Round 1 of the 2012 Super Rugby season is in the books and what a way to start the season. Fans were treated to plenty of exciting finishes across the three countries as every game went down to the final minutes before the result was secured. All in all, 6 of the seven games were decided by one try or less. The 2012 season kicked off on Friday at the same venue as last year’s World Cup final, Eden Park in Auckland as the Blues hosted the Crusaders. Right from the outset it was a great showcase of attacking rugby as the opening 20 minutes went by at a blistering pace as the Crusaders managed to tighten up and hold on for a 19-18 win. New Blues signing Piri Weepu had a chance to cap his Blues debut with a drop goal after the final siren but it was blocked and sailed wide.
As fans were still catching their breath from that game they were subjected to the opener of the Australian conference between the ACT Brumbies and Western Force. It was just one of those games where neither team was overly interested in taking risks in attack in order to reduce their chances of losing. Even with the slow pace of the game there was still a tense finish to be had as the Force dropped the ball as they were lining up for a winning field goal as the Brumbies escaped 19-17 winners. It’s amazing how two games with similar scorelines can have been remarkably different in complexion. Friday’s games were closed out with the South African Conference having their opener between the Bulls and the Sharks and, I suppose the polite way to put it is it was everything we have come to expect from South African rugby, much like football in Italy it is dour, defensive and very tactical as the teams try to kick their way to victory. Morne Steyn played the hero for the Bulls scoring all 18 of his teams points through 5 penalties and 1 drop goal. To the Sharks credit they actually scored a try and gave it their all in standing up to the punishing Bulls defense.
Saturday afternoon came along and we had the remaining four games to be played over the next 12 hours. Starting in New Zealand once again the Chiefs were heavily favoured at home to the Highlanders. Leading 16-6 it looked like it was going to go to form with the Chiefs pulling away however a 5 minute span in the middle of the second half changed the game completely as the Highlanders ran in two tries to take a lead they would never relinquish. What won this game in the end though was the fact that the Chiefs were held scoreless for the final 30 minutes of the game.
Up next was the game of the round from Sydney as the Waratahs hosted the Reds in Australian rugby’s longest running rivalry. It was a game that lived up to the hype with plenty of fireworks on the field and minor skirmishes (also called ‘handbags’) breaking out behind play. Scoring was back and forth throughout the game as the Reds were kept in it by stand-in flyhalf Mike Harris who landed all 6 of his penalty attempts while the Waratahs managed to run in two tries, the second coming from great build up play. As the full time siren was preparing to sound, the Reds were trailing 21-18 and had the ball 75m from the Waratahs tryline, a couple of quick runs through the middle were followed by a pass out wide to winger Dom Shipperley who was only playing because regular Rod Davies failed to overcome a hamstring injury. Shipperley stepped around a few tired tackle attempts and proceeded to bolt towards the tryline using his blazing speed to outrun all the chasers and steal the game from the home side. The final score was Reds 25-21 Waratahs.
Overnight in South Africa we had two games to close out the round as the Stormers hosted the Hurricanes in the first inter-conference match of the season. Home ground advantage paid off for the Stormers as they scored 3 converted tries, kicked 5 penalties and a drop goal to run out comfortable 39-26 winners. The final game was between the Lions and the Cheetahs, two teams who are likely to struggle for success this year. An early try to the Cheetahs gave this game some hope but that was all the try scoring the fans were going to get as it became a kicking duel thanks to plenty of penalties being called. Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies kicked 9 penalty goals for the match including the winner with 6 minutes to play which was a pretty good effort in its own right since his team gave him no other help scoring. It’s great to have the rugby back and we will have it every weekend until October in some form be it domestic or international competitions.
Quick Picks for Week 2
Chiefs vs Blues
Rebels vs Waratahs
Lions vs Hurricanes
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Reds vs Force
Cheetahs vs Bulls
Stormers vs Sharks
Last Week: 7-0 (not a bad start, won’t happen again though).