By Aiden McLaughlin
Highlanders 40-19 Reds
Waratahs 48-64 Hurricanes
Crusaders 31-29 Brumbies
Rebels 3-50 Blues
Force 19-20 Chiefs
Hurricanes 35-13 Rebels
Force 15-25 Highlanders
Blues 48-21 Waratahs
Chiefs 40-19 Brumbies
Reds 28-63 Crusaders
Two weeks into Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and New Zealand teams have a perfect 10-0 record against their Australian rivals. The way that the draw has worked so far, means that each of the 10 teams has played one match at home and one away.
On the first weekend, there were two close matches; in Christchurch, the Brumbies missed a last gasp conversion to earn a draw, while in Perth, the Force had a chance to beat the Chiefs by a point, again, via a conversion after the 80 minutes were up. Outside of those games, the closest margin of victory was 10 (Highlanders beating the Force this weekend) and six games have been won by 21 points or more.
At the start of the competition, there was a sense of the unknown which hadn’t been felt for a while. With Covid playing its part, it had been over a year since Super Rugby sides had played anyone but their domestic rivals. The Reds and Brumbies had played out a pulsating final in Super Rugby AU with the Queenslanders taking the title 19-16. A quick turnaround which saw them play the Highlanders less than a week later could certainly help explain their performance in Dunedin, but last night, back in Brisbane, they were dismantled by New Zealand’s champion team, the Crusaders.
If the Reds are the best side in Australia, then where does that leave this competition? Well, with three rounds to go, the chances of anything but an all New Zealand final look slim. Yes, the Australian teams can turn this around as they have the time, but do they have the ability?
During Super Rugby AU, after the Reds and Brumbies, there was daylight to the rest. The Waratahs finished bottom of the table without a win to their name and with a negative points differential of 154. By comparison, the Hurricanes finished bottom of Super Rugby Aotearoa with two wins in their eight matches and a points difference of -23. Outside of those two victories against the Highlanders, they lost to the Crusaders by three points in Wellington and the Chiefs beat them by two points in Hamilton. Strength in depth has always been the Kiwi advantage, but there were grounds for optimism before the competition began that it wouldn’t be one way traffic.
After the first weekend of fixtures, Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos acknowledged some issues.
‘There’s a slight gulf but I think the biggest thing is to have squad depth…We’re in a transition period…We’ve got to be patient.’
With dominance comes apathy. Free to air viewing figures in Australia fell during Super Rugby AU and losing game after game in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman won’t see those viewers return. The only thing that will, is their teams winning and after the first 10 games, it’s hard to see where that turnaround is going to begin. After the conclusion of this competition France travel to Australia for a three test series in July and after that there’s a full Rugby Championship scheduled. Dave Rennie may be able to bring together a decent first choice match day 23 if his best players are fit, but going beyond that, the stock is low. As rugby in Australia jostles to find its place in the crowded sporting landscape, they need wins to get the fans interested and they need them quick. Round three kicks off with the Force travelling to Napier to play the Hurricanes on Friday night; the big question is, can they give rugby in Australia the win that it desperately needs.
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