Sunday, February 26, 2012

No easy answers as Super Rugby season starts JUSTIN MARSHALL  27/02/2012 

OPINION: The Hurricanes showed resolve; the Crusaders showed championship-winning traits.
The Highlanders and Chiefs showed they'd be up for a scrap and the Blues looked promising.
But for me the opening weekend of Super Rugby posed as many questions as it answered.
For all their X-factor, the Chiefs showed they cannot afford to lose Lelia Masaga. What do they do now they've lost their finisher?
And what happened to our goal kickers? Who in New Zealand can kick a penalty from 45 metres?
Mike Harris is a North Shore boy playing for the Reds. Should we get him back before he is eligible to play for Australia? And what's with all the charge-downs? Is it poor technique or good defensive pressure?
Was John Hardy clearly the best No7 of the weekend and is he in the frame to back up Richie McCaw?
And did any player make more of an impact off the bench this round than Jason Rutledge?
There was also plenty to ponder after some interesting performances in the No10 shirt.
Tyler Bleyendaal earned his first cap in Dan Carter's Crusaders' jersey against the Blues. I admit that when I watched Bleyendaal represent Canterbury in last year's ITM Cup, I wondered if he could cope with the intensity of playing at Super level.
At Eden Park he quashed my doubts for several reasons: he controlled play well, especially with the Blues defenders rushing up so quickly; displayed the sort of temperament not always on display for Canterbury; and showed he had some bottle when he got stuck back into his game after being hammered by Jerome Kaino.
I am still not sure whether Michael Hobbs is the answer at No10 for the Blues. For my mind, you need really strong personalities at 9 and 10 to control that team.
Hobbs was adequate but you need a really strong general for a team. I wonder if Gareth Anscombe will be the guy for Pat Lam or maybe Piri Weepu.
AARON CRUDEN, like his Highlanders' opposite Chris Noakes, was tidy in his debut for the Chiefs but I hope he doesn't stray from his natural game.
We know Cruden as a player who is brave when running the ball at the line and he can be unpredictable. I like that and hope having Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui outside him doesn't result in him just shovelling the ball out. He is too good for that.
I thought the Hurricanes' Beauden Barrett was impressive, probably the best New Zealand No10 on show, if you discount the Queensland Reds' Mike Harris. Despite playing in a side that gave away 17 penalties and two yellow cards, Barrett was still one of the Hurricanes' best. With Conrad Smith and Cory Jane having quiet games, Barrett's confidence and composure, along with the performance of fullback Andre Taylor, kept the Hurricanes backline ticking.

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