DYLAN JACK looks at three major talking points from the second round of action in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Drop goals back in fashion
At the highest level of rugby, the drop goal has been the decisive element of the biggest of matches.
South African fans will know this well, having seen the Springboks experience their fair share of jubilation and heartbreak due to drop goals at World Cups.
However, it has become something of a dying art in New Zealand. According to Rugby Pass statistics, there was not a single successful drop-goal attempt among the New Zealand franchises in 2018 and 2019.
Super Rugby Aotearoa has brought about a resurrection of the drop goal in New Zealand. Both Damian McKenzie and Bryn Gatland nailed crucial drops in the first-round clash between the Chiefs and Highlanders.
In the second round, flyhalf Jackson Garden-Bachop kept his side in the match against the Crusaders with a drop goal, while Beauden Barrett kept the Blues’ scoreboard ticking over with a drop against the Chiefs.
A possible reason for this is that tournament organisers introduced a ‘golden-point’ law, where any game ending in a draw would be decided by a period of extra time. The first team to score in any fashion in this period would win the match.
Whatever the reason, it is definitely something the All Blacks’ opponents should become wary of.
Lineouts remain a key launching pad
The first two rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa have certainly shown us that winning or losing your lineouts can be key in how the match swings for either side.
Both the Blues and Highlanders had an excellent success rate at the lineout, using it as a platform to launch a number of impressive plays.
However, at the opposite end, the Chiefs and Hurricanes have shown what can happen when things don’t go right in this regard. The Hurricanes, in particular, have struggled to operate their lineout at full efficiency. Not only has it cost them key attacking opportunities, but it has also hurt them defensively.
In their round-two clash with the Crusaders, the Hurricanes started the match with an attacking lineout on the Crusaders’ 10-metre line. However, in a miscommunication the ball was overthrown and the Crusaders launched a counter-attack which resulted in a try in the first minute of the match.
Given that it put the Hurricanes on the back foot from the beginning – when if they had won their own throw they could have started with early momentum – it demonstrated again how important it is to win your own throw at the lineouts.
Blues, Crusaders early favourites for Aotearoa title
While it may be a bit too soon to be installing clear favourites to win Super Rugby Aotearoa, with another eight rounds still to be played, the Blues and Crusaders have put in the most impressive performances of the opening rounds.
After beating the Chiefs at the FMG Stadium Waikato, the Blues set a new franchise record of five consecutive away wins. Starting their campaign with two successive away fixtures against the Hurricanes and Chiefs might have seemed an tough prospect for the Auckland franchise, but they have proved that they can finally close out matches from promising positions.
Most impressive about the Blues has been their defensive work rate and the efficiency with which they clear their lines. On attack, the Blues have taken a step up in terms of their tactical play, picking and choosing their moments to strike, while still relentlessly unleashing their bruising pack on their opponents.
As for the Crusaders, they opened their campaign with a smashing 39-25 victory over the Hurricanes. The defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions may have struggled to adapt to the officiating, but were deadly on attack and punished almost every error the Hurricanes made.