The best and the rest already on show in Super Rugby

Wed, Mar 8, 2023
Other News (AP)

The best and the rest already on show in Super Rugby
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - After only two rounds, Super Rugby Pacific already has established a familiar pecking order. The tournament runs until June when playoff matches take place but already the top six teams stand out.

Three teams have 2-0 records: the Hamilton-based Chiefs, Wellington-based Hurricanes and the ACT Brumbies. Six more have 2-1 records but of those only the Auckland-based Blues, Christchurch-based Crusaders and the New South Wales Waratahs probably are top six material.

The picture the first two rounds have presented is that the tournament already has broken into two groups: the top six and bottom six and that there is a gulf between those groups which means most matches are going to uncompetitive.

The same problem has bedeviled Super Rugby since its inception. The growth of the tournament, eventually to 18 teams, and its subsequent reduction, the withdrawal of South Africa has done nothing to erase the impression that Super Rugby is too uneven to be a good competition.

When new formats were considered after South Africa's departure and as the effects of the pandemic began to abate, New Zealand proposed an eight-team tournament with five New Zealand teams and only three from Australia.

That increased ill-feeling between New Zealand and Australia and caused Australia to consider also leaving Super Rugby in favor of a domestic tournament, perhaps with eventual Japanese involvement.

A truce was struck and the current 12-team competition was hatched last season and was acclaimed a success. But old problems remained: Australian teams won eight matches against New Zealand teams all season.

There have been three matches between New Zealand and Australian teams so far this season and so far the record stands at 2-1. The Hurricanes beat the Queensland Reds 47-13 in the first round and the Melbourne Rebels 39-33 in the second.

The ACT Brumbies' impressive 25-20 win over the Blues suggests they at least will be competitive against the New Zealand teams. But overall the lack of competitiveness remains with an average winning margin of 21.5 points and four matches so far in which winning teams have exceeded 50 points.

The Brumbies almost certainly will win more matches than they lose this year but might not win fans for their style of play which is forward-based. They slowed how effective than can be against the Blues who lost their discipline when the Brumbies dictated the pace and shut down their dangerous backs.

"We were really focused on getting that result (against the Blues)," Brumbies flyhalf Noah Lolesio said. "It was very scrappy but I thought we did really well to get the result we wanted.

"I think the belief was always there. As you saw, the game went to the 81st minute so we knew we had to stick in there. It's an awesome vibe and hopefully, we can carry that into Saturday."

The Brumbies next face the Reds and are expected to improve to 3-0.

The Blues started the season with an impressive 60-20 win over the Highlanders but showed all of their weaknesses against the Brumbies. They lacked character and discipline when they were prevented from playing the game at pace and as they wanted and weren't able to find another way to win.

"Discipline was always going to be a factor and to give away penalties and end up with two in the bin wasn't the start we wanted," head coach Leon MacDonald said. "In the second half we felt we had a bit more bounce around the park and were trying to keep playing. But critical turnovers at the breakdown or knock-ons at the wrong times kept stopping us from getting what we wanted."

Question marks still remain over the form of the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Waratahs, who all may be tested by stronger teams. The Blues and Hurricanes meet Saturday while the Crusaders play the Fijian Drua.


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