I know that the Six Nations is what everybody is talking about at the moment, and next in line is discussions around selection for the upcoming Lions tour, but with all of this in mind let’s not forget that Super Rugby is back this week.
Last weekend saw the last of the pre-season match-ups, and so while everybody was presumably bored over the lack of Six Nations games being played, there was a prime opportunity to assess how the Lions’ future opponents are looking.
Here’s a quick recap on the New Zealand Super Rugby sides’ recent performances.
Hurricanes Vs Crusaders
This was probably the most anticipated game of the weekend for many reasons. It was the first chance for Hurricanes fans to see how Beauden Barrett plays with his younger brother Jordie in the side. The result was what one would expect from last year’s World Rugby Player of the Year, as he unleashed a classic length-of-the-field try before half-time after managing another intercept.
For the Hurricanes it also offered a chance to assess the form of Nehe Milner-Skudder, the All Black who erupted onto the scene in 2015 but was missed for the majority of last season through injury. The fullback managed a try in the match against the Crusaders but played less than 20 minutes and limped of the field after scoring, with what is hopefully only a minor hamstring tweak.
The Crusaders were no weak opponents either, with eleven All Blacks in their side. Although it’s fair to say they were the stronger team in the scrums and lineouts, the Hurricanes still managed to ultimately win the game 33-27. Although it was only pre-season and the result hardy matters, it’s still a good sign that the Hurricanes are sticking with their habit of winning games as they prepare for their first ever title defence.
Blues Vs Chiefs
The Blues look to be the team on the up this coming year as they managed to defeat the Chiefs 26-14 in Auckland. Under the guidance of head coach and All Blacks legend Tana Umaga they managed to dominate the set-piece, particularly the scrums and also the collisions in the game.
The Chiefs saw the return of many of their star players from All Black duty but it wasn’t enough to stop the Blues running out to a 26-7 half-time lead. Ultimately this was a lead that was too great to recover from and was achieved by a Blues team that was missing some of their biggest talents in the form of players like Sonny Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino and Patrick Tuipulotu.
The result gives Auckland fans hope that perhaps this season will see the Blues finally come out of their form slump they have been in in the last few years and possibly even challenge the perceived stronger NZ franchises.
Highlanders Vs Waratahs
The Highlanders managed a thrilling victory over the Waratahs in Sydney, with a penalty after the final hooter to snatch victory in a high scoring encounter, which ended 50-47.
The Highlanders should have won comfortably leading by 40-18 early in the second half but became complacent and saw their lead collapse with the Waratahs leading 47-40 inside the last ten minutes.
Admittedly the Highlanders did make a mass of changes at half-time, which is probably the reason for the Waratahs’ impressive comeback, but ultimately they still managed to claim the win.
So while you watch the rest of the Six Nations and analyse which players are worthy of Lions selection, don’t be afraid to have a peek at the competition because the New Zealand players are ready. If you need proof, then just watch some Super Rugby games, which begin next weekend.
Teo Fudakowski, Pundit Arena