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The gifts keep on coming, as Super Rugby AU's new season just got underway this past weekend with two scintillating matchups, while Super Rugby Aotearoa once again dazzled fans.
Here are ten quick notes concerning the increased action from over the weekend:
1.) The Seat Is Hot For Warren Gatland
Another round, another loss for Warren Gatland's men. The Chiefs stumbled around for 80 minutes at home on Sunday against the Hurricanes in a must-win game, looking largely without a plan or a sense of direction. There was no sense of cohesion on the day in their 25-18 loss to the Hurricanes, where only a fortunate red card in the second half of the match kept them alive.
To be fair to Gatland, he is still missing a good number of tight five forwards from his squad, but at this point excuses are falling on deaf ears. He will need to turn things around quickly if he plans to stick around in Waikato much longer. At 0-4, things are getting real dicey for the Chiefs.
2.) Jordie "Rocket Launcher" Barrett
We all knew Hurricanes fullback Jordie Barrett could kick the ball far, but wowza! His kicking both off the tee and from hand against the Chiefs was mind-blowing. He routinely picked up around 50 meters on his kicks for touch, and slotted one of the longest penalty goals of all time at the end of the first half.
He also had two brilliant assists and made a mark in his first game back from injury. The Canes have sure missed him thus far in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
3.) Super Rugby AU Is Off To a Great Start
Not sure if it's the better weather, the softer defenses, the new rules, or a just a renewed attitude in Australia that made for such an entertaining first round of Super Rugby AU, but they've sure made a fan in me already. The Reds vs Waratahs clash was full of line breaks, tackle busts, and highlight plays, while the Brumbies vs Rebels game was a well-played contest by the two favorites in the league.
If Round 1 was any indication, this could be the sporting event to watch moving forward through the continuation of this pandemic.
4.) I'm Gonna Keep Saying His Name: Will Jordan
There's not much else to say right now about the Crusaders' Will Jordan other than "Holy S**t!" The young fullback slotted onto the wing this week against the Highlanders to make room for Tasman teammate David Havili in the #15 shirt, and once again Jordan was the best player on the field in his side's 40-20 win. He scored another two fantastic tries and was just remarkable with every touch of the ball. He has All Black written all over him, and at this point there's no way he can fly under the radar any longer. He is the form player in the world right now.
5.) A New Wave Is Emerging In Australia
One of the cool aspects of this new Super Rugby competition in Australia is that it's almost been like hitting the reset button on struggling Australian rugby. It's allowed a whole new crop of young talent to showcase itself to fans and coaches. New boss of AU Rugby Dave Rennie will have to have been impressed with some of the performances he saw from rising talent like the Reds' Tate McDermott (#9), Liam Wright (#6), Fraser McReight (No. 7) and Harry Wilson (#8), or the Waratahs' Will Harrison (#10), all under the age of 23.
A total of 10 players in the Reds vs Waratahs match played in the 2019 U-20 championships, and they all made a cracking start in the Super Rugby AU. Times are changing down under.
6.) Ardie Is Back
Hurricanes back rower Ardie Savea came just a hair short of winning the 2019 World Player of the Year Award, but in the process suffered a knee injury in the World Cup Semi against England that has kept him out of action until this Super Rugby Aotearoa comp. His first two games back were relatively quiet, but on Sunday against the Chiefs Savea looked well and truly back to the form he was in during 2019. He was a livewire for the Hurricanes and a huge reason why they're now off the mark and running in the 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa.
7.) Dan Carter Knocks Off Some Rust
Rugby G.O.A.T Dan Carter returned to his roots over the weekend, playing club rugby with his hometown club, Southbridge Rugby Football Club, helping his side to a 54-12 win.
At 38 years of age, Carter's still got it, and all of us anxiously wait to see if he'll kit up for the Blues in the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign this season.
8.) I Really Like The 50-22 Rule
Super Rugby AU introduced a handful of new rules to the game this weekend, one of which is the 50-22 rule, which is stolen from rugby league. The concept of the rule is that if you kick the ball from inside of your own 22-meter line and it bounces in play and then goes out of bounds beyond the 50-meter line, the team that kicked the ball gets a lineout where it goes out. The same law applies for when a player kicks the ball from behind his own 50-meter line and it bounces out of bounds inside of the opponent's 22.
It's another way of creating space on the field as the wingers are forced to drop back further, but it's also another skill added to the game of rugby and another level of awareness to add to players' games. I love the new rule, and I think it makes the game more dynamic and more exciting.
9.) Next Week Is Going To Be HUGE
Next week, the Blues travel to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders in a battle between New Zealand's two unbeaten teams. This is the first of a pair huge battles between the two top teams in the league, and a possible early championship decider.
The Crusaders, winners of the past three Super Rugby titles and 10 all time, are the traditional best team in the country, while the Blues have gone a decade since their last strong season. Will they be good enough to knock the Crusaders off their perch, or will the status quo remain intact?
10.) Rugby Is Making Lockdown So Much Better
In the United States, we are still locked down and there is no foreseeable date in the near future for a return to play for rugby. It's been an excruciating and sad four months, made even more painful by the absence of sport -- specifically rugby. However, the restart of rugby in New Zealand made this all far more manageable, and the beginning of rugby in Australia means we now have four new games to watch every week and it's a godsend in the rugby universe for us fans.