Brumbies still the Australian benchmark, Reds impress in week 1 of Super Rugby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The best and worst of Australian rugby was on show in the first round of Super Rugby Pacific, expressed in microcosm in a single game.

On Friday the ACT Brumbies beat the Melbourne Rebels 30-3 in Melbourne in a widely predicted result. The Brumbies have been semifinalists in the last three seasons of the full Super Rugby competition and are the benchmark for Australian teams. The Rebels are running on fumes financially and may not last the season.

The match highlighted the duality of Australian rugby, professionalism and dysfunction. The Brumbies weren’t at their best but still were able to persevere and win comfortably in Rebels territory.

They shrugged off rustiness and occasional lapses of discipline while the Rebels struggled to overcome an unreliable lineout and lack of precision with their few attacking opportunities.

Brumbies flyhalf Noah Lolesio had the upper hand over his Wallabies rival Carter Gordon in a contest which likely would have interested new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt.

“The boys have been training well for a long time now and we had a good combination out on the field so we were expecting to do well,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said. “But you never really know.

“We got a lot of things right tonight. It’s a good start.”

It was the start of a mixed weekend for Australian teams which saw, on Saturday, the revival of the biggest derby in Australia between the New South Waratahs and Queensland Reds.

The Wellington-based Hurricanes beat the Perth-based Western Force 44-14 in the only match between an Australian and a New Zealand team. The result may have been troubling for those who believe the Wallabies will not improve until Australian teams routinely beat New Zealand opponents at Super Rugby level.

The new season has started with a greater focus on the Australian teams after the Wallabies failure at last year’s World Cup and the appointment of Schmidt to succeed Eddie Jones as head coach.

The derby match, usually a high point of the season, had the expected physicality and competitiveness. There were six lead changes in the first half but the Reds gradually got on top in the second to win 40-22 and to hand a winning start to new head coach Les Kiss.

The match attracted almost 15,000 fans to Suncorp Stadium, well short of the crowds for similar contests in the past but not bad for the first match of the season with the Australian summer still in full bloom.

The Reds have an expressed intention this season to run the ball as much as possible, going back to their roots. But wet conditions curbed that goal a little.

The Reds backrow of Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight and Liam Wright was outstanding in those conditions and their effort played a large part in separating the teams.

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman could only note admiringly “pretty potent trio aren’t they and all complement each other.”

The Hurricanes were superior to the Force in Perth, leading 22-0 by halftime and doubling their score in the second half.

The Wallabies scrumhalf Nic White was a livewire for the Force and scored a good solo second half try. But the Rebels were beaten at set pieces and weren’t able to match the continuity of the Hurricanes.

“There’s not much to say,” said Force co-captain Michael Wells. “It’s bitterly disappointing and we’ve got to take learnings from that.

“There are a few boys to come back but the squad mentality is the team that we put out has got to do a job. We can’t wait for guys who are injured. We’ve got to do a better job on the field every week.”

In other matches, the Hamilton-based Chiefs reversed the result of last year’s final when they beat the Crusaders 33-29; the Auckland-based Blues beat the Fijian Drua 34-10 and the Dunedin-based Highlanders beat Moana Pasifika 35-21.


AP rugby: