The first week of Super Rugby’s 2020 season had a few surprises in store for viewers, but it was the old guard that got the job done – with one obvious exception.
Who are the competition’s most impressive teams after just one round of matches?
Argentina’s sole Super Rugby franchise kicked off the season with their biggest-ever win over the Lions.
While the Jaguares finished as losing finalists last year, there’s every reason to believe they could go one step further in 2020. They’ve retained the bulk of their team and some of their less-experienced players look like they’re ready to step up to the plate this season, including 23-year-old flyhalf Domingo Miotti, who led his side around the park expertly over the weekend.
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The Lions may not be the same side they were a few season’s ago, when they made three successive appearances in the grand final, but the Jaguares 38-8 bonus point win shows there won’t be any rust heading into the year.
The Crusaders have lost over 1100 Super Rugby caps between 2019 and 2020, but that didn’t stop them dealing to a rebuilding Waratahs side, 43-25.
Like other New Zealand sides, the Crusaders had to limit the minutes of their All Blacks who appeared at last year’s World Cup, but that didn’t stop them building a 24-6 lead at halftime despite Sevu Reece and Codie Taylor starting on the bench, and George Bridge being entirely absent from the match-day 23.
While the depth isn’t there in the forwards for 2020 (at least when compared with seasons gone by), the Crusaders can still field one of the most impressive sides in the competition and have eased their new starters into Super Rugby over a number of years.
The Stormers were the best-performing South African side over the weekend, dominating the Hurricanes in Cape Town.
While the four tries they scored were all excellent, it’s the fact that they prevented the Hurricanes, Super Rugby’s second most prolific point-scorers over the last decade, from dotting down at all that’s most impressive.
In Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit, the Stormers have two of the most talented loose forwards in the competition (although Kolisi could be on the sidelines for the next month or so), while Damian Willemse is growing into a strong first five and Herschel Jantjies could well be the world’s premier scrumhalf by the end of the season.
Unlike other head coaches around New Zealand, Warren Gatland chose to save the bulk of his All Blacks for the bench over the weekend.
This tactic ensured a number of younger players were given some needed game time on the pitch but also allowed his best players to provide a huge impact from the reserves and take control of the second half against a fast-starting Blues side.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 4, 2020
While Gatland won’t want his side to need to come from behind each week, he would have been impressed with how his side never panicked.
That belief and conviction will ensure the Chiefs go far in the competition this year. There are no real weaknesses in the side and this week’s match against the Crusaders will be a good gauge of where both teams are at.
Despite the Bulls not being the powerhouse of yesteryear, it’s never a simple feat to outscore a side with a sharpshooter like Morne Steyn on happy to take pots at goal from anywhere on the field.
The Sharks, despite losing a number of players in the off-season, have maintained their spine from the team that made it to last year’s quarter-finals.
Gone are the du Preez brothers, Robert, Daniel and Jean-Luc, but Curwin Bosch looks ready to permanently take over as flyhalf and there’s ample young talent coming through in the loose forwards.
Importantly, the Sharks look very capable of scoring tries. Their backline is packed with talent – Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, to name a few key players – and should do a number on a few less defensively-minded sides.
While the Australian sides may not have lost quite as much talent as teams in other countries, their resources were always more challenged to begin with. As such, there’s plenty of young Australian men on show in Super Rugby this year.
The Brumbies certainly looked the best of the Australian sides on show and their win over the Reds in Canberra is an excellent start to the year.
Young first five Noah Lolesio looked composed in his first outing, which is all you really want from an inexperienced 10 – he’s got plenty of players around him that can make things happen, he’s not required to do anything too flashy just yet.
The Brumbies will want to give themselves a bit of extra breathing space ahead of their other Australia rivals by clocking the Rebels this weekend.
Who would have seen this coming? The Sunwolves, despite having just three squad members on the ledger left from last season, somewhat comfortably accounted for the Rebels in Fukuoka.
Made up mostly of former Super Rugby players from the other countries (with a few players who missed out on contracts in there too), the Sunwolves are actually relatively experienced compared to the rest of the Australian conference and could cause a handful of upsets if teams don’t travel to Japan prepared for a tough match.
Former Springboks Rudy Paige and Garth April controlled proceedings in the halves while English international Ben Te’o was a rock in the midfield.
This mix-and-match hotpot of players could go on to have an incredible season, given they’ve all signed on for just one year and have absolutely nothing to lose.
It’s somewhat difficult to assess the Blues after they were chased down by the Chiefs in the second half of their match.
Do you applaud them for building a big lead against one of the competition’s most fancied teams, even if they didn’t have the puff to go all the way?
Or do you admonish them for somehow losing a 12-point halftime advantage and not even securing a losing bonus point?
Ultimately, the Blues showed some flashes of brilliance and were it not for the experience that came off the Chiefs bench, you would have to assume that the Auckland side would have closed the game out. Their season will be highly dependent on whether they can score a win in Sydney on Saturday as they then face the champion Crusaders a week later.
Team of the week:
15. David Havili (Crusaders), 14. Will Jordan (Crusaders), 13. Matias Moroni (Jaguares), 12. James O’Connor (Reds), 11. Tom Wright (Brumbies), 10. Domingo Miotti (Jaguares), 9. Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), 8. Hoskins Sotutu (Blues), 7. Lachlan Boshier (Chiefs), 6. James Venter (Sharks), 5. Mitch Brown (Chiefs), 4. Darcy Swain (Brumbies), 3. Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies), 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho (Chiefs), 1. Steven Kitshoff (Stormers).
WATCH: Featuring a host of international stars including Dan Carter, Samu Kerevi, Duane Vermuelen, Brodie Retallick, Andy Ellis, Matt Giteau, RG Snyman, Tevita Li and more! Catch up on all the highlights from Round 4 of the Japanese Top League.
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