Super Rugby wrap: results shouldn't write off Australian rugby just yet

Despite New Zealand's franchises dominance over the weekend, there was plenty of scintillating rugby played out with two of the five matches decided after the hooter, while the Waratahs and Hurricanes put up a cricket score at the SCG, and the Reds were found wanting in Dunedin.

Read on as we review some of the big talking points from the weekend's action.


Not too long ago a 0-5 sweep from Kiwi sides over the Aussie franchises would have heralded the demise of Australian rugby. To do so after the opening round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman would be narrow minded and would ignore just how impressive several of the Aussie franchises were this past weekend.

Yes, the Rebels were truly poor in their 50-3 loss to the Blues, but the Crusaders and Chiefs relied on missed conversions to keep them clear of the Brumbies and Force, respectively, while a depleted Reds have all the talent to turn this weekend's result around and give the Crusaders a tough assignment in Round 2. In fact, the draw for the opening rounds were never really in Australia's favour.

Several of the weekend's most scintillating tries came from the Aussie franchises, including the Waratahs, who throughout the year have struggled to find the white line and on Friday night found it seven times - including without doubt the try of the round.

While the Force, who haven't faced a Kiwi franchise since 2017, clawed their way back from a 20-7 deficit to go down by just one point after a missed conversion after the siren.

It was disappointing that the glow of the Super Rugby AU final was dimed so quickly with the Reds looking sloppy and unlike themselves as they fell 40-19 to the Highlanders in the opening match of the round. It was a big blow for Australian rugby, but it shouldn't write the Reds or Australian rugby out just yet.

The task was always going to be hard. Just days after lifting the Super Rugby AU trophy, the Reds were on their first international flight to face the Highlanders in Dunedin with just a six-day turn. With a growing injury ward; Hunter Paisami (fractured jaw), Harry Wilson (concussion) and Alex Mafi (concussion) they were already without some of their biggest names.

Perhaps Brad Thorn's decision to bench three of his best players in Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Fraser McReight was a bad call, especially in a competition that reduces 10 teams to just two after five rounds. But with little rest following a tough SR AU campaign, would a loss with a tired, not quite full strength Reds team to perhaps New Zealand's bottom team have dimmed Australian rugby's glow even further?

If there was one positive that could be taken away from the game though, it was Suliasi Vunivalu and his magnificent aerial capabilities. His two tries coming off the back of two impressive leaps into the air where he outmuscled his opponent and came down with ball in hand to dot it down in the corner.

While we can find the silver lining in much of the Aussie franchises matches, the Rebels blowout loss is without doubt the hardest to explain away. At home, with close to their full strength team, there was no way people could imagine just how severely they'd be beaten.

It was truly the only one-sided fixture of the round and the Rebels were rightfully punished for looking a rabble. The Blues offloaded at will and made the Rebels defence look like Swiss cheese, some Aussies would be thankful broadcasters Stan had issues televising the final moments of the game just to get some relief from the pain.

In a sprint like competition where you must win all five games to be a certain finalist, the job has become so much harder for any Australian franchise to earn the Trans-Tasman title. If there's to be a chance, the Reds must defeat the Crusaders this week in Brisbane, while the Brumbies will continue their road trip and hope for a victory over the Chiefs.


While there was plenty of hope heading into the opening round, expectations weren't too high for any Australian teams to claim a win over their trans-Tasman rivals. Especially for the Force who hosted the Chiefs or the Brumbies who had to back up from the SR AU final against the Crusaders in Christchurch. But after 79 minutes of dazzling and scorching rugby, both teams had the opportunity to shock their Kiwi rivals.

It wasn't to be however, with both kicks going wide of the mark after the siren.

After a fast start for the Chiefs with Damien McKenzie pulling the puppet strings like he has so many times before, it seemed like a big score was brewing. Instead the Force took a breath, refused to get flustered and start chasing. Cool heads like Brynard Stander, Tomas Cubelli and Ian Prior stood tall and just as the Force looked down and out, they came roaring back with the chance to stun the Chiefs.

With the hooter sounding, Diego Miotti sliced through a gap and touched down just metres in from touch. If only he didn't send the kick across the face of the posts!

Who would have thought the Force, playing Kiwi opposition for the first time since they were booted from Super Rugby in 2017, would get oh so close to claiming victory?

Just hours earlier it was a similar scene in Christchurch as Brumbies fly-half Noah Lolesio was given the chance to kick his team to a draw over the Crusaders.

Looking dead and buried with just 11 minutes left on the clock, the Brumbies scored two late tries to push the Crusaders to the brink and steal a bonus point. Tom Banks' try is worth watching on replay; it was beautiful to watch as he put on the pace and blasted past three defenders. Before Rob Valetini dotted down just minutes later to give the Brumbies a chance at leveling the scores.

The way Lolesio was mobbed by his teammates following his conversion attempt would have had you believe he'd converted, but it's a true sign of a well-connected team when they rushed in to show their support for their distraught kicker who'd just sent the difficult conversion wide of the uprights.


How often would a team that scores seven tries still lose? It was a question Waratahs interim coach Chris Whitaker and Tahs fans were forced to ask themselves after the side crossed the line seven times but let in 10 through some truly apathetic defence.

At some stages Waratahs players looked more like speed bumps; hardly slowing down Hurricanes players as they rolled through the defence and crashed over the line. While at other times their shoulder and arms worked just like turnstiles as they slipped off one by one.

The Hurricanes try in the 11th minute was a perfect example of some pretty poor tackling. Yes, the Canes support play was impressive, but wing Salesi Rayasi's easy bumping off of three players before handing off to Billy Proctor for the score had fans shaking their heads.

Their saving grace however, was that the Hurricanes didn't seem too interested in demonstrating any skilled defence of their own.

For the first time this year, the Waratahs looked the better team in attack through several portions of the match. Their backrow stood up and outmuscled the Canes on several occasions, Jake Gordon led his team with aplomb while Ben Donaldson has given Will Harrison some competition for the starting fly-half position.

Angus Bell's try in the 16th minutes featured offloads that so regularly this season would have gone to ground, while players stayed alive and provided ball runners options. It was like seeing the Tahs of old in some of their try scoring moves.

Without doubt they scored the try of the round through some enterprising play from Harrison, who just metres from his own line, chipped the ball over the Canes defence to regather and offload to Donaldson who sent a wide ball to Lalakai Foketi, with a cheeky sweep around the back Jack Maddocks collects the pass to run 60 metres downfield and finish off the move.

It was as commentator Morgan Turinui said "the light at the end of the tunnel" for the Waratahs; there's plenty that needs to be done, but their efforts on Friday showed their young guns are the way forward.