5 Things We Learned from Super Rugby This Weekend
Super Rugby is back in full swing with the Australian and New Zealand franchises joining the party in Round 2.
With the All Blacks conquering all before them on the international front, this competition has followed suit with back-to-back titles for the Waikato-based Chiefs.
But there were plenty of other sides with big names making the headlines as the 2014 competition gets rolling.
Here’s what we learned.
1. Israel Folau Is Set for a Big Year
In his first season of Test rugby last year, Israel Folau looked like he had been playing the sport all his life.
The scary thing was that, with just one year under his belt, there was always going to be room for improvement in the former Aussie Rules and Rugby League man’s game.
The flames of that theory have not so much been fanned as had a can of fuel thrown on them by his first outing in Super Rugby this year.
The Wallaby full-back scored a hat-trick in the Waratahs’ 43-21 win over the Western Force, prompting coach Michael Cheika to tell AAP, as reported on ESPN Scrum:
It's not a coincidence that he ends up in the right place at the right time. It's the quality of player to read the game as well as make his impacts and it's a good start for him. And really nice for the crowd to see him enjoy himself when he scores a try. That's what we want to see; that's what we want to have in the game.
2. South Africa Has Found Another Big Boot
Marnitz Boshoff contributed 29 of the Lions’ 34 points in their Round 2 win over the Stormers.
That followed six penalties and a last-minute drop goal that shocked the Cheetahs the previous weekend.
The 25-year old drew reluctant praise from Stormers coach Allister Coetzee after the match for his three long-range drop goals that helped down the Cape Town franchise.
“There is nothing much you can do about a guy that stands 50 metres back and slots the drop goals," he said on the Super XV site.
Despite these massive points hauls, SA Rugby Magazine’s Jon Cardinelli is not predicting a Springbok call-up any time soon for the Super Rugby newcomer:
The Lions will not win Super Rugby in 2014, and it’s unlikely that Boshoff will receive a Bok call-up. But these two performances will not have gone unnoticed, and I'm sure there are others—like coaches at the big three South African franchises—who will acknowledge that this guy is the real deal.
3. Marshall Shows Signs of Promise
Rugby league convert Benji Marshall made his entry to the Super Rugby fray as a replacement at full-back for the Auckland Blues, but he couldn't prevent them from going down 29-21 to the Highlanders.
But he did show a glimpse of what could come by helping to create a try for Patrick Tuipulotu with a cute flick.
Marshall has gone on record determined to convert himself into a rugby union fly-half, but at full-back he will have time at least to get more of a feel for the 15-man game.
4. Write the Highlanders off at Your Peril
The Highlanders were big underdogs in their home opener to the Blues but pulled off a 29-21 win in Dunedin.
Coach Jamie Joseph picked a side short on Super Rugby experience and their only two current All Blacks are scrum-half Aaron Smith and full-back Ben Smith.
Despite that comparative lack of star power to the flashier squads of the other New Zealand franchises, they ripped the Blues apart to romp to a 24-0 lead at half-time.
The Blues comprehensively won the second half, but the rest of the competition has been put on notice that Joseph’s callow side are not there just to make up the numbers.
5. Bulls in Bother
Two defeats from two games, the loss of the inspirational Pierre Spies and a battering from the press.
It has been a beginning from hell for the Bulls of Pretoria.
If the South African franchise were wondering what the media made of their second-round defeat to the Cheetahs, they need have looked no further than Vata Ngobeni’s piece in The Star which described them as "heartless and lacking imagination."
Now with Spies sidelined by an arm injury, it has been a bleak start for the three-time winners and last season’s runners-up.