The first week of Super Rugby Aupiki 2023 saw a historic victory in Dunedin and the defending champs come from behind in Levin. Alice Soper recaps.
Hurricanes Poua vs Chiefs Manawa
The fans had barely taken their seats in Levin before they were brought to their feet by the home team. The Hurricanes Poua scored twice in rapid succession, charging runs by Joanah Ngan-Woo down the blindside, opening up opportunities that they were quick to convert. Up 14-0 after seven minutes, their undoing by the Chiefs Manawa would soon be on display.
First scrum of the match had the Poua rapidly reversing and that was just the beginning of their pain with this set piece. Manawa finished the match with six steals against the feed. This meant the Manawa could play with increasing confidence on attack, knowing that any scrum called would end up back in their possession.
It was a maul that gave Manawa their first try. Executing the lineout England wished they had, it was easy pickings for Luka Connor at the back. That maul would continue to cause headaches for the Poua as would Ōpōtiki’s finest, Luka Connor.
The first half continued at a frantic pace, Rhiarna Ferris scooping a bobbling ball and gassing everyone to add another. Carys Dallinger, perfect from the tee, putting the Poua up 21-5. That try felt emphatic in the moment but in reality marked the beginning of the end as Manawa began their epic comeback.
It was Manawa muscle that saw Tanya Kalounivale crash over, followed by Kennedy Simon doting down as the scrum drove over the tryline. That scrum popped Krystal Murray, sending her to the bin then set Luka Connor up for her try that put Manawa ahead at halftime 22-21.
Manawa started the second half as the Poua had started the first, with tries in rapid succession. Unlike the first half, the Poua had no answer. Manawa clinical at the breakdown, disrupting any opportunity for the Poua to build their way back into the match. Impact from the bench saw Dhys Faleafaga rewarded with a try, pushing the Manawa over 50 points.
While a dominant display from the Manawa, unfortunately for their opposition there is still room for improvement. Most of their tries went unconverted and their impressive backline was largely unused in this match. Taking the ball off the boot and putting it through the hands will see another whole dimension of this team unlocked.
$500 was being donated by Sky and New Zealand Rugby to the Cyclone Gabrielle relief fund for every point scored in this round. This initiative offered a silver lining for Poua fans as this hiding brought in $37,000 for the cause.
Chiefs Manawa win 53-21
Matatū vs Blues
Down to Dunedin for the second match and it was Matatū on the hunt for their first ever win in Super Rugby Aupiki. This game was brought to you by the letter B – in the first half that stood for breakdowns and the boot of Rosie Kelly. Kelly steered her side into choice strike positions off her laces and was supported by the dogged work of her forwards to dominate the breakdown. The combination of the two put Matatū up early with tries to Kendra Reynolds, Alana Bremner and Martha Mataele.
The Blues finally offloaded their impatience, Ruahei Demant going close but it was Grace Gago scoring on debut to get the Blues into this game. Matatū weren’t done harassing the breakdown though and turned it over from the restart to score again. It was an arm wrestle out there which meant another try came for the Blues. The final play of the half saw Jaymie Kolose find herself in a massive overlap to score.
The B of the second half stands for bench and battlers. The gear shift coming off the Blues bench threw everything at the battlers of the south. Workhorse Lucy Jenkins started the second half crashing over wide. The Blues hit back and started to gather some momentum that only built after Alana Bremner was sent to the bin for cynical play. Fresh from the bench, Patricia Maliepo’s impact was felt quickly. Her touches created line breaks and sent Kolose over for her second.
Bench prop Toka Natua won a vital scrum penalty for the Blues; they fluffed this opportunity but an intercept moments later from Katelyn Vaha’akolo brought the game back within seven points with just over 15 minutes to go. With the clock winding down the pressure was building on the battlers of the Matatū to defend their lead and secure their first win.
It was the bench who won the scrum for the Blues, the bench who broke the line through Maliepo and the bench who rolled a magnificent maul. And the bench who set up heartbreak for the hosts as Sophie Fisher finally crossed the line for the Blues. Ruahei Demant lined up the kind of kick she’d slot nine times out of 10 to tie the scores, but dragged it wide – this was the battlers’ day after all. Matatū with a famous win, their first in Super Rugby Aupiki.
Result: Matatū win 33-31
This week, winners play losers. The Hurricanes Poua head south to take on Matatū and the Blues will welcome the Chiefs Manawa. The Poua will need to sort out their scrums – no easy feat facing the Black Fern’s front row of Pip Love, Amy Rule and Georgia Ponsonby. The Blues will take heart in the fluidity they built over their first match but will be wary of what the in-form Manawa will bring. It’ll only get harder to pick the outcomes from here – and harder for new Black Ferns coach, Allan Bunting, to pick his first side.
Which is bloody good news for women’s rugby.
If you’re only going to watch one, tune into The Blues versus the Chiefs Manawa, 2.05pm Saturday 4 March. The Blues got better as their match went on and had Demant landed her kick, you feel they had the momentum to win it in extra time. We also need to see if anyone can stop this Manawa side – if they dish out another hiding, they could have one hand on the trophy with three weeks still to go.
Round one awards
Filthiest Dummy: It’s rock, paper scissor between Di Hiini and Jaymie Kolose, both selling a big one on their way to the try line.
Welcome to Aupiki: Kahurangi Sturmey’s shoulder folds Tenika Willison.
Doing it all day ref: The Manawa pack’s relentless scrummaging making things difficult for Poua.