Upsets galore as away teams dominate
The 2015 Super XV season got off to a rollicking start with four underdogs taking the points, while six visiting sides emerged victorious in a remarkable weekend of results. There was just one blowout as five of the seven clashes were decided by 12 points or less. The early signs are promising for one of the most even seasons on record and a hectic scramble for the top six.
Woeful Reds Hunted down by Brumbies
Reds fans were given a harrowing insight into the effect of Quade Cooper’s injury as the Brumbies unleashed a 47-3 drubbing in Canberra on Friday night. Karmichael Hunt’s difficult Super Rugby debut in the No.10 brought back memories of Benji Marshall’s failed 15-a-side foray, although Queensland was deficient in virtually every department against a rampant Brumbies outfit. With Cooper sidelined for another couple of months, coach Richard Graham has to make a tough call whether to persevere with Hunt. Former All Black Adam Thomson and versatile ex-Wallaby James O’Connor are still to come into the side, and there must be a temptation to slot O’Connor in at flyhalf, while youngster Duncan Paia’aua – a league convert with a strong union background – is another option.
The Super Rugby season isn’t long enough for Graham to patiently manufacture Hunt into an adequate playmaker. He played just four of his 146 senior rugby league games in the halves before spending the last four years playing Aussie Rules; based on Friday’s display, his future in union lies at fullback or inside-centre. Remarkably, despite never attempting a shot at goal in six NRL seasons, Hunt was also handed the Reds’ goalkicking responsibilities, slotting a 40-metre penalty but missing another from in front.
Rebel rousers on the cusp of a new era
Melbourne Rebels, reigning wooden spooners with just 16 wins from 64 matches in four Super Rugby seasons, produced a king-sized upset in the season opener, rolling the Crusaders 20-10 in Christchurch. The Rebels’ tenacious defence underpinned the boilover, repelling countless raids and constantly putting their high-profile opponents under pressure. They also endured adversity during the match – most notably the farcical yellow card given to Sean McMahon midway through the second half for a ‘dangerous tackle’ – while their scrum was regularly under the pump from the vaunted red-and-black pack, but the Rebels stoically grinded out the victory. Experienced campaigners Scott Higginbotham and Mike Harris, and promising youngsters McMahon and halfback Nic Stirzaker were especially impressive as the Rebels announced their intentions of climbing out of the Super Rugby cellar in 2015.
Crusaders’ Carter fixation harms title bid
It seems all of New Zealand is obsessed with Dan Carter getting fit and firing, then taking a stranglehold on the contentious All Blacks No.10 spot and receiving the World Cup finish the legendary playmaker deserves. We all know how brilliant DC can be, but he was scratchy at Super XV and international level last year after a wretched run with injuries. He suffered what has been described as a ‘dead leg’ during the second half against the Rebels, but his refusal to leave the field – despite having Colin Slade, who had a shocker at fullback, and Tom Taylor in the side ready to slot in – cost the Crusaders the match. After hobbling throughout the half, Carter had a kick charged down before Rebels halfback Nic Stirzaker raced away for the winning try.
The Crusaders went into the match without Israel Dagg, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock, but all three were replaced by All Blacks reps and there were few excuses for the lacklustre display – particularly their mistake-riddled, flat and lateral attack. A preoccupation with doing what’s best for Carter rather than the team – particularly when Slade and Taylor are waiting in the wings – could be fatally detrimental to the Crusaders’ campaign.
Dan Carter in every rugby match he’s played in for the past 2 years. pic.twitter.com/PYboE8Uq7M
— Sanjay Patel (@spat106) February 13, 2015
Sonny Bill inspires undermanned Chiefs
Sonny Bill Williams has picked up where he left off, producing an outstanding performance in his first Super Rugby outing since the 2012 final to lead the Chiefs to a 23-18 win over the Blues at North Harbour. The heavyweights rested All Blacks guns Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam and Aaron Cruden, but Williams’ powerful running and trademark offloads caused constant headaches for the misfiring Blues, brilliantly laying on both of the Chiefs’ first half tries. Flyhalf Damian McKenzie also impressed with a composed and confidence display on debut, while also slotting two conversions and three penalties.
South African conference turned on its head
The natural order of the South African conference was rocked by a pair of opening-round boilovers. The Cheetahs – second-last in 2015 – scored a 35-29 bonus-point victory over perennial contenders the Sharks in Durban. The Stormers, fielding a host of new faces, then stunned the Bulls with a commanding 29-17 result in Pretoria.
Plucky Force stun the champs
Despite the absence of injured stars Matt Hodgson and Nick Cummins, the Force began their campaign with a stirring 25-15 upset of a full-strength Waratahs outfit. Last year’s surprise packets led the defending champs 8-3 at halftime and went on with the job in the second stanza to pick up the four-try bonus point.
SUPER XV ROUND 1 RESULTS
Rebels 20 d. Crusaders 10 at AMI Stadium
Brumbies 47 d. Reds 3 at GIO Stadium
Hurricanes 22 d. Lions 8 at Ellis Park
Chiefs 23 d. Blues 18 at North Harbour Stadium
Cheetahs 35 d. Sharks 28 at Kings Park
Stormers 29 d. Bulls 17 at Loftus Versfeld
Force 25 d. Waratahs 15 at Allianz Stadium