The Chiefs and Blues kicked off the second round of Super Rugby Aotearoa in Hamilton on Saturday. The Auckland franchise claimed their first win over their North Island rivals at Waikato Stadium in nine years, winning 24-12. It was also the Blues’ sixth straight win, and their second from two to start the New Zealand competition.
The Blues held the Chiefs tryless while scoring two of their own through youngsters Hoskins Sotutu and Mark Telea. The weather resulted in a scrappy affair, mainly hurting the hosts who failed to make the most of their clear advantage in running metres, possession and territory, with just four penalty goals to their credit.
Beauden Barrett had a hand in the win with a 64th minute dropped goal and penalty five minutes later, sparking life into the Blues late on. Telea scored the game’s final points with a try in the 72nd minute.
On Sunday, the Crusaders played their first game of the competition against the Hurricanes in Wellington, and came away with a bonus point win 39-25.
The two-time defending Super Rugby champs opened the scoring after just 90 seconds through star winger Sevu Reece. While they tacked on two more first half tries and maintained the lead throughout, they were far from a polished product, struggling with discipline by giving away 10 first-half penalties and 15 in total.
As a result the hosts were never short of scoring opportunities from the tee. First-five Jackson Garden-Bachop slotted five penalties and a drop goal. The ‘Canes also struggled with errors, as poor defence and carelessness with the ball in hand resulted in a few Crusaders scores – including the red and blacks’ opener and their 69th minute five-pointer.
Two late tries helped the visitors break a 25-all deadlock.
Brilliant Blues stay on top
Maybe brilliant is excessive, but the Blues have been impressive so far – sitting top of the competition ladder with two strong wins. Their victory over the Chiefs with a greasy ball was just their second in 18 attempts and first away from home since 2011, proving two things – the team has turned a corner managing to break another drought in New Zealand derbies, and they know how to win in trying conditions.
The Blues’ defence has been particularly staunch, and kept out a Chiefs side that features plenty of attacking firepower. They look far more complete, with enough resilience to stay competitive late in games – a contrast to their first two hit outs against New Zealand sides in 2020, and their efforts in recent years.
The Aucklanders true test will come against the country’s best in the Crusaders. They play in three weeks, which will be a big telling point.
Hoskins Sotutu and Will Jordan leading the All Blacks’ bolters race
While the prospect of All Blacks tests in 2020 is hard to picture at this stage, two men continue to put their hands up for a national call-up.
Blues loosie Hoskins Sotutu continued his meteoric rise on the national landscape, having arguably his best performance this year scoring one try and assisting in another, and making a hefty 15 tackles. His ball running was at its expected best, but he was even more of a pest at the breakdown snagging two turnovers. There is a hole in the All Blacks’ number eight jersey which could very well be filled by the 21-year-old sooner than expected.
Will Jordan is yet to crack the All Blacks despite showing plenty with Tasman in the NPC and Crusaders across the last two years, but 2020 could be a different story. The national 15 jersey does not have a current concrete incumbent, paving the way for a potential new face. Jordan started at fullback yesterday and was a step above everyone else on attack, running for 111 metres and beating eight defenders while setting up one of their five tries.
Penalties lessened, but still heavily evident
The stricter rules around the breakdown in an attempt to speed up the game were always going to come with a teething period for players and officials. There were 47 awarded this past weekend, eight fewer than the opening round.
The increased number of whistle blows has actually done the opposite and disrupted the flow of the game so far. But interestingly, the rise has not impacted the result of games. In every contest so far, the team who conceded the most penalties have won the game.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said post-match on Saturday everyone is still adjusting, including the referees. He added there is constant communication amongst all parties in order to stay on the same page going forward. All going well, penalties per game will drop by the week.
The action continues this weekend, with the Blues hosting the Highlanders in Auckland on Saturday night (7:05pm). On Sunday afternoon, the Crusaders take on the Chiefs in Christchurch (3:35pm).
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.