No.10 and Southland (NZ) product Whaernui Hawera kept the Crusaders honest, but the hosts managed to close out the win.
THE MAN: Dagg led the running metres stats with 111, but it was his two brilliant try-assists in the first half that proved the difference. The battle for the All Blacks No.15 jumper with Ben Smith should be another fascinating one on the score of Dagg’s first-up display for 2017.
THE MOMENT: Dagg’s cut-out pass for Tamanivalu’s early try was pure rugby poetry.
Crusaders 17 (Seta Tamanivalu, Whetu Douglas, Peter Samu tries; Richie Mo’unga conversion) d. Brumbies 13 (Rory Arnold try; Wharenui Douglas conversion, 2 penalty goals).
WARATAHS 19 d. FORCE 13 @ ALLIANZ STADIUM
THE MATCH: The Force continued the theme of visiting teams overachieving in Round 1, pushing the Waratahs all the way before eventually coming up short in Sydney, 19-13.
With Bernard Foley out injured, Waratahs winger Reece Robinson kicked two penalties in the opening 11 minutes, but Force No.10 Jono Lance went on a mini scoring spree by converting his own try and booting two penalites to give the underdogs a 13-9 halftime lead.
Will Skelton muscled his way over in the 44th minute to reclaim the lead for the home side, however, while Robinson’s fourth penalty with six minutes left was the only other scoring play of a dour encounter.
THE MAN: It was an indication of the lack of excitement in the contest that a stand-in goalkicker was arguably the marquee performer, but Robinson’s five-from-six effort was nevertheless outstanding – and particularly impressive for a player with an NRL career success rate of less than 50 percent.
THE MOMENT: Skelton’s powerhouse effort didn’t seem like it would be the match-winner at the time, but it was a tremendous way for the giant Waratahs lock to start his 2017 campaign.
Waratahs 19 (Will Skelton try; Reece Robinson conversion, 4 penalty goals) d. Force 13 (Jono Lance try; Jono Lance conversion, 2 penalty goals).
LIONS 28 d. CHEETAHS 25 @ FREE STATE STADIUM
The Lions, 2016 runners-up, left it late against the unfancied Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, with a 77th-minute try to No.12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg stealing a narrow victory. The Cheetahs led 16-6 before Janse van Rensburg finally scored the Lions’ first try 13 minutes into the second half. The boot of Fred Zeilinga pushed the hosts back in front, but the attacking class of the Lions ultimately proved the difference.
JAGUARES 39 d. KINGS 26 @ NELSON MANDELA BAY STADIUM
The Jaguares notched a crucial away win to kick off their 2017 campaign, outlasting the Kings in Port Elizabeth. The Argentine outfit scored the first three tries of the match and led 39-12 well into the final quarter, before the Kings posted two consolation tries. Ten penalty goals were kicked in the match.
STORMERS 37 d. BULLS 24 @ KINGS PARK
A dominant first half laid the platform for a comfortable Stormers victory in Durban, with the hosts scoring three tries to lead 24-0 before the teams changed ends. The Bulls clicked into gear after the break and trailed just 28-19 at one stage, but the Stormers put the game to bed via a Dillyn Leyds try in the 66th minute.