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.