Those brave enough to bet against the favourite would have made a healthy profit this weekend. In a unique opening to super rugby 2015, six of the seven matches were won away from home and three of those games, by the rank outsider.
The competition began with the Rebels defeat of last year’s finalists and seven times champions, the Crusaders, in Christchurch. Although beaten in the set piece, the Rebels defence was exemplary and they made fewer errors than the opposition. As usual, the Crusaders were slow out of the box, tended to rush things, kicked poorly and were short of ideas. For the winners, McMahon was exceptional.
The Brumbies restored normality at home vs the Reds, who looked completely disorganized. The referee did not help them but they were poor all round. The Brumbies looked solid and the backline was particularly dominant, with Kuridrani and the under-rated Coleman to the fore.
Without several All Blacks, the Chiefs began quickly and established a good lead early. They faded later and their continuing tendency to lose the ball in contact needs to be addressed. Sonny Bill Williams made an immediate impact, the backs were good in the first half and the McKenzie brothers showed up well. If the Blues play to their potential though, the Stormers will have their hands full this weekend.
Lions vs Hurricanes was a strange match, which the visitors did well to win but the result could easily have been different. Too many turnovers and a lack of finishing cost the Lions dearly and the Hurricanes made the most of limited opportunities. The result will hurt but there was much that had promise in this Lions performance.
Predictably, the Bulls resorted to type but without the scrum muscle to back it up, they floundered against a motivated Stormers team and suffered a rare defeat at Loftus. They were largely outplayed by a team which fully deserved its victory.
Each year the cash strapped Cheetahs lose top players to other South African franchises and in their match at Durban they lost Bok lock, de Jager early in the game. However, they always battle away manfully and while their forwards held their own, they were lit up at the back by Pretorius and le Roux. They appeared sharper and more focused and despite a nervy finish, left Durban with a full bag of points. The Sharks were simply disappointing.
Last but not least, the gutsy Force, who have never won the first game of a super rugby season and who were without talismanic captain, Hodgson for the first eight weeks of the competition, fronted up magnificently against the star studded champions. Even the loss of their international prop, Pek Cowan did nothing to blunt their efforts. The Waratahs looked as if they thought all they had to do was turn up and that arrogance was their undoing. Despite set piece dominance, they were slow to react and appeared unmotivated. Next weekend should prove interesting.