5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby This Weekend
Week 3 of Super Rugby saw the Waratahs wipe the floor with the Reds, the Crusaders crash to a second consecutive defeat and the Bulls bounce back in Pretoria.
It is too early in proceedings to pay any serious attention to table positions, but there were plenty of talking points to emerge—from the woes of the All Black captain to a comeback by one of the all-time greats.
Here’s what we learned.
1. Folau Is on a Hot Streak
Israel Folau followed up his hat-trick on the opening day with another two tries against the Queensland Reds. He had his first of the game inside three minutes and was over again before half an hour had passed.
He also picked up a yellow card for an intentional bat of the ball into touch in the act of saving a Reds try, so there’s just no keeping him out of the headlines.
Folau would already be a good bet to finish the season as the top try scorer.
2. The Highlanders Only Play for a Half
The format of the Highlanders’ two performances so far has taken on a familiar signature.
They race into a large half-time lead and then attempt to cling on in the second period. Against the Blues on opening day, they were 24-0 up at the break and lost the second half 21-5.
On their visit to the champion Chiefs, they held a 16-7 lead at half-time, which became 19-14 with just 13 minutes left.
The Chiefs came up with their third try from Charlie Ngatai, which was converted by Aaron Cruden for the win.
Jamie Joseph’s men either need to stay out of the dressing room at the interval or change what they put in their half-time cuppa.
3. Crusaders Lacking Killer Instinct
Once great, the Canterbury Crusaders have had a terrible start to their season. Defeat to the Chiefs was followed up by a high-scoring reverse to the Blues.
They are now set to miss captain Richie McCaw until Week 11 as he prepares for thumb surgery.
Coach Todd Blackadder, a fan favourite in Christchurch during his own playing days, has a tall task on his hands to turn his players into a winning team.
That is, according to former All Black prop Richard Loe, who wrote in the New Zealand Herald:
Their problems have been about individual execution and attention to detail. Every player has a job and so far, too many haven't done what they are on the field to do. In the first game, it was goal-kicking and against the Blues, basic skills such as tackling, handling and communication let them down.
4. Matfield Can Still Mix It in Super Rugby
After a poor start, with two defeats from two outings, the Bulls were under pressure to perform at home to the Lions.
Largely thanks to the boot of Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who scored 20 of their points in a 25-17 win, they did.
However, more impressive was the first start in the competition since 2011 for Springbok legend Victor Matfield.
With Matfield in the side, the Bulls won all of their lineouts and made a mess of the Lions’ throw-in, including a steal by the 36-year-old.
The big man is back, and still a major force.
5. Rebels Less of a Rabble
The Melbourne Rebels were the last team to taste Super Rugby action in 2014, having had a bye last week, but they made quite an impact in a 35-14 defeat of the Cheetahs.
Stathi Paxinos, writing in The Age (via The Sydney Morning Herald), said:
All pre-season the Melbourne Rebels have been talking about how things would be different this season. The blights of the past - the miserable defence, the poor discipline on and off the field, the wobbly scrum and the lack of penetration at the breakdown, would all be fixed under the realm of new coach, captain and game plan. Just wait and see, they said.
On Friday night in their first game of the Super Rugby season, the Rebels showed they meant business when they produced possibly the most comprehensive game they have ever played
With former Munster coach Tony McGahan in charge, it would be a surprise if the Rebels didn’t become a more cohesive, abrasive unit.