Those who have the courage to bet against the favorite would have made a good profit this weekend. In a unique opening to super rugby 2015, six of the seven games were won away and three of those games were won by the rank outsider.
The competition began with the Rebels losing to last year’s finalists and seven-time champions, the Crusaders, in Christchurch. Although beaten with a free kick, the rebels’ defense was exemplary and they made fewer mistakes than the opposition. As usual, the Crusaders were slow to get out of the box, tended to rush things, kicked badly, and ran out of ideas. For the winners, McMahon was exceptional.
The Brumbies restored normalcy at home against the Reds, who appeared to be completely disorganized. The referee didn’t help them but they were all poor. The Brumbies looked solid and the backline was particularly dominant, with Kuridrani and the undervalued Coleman in the foreground.
Without several All Blacks, the Chiefs started quickly and established a good lead early on. They later faded and their persistent tendency to lose the ball on contact needs to be corrected. Sonny Bill Williams had an immediate impact, the full backs were good in the first half and the McKenzie brothers presented themselves well. If the Blues play to their potential, the Stormers will have their hands full this weekend.
Lions vs Hurricanes was a strange game, one that the visitors did well to win but the outcome could easily have been different. Too many turnovers and a lack of finish cost the Lions dearly and the Hurricanes took advantage of limited opportunities. The result will hurt but there was a lot of promise in this Lions performance.
As you might expect, the Bulls resorted to punching, but without the melee muscle to back it up, they floundered against a motivated Stormers team and suffered a rare loss to Loftus. They were largely outclassed by a team that fully deserved its victory.
Every year the cash-strapped Cheetahs lose top players to other South African franchises and in their match in Durban they lose Bok Lock, de Jager at the start of the match. However, they still fight manly and while their attackers held on, they were lit at the rear by Pretorius and the Roux. They looked sharper and more focused and despite a edgy finish they left Durban with a sack full of points. The Sharks were just a disappointment.
Last but not least, the brave Force, who never won the first match of a super rugby season and were without a talismanic captain, Hodgson for the first eight weeks of the competition, faced off against the star-studded champions beautifully. Even the loss of their international prop, Pek Cowan did nothing to dampen their efforts. The Waratah seemed to think that all they had to do was introduce themselves and this arrogance was their downfall. Despite their dominance on set piece, they were slow to respond and seemed demotivated. Next weekend should prove to be interesting.