Scotty Stevenson gives his take on the shockingly competent Blues and the Mighty and Terrible Brumbies in our first ever KFC Super Rugby power rankings.
1. The Brumbies
Rd 1: 52-10 v Hurricanes
The Brumbies are more organised than an obsessive compulsive’s wardrobe. From the grind of the 150-game veteran skipper and resident orc, Stephen Moore, to the metronomic goal kicking of Christian Leali’ifano, this was an across-the-board exhibition of efficiency, augmented by the peerless form of tree-hugging activist/ball-robbing flanker David Pocock.
2. The Blues
Rd 1 33-31 v Highlanders
Everything about the Blues was better than last year. They won more rucks, scrums and lineouts, carried the ball more, broke more tackles and doubled their 2015 points per game average. They also limited their turnovers against a team that loves scoring on transition plays. All the talk pre-game was about the perceived lack of a 9-10 combination. All the talk post-game was about the fine 9-10 combination, so points to Bryn Hall and Ihaia West on that front.
The Blues remember what it’s like to win a game.
3. The Stormers
Rd 1: 33-9 v Bulls
The Stormers became the first team in Super Rugby history to secure a three-try bonus point, proving once again just how strange the new bonus point system is. They also crushed the Bulls who, without Handre Pollard, looked clueless.
4. The Chiefs
Rd 1: 27-21 v Crusaders
Aaron Cruden is the most homeless first five in Super Rugby, and I mean that as a compliment. Cruden built his Chiefs game around standing at first receiver the least, and running the most as a percentage of receptions, which means he is a threat all over the park. He was at it again against the Crusaders in between picking fights with Andy Ellis and job sharing with Damian McKenzie.
Damian McKenizie thinks about hurting Andy Ellis.
The Chiefs made it four from their last five at AMI Stadium, too.
5. The Waratahs
Rd 1 30-10 v Reds
The ‘Tahs opened their season with a predictable dusting up of the Reds at Allianz Stadium, and Zac Guildford even scored a try- something he hasn’t done much since the last time Darryl Gibson coached him at the Crusaders. It seems Gibson is the Guildford whisperer.
6. The Highlanders
Rd 1 31-33 v The Blues
As Aaron Smith admitted after the game, the Highlanders were guilty of waiting for it happen, rather than making it happen. Limited to 320 running metres in the match, they were still one kick away from winning at Eden Park. There is no panic here; the Highlanders will find their mojo. Also: their fans love a nude run.
7. The Lions
Rd 1 26-13 v Sunwolves
By some miracle, the Lions could well win their Super Rugby conference and host a home quarterfinal this year. Anyone who has followed Lions rugby over the last ten years is well within their rights to choke on their biltong at that assertion, but this current incarnation is a team that will bludgeon you to death before dancing on your carcass.
8. The Sharks
Rd 1: 43-8 v Kings
This was a Sharks side without a du Plessis, which is like a Welsh classroom without a Jones. The Sharks would have been happy enough to come away with the points, but they’ll know there are sterner tests ahead.
9. The Rebels
Rd 1: 25-19 v Force
I have no idea who Reece Hodge is, but he scored 20 of the Rebels’ 25 points against the Force so all power to the fullback. The Rebels extended their career record to 8-4 against the Force but their scrum and lineout took a battering which they will need to get sorted, and fast. This fixture was purely created to make Star Wars puns about, but I will not go there.
10. The Jaguares
Rd 1 34-33 v The Cheetahs
You have to hand it to the Jags, Hags, or Ags, or whatever you want to call them: this was a comeback win for the ages. Three tries down and two men in the bin after 24 minutes, the Argentinian debutants somehow found a way to win in Bloemfontein. They are our lowest-ranked winner by virtue of the fact they let the Cheetahs run for a round-high 688 metres, and also because of this weird post-match interview.
11. The Crusaders
Rd 1 21-27 v Chiefs
There was a bit of everything in here for the Crusaders. Same attack plan, same graft in the loose, and same fetish for getting the ball as quickly as possible to Nemani Nadolo, but a few new faces who will be better off for a game at this level. They need more trickery from Andy Ellis.
And the return of their skinny white Buddha, Ryan Crotty.
12. The Cheetahs
Rd 1: 33-34 v Jaguares
The Cheetahs played the optional defence card in this game, and missed 45 tackles, which is frankly insane. Their three-quarter line ran for more metres than the entire Highlanders team in round one, which is also crazy. I like this team. They have all the structural integrity of a meringue.
At least the Cheetahs’ attacking mindset was commendable.
13. The Sunwolves
Rd 1 13-26 v Lions
Unveiled the most terrifying mascot in rugby history, scored a try, played in front of a packed house, didn’t embarrass themselves. Probably tore Ripongi apart afterward and fell asleep on a bullet train. There is a lot to like here.
14. The Hurricanes
Rd 1 10-52 v Brumbies
Yes, I know what you’re thinking here: how can a team that got hammered by 42 points still be ranked this high? I actually cannot answer that, although I can safely say the Hurricanes will not play this badly again in 2016. I think I can safely say that. I can also safely say that the Hurricanes are not fat. I know this because I spent a day in bed with six of them. It’s a long story.
15. The Force
Rd 1 19-25 v Rebels
The Force keeps finding ways to lose games they shouldn’t lose. They dominated the lineouts and scrums against the Rebels, ran for more metres, beat more defenders and missed fewer tackles, and had more of the ball. Only problem is, they decided to handover their excess possession to the Rebels by way of turnovers. That is generous of them, but kinda dumb.
16. The Reds
Rd 1: 10-30 v Waratahs
The Reds have not beaten the Waratahs since 2013, which must genuinely irk the Queenslanders. This is a prime example of why possession stats are pointless: the Reds had 62% of the ball but the ugly truth is that just 0.9% of that was spent inside the Waratahs red zone, which means they play most of their footy inside their own half. You need some game breakers if you are going to do that.
17. The Bulls
Rd 1: 9-33 v Stormers
It is tempting to say that without Handre Pollard the Bulls may well be cannon fodder all season long. It is also worth noting that the Bulls made two line breaks in the entire match. It is almost impossible to be that impotent on attack. Even for the greatest kick chase team in Super Rugby history.
18. The Kings
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Rd 1: 8-43 v Sharks
Last week the Eastern Province Rugby AGM needed armed police guards. That’s next level for a rugby meeting. The Kings would be vastly improved if they were armed. Their forward pack combined for 25 metres in the game, less than half the running metres of the Sharks number eight, Daniel du Preez. That pretty much sums that up.
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