18 Feb 2019

Super Rugby: week one breakdown

3:55 pm on 18 February 2019

Hamish Bidwell reviews round one of the 2019 Super Rugby season - this week he looks at what went wrong with the referees and how the Highlanders pulled off the unthinkable with 14 men.

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Aaron Smith proved influential in the Highlander's win over the Chiefs on Friday night. Photo: Bruce Lim / Photosport

It's back

No disrespect to other codes, but New Zealand is a rugby nation.

Summer means other athletes get their time in the sun but somehow life - certainly within the sports media - works better when there's footy to talk about.

Starting with...

The Sio Tomkinson red card.

If that's World Rugby's standard and referees and Television Match Officials are going to make that decision every time, then sweet.

The head has to be sacrosanct and, as happened when rucking was still part of the game, guys who go near it need to be punished.

But if some no-arms tackles, particularly those that creep high, aren't going to be punished, then rugby holds itself up to ridicule.

Waratahs wing Curtis Rona didn't use any arms in pushing Hurricanes opposite Ben Lam into touch on Saturday, never mind the nonsense England's repeat offender Owen Farrell got away with late last year.

You see those and rightly wonder why Tomkinson saw red instead.

The reffing in general

Let's hope the prominence of referees such as Nick Briant and Angus Gardner was a week-one aberration.

Nothing against either man personally, or their ability, just that we want players deciding outcomes rather than officials.

Team of the week

Got to be the Highlanders - to come back from 12 points down, away from home, to beat the Chiefs 30-27 spoke volumes of their character.

Many experts tip the Highlanders to struggle this season and, for that forecast to be proved inaccurate, intangibles such as culture and effort will have been responsible.

The Highlanders don't boast the best squad on paper yet year after year they tip over more highly-fancied sides. That was a really admirable effort first-up.

Player of the week

You wonder how much Super Rugby Braydon Ennor will end up playing this season but, at least for one week, the Crusaders' centre looked a real talent.

Crusaders centre Braydon Ennor hits the gas in his side's Super Rugby win over the Blues.

Crusaders centre Braydon Ennor hits the gas in his side's Super Rugby win over the Blues. Photo: Photosport

The two-time defending champions aren't short of backline depth and, once Jack Goodhue's over his groin injury, Ennor might have to compete with George Bridge and Manasa Mataele for a game on the wing or even share gametime David Havili at fullback.

It's defence that separates the good centres from the decent ones and Ennor's yet to establish his credentials there.

The 21-year-old's obviously very handy with ball-in-hand, though.

For more on the Crusaders win over the Blues in week one click here.

All Blacks bolter-watch

Come on down Akira Ioane.

The Blues No.8's athleticism and ball-carrying are well known and his challenge has always been to find the workrate and abrasiveness to go with it.

Saturday's effort against the Crusaders was encouraging and now Ioane needs to back that up again and again and again.

There aren't many guys who can play themselves into New Zealand's world cup squad this season, but he's definitely one.

New Zealand in a nutshell

The Highlanders were good and the Chiefs needn't be too discouraged by their own performance in Hamilton.

Their effort was good and there were some real quality touches provided by Anton Lienert-Brown.

The end result only underlined how much the Chiefs rely on first five-eighth Damian McKenzie to win games for them, though.

Elsewhere, the Blues, Crusaders and Hurricanes were much as we've come to know them.

The Blues are still searching for a way to win, the Crusaders have it down pat and the Hurricanes' backs can't do much without the help of their forwards.

Week one NZ form XV

15 - Ben Smith (Highlanders)

14 - Manasa Mataele (Crusaders)

13 - Braydon Ennor (Crusaders)

12 - Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)

11 - Etene Nanai-Seturo (Chiefs)

10 - Josh Ioane (Highlanders)

9 - TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)

8 - Akira Ioane (Blues)

7 - Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)

6 - Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders)

5 - Scott Barrett (Crusaders)

4 - Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)

3 - Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders)

2 - Dane Coles (Hurricanes)

1 - Joe Moody (Crusaders)

* Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.