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All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Waikato Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 Super Rugby win over the determined Western Force in Perth on Saturday.
Cruden landed a conversion and three penalty goals from his four attempts to prove the difference after both sides finished with a try apiece.
In winning the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s Super Rugby.
The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, never gave the Chiefs a moment’s peace and kept them under the shackles.
The Chiefs finished off a gruelling tour where they split their two games in South Africa against the Western Stormers and Central Cheetahs.
The Chiefs remain in third spot three points behind the Canterbury Crusaders in the New Zealand conference after seven wins from eight games.
“I was proud of the way the boys were able to dig in in that second 40 minutes and grind it out,” Cruden said.
“We knew that the Force coming off a bye and obviously everything they are going through would show an immense passion and pride and that’s certainly what they did.”
Parent body RugbyWA has launched legal action against the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in a bid to keep threatened Force franchise afloat as the axe hovers over the Perth-based club.
Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR announced earlier this month that two South African teams and one from Australia would be axed from 2018, streamlining the 18-team competition to a three-conference 15-team format.
Both tries were scored in the first half with Liam Messam plunging over in the eighth minute and Force skipper Matt Hodgson scoring off the back of a rolling maul from a lineout win.
The Force suffered an injury setback midway through the opening half to their Wallaby back Dane Haylett-Petty, who came off with a damaged right hamstring.
The Chiefs have now won nine of their 11 meetings with the Force, but both of their losses have come in Perth.
The Canterbury Crusaders remained unbeaten as New Zealand teams dominated Super Rugby this weekend ahead of June’s British and Irish Lions tour.
The seven-time champions smashed leading South African contenders Western Stormers 57-24 in Christchurch as Kiwi teams won all four of their encounters.
George Bridge claimed a hat-trick and Kieran Read added a double in the Crusaders eight-try romp to remain unbeaten after eight matches.
The Crusaders raced to a 36-3 lead by half-time as the Cape Town-based Stormers suffered back-to-back losses after falling to the Golden Lions last week.
The Christchurch team lead the powerful New Zealand conference by three points from defending champions Wellington Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs.
A hat-trick of tries for centre Vince Aso helped the Hurricanes to a 56-21 thumping of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies in Napier on Friday.
The Hurricanes scored eight tries to three in the bonus-point win, piling on 42 unanswered second-half points after trailing 14-21 at the break.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was in the stands to run his eye over the Hurricanes ahead of the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour.
“There’s so many guys putting their hands up it’s great,” Hansen said.
In Perth, All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 win over the endangered Western Force, landing a conversion and three penalty goals with both sides finishing with a try each.
In winning, the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s competition.
The Otago Highlanders were the fourth Kiwi winners with a 40-15 bonus-point victory over Japan’s Sunwolves in Invercargill.
South Africa’s threatened Southern Kings rose above their off-field turmoil with a spirited 26-24 upset win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.
The Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who are also fighting to stay in next year’s competition along with the Central Cheetahs, fought back from 17-0 down to win only their fourth game in two years.
“It has been an absolutely emotional tour for us with all the news regarding Super Rugby,” Kings skipper Lionel Cronje said.
The Golden Lions are the clear leaders of the second South Africa conference, edging out the Jaguares of Argentina 24-21 win in Johannesburg.
Melbourne Rebels, another team under threat of being culled, drew 9-9 with South Africa’s Coastal Sharks in Durban.
The Northern Bulls won the all-South African encounter with the Cheetahs 20-14 in Pretoria.
The Auckland Blues and Queensland Reds had byes this weekend.
The Western Stormers square off against the Golden Lions in a blockbuster South African derby while Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett sets a match record in Super Rugby this weekend.
The Canterbury Crusaders and Stormers are the only unbeaten sides remaining going into round eight of the competition, which next year will revert to a 15-team format from its current 18.
The fallout from governing body SANZAAR’s announcement to axe three teams — two from South Africa and one from Australia — has dominated the past week.
Threatened franchise Western Force have launched legal action against Australian rugby chiefs.
Seven-times champion Crusaders ease back into the fray following a bye by hosting the Sunwolves who won their first match of the season last week.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read is back for his first outing of the season having recovered from wrist surgery.
And the match will be a significant milestone for fellow All Black Crockett as he makes a record 176th appearance in Super Rugby.
The 34-year-old will overtake former All Black Keven Mealamu’s record of 175.
SANZAAR chief Andy Marinos described Crockett’s record as “a tremendous achievement for a player who is at the coal face of one of the hardest and most competitive rugby competitions in the world”.
The Crusaders feel comfortable enough to make a raft of changes to the side that beat the Waratahs a fortnight ago. Just five players of their 23 remain in the same position
In the showdown between the top two South African sides, the Stormers are brimming with confidence after inflicting the first loss of the season on the Waikato Chiefs last week while the Lions are coming off a bye.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the week off came at the right time as it allowed several key players including Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Ackermann, and Elton Jantjies to get over niggling injuries.
The Stormers “are the team to beat in South Africa and it’s going to take something special to get the better of them at Newlands,” Ackermann said.
“They’re playing an exciting brand of rugby and their skill levels are extremely high so it’s going to be a huge challenge going there.”
The Stormers, though, have injury woes after the punishing outing against the Chiefs with flanker Cobus Wiese and locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth unable to train early in the week.
They are also in a tough sequence of matches with home games against the Chiefs and Lions to be followed by a trip to New Zealand to face the Crusaders, Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes.
The Chiefs, looking to get their season back on track, are in Bloemfontein to face a Central Cheetahs side desperate to prove they deserve to survive the Super Rugby culling process.
“These are challenging and uncertain times,” the Cheetahs said in a statement this week.
“We strongly believe that through an honest and fair process we stand a strong chance of retaining our Super Rugby status.”
The defending champion Wellington Hurricanes are in Auckland to face a Blues side which has Sonny Bill Williams starting in a new unique jersey which does not feature the logo of team sponsor Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) to conform with his Muslim beliefs.
But Williams has agreed to wear, instead, the logo of child health service Plunket whose principal sponsor is the BNZ.
In the remaining matches, top Australian side ACT Brumbies play the struggling Melbourne Rebels, who along with Western Force are under threat of being kicked out of the 2018 competition.
Elsewhere, the Queensland Reds are at home to the Southern Kings and the Northern Bulls return to South Africa after an unsuccessful road trip to host the Jaguares.
All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett has escaped further punishment after receiving a red card in the Wellington Hurricanes’ Super Rugby win over NSW Waratahs last week.
The current World Rugby player of the year was sent off late in the match after receiving two yellow cards for deliberately knocking down the ball during Waratahs’ attacks.
The SANZAAR judiciary said it took Barrett’s exemplary disciplinary record into account before clearing him to play against the Auckland Blues this weekend.
“The player is therefore free to play and will serve no suspension,” it said in a ruling issued late Monday.
Barrett argued after the match that he was trying to intercept the ball but poor technique meant he knocked it down, rather than taking possession.
Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu was banned for one week after earning a yellow card in the same match for a dangerous tackle.
The judiciary said he received the suspension because it was his third yellow this season for similar offences.
A piece of individual brilliance by Shaun Stevenson sparked a Waikato Chiefs revival to maintain their unbeaten record with a 28-12 victory over the Northern Bulls in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Bulls evoked memories of their past glory days when they stunned the Chiefs to lead 9-3 at half-time and continued to apply pressure after the resumption.
But with 30 minutes to play, Stevenson received the ball near the 10-metre mark, stepped around his opposite Jamba Ulengo, kicked ahead and won the race for the ball to score in the corner.
It started a three-try, 25-point spree which earned the Chiefs a bonus point to give them 24 points out of a possible 25 from five games.
“Coming off the bye we were eager to start well but it didn’t transpire that way. The first 40 was pretty disappointing and when we review it I think there’ll be a few hard truths,” captain Aaron Cruden said.
“But that second 40 was really for the fans. They came out to see an exciting brand of footy and I think we produced that in the second half.”
It was another disappointing finish for the Bulls, who last won in Hamilton in 2010, the same year they last held the Super title.
This year they are now one from five but captain Adriaan Strauss felt they are showing improvement.
“At times we showed some excitement, and some intent but the execution at vital times and pressure moments is not there yet. But we’re working on it,” he said.
In the first half, the Bulls dominated possession and worked the Chiefs around the ground.
But they were unable to cross the line, and for all the pressure they applied their only points came from three Handre Pollard penalties.
Cruden landed one penalty for the Chiefs but with two other potential shots at goal they opted for the line out drive and lost the ball on both occasions.
The game turned with Stevenson’s try in the 50th minute with Cruden’s conversion putting the Chiefs ahead for the first time.
Cruden landed a further two penalties and Pollard one to push the Chiefs out to a 16-12 lead before the Chiefs stepped up a gear in the last 10 minutes with tries to Damian McKenzie and Atu Moli.
The Chiefs head to South Africa to play the Stormers next week while the Bulls are in Tokyo to play the Sunwolves for the second time in three weeks.
The Waikato Chiefs have been told to get their act together for their Super Rugby clash with the Northern Bulls after an unconvincing win over the struggling Melbourne Rebels.
Coach Dave Rennie read the riot act to the two-time champions after they needed a late burst to overcome Australia’s bottom-placed team in their last outing.
“There were some carefully chosen words,” Rennie said, after showing his players images from the Rebels match. “When the guys looked at it, they were pretty embarrassed.”
The Chiefs return from a bye with a record of four wins out of four games so far to lie second in the New Zealand conference behind the Canterbury Crusaders.
The Crusaders will also need to improve after being sent to scrum school following a series of collapses in their recent wins against the Queensland Reds and Western Force.
Despite having a pack bulging with All Blacks, the seven-time champions have been put through a refresher course in scrum techniques ahead of their game against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.
“We want it to be a contest, and we don’t want re-sets like that,” said assistant forwards coach Jason Ryan.
The Wellington Hurricanes will need to contend with the after-effects of Cyclone Debbie as they take on the Queensland Reds in storm-soaked Brisbane.
As well as the severe weather, the Hurricanes will also have to cope with the loss of captain and All Blacks hooker Dane Coles, who is nursing an injured knee.
Meanwhile the Western Stormers revealed an unusual approach to training ahead of their game against the unfancied Central Cheetahs.
While the Cheetahs may not pose formidable opposition, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck is taking a long-term view and preparing his side as if facing a New Zealand franchise.
A quirk of the draw meant the Stormers did not play a New Zealand side last year until the quarter-finals when thrashed 60-21 by the Chiefs.
They play all five New Zealand teams this year, starting with the Chiefs next weekend, and flyhalf Robert du Preez said preparations were already under way.
“Our training has changed a lot,” Du Preez said. “Every Thursday we do what we call a ‘Kiwi Day’ just to prepare for them because we knew that they pose a different threat.
“We go hard at each other on Thursdays.”
In the congested Africa 2 conference, the Golden Lions play the Coastal Sharks with both sides having one loss from five outings so far.
Argentina’s Jaguares, with a similar record, have a bye and will drop down the ladder as a result.
In Australia, the ACT Brumbies also have a bye leaving the way open for the Waratahs and the Reds to challenge them for the top spot.
The remaining two matches see the Otago Highlanders play the Rebels in Dunedin on Friday, while the Auckland Blues host the Western Force on Saturday.
New Zealand’s Canterbury Crusaders won their fifth-straight game to be one of only three unbeaten teams in this season’s Super Rugby as Argentina’s Jaguares won again this weekend.
The seven-time champion Crusaders whipped the hapless Western Force of Australia 45-17 to stake their claim for this year’s southern hemisphere provincial crown.
Fellow Kiwis Waikato Chiefs and South Africa’s Western Stormers are also yet to lose with the Stormers denying Japan’s Sunwolves 44-31 in Singapore while the Chiefs had a bye.
Across in Buenos Aires the Jaguares won for the fourth time this season, downing Australia’s Queensland Reds 22-8 to lie just one point off the lead held by the Golden Lions in the Africa 2 conference.
The Lions overpowered the endangered Southern Kings 42-19 in an all-South African derby in Port Elizabeth, while the Coastal Sharks won a high-scoring derby 38-30 over the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
There was little joy for the beleaguered Australian hopes with the ACT Brumbies succumbing to an 18-13 loss at home to New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders, while the NSW Waratahs won a thrilling derby with a last-minute try 32-25 over the Rebels in Melbourne.
In the remaining game, the Blues downed South Africa’s Northern Bulls 38-14 in Auckland, while the defending champions Wellington Hurricanes had a bye.
The Crusaders posted seven tries to two and kept the Force scoreless in the second half to make it five wins from five this season.
It was a lopsided defeat the Force could have done without amid speculation the Perth club faces the axe as governing body SANZAAR look to revamp the dysfunctional competition.
The Stormers survived an audacious challenge from the struggling Sunwolves to maintain their unbeaten start, winning a 10-try thriller at Singapore’s national stadium.
Trailing for most of what was a high-paced, free-flowing match after being caught out by the Sunwolves’ innovative attack, the South Africans needed all their extra big-match experience to wear down the tournament newcomers, who faded badly in the last quarter of the match.
“The Sunwolves are a smart side and they’re very well coached,” Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said.
“We knew it was going to be tough but they still surprised us with some of the things they did, especially when they kicked in behind us.”
The Jaguares fortunes continue to improve this season with a side-stepping try by winger Ramiro Moyano the highlight of a bruising battle with the Reds.
Democratic Republic of Congo-born Madosh Tambwe scored his first Super Rugby tries as the Lions pounded the Southern Kings.
Tambwe took just four minutes to score, intercepting a pass before collecting a pass on the tryline to dot down for his second try.
Teenager Curwin Bosch proved an outstanding back-up for injured skipper Patrick Lambie, kicking 18 points in the Sharks win over the Cheetahs.
The 19-year-old fly-half slotted four penalties and three conversions from eight attempts and was voted man of the match as the Sharks made it four straight wins since losing the opening game of the season.
Centre David Horwitz scored a try in the final minute to cap a second-half fightback to give the Waratahs a thrilling win over the Rebels.
The Waratahs trailed 25-6 at half-time but squeezed home on the back of four second-half tries to deny the Rebels a prized victory over their better-resourced Australian rivals.
The Highlanders returned to the ground where they knocked the Brumbies out of last season’s quarter-finals to overturn a 10-5 half-time deficit.
Otago’s victory extended Australian teams’ misery against Kiwi opposition this season with New Zealand boasting a 7-0 winning record so far this year.
A second half revival sparked by two Matt Duffie tries gave the Blues a comfortable win over the Bulls.
Defending champions Wellington Hurricanes are relishing the prospect of “brutal” clash with the Waikato Chiefs on Friday in what will be their first real test of the Super rugby season.
“It’s going to be a real scrap,” Hurricanes assistant coach Richard Watt said of the showdown between the only two sides to take maximum points from the first two rounds.
After scoring 24 tries and amassing 154 points against the Sunwolves and Melbourne Rebels, Watt said the Hurricanes were looking forward to the intensity of playing a top New Zealand side.
“The boys love these home games and they hate losing to each other,” he said, describing New Zealand derbies as “pretty brutal” affairs.
“You don’t even have to mention anything to the boys this week. They’re so up for this game.”
The Chiefs, who had to work hard for their wins over the Otago Highlanders and Auckland Blues, have received a boost this week with the return of flanker Sam Cane who will clash with his All Blacks understudy Ardie Savea.
While the battle of the New Zealand titans headlines round three, Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has taken a long-term view to tip South Africa’s Golden Lions as the likely winners of the competition.
The unbeaten Lions have sent a depleted squad to Argentina to play the Jaguares in the Africa 2 conference while Africa 1 leaders Western Stormers are away to the bottom-ranked Southern Kings.
The only other unbeaten side after two rounds, the Canterbury Crusaders, travel to Queensland to face the Reds on Saturday.
- Lions favoured -
Boyd believes the complicated Super rugby draw which sees the Lions avoid all the New Zealand sides during the conference phase should see the South Africans top the regular season and be set to host the final.
The Lions, beaten by the Hurricanes in last year’s final, are without five Springboks for their Jaguares match.
It was the banana-skin game for them last year when they were also under strength and lost to the Jaguares in the final pool match, costing them the top spot in the playoffs.
The Stormers should be untroubled in maintaining their unbeaten start to the season when they face the Kings in Port Elizabeth and the Crusaders are expected to be too strong for the Reds in Brisbane.
The test for the Reds, up against an All Blacks-laden pack, is how they bounce back from their surprise loss to the Western Force last week.
“Every player should be highly motivated to compete for every minute of this game. It’s what you have to do against the Crusaders, because if you are not as relentless as they are, you are going to pay,” Reds coach Nick Stiles said.
Two years ago the Otago Highlanders were Super champions but this year they have been hard hit by injuries, are winless after two games and will be hard pressed to get on the board against the Auckland Blues.
Fresh from beating the Reds last week, the Force head to Canberra to play the ACT Brumbies who are trying to avoid a hat-trick of losses for the first time since 2011.
The Waratahs, with Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley still sidelined by concussion symptoms, are in South Africa against the Coastal Sharks while the Central Cheetahs are at home to the luckless Sunwolves.
Defending Super Rugby champions the Wellington Hurricanes trounced the Melbourne Rebels 71-6 Saturday, with returning All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Nehe Milner-Skudder playing starring roles.
Milner-Skudder scored three of the Hurricanes’ 11 unanswered tries, while Barrett set up three and kicked six conversions.
It was the Hurricanes second highest score ever, bettered only by the 83 they scored against the Sunwolves last week in Tokyo, when they notched 13 tries.
“When we were quite direct and kept things simple, we opened them up,” said captain Dane Coles, who sat out the Sunwolves game, along with Barrett and Milner-Skudder.
“It’s very pleasing, the attack’s going good and we’re going to enjoy the win.”
It was the Rebels, who received a tongue-lashing from coach Tony McGahan after a 56-18 loss to the Auckland Blues last week, who made the early running.
They were rewarded with two penalties to Reece Hodge before Barrett and Milner-Skudder sparked the Hurricanes to life in the 17th minute.
Barrett drew in three tacklers then sent a short pass to Milner-Skudder, who showed no sign of rust after 12 months out with a shoulder injury, launching into a trademark sidestep before crossing the line.
Barrett’s chip kick set up winger Vince Aso for the Hurricanes’ second a few minutes later.
Ngani Laumape made it three on the back of a dominant Hurricanes scrum then Aso broke down the wing with TJ Perenara to add a fourth.
It was Aso’s second brace in as many matches but the Hurricanes were not done, with Barrett setting up another try before half-time, this time for Matt Proctor.
Ardie Savea piled on more misery for the Rebels two minutes after the restart when his older brother Julian set him up for a five-pointer.
Hurricanes players were lining up to score by this stage, with Reed Prinsep and Julian Savea dotting down tries before Milner-Skudder completed his hat-trick.
He outpaced the defence to dive into the corner for his second and his third came after a surging run from Jordie Barrett.
Laumape then intercepted a loose pass and dashed two-thirds the length of the field for his second to complete a horror night for the Rebels.
The Wellington Hurricanes swamped Japan’s hapless Sunwolves to launch the defence of their Super Rugby title in spectacular fashion as New Zealand teams again dominated in the opening round of the new season.
The Hurricanes demolished the second-season Sunwolves 83-17 in Tokyo in an embarrassingly lopsided game, while fellow Kiwi teams, Canterbury Crusaders, Auckland Blues and Waikato Chiefs all won.
The seven-time winning Crusaders struggled to put away Australia’s ACT Brumbies 17-13 in Christchurch, while the Blues trumped another Australian side the Rebels 56-18 in Melbourne and the Chiefs downed the Otago Highlanders 24-15.
Last season’s beaten finalists, the Golden Lions, won 28-25 through a late try over fellow South Africans Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Argentina’s Jaguares won in South Africa 39-26 over the endangered Southern Kings, while the NSW Waratahs slugged out a dour 19-13 win over fellow Australian side Western Force in Sydney.
In the weekend’s remaining game, the Western Stormers put paid to the Northern Bulls 37-24 in the all-South African derby in Cape Town.
The Hurricanes were awesome in Tokyo with Ardie Savea, Vince Aso and Michael Fatialofa all scoring twice as the Sunwolves looked to rebound from last year’s baptism of fire where they won just one of 15 games in their inaugural season.
“It was a tough old day at the office,” Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia said.
New Zealand teams, who dominated last season with four spots in the top-eight finals, picked up where they left off.
The Crusaders dominated for most of the game, but the points did not come and they ended up struggling to hold out a late surge by the Brumbies.
Rising star Rieko Ioane scored a hat-trick of tries as the Auckland Blues crushed the Rebels.
The game marked the Blues’ first victory in three trips to Melbourne and it was their biggest winning score in Australia.
Last season’s semi-finalists, the Chiefs ended a six-game losing streak against the Highlanders in their three tries to nil opening win in Dunedin.
A late Rohan Janse van Rensburg try gave 2016 runners-up the Lions victory over the Cheetahs after they trailed by 10 points at one stage.
Half the Jaguares team handled the ball in a dazzling move originating from inside their 22-metre line before scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou crossed in the Argentines’ win over the Kings in Port Elizabeth.
The revitalised Queensland Reds scored two late tries to grab a fighting win over the Sharks after trailing 26-18 with 17 minutes left.
Springbok Patrick Lambie, who had not missed a kick in six goal attempts, had the chance to boot the Sharks to victory but missed with a long-range effort four minutes from full-time.
It was a big tonic for the Reds, who won just three games last season but have significantly bolstered their squad with the signings of Wallabies Quade Cooper, Stephen Moore, George Smith and Scott Higginbotham.
Siya Kolisi celebrated his first game as the Stormers skipper by scoring a try in the victory over the Bulls.
It was the sixth consecutive home win by the Stormers over the Pretoria outfit in the competition.
A new Super Rugby season kicks off this week with bosses pledging to tackle its unwieldy conference structure, exhausting travel schedules and lopsided contests.
There will be a first fixture in Samoa in June, meaning the 2017 Super Rugby season will now straddle 17 time zones and four continents.
The competition will retain the much-criticised four conference format, while tweaking kick-off times to trial Thursday night matches and increase the number of afternoon games.
“Our biggest challenge is obviously the geographical expanse we’ve got to cover,” said Andy Marinos, the chief executive of Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR, while promising that team schedules would be managed better this year.
“We’ve had some key learnings out of 2016 that we can implement into 2017 around how we manage the players during the week and how we work the travel schedule,” he said.
The far-flung tournament has its critics, notably England’s former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who bluntly observed last season: “Some of the games put me to sleep.”
With six franchises in South Africa and five each in Australia and New Zealand, plus Japan’s Sunwolves, and Argentina’s Jaguares, organisers are wrestling with the conflicting interests of the five competing nations.
Each Super Rugby team plays 15 matches and has two byes in the 17-round regular season. The competition final is on August 5 with a short mid-season break in June and July.
The teething problems of last year’s expansion to 18 teams have forced a rethink with the heads of Australian, New Zealand, South African and Argentinian rugby convening in early March to finalise competition changes for 2018 after an urgent strategic review was announced by Marinos last month.
South Africa, with just three titles in the 21 seasons of Super Rugby, are mostly concerned about their arduous travel schedules.
Oregan Hoskins, who resigned as president of SA Rugby last August, stated South Africa would be better off aligning to European leagues rather than with SANZAAR, which would mean few time differences for their matches.
Alternatives to the confusing four-conference competition could include a return to 15 teams, with Australia dropping one team and South Africa cutting two.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Steve Tew has called for patience as the problems are tackled.
“Long-term if the foundations are laid we may be able to expand the game in a way that’s more sensible from a travel, player workload, cost and time zone point of view, but that’s going to take some time,” Tew said.
NZR’s main problem is the guaranteed home advantage for the four conference winners after New Zealand teams occupied four of the top five places on the overall standings in 2016.
NZR are pushing instead for a straight top-eight play-off system which Tew argues would produce a fairer outcome. But the proposal is being opposed by Australia and South Africa.
“I’m stubborn and we’ll keep plugging away because we think it makes much more sense,” Tew said.
“It makes it a lot easier for the fans. They can almost disregard the complications of the conferences and just look at the log and say ‘is my team in the top eight’.”
Australia are not happy with the reduced number of money-spinning local derbies.
The Waratahs will only play their century-long rivals Queensland once this season and there is a solitary Waratahs-Brumbies match.
Super Rugby will further expand its boundaries when the Auckland Blues playing the Queensland Reds in Samoa in June while the Waikato Chiefs will take their game with the Canterbury Crusaders to Fiji.
With 15 players of Samoan heritage in Blues squad, American Samoa-born Jerome Kaino said they were looking forward to it.
“The possibility of having a fixture in the islands every year is really special for us, but also for Samoa, Fiji, whatever nation it is because they offer so much to our game here in New Zealand and it’s important that we give back,” Kaino said.
The new season kicks off with the Melbourne Rebels playing Auckland at home on Thursday, while the Wellington Hurricanes open their title defence against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.
The Wellington Hurricanes ended a 20-year nightmare Saturday when Beauden Barrett in scintillating form engineered a 20-3 victory over the Golden Lions on Saturday for their maiden Super Rugby title.
On a miserable, wet night in Wellington, man-of-the-match Barrett was everywhere for the Hurricanes and settled the outcome of the final with an audacious try 12 minutes from time.
There were tumultuous scenes in the packed stadium as the Hurricanes, a team which often promised plenty but never delivered, became the fifth New Zealand side to be crowned Super champions.
“There’s been a lot of sorrow for this club and tonight we can finally say we’re champions for a Hurricanes team that’s been trying for a lot of years,” captain Dane Coles said.
“This goes out to all the Hurricanes players who have played for the jersey. We finally did it.”
Lions skipper Warren Whiteley accepted the Hurricanes deserved to win, but said his side only back in the competition three years since being dumped, would continue their meteoric rise next year.
“We feel the best is yet to come. This is only the start for us. We’ll have the same squad next year and we’ll learn from this,” Whiteley said.
The atrocious conditions dictated the outcome would rest on which of rival fly-halves Barrett and Elton Jantjies could best direct play.
It was a kicking duel Barrett won as he kept returning the Hurricanes to point-scoring positions despite the Lions dominating territory.
Cory Jane also scored for the Hurricanes with Barrett adding two conversions and two penalties while the Lions points came from a sole Elton Jantjies penalty.
It has been a long road to the top for the Hurricanes who lost the 2006 and 2015 finals as well as being beaten five times in the semi-finals.
But 2016 was not going to elude them, particularly with their local knowledge of Wellington’s wintry conditions while the arduous travel from South Africa eventually told on the Lions as the game wore on.
When the Lions used their big men to ram a pathway forward in the first half they were stopped in their tracks time and again as Brad Shields and Victor Vito, in his 100th game, led a bruising defence.
If the Lions went wide they were rattled by the Hurricanes line speed which directly led to the opening try.
Lionel Mapoe was forced to rush a clearing kick which went straight into the arms of Jane a few metres away and the former All Black wing had an easy run to the line.
The Hurricanes thought they had first points on the board six minutes into the game when Jane fielded a Barrett cross kick and crossed the line wide out only to be brought back for an earlier knock on.
But Jane was not to be denied the second time and with Barrett and Jantjies exchanging penalties the Hurricanes led 10-3 at the turn.
The Lions believed they had a try scoring chance late in the first half when they turned down a close-range penalty in favour of a scrum only to be pushed off the ball by a ‘Canes pack that was otherwise beaten in every other scrum.
A further Barrett penalty early in the second half extended the lead to 13-3 and as the Lions desperately tried to close the gap Barrett settled the outcome 12 minutes from the end.
The Lions won a defensive lineout only to fumble the ball which allowed the ever-alert Barrett to race through to score under their noses.
Victor Vito believes the script has been written for his Wellington Hurricanes to become the fifth new Super Rugby champions in six years when they battle the Golden Lions in Saturday’s final.
The odds favour the All Black flanker’s side winning the southern Hemisphere championship in what will be his 100th and final game for the Hurricanes.
They finished top of the regular season giving them home advantage, while the Lions have to make the energy-sapping journey from South Africa to New Zealand.
There is also the added emotion of the popular Vito’s milestone match to bring down the curtain on his career with the Hurricanes before linking up with French club La Rochelle.
“It certainly seems like the script’s been written a little bit,” Vito said. “A hundred games is pretty massive for me personally, but for me I’m just more excited about the fact that once again we are giving ourselves a shot to win a title as a team.”
Although playing at home did not profit the Hurricanes when they lost last year’s final to the Otago Highlanders, they have the added advantage this year of the travel factor impacting on the Lions.
In 10 attempts, no South African team has flown to New Zealand for a play-off match and won.
The Lions situation boils down to coach Johann Ackermann’s decision to rest his top players for their final pool match against the Jaguares in Argentina and they paid the ultimate price by being comprehensively beaten.
Had they managed just one point out of that game they would be hosting the final on the high veldt in South Africa, instead of playing in what is forecast to be a chilly, wet Wellington evening.
“I’ll probably have to live with the team selection for Buenos Aires,” Ackermann said.
“Will we make the wrong decision sometimes? Yes. But we’ll always go down trying.”
“We were confident that we’d get back into Super Rugby,” he said.
“It’s that old saying, you only really start appreciating something when you’re not involved, and to be out of Super Rugby was a big wake up call for all of us.”
The Hurricanes are again likely to be without their captain Dane Coles who has been bracketed with Ricky Riccitelli.
“He will do everything he can to be fit for kick-off and if he doesn’t make it then we have every confidence Ricky and Leni (replacement Leni Apisa) will step up and do a good job if required,” coach Chris Boyd said in naming his side, which again has All Black Julian Savea on the bench.
Hurricanes assistant coach Jason Holland described the Lions as a “complete side” with an astute tactician in fly-half Elton Jantjies.
“They’re a pretty complete side and we’re going to have to match them physically and then be aware that they can play with a bit of width,” Holland said.
It is the third final to be contested by the Hurricanes and a maiden appearance for the Lions.
The winner will join the Highlanders, NSW Waratahs, Chiefs and Queensland Reds who have all won their maiden titles in the past five years with the Chiefs winning twice.
Comparing their vital statistics, the Lions’ impressive running game has them top of the try list with 81 this year to the Hurricanes’ 70, and they have scored a total of 535 points to the Hurricanes’ 458.
But the Hurricanes have a better defensive record, leaking 314 points to the Lions’ 349 and they go into the final having not had any tries scored against them in more than 230 minutes.
When the two sides met in Johannesburg earlier this year, the Hurricanes won 50-17.
The Wellington Hurricanes thrashed the Canterbury Crusaders 35-10 to go top of the Super Rugby ladder in Christchurch on Saturday.
The five-tries-to-one victory left the Hurricanes with an anxious wait until the end of the Waikato Chiefs and Otago Highlanders match later on Saturday, to determine their play-off fate.
In the high-stakes encounter, with extreme risk-taking in search of reward, the Hurricanes turned a perceived midfield weakness into a strength with Jason Woodward and Willis Halaholo scoring two of their of five tries.
Replacement flanker Callum Gibbins then put them into bonus point territory with ten minutes remaining.
But while the victory elevated the Hurricanes to the top, they could still be overtaken by the Chiefs and Highlanders, as well as South Africa’s Golden Lions, who still have to play the Jaguares.
The top four New Zealand teams went into the final round with a chance to head the conference and secure the one guaranteed home quarter-final spot, while they other three are destined to travel overseas.
Before the match, both sides were forced into late replacements.
The Crusaders lost Sam Whitelock and Andy Ellis during the warm-up, while the Hurricanes had to rush Woodward onto the field at outside centre.
He replaced Ngani Laumape who was already an injury replacement for Matt Proctor.
It was Woodward who scored the opening try, running off a Beauden Barrett pass to finish off a sustained attack on the Crusaders line.
A Richie Mo’unga penalty eventually put the home side on the board and he also converted a Ryan Crotty try for the Crusaders to lead 10-7.
But on the stroke of half-time, scrum-half TJ Perenara charged down a clearing kick by his opposite Mitchell Drummond to regain the lead for the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes held a slender 14-10 at half-time and Halaholo, who has struggled for game time, proved the game-breaker 15 minutes into the second half.
In a rare opportunity as a starting player to replace the injured Vince Aso, Halaholo bumped off an ineffectual tackle attempt by Crotty to score under the posts.
Barrett landed the conversion to give the Hurricanes a 10-point buffer and they followed with tries to Gibbins.
That gave them the bonus-point three-try advantage before Barrett put the icing on the cake with a try at the end.
A Super Rugby gamble by the Golden Lions in fielding a reserve team against Argentina’s Jaguares backfired Saturday as they lost 34-22 in Buenos Aires.
Coach Johan Ackermann rested all 15 players who started last weekend’s victory over fellow South Africa side Southern Kings, fearing injuries and side effects from travelling to the Argentinian capital.
The Johannesburg team needed one point from the final match of the regular season to top the overall standings but finished empty handed after surrendering a 15-12 half-time lead.
The result left New Zealand’s Wellington Hurricanes in first place as they became the top seeds and earned home advantage for the knockout phase, which begins with the quarter-finals next week.
The Wellington team are one of four Kiwi contenders to reach the playoffs. They will host the eighth-seeded Coastal Sharks of South Africa next Saturday.
Also on Saturday, Lions will tackle Canterbury Crusaders in Johannesburg and Western Stormers face Waikato Chiefs in Cape Town.
The quarter-finals kick off with the ACT Brumbies against title-holders Otago Highlanders in Canberra on Friday night.
The last-eight line-up raises the possibility of all the semi-finalists coming from New Zealand, the dominant country in the competition.
While Lions prepared for a long, depressing flight home across the Atlantic Ocean, Jaguares celebrated the most impressive of four victories in a 15-match debut season.
“It was a tough match and the Lions enjoyed a good first half,” admitted Jaguares skipper and scrum-half Martin Landajo, standing in for injured hooker Agustin Creevy.
“But in the second half we were very good and deserved our second victory in three weeks over a South African side.
“This is a wonderful climax to the season for our supporters. I am so happy that we produced such a fine performance in front of them.”
Lions skipper and scrum-half Ross Cronje conceded that the superior side won on a bitterly cold night at Estadio Jose Amalfitani.
“The Jaguares played for 80 minutes, but we faded after half-time and conceded far too many penalties.
“Our discipline slipped under severe pressure during the second half, resulting in two forwards (Cyle Brink and Lourens Erasmus) being sin-binned.
“We want to get home and start doing our homework on the Crusaders, who beat us in Johannesburg this season.”
Number eight Facundo Isa was outstanding in an Argentine pack that held their own in the opening half and took charge after the break, especially when numerically advantaged.
Fears that the absence of inspirational leader Creevy and fellow casualty, flanker Pablo Matera, would have a negative impact proved unfounded.
Lions won the first-half try contest 2-0 and when giant winger Anthony Volmink scored his second two minutes into the second half for a 22-12 lead, it seemed the reserve-team gamble might pay off.
But the South Africans did not score again while the Argentines claimed 22 points, including tries from Isa and substitute lock Matias Alemanno plus a penalty try.
The other 19 points came from fly-half Nicolas Sanchez, who slotted two conversions and five penalties from nine shots at goal.
Volmink (2) and full-back Sylvian Mahuza scored tries for the Lions with fly-half Jaco van der Walt converting two and kicking one penalty.
Golden Lions scored a flattering 57-21 bonus-point victory over fellow South Africans Southern Kings in Johannesburg on Friday to regain first place in the overall Super Rugby standings.
The Lions went into the penultimate round of the regular season with a one-point advantage over the Waikato Chiefs, a New Zealand team who have won the competition twice.
But an eight-try 50-5 bonus-point triumph by the Chiefs over the Queensland Reds of Australia in Brisbane put the pressure back on the Johannesburg outfit.
They responded by also scoring eight tries at Ellis Park stadium — three of them when the Kings had at least one player in the sin-bin — to retake top place by a single point.
Already guaranteed a home quarter-final by taking an unassailable lead in the Africa 2 conference last weekend, finishing first overall would mean a home semi-final and final for the South Africans if they continue winning.
The Lions complete their league schedule away to the Argentine Jaguares in Buenos Aires next Saturday while the Chiefs visit defending champions and fellow New Zealanders Otago Highlanders the same day.
Success for the Lions, after leading 17-7 at half-time before a small crowd who braved the southern hemisphere winter chill, equalled their Super Rugby record of five consecutive victories.
Despite the 36-point winning margin, the Lions were not particularly impressive in a match between the strongest and weakest of the six South African sides in Super Rugby.
The Lions took time to establish scrum dominance, were victims of a few line-out steals, committed handling errors and wasted opportunities to score several more tries.
They also benefitted greatly from the sin-binning of Kings centre Shane Gates and skipper and hooker Edgar Marutlulle during the second half.
While both were off the field the Lions scored two converted tries, and a further seven points when the Kings were one man short.
Those scores changed a 24-14 lead into a 45-14 advantage and as the Kings tired in the closing stages, the Lions ran in two more tries.
“The Kings made life really difficult for us during the first half,” admitted Lions flanker Jaco Kriel, standing in as skipper for injured loose forward Warren Whiteley.
Marutlulle was upbeat despite the latest heavy loss this season in South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.
“We fought well and enjoyed playing at Ellis Park. The spirit in this team is amazing,” he said.
Centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2), full-back Andries Coetzee, scrum-half Faf de Klerk, lock Franco Mostert, hooker Malcolm Marx, substitute back Sylvian Mahuza and winger Courtnall Skosan scored tries for the Lions.
Fly-half Elton Jantjies kicked five conversions and a penalty and winger Ruan Combrinck slotted two conversions.
Scrum-half James Hall, centre Stefan Watermeyer and substitute prop Schalk Ferreira scored a try each for the Kings and all three were converted by fly-half Louis Fouche.
The Waikato Chiefs ran in eight tries to one as they put a woeful Queensland Reds to the sword 50-5 in their Super Rugby clash in Brisbane on Friday.
The Chiefs were almost unstoppable, scoring 33 points in the first half and 17 in the second to record their biggest ever winning margin in Super Rugby.
They dominated from the outset against a home side that were no match for the Chiefs, who cemented their position at the top of the New Zealand Super Rugby table with the bonus point win.
The Chiefs opened the scoring in the second minute thanks to a converted try centre to Seta Tamanivalu, then doubled that lead 10 minutes later when front-rower Atu Moli touched down.
The Reds struck back thanks to a Chris Kuridrani try in the corner but that was as good as it got for the hapless home team, who were rocked when scrumhalf Nick Frisby was shown a yellow card for kicking the ball out of Sam Cane’s hands as he was in the process of scoring.
Referee Nick Briant awarded a penalty try to Waikato, then reduced Queensland to 13 men soon after when he sent fullback James Tuttle to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle.
In the 10 minutes the two players were off the field, the Chiefs scored 19 points and the game was over as a contest.
The Chiefs lost some momentum in the second half but with 23 minutes to go they kicked into gear and ran in three tries, two to fullback Damian McKenzie, who also booted five conversions for a personal tally of 20 points.
Waikato play the Otago Highlanders in their last match of the regular season next week, while the Queenslanders will hope to finish the season on a better note when they host the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs captain Sam Cane said despite the scoreline, his team would have to improve against the Highlanders next week.
“A lot of our tries would have come from one or two phases so it was pleasing to be able to convert those,” Cane said.
“But next week against the Highlanders we’ll probably have to hold onto the pill a wee bit longer.
“At this stage of the season it’s all about building momentum heading into the finals.”
Southern Kings scored three late tries when Jaguares were reduced to 12 men and won an error-strewn SuperRugby battle of strugglers 29-22 in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
The Argentine visitors had lock Tomas Lavanini and tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera red carded during the first half for shoulder charges to the heads of South African opponents.
Having gallantly turned a 6-3 half-time lead into a 22-10 advantage, Jaguares were dealt a further blow 10 minutes from time when flanker Tomas Lezana was yellow carded for collapsing a maul.
The three cards added to a season-long tale of Jaguares’ indiscipline with No.8 Leonardo Senatore banned for 10 weeks this month having been cited for biting an opponent.
After playing an intelligent compact game with 13 men for 32 minutes, the South Americans’ resistance finally collapsed when three men short.
New Zealand referee Nick Briant awarded Kings a penalty try, then replacement full-back Dewald Human and winger Wandile Mjekevu scored.
It was the hollowest of wins for the Port Elizabeth outfit, who also picked up a first bonus point this season thanks to a 4-1 try count at a sparsely populated Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Jaguares, who hammered Kings 73-27 at home on April 30, also secured a bonus point for losing by less than eight points.
“We could do nothing,” said Jaguares skipper and hooker Agustin Creevy, referring to the handicap of playing with 13 players for so long.
“It was very difficult for us,” added the forward nursing a badly swollen upper lip.
SuperSport analyst and former South Africa coach Nick Mallett said the Jaguares “do not know how to play within the laws of the game.
“I believe it is a culture problem with some Argentine referees allowing illegal clean-outs and not spotting off-the-ball incidents.
“There is no place to hide in Super Rugby with multiple cameras, assistant referees and television match officials.”
Robbie Kempson, another SuperSport analyst and former Springboks prop, praised the bravery of Briant.
“A lot of referees cop out of the decisions he made.”
Loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira was the Kings’ other try scorer and fly-half Louis Fouche kicked three conversions and a penalty from six shots at goal.
Outstanding young No.8 Facundo Isa, the official man of the match, scored a try for the Buenos Aires-based outfit and fly-half Nicolas Sanchez slotted a conversion and five penalties.
The result had no impact on the Africa 2 conference standings with Jaguares staying third and Kings fourth, and neither team has any chance of making the play-offs.
A strong second half showing enabled the Golden Lions to trounce the Jaguares 52-24 in a Super Rugby match in Johannesburg Saturday despite missing seven of 12 goal kicks.
The inaccuracy of fly-half Elton Jantjies (three misses) and winger Ruan Combrinck (four misses) did not harm the South African side because they scored eight tries.
After a relatively even first half at a chilly Ellis Park stadium ended 19-9 in favour of the Lions, the Argentinians faded dramatically and conceded several soft tries.
The Jaguares lacked two key forwards with No. 8 Leonardo Senatore starting a 10-week ban for biting and skipper and hooker Agustin Creevy a one-week suspension for a dangerous tackle.
Victory ensured the Lions would finish round 13 as the leading team in the two Africa conferences with 37 points and a top-two finish after the league phase will secure a home quarter-final.
It was the ninth loss in 11 games for the Jaguares, whose line-up is packed with Argentine Test regulars, and the heaviest defeat they have suffered in their debut Super Rugby season.
The South Africans often troubled the Argentinians at the scrums and were superior in the loose, winning many turn-overs, several of which led to scores.
Another area of strength for the home side was the ability to get the ball to wingers Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan, who scored two tries each.
The Jaguares seem to have become obsessed with running the ball, wherever they are in the field, and this has led to a season-long glut of handling errors.
Once superb scrummagers, the Argentines have literally gone backwards in this facet with Lions tighthead Julian Redelinghuys giving loosehead Santiago Garcia Botta a torrid time.
Skosan was first to score, dotting down in the corner after 150 seconds, but Jaguares fly-half Nicolas Sanchez slotted two penalties for a 6-5 lead.
Centre Lionel Mapoe became the joint leading Super Rugby try scorer this season with eight by displaying electric pace and Jantjies converted.
A third Sanchez penalty trimmed the Lions’ lead to three points before lock Lourens Erasmus galloped past several half-hearted tackles to score and Jantjies converted for a 19-9 advantage.
Flanker Cyle Brink and Jaco Kriel, Combrinck, Skosan and Combrinck again scored second half tries for the now dominant Lions.
Combrinck, who replaced substituted Jantjies as the goal kicker for the second half, succeeded with only one of five conversions, but did goal two penalties.
Sanchez contributed 17 points from a try and four penalties, replacement scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou scored a try and another substitute back, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, kicked a conversion.
Vincent Koch scored a try in the last minute as South Africa’s Stormers came from 14 points down to snatch a 17-17 draw against Super rugby newcomers the Sunwolves at Singapore’s National Stadium on Saturday.
Pieter-Steph du Toit also scored for the Stormers, who extended their lead in the South African group standings with the draw while denying the Sunwolves their second Super Rugby win.
Japanese winger Akihito Yamada scored a try and had another disallowed as the Sunwolves looked certain to pull off a huge upset only to fade in the last 20 minutes on a hot and humid night in Singapore.
Yamada, who had already scored four times in his team’s two previous matches at their adopted second home, took over as the tournament’s leading tryscorer with his eighth touchdown this season when he dived over from the back of a ruck in the 13th minute.
He was initially awarded a second try five minutes into the second half but the score was cancelled out by the television match official after replays showed that Yamada had not properly grounded the ball.
The Sunwolves flyhalf Tusi Pisi booted his fourth penalty shortly after to give the tournament newcomers a commanding 17-3 lead before the Stormers took control and began to turn their domination of the set pieces into points.
The Sunwolves blew an 18-point lead when they lost to the Cheetahs at Singapore in March and their supporters feared another meltdown when du Toit scored a try off the back of a driving maul and Jean-Luc du Plessis nailed the conversion to cut the margin to seven points with 20 minutes left on the clock.
The Sunwolves had the chance to shoot for a penalty that would have given them a 10-point lead with three minutes to go, but opted instead for the lineout and paid dearly when the Stormers launched one last raid in the final minute.
Koch, who had fresh legs after coming on as a replacement, crashed over for the try and reserve kicker Brandon Thomson calmly added the conversion to seal the draw.