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Round 2 of the Super Rugby Aotearoa looked to have established who the big contenders will be in the 10-week competition. Both the Blues and the Crusaders picked up 14-point wins, while the Chiefs and the Hurricanes seem to be falling behind the pack early.
The Week 2 games weren't as tightly contested as they were in Round 1, but the action was pleasing to watch nonetheless. Here are 10 notes from Super Rugby Aotearoa Round 2:
1.) The Blues Mean Business
With their 26-12 win over the Chiefs on a cold, rainy Waikato night, the Blues cemented their spot among the elites in New Zealand. Over the course of the 80 minutes, the Blues held the Chiefs tryless and generally gave them no room to breathe all game.
For a side chalked full of dangerous threats in attack, the Blues' defensive prowess is a welcome sign for all Auckland fans who have watched their team struggle for the better part of a decade. As the team moves forward this season, the attack will only sharpen and the Blues could be the side to push the Crusaders.
2.) The Crusaders are just too good
Speaking of those Crusaders, they showed everyone they're still the top dogs in Super Rugby with their 39-25 win over the Hurricanes. Despite the Hurricanes' late comeback attempt, the men from Christchurch showed everyone why they're the three-time defending champs, scoring five tries to the Canes' one. You can't give the Crusaders even an inch, or they'll make you pay. The Hurricanes learned this once again and were bitten by the most ruthless team in New Zealand.
3.) Crusaders took some adjusting to the new laws
Perhaps it was just rust, but the Crusaders, who were on a bye in Round 1, racked up 11 penalties in the first half of the game against the Hurricanes, making for a closer scoreline than it probably should have been. Wellington's Jackson Garden-Bachop scored 20 points off his right boot to keep the Canes in it for 70 minutes of the match. The Crusaders, however, seemed to adjust well to the laws at half time and only committed three penalties in the second stanza.
We saw the other teams last week struggle with penalties, as referees are really making an effort to crack down on the free-for-all at the breakdowns. With a couple of weeks now under their belts, I suspect all of the clubs will tighten the screws on the discipline moving forward.
4.) Why do players drop kick with advantage?!
Once again, this weekend I watched a player (Jackson Garden-Bachop) take a drop kick for points when his team was on advantage. For some reason, many people see this as a clever thing to do, but I find it entirely pointless. The Hurricanes got awarded an advantage right in the middle of the field on the 22 meter mark, a gimme three points off the tee. Under the advantage, however, Garden-Bachop elected to shoot a drop kick.
I understand the thinking here: "Well if I miss this kick at least I get another shot at it." Therefore, you essentially get two attempts at three points. However, the likelihood of missing a kick from right in front like that is minuscule, and you have now just squashed any chance your team would have had at five or seven points. It's a complete let off for the defending team. If the penalty occurs towards the sideline, or if it's late in the game and you absolutely need three points, I get it, but if you're in position for a very kickable penalty, take "advantage" of the advantage and go for the try! That's the time to try a cross field kick, a grubber, an up and under, a big cut out pass, a risky offload, a no-look pass, literally anything you want. But, a drop kick? No thanks.
5.) Will Jordan will be an All Black
22 year old Crusaders fullback Will Jordan looks dead set on becoming an All Black soon enough. The lightning quick youngster shows flashes of the, dare I say it, great Christian Cullen. His pace is extraordinary, and he runs onto the ball extremely hard. At a young age, he already plays extremely smart and is part of one of the best club setups in the world. He was really good over the weekend, and I expect this Aotearoa season to be his breakout.
6.) Tough times for Gatland and the Chiefs
After an excellent start to his Chiefs tenure, Warren Gatland has fallen on hard times lately. After winning their first three games under Gatland, which included victories over the Blues and Crusaders, the Chiefs have now lost four of their last five. Absences in the forward pack like Sam Cane and Tyler Ardron have certainly made things difficult, and the Round 1 injury to Mitchell Brown only worsened the issue. With a 2021 Lions tour to South Africa on the horizon, it's worth pondering whether Gatland's focus is being pulled in different directions right now.
7.) Sotutu makes another All Black bid
If it wasn't clear before, it's pretty clear now: Hoskins Sotutu is a strong candidate to take over from Kieran Read in the All Black #8 shirt. He delivered another cracking performance against the Chiefs, scoring a try, carrying very well, and recording 15 tackles. At 6'4, 234 pounds, the 21 year old has the build to be a star test player, but more importantly is showing he has the smarts and the drive to as well.
8.) A Crusaders vs Hurricanes match with no Barretts
For the first time in a very long while, the Hurricanes and the Crusaders played one another without a single Barrett brother on the field. Two-time world player of the year Beauden has of course moved on from the Canes to play with the Blues, while brothers Jordie (Hurricanes) and Scott (Crusaders) were both out injured this week.
9.) Blues becoming road warriors
The Blues have won six consecutive games, and an impressive five road wins on the trot. Their victory over the Chiefs on Saturday was their first in 17 matches against the Waikato side. The Blues are also unbeaten away from home in 2020, and will look to extend their overall win streak to seven next week against the Highlanders at Eden Park.
10.) Super Rugby Aotearoa is quarantine's saving grace
Super Rugby Aotearoa has been a shining light during a tough period of time as we all wait out the pandemic that has affected the whole world. With most live sports, and all rugby, shut down for the past three and a half months, Super Rugby has come in and given fans something amazing to watch the past two weeks. Not only are we getting to watch rugby during this time, we're getting to watch the most exciting teams in the whole world and they don't look like they've missed a beat.