Pacific newcomers Fijian Drua had a rough introduction to Super Rugby with a heavy defeat, while 12-time champions Canterbury Crusaders clinched a win as the new season kicked off this weekend.
The Southern Hemisphere tournament has seen another revamp this year with the addition of two Pacific Islander teams competing for the first time alongside the best from Australia and New Zealand.
South African parties withdrew in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic expanded, while Argentine Jaguars and Japan’s Sunwolves were knocked out.
The organizers hope that the participation of the teams from the Pacific Islands will spark fan interest and help build on the region’s rich rugby heritage.
But Fijian Drua struggled on their debut, crashing 40-10 in Sydney against the NSW Waratahs – a team that had a 2021 horror when they failed to win a match.
A nervous Drua, based in Australia, was sloppy on the set-piece, conceding 20 turnovers as Darren Coleman’s men ran to one in five attempts.
Wallabies Angus Bell and Jake Gordon, along with Dave Porecki, Will Harris and Lalakai Foketi all passed on.
Drua captain Nemani Nagusa earned the credit for their first Super Rugby attempt in the 64th minute, but it was no more than a consolation.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve given a performance like this, which we are really proud of,” said Waratahs captain Gordon.
Auckland-based Moana Pasifika, which uses talent from Tonga and Samoa, had their debut against Auckland Blues postponed as Pasifika’s squad was placed in isolation after seven players tested positive for Covid-19.
Despite the Blues winning the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title last year, Scott Robertson’s Crusaders are the all-time favorites for the 2022 edition.
They defeated the Ardie Savea-led Wellington Hurricanes 42-32 in an eerily quiet Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, while Leicester Fainga’anuku scored a hat-trick in a messy affair.
Led by Jordie Barrett, three attempts by the Hurricanes were disallowed, with the Crusaders scrum and lineout making the difference, relieving the pressure and turning territory into points.
“We’re happy, there are no injuries, some really good performances, some really good moments, a pretty brave defense,” said Robertson.
All New Zealand teams are currently in a “bubble” in Queenstown due to Covid-19 with matches being played in Queenstown and Dunedin.
At the nearly deserted Queenstown Recreation Ground, an ill-disciplined Otago Highlanders crashed 26-16 against the Waikato Chiefs who enjoyed dominant performances from All Blacks Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick.
Last season’s Super Rugby AU champions Queensland Reds defeated the Melbourne Rebels 23-5 in a stern opener in Brisbane.
In a game that was full of mistakes on a wet day, powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou, No.8 Harry Wilson and fullback Jock Campbell outlined the home side.
Reds co-captain Tate McDermott said they need to improve to beat the Waratahs next weekend.
“There are areas like our defense, which was positive, but there are so many other things we can work on. We just have to be better – it’s that simple,” he said.
In Canberra, the ACT Brumbies survived the Western Force 29-23.