If fans are to take anything away from the opening three rounds of the competition, it must include the classic ‘Super Rugby Snapshot’ of delighted Sunwolves players (after their first-ever win on New Zealand soil).
The caption above is a wonderful sporting image. And one of determination from the Japanese Super Rugby franchise. After 20-plus attempts offshore, the Chiefs now hold the unenviable record of being the first side to lose the Sunwolves on home soil.
No matter how long it took, the fact that in 2019 the Sunwolves have; and in 2018 the Jagauares also claimed wins, means that the once ‘unbeatable’ Kiwi franchises are becoming an attainable goal. Yes, it is not impossible, and that was the look of delight on Hiroshi Yamashita’s face (above).
Add to that the Melbourne Rebels claiming victory on Friday – their first win over a Kiwi team in three years – and the change is tangible. Though, the advice is to take a Super Rugby snapshot now, because that sensation may only last for a short time. The competition is still in its opening weeks, so it is hard to make longterm judgments [as yet].
FULL-TIME | REBELS v HIGHLANDERS
In a major upset, the Rebels have defeated the Highlanders for the first time since 2013, breaking a six-year drought.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) March 1, 2019
Super Rugby Snapshot – All Smiles for Sunwolves and Rebels
The impact of both those losses will be felt differently by the Chiefs, and the Highlanders. One will feel utterly miserable – compounded by a huge loss a week earlier. The Highlanders can recover though, as they were within a score of taking the win away from the Rebels; Shannon Frizell spilling the ball over the line.
But it is Colin Cooper and his Chiefs who must take a Super Rugby snapshot of their campaign. What is happening? Their statistics show them falling off tackles. The Sunwolves maximized any offload opportunity. And they were the more attacking side too, putting on 23 points in the opening 40 minutes. From there, the Chiefs had to play outside their game plan – and they looked a side who have trouble finding a natural style.
By round three, sides should have discovered their patterns. The Crusaders sure have.
Unbeaten and aside from the Rebels having the bye, are leading all the other sides (again). Their 18th consecutive win over the Reds was a balanced approach. Never overexerting themselves – apart from a fright when a refereeing blunder had them reduced to 14 players. They seem unstoppable.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) March 3, 2019
They next face the Chiefs. So it is the Hamilton team who may be frightened when they rewatch the Sunwolves game. To go from an expected win, to now facing the ‘best of the best’ might be a nightmare ahead of an NZ local derby game on Saturday.
Who else is smiling? Fans of the South African teams, who are enjoying some delectable interprovincial match-ups.
Derby Games in South African Conference hold attention
All too often, they say the NZ derby games are the ones to watch out for. Not in Round three. The Super Rugby snapshot shows that both the Lions v Bulls and the sensational Sharks v Stormers games were able to hold the attention of the Southern hemisphere.
Both had that classic, big match feeling that captures attention.
Johannesburg was the scene of a high tempo game, where the visitors played out of their skin. Handre Pollard enjoyed his ‘Superhero’ jersey, to the tune of 20 points. They sit inside the top eight, where three African Conference teams enjoy great positions early in the competition.
— International Player Management (@IPMrugby) March 2, 2019
Kings Park in Durban was a cauldron as usual. When the Bulls visit, it tends to bring out the best in the opposition. The Sharks may not have the bite though, with Eben Etzebeth showing how valuable he still is. Fit, and unlike many All Blacks players, free to show some early season confidence.
The lack of limitations on South African and Australian players is a major talking point. The All Blacks strategy appears to be unsettling most of their franchises. Especially the Chiefs, even if that is not used as an excuse. The Blues also have to manage player minutes, yet their issues have been described as ‘anxiety in attack’. That does not bode well for a new management group.
Looking towards Round Four
Still early days. Still time for sides to rebound, hold their nerve and to discover which XV starts and which players have impact. So Round Four fixtures have a lot to look forward too.
Friday March 8:
Hurricanes v Highlanders – Westpac Stadium
Melbourne Rebels v ACT Brumbies – AAMI Park
Saturday March 9:
Crusaders v Chiefs – Christchurch Stadium (5:35pm)
Blues v Sunwolves – QBE Stadium (7:35pm)
Waratahs v Reds – Sydney Cricket Ground
Lions v Jaguares – Emirates Airlines Park
Bulls v Sharks – Loftus Versfeld [Match of the Round].
Leading into this round, it is time for the Blues to rid themselves of the losing streak. The two Aussie local derby games are worthy of conference finals. And then up in Pretoria, fans enjoy yet another stellar derby game. Importantly, if the Sharks hold their own, they will be well placed after a month of footy.
And fans will also be happily placed. While goals in July and into September and October, the time for players to act is now! And gladly, All Blacks restrictions are finally off, meaning the Chiefs can look the Crusaders fairly in the eye.
Finally, something for fans to smile about……but none as wide as the Sunwolves.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images