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Successful start to Super Rugby

By Jake Beleski

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A tight tussle, a narrow escape and a couple of comprehensive thrashings.

The New Zealand franchises enjoyed a successful start to Super Rugby 2017, with four of the five teams claiming victories over the opening weekend.

The Blues kick-started the competition against the Rebels in Melbourne, and centre Rieko Ioane stole the show with a breath-taking individual performance.

Ioane’s three tries allowed the Blues to cruise to a 56-18 win in what was their most complete first-round display for a number of seasons.

The Blues next opponent also picked up a win in round one, but the Chiefs had to survive a much more tense affair against the Highlanders under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Wing James Lowe once again showed his class for the Chiefs, pinching an intercept try from out of sorts Highlanders’ halfback Aaron Smith, before repeating the effort when he read a Waisake Naholo attempted pass perfectly to scoot away for a match-winning brace.

The Highlanders defended bravely but offered little on attack, and their problems were compounded when their captain and most influential player, Ben Smith, had to leave the field following a head knock.

The Chiefs eventually ran away 24-15 winners.

Smith is likely to be out for another two weeks, which could be vital with the Highlanders preparing to play the Crusaders and Blues over the next two rounds.

While the match in Dunedin was played at near playoff intensity, Saturday’s match in Tokyo resembled nothing more than a Hurricanes’ training run.

The Hurricanes ran in 13 tries against the hapless Sunwolves in an 83-17 win, with Ardie Savea grabbing a classy double and his older brother Julian proving an unstoppable force on the left wing.

The debut performance of Jordie Barrett would have had Hurricanes’ fans excited, as the 20-year-old showed touches of class we are accustomed to seeing from his older sibling, star first five-eighth Beauden Barrett.

Nehe Milner-Skudder and Cory Jane are in line to return for this weekend’s clash with the Rebels in Wellington, while Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles should make their first appearances in the starting line-up.

The Crusaders rounded out the action for Kiwi teams in round one, narrowly holding off a strong challenge from the Brumbies to claim a 17-13 win in Christchurch.

They got the result, but now have to prepare for at least six weeks without key playmaker Richie Mo’unga after he required surgery on a broken hand.

Round two kicks off on Thursday night when the Force meet the Reds in Perth.

NZ conference 1st round scores:

Blues 56 Rebels 18, Chiefs 24 Highlanders 15, Hurricanes 83 Sunwolves 17, Crusaders 17 Brumbies 13.

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