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Photos: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller
Photos: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller

SportsMarch 6, 2023

Super Rugby Aupiki week two review: Is this the try of the season?

Photos: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller
Photos: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller

Round two of Super Rugby Aupiki 2023 saw a high-scoring blowout in Auckland and a one-point nail biter in Christchurch. Alice Soper recaps.

Blues vs Chiefs Manawa

The winner of the annual fixture between the Blues and Chiefs Manawa takes home Waipuea. A taonga introduced to mark the exhibition match that kicked off women’s Super Rugby back in 2021. This added incentive only levelled up the intensity at North Harbour Stadium. 

The Manawa were keen to make amends for their slow start last week and did so with a penalty to Hazel Tubic. It was followed quickly by a try from, of course, Luka Connor. The Blues struck back when a searching pass out wide from Sylvia Brunt found the in-form Jaymie Kolose.

It was noticeable that both teams had been told to keep the ball in hand. This meant we got to see a lot more of the potential in these backlines. Tenika Willison may not have ended up on the scoresheet but was firing at will through her wingers. Mererangi Paul and Georgia Daals finished with five tries between them.

A failed Head Injury Assessment, meant Sophie Fisher was an early entry into the front row for the Blues. She and Chryss Viliko played valiantly against the formidable pairing of Tanya Kalounivale and Kate Henwood. Much has been made of their relative inexperience but the way in which Viliko held her nerve after a yellow card warning shows a type of grit well above her gametime. 

The Blues are establishing themselves as a second half team. Trailing 31-7 at halftime, they came alive after the break. Katelyn Vaha’akolo dropped a sure thing, but repeated penalties gave them a second chance which was eventually finished by Maama Vaipulu. She scored again shortly after Connor was denied and the comeback was on. 

But Willison had other plans. Chances are you have already seen this try as it’s been all over social media since it was scored. It is one of the most brilliant pieces of handling you will ever see. Willison kicked the ball through traffic and chased after it. It bounced over the sideline but while still in midair, Willison managed to scoop it in with her left hand and transfer to her right to offload to Daals, all while her dancing feet stayed in touch. I needed to see it frame by frame to understand how the heck she did it but then wanted to see it again at full pace to believe in magic. 

After another try through an intercept from Paul, the Blues had only 16 minutes to close a 24 point deficit. They never said die, scoring twice more, but it was Grace Houpapa-Barrett who had the final say, showing strength and agility to flirt with the sideline and score.

Winning can become a habit and it’s one the Manawa have formed. There is a cliche in rugby which tells you to “play your own game”. That’s what the Manawa do, regardless of momentum shifts, location on the field or time on the clock, they have a plan and they see it through. They trust their process, they trust each other and the points come raining in. 

Chiefs Manawa 50 – Blues 33

Matatū v Hurricanes Poua

The first scoring opportunity of this match was given to Renee Holmes in the form of a kickable penalty. She lined it up but pushed it wide. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated how much this wayward kick would end up influencing the final moments of this game. 

Scrums had been the Poua’s undoing in Levin last week. Within the first minute, their first one had somehow travelled more than 10 metres backwards while disintegrating into a pick and mix of penalty options for the referee to choose from. It was a long day at the office for Krystal Murray and Cilla-Marie Po’e-Tofaeono, who played the whole eighty minutes. A penalty from their scrum set up the lineout which Kendra Reynolds rolled off to score the first try.

The unexpected opposition in this match was the wind that whipped across Ngā Puna Wai. That strong breeze meant the Poua had to run all their ball out of their half. Matatū matched this tactic and opted to run rather than use the wind to build pressure. Matatū launched plenty of attack but couldn’t hold onto their ball at crucial moments which kept the scoreline tight.

An intercept from Carys Dallinger launched the Poua attack from deep in their half. This break was added to with a charging run from Po’e-Tofaeono before it was quick hands to Ayesha Leti-I’iga to finish. They would have banked on the lead at halftime after Isabella Waterman landed a late penalty. Matatū played every second on the clock though and were rewarded with a try to Holmes. She took the conversion quickly enough that there was time for a kickoff and boom, Matatū scored again. Suddenly ahead 19-8, at halftime.

The wind now at their back, the Poua were finally able to play in Matatū’s half. Strong carries from forwards brought the defence in tight to give Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly just enough space to work her magic and score on debut. This was the first of three unanswered tries for the Poua. Holmes was everywhere. A cheeky offload from Grace Brooker saw her sprint down the sideline beating three defenders to score. This brought the teams within a point with 10 minutes to play.

The defining moment came in the 77th minute when Poua gave away a penalty, right in front of the posts. They looked to Holmes, she stepped up and kicked to the corner.

When it comes to decision making in sport, often the correct choice is not judged by the decision itself but by its outcome. Had the try been scored that decision would have been deemed the right one. The failure to score though then meant the failure was then attached to the decision to not take the kick. The weight apportioned to these moments, especially when they occur in the dying ones, are heavy. Holmes asked her teammates to help shoulder it by kicking for touch but when they didn’t score, the full force was laid back at her feet. 

Kicking is an acquired skill but it is also a confidence game. You need to be rock solid in your self belief to put your hand up to take a penalty like that. If you are not, if there is any whisper of “I can’t” then the best thing you can do is own your shortcomings to set your team up for success. So the right choice is the only one you make in that moment. Outside of it is when you do the work to build yourself up to choose differently. 

The Hurricanes Poua held on desperately to bring home their first win of the season. 

Matatū 24 – Hurricanes Poua 25

Coming up…

This weekend sees a top-of-the-table clash as first-placed Manawa host second placed Matatū. It’s hard to see this as anything but another victory for the Manawa who are in the hottest form and are playing at home. Matatū won’t be writing themselves off but will need to bring a higher level of execution to hold their own with the pace setters.  

In other match (by default a bottom-of-the-table affair) has the fourth placed Blues travelling to play the third placed Poua at Sky Stadium. The Blues can’t afford to wait until the second half to turn up, so they will need to be ready from the first whistle. The Poua are definitely a part of the Hurricanes franchise, so who can say which version of their team will turn up Saturday.

Due to events outside their control, the Poua and Blues have never played each other. They are sisters in their styles and strengths so this match will likely mark the beginning of a famous rivalry. Get in on it from game one, 4.45pm, Saturday 11 March. 

The Super Rugby Aupiki standings as of the end of round two.
The Super Rugby Aupiki standings as of the end of round two. (Image: Super Rugby New Zealand)

Round two awards

Ultimate Hype: Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali in full voice for her forwards at scrum time.

Checking the Teamlist: Maama Vaipulu comes from nowhere to shine at lock while surrounded by Black Ferns. 

Straight to the Pool Room: Tenika Willison’s unreal touches to set up Georgia Daals’ try.

Keep going!