As a couple of local derby matches took the center of attention over the weekend, the table-topping Crusaders’ side rested easy. More than easy, they have yet to ease out of summer mode actually; the early stages of Super Rugby Aotearoa have seen them feel relaxed and immediately in the zone.
What zone that is, is something that any of the other four New Zealand franchises would absolutely kill to find the answers to. Because it seems something that neither the Chiefs, Blues, Hurricanes, or Highlanders hold.
It would have the Hurricanes visit the Highlanders, and the Blues ride the bus over the Bombays to meet the Chiefs. Both good fixtures (maybe not high enough on volume) but it would hold fans’ attention Friday and Saturday nights.
Crusaders resting easy as ‘the rest’ tussle in Local Derby matches
The self-belief that this team has ingrained in their bones seems [somewhat] foreign to their Super Rugby Aotearoa opponents. That bone-deep awareness of what is needed to win – very much on exhibition last Sunday afternoon, in another commanding win over the Blues. Absorbing pressure, selecting the right tactic to answer with, and the habit of attacking when others might want to ‘close shop’.
So sitting in their Christchurch base, the title contenders observed all other matches completed this weekend. Sitting confidently you must admit; already with a game in hand over their opponents in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa competition. A fearsome prospect, only five weeks into the ten-week comp.
Still, two games were played and they each had rewards for the winners and in continuing the notice that all the local derby matches must still be played, as no games guarantee ‘easy wins’ in this domestic series.
HIGvHUR – running away with the ‘Jordie show’ in Dunedin
Not many team members mean as much to their side, then does Aaron Smith. The beating heart of the ‘Landers. Running out for game 154, it was the early motivation wanted yet, as repeated scoring movements from the Hurricanes added up, and from there, internal pressures counted. And not for the first time, Tony Brown will need to work on the top two inches, as much as in combinations.
Under the covered stadium, every game looks faster than on a standard New Zealand rugby field. Kicking played a part but what the Highlanders could not muster, was a strategy to counter the opposition. The ‘Canes had thrust from the pack, control from the outside channels; Salesi Rayasi is a huge asset, and with his power and newly revealed kicking prowess, the ability of that side to hold off the opposition’s attack is a clear advantage in local derby matches. For 35 minutes, they withstood numerous barrages, to win 19-30.
The big smile on Jordie Barrett’s face could be from joy, as much as an embarrassment. He wouldn’t have planned to score a hat-trick and to kick all the goals but, the management of the side will also realize that, for all the plus marks (including giving away just one try in each half) they missed an opportunity. No bonus point is the reward from Dunedin unrecovered.
That could cost them after the next four rounds. Because down the road, some numbers will ultimately count for plenty.
CHIvBLU – slow to start until bounce goes hosts way
The detail in these local derby matches is in the statistics. Reading closely below you can see just how close the margin was across the board. Maybe the little things wound-up falling the host’s way, it could have just been the bounce of the ball. A last-minute score gave the expected 8-12 result a tilt the Chiefs way but, that movement was down to a solid break upfield, quick ball, and the Pinball Wizard that is Damian McKenzie.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) March 27, 2021
Aside from that, the Blues did a lot right, but they did more wrong. They did not take points on offer – not picking up from the lesson shown from the Crusaders the week before. If two of those penalties had been used as typical common-sense sides would have, then a higher score margin could have still seen them secure the third straight victory over the Chiefs.
In not taking them, scoreline pressure and the will of the home team defeated the Blues’ purpose. Lesson learned.
Round Five standings show positions 2 – 5 indistinguishable
🪜 STANDINGS | We are halfway through the competition and there has been some movement on the ladder this weekend! Who are you picking to make the final?@crusadersrugby @BluesRugbyTeam @ChiefsRugby @Hurricanesrugby @Highlanders pic.twitter.com/v6N0ernNFn
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) March 28, 2021
With only four matches out of eight played, it might be halfway through the season. Yet if a perceived Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition cannot be arranged safely, then there is the scope for the third round of local derby matches.
Now, if the Crusaders have accrued this many wins, then let’s say even a 75% winning conversion rate; with 50% bonus point collection, will have them sitting on 31 points by May and the remaining sides fighting for the runners-up berth. That is a situation where a streak of wins by the Highlanders could see them usurp second place from the Blues. The machinations are too numerous to list here but, it requires consistency of more than 50%.
How each of the four franchises gets there, is in their hands. Where the players like Jordie Barrett or Damian McKenzie instigate attack but, the supporting players must fulfill their part. So handling errors, retention of ball, and kicks on target are critical. Josh Ioane has to firm-up his role at first-five, for the Dunedin side to gain consistency. The same at the Blues, midfield combinations need to be assured by constant selection and good tactics.
Over the next five weeks, all those questions and analysis on both starting team form, as well as squad rotation will point towards who can end Round Two highest; below the ‘Saders obviously. That side has rested and now plays the reverse fixtures from the opening weeks. That begins on Good Friday at home, against the ‘Landers.
If ever the Southern men needed to roll their neighbours, it has to be now. To not do, would make their chances of reaching a playoff near-on insurmountable.
“Main photo credit”
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