Australian, New Zealand clubs set to face off in Super Rugby
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Hamilton-based Chiefs and New South Wales Waratahs meet Friday in the first trans-Tasman match in Super Rugby Pacific, kicking off a new phase of the competition and measuring the relative strength of the Australian and New Zealand franchises.
The Chiefs and Waratahs respectively are the third-ranked teams in New Zealand and Australia, which might make their meeting a genuine gauge of the strength of each competition.
The clubs from Australia, joined by Fijian Drua, and New Zealand, joined by Moana Pasifika, played the first nine rounds of the season in separate competitions. The Canberra-based Brumbies and Queensland Reds were ranked first and second in Australia and the Auckland-based Blues and Christchurch-based Crusaders were top-ranked in New Zealand.
The Blues lead the overall championship standings ahead of the Brumbies, the Reds and the Crusaders, with the Waratahs in fifth spot and the Chiefs and sixth.
The Brumbies and Reds were the only Australian teams to win matches against New Zealand rivals in last year’s combined trans-Tasman stage, at the end of which the five New Zealand teams occupied the top five places.
“I think it’d be pretty silly to assume it would be similar to last year,” Chiefs captain Sam Cane told the Australian Associated Press. “Throughout the history of Super Rugby, that was a little bit of an anomaly.
“So we won’t be taking this game lightly by any means, and I don’t think any of the (New Zealand) sides will, either.”
The experience of that competition has given the Australian franchises hope they can bridge the gap this year.
Several coaches of the Australian franchises believe the difference between the clubs from the two nations is the pace at which the Kiwis play and the generally unstructured nature of their game.
“Their brand of rugby over there is quicker than what we’ve probably been used to the last couple of weeks,” Waratahs forward coach Pauli Taumoepeau said. “I don’t think that there needs to be an overhaul in (our) system but we probably just need to check our foot speed as to how quickly we’re getting into position.”
Flyhalf Tane Edmed said the Waratahs players will have to quickly adapt.
“The thing about the Kiwi teams, especially the Chiefs, is that they thrive on that unstructured attack,” he said. “They love that turnover ball and they take those opportunities really quickly.
“For us, it’s trying to minimize those opportunities and just play our game and try and keep the game in control.”
All matches in the first trans-Tasman round will be played in Melbourne as part of a weekend Super Round of games.
“COVID restrictions have meant we’ve seen nine exciting weeks of rugby played on different sides of the Tasman but everyone is intrigued to see how the New Zealand-based and Australian-based teams measure up against each other,” New Zealand Rugby spokesman Chris Lendrum said. “Super Round will be crucial to the aspirations of teams and their fans as the race to make the top-eight intensifies.”
The Blues will play the Fijian Drua and the Wellington-based Hurricanes will play the Reds on Saturday; the Dunedin-based Highlanders will play the Brumbies and the Melbourne Rebels will play the Crusaders on Sunday.
The match between the Perth-based Western Force and Moana Pasifika, due to be played Friday, has been postponed because on an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Force squad. It is the fourth time this season that match involving Moana Pasifika has been postponed because of virus outbreaks.
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