Australian rugby fans need no reminding about the nightmare of last season.
In 26 matches between New Zealand and Australian teams, the Aussie sides failed to win a single match.
It continued a 32-match losing streak for Australian teams against their nearest neighbours stretching back to May 27, 2016. You wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t true.
New Zealand teams have won five of the last six Super Rugby titles – is there any reason to believe their strangle-hold on the tournament will be broken this year?
What did the first full weekend of matches reveal?
Hurricanes shocking start in Pretoria
This must go down as one of the biggest upsets in Super Rugby history and it will be tough to top this season.
It started in the third minute with a superb “chicken-wing” pass from Jesse Kriel to set up the opening try to Johnny Kotze to put the Bulls up 5-0.
But after Ricky Riccitelli and Wes Goosen crossed for tries to put the Canes 12-8 ahead it looked like business as usual.
Somehow the Bulls, through a combination of appalling defence from the Hurricanes and courageous attack from the forwards – lock Lood de Jager and prop Pierre Schoeman were the other tryscorers – made it 21-19.
The Canes seemed to tire very quickly in the Pretoria altitude but it still does not explain how the Bulls, who finished a staggering 38 log points behind the Wellington-based team last season, won this one.
Maybe the New Zealand teams aren’t as far ahead as we think?
Crusaders beat Chiefs in error-fest
This was a surprisingly poor game between last year’s champions, the Crusaders, and one of the likely challengers for their crown.
For an NZ derby the error count was atrocious – 15 dropped passes, three yellow cards, 19 penalties, four lost lineouts and 60 missed tackles!
On a positive note there were 198 runs, 1260 metres made, 13 line breaks and 28 off loads – but even with these attacking stats you could still understand All Blacks coach Steve Hansen picking up the phone to both camps to ask what’s going on.
In the end the Crusaders won it 45-23 and the crowd saw eight tries scored (plus a penalty try) but if the defenses of both these sides does not improve they may be on the losing side more times than not.
The hallmark to New Zealand’s success in Super Rugby over the last half-decade has been attacking flair built on a solid structure – but this for the most part was a structure-less rabble.
Of course non-NZ fans may just be clutching at straws here as the Highlanders-Blues match the previous day was outstanding and an example of just how good Kiwi rugby is.
But still worry signs for both the Saders and Chiefs camp. We’ll know more this weekend when the Chiefs head to Auckland and the Crusaders host the Stormers.
How's that for drama? Ned Hanigan surges over the line in the final play of #WARvSTO to win the match. #SuperRugby never fails to entertain; stick around for two more matches today on SS Action - #LIOvJAG & #BULvHUR pic.twitter.com/RqcIgWAl6L— Sky Sports Rugby (@SkySportsRugby) February 24, 2018
Waratahs get lucky
The most unlikely of heroes, and the most unlikely of Wallabies, Ned Hanigan popped up in the final moments to steal the Tahs a hardly deserved 34-27 victory.
It was a see-sawing match that would have fairly ended at 27-all but somehow Daryl Gibson’s much maligned sky blues came out on top.
There are high hopes for a NSW-led Aussie revival in Super Rugby this year and it’s certainly great to see Kurtley Beale back at the SFS in a quality backline – but at this point in time the pack does not look strong enough for a sustained title charge.
As for the Stormers they will greatly rue this one getting away as points on the road will be so important in the South African conference this season.
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