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Rugby’s new laws produce super result

What are the takeaways from the first round of Super Rugby Pacific?

My aversion to watching super rugby went out the door thanks mostly to the unseasonable weather, and I hunkered down to watch the majority of the two Kiwi derbies and the entire 80 minutes of the Hurricanes against the Queensland Reds in steamy Townsville.

But before I get on to the games, the new laws aimed at speeding up rugby had an immediate impact. No more posturing and endless snarling at opposition props at scrum time, just get set, get the ball out, and get on with the game. When the ball went into touch, there was no sauntering towards the lineout, and what became the obligatory forward pack huddle was missing, and the goalkickers proved they don’t need more than 60 seconds to take a kick at goal.

If this is what the new sped up game looks like, bring it on!

To the games, the only real surprise came on Friday night at Christchurch when the Chiefs handed the Crusaders their first loss in a season opener in the Scott Robertson era. The Chiefs winning was no big surprise, but the 31-10 scoreline and the manner of victory turned many a wise head.

Down 10-0 halfway through the first half, the Chiefs closed the gap to 10-7 at halftime with a try to All Black lock Brodie Retallick. The visitors bossed the second half, dominating the breakdown and giving their exciting backline, marshalled superbly by Damian McKenzie, who showcased why he was missed so much in the All Blacks last year.

Saturday night in Dunedin, and the Blues oozed class and laid down a marker with a 60-20 [eight tries to two] demolition of a game but outclassed Highlanders.

A powerful well-drilled forward pack set the platform and gave All Black Beauden Barrett the time and space he needed to weave his magic at first-five while the outside backs, with the mercurial Mark Telea to the fore, outclassed their opponents.

Then my beloved Hurricanes turned on a second-half masterclass to thrash the Reds 47-13 in hot, humid Townsville after leading 16-13 at halftime.

The Canes dominated all facets, with their forward pack giving the backline great front foot ball to unleash their dangerous attackers out wide, and there was none better than centre Billy Proctor, who had scored a brilliant individual try in the first half.

All Blacks Ardie Savea at No.8 and Jordie Barrett at second-five had busy nights, hooker Asafa Aumua was a ball of energy and a dangerous runner around the fringes when he came on in the second half, and doesn’t that scrum look good with 108-test former All Black Owen Franks tighthead and last year’s big improver Tyrel Lomax in the front row?

I cannot finish my rap without mentioning the immensely talented Peter Lakai starting his first Super Rugby game as openside flanker. Touted by some as the next Ardie Savea, the 19-year-old was strong defensively and made some powerful runs in an impressive debut before being replaced by DuPlessis Karifi midway through the second half.

In other games, the Brumbies were typically clinical in beating the Waratahs 31-25 in Sydney; Fijian flair was to the fore in the Drau’s thrilling 36-34 win over Moana Pasifika, and former All Black and Hurricanes legend Jeremy Thrush scored a late try to see the Force home 34-27 over the Rebels in Perth.

It’s too early to write off the Crusaders, but the Chiefs, Blues, and Hurricanes have already signalled they have the firepower to be serious championship contenders and major threats to the red and blacks six-year reign, and isn’t it time we had a new champion? I’m not knocking the Crusaders, because what the franchise has achieved is phenomenal. Still, Super Rugby needs a new champion to prevent it going stale, as happened with Auckland’s eight-year Ranfurly Shield era.

All teams now head to Melbourne for the Super Round, and let’s hope we get more of the same excitement as the first week, helped in no small way by the new law variations. Strap in tight because this season could be one hell of a ride.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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