All the groundwork has been done, injuries have been kept to a minimum and the stage is set for the weekend’s first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Highlanders coach Tony Brown has what every coach aims for as a result of his side’s 35-12 win over the Hurricanes in Alexandra – a multitude of selection options.
He was impressed with the way his side performed in the second half in scoring 28 points – a contrast to the 26 unanswered points they scored in the first half of their game against the Crusaders a week earlier.
“We did not quite execute in the first half, especially at lineout time, but that was more to do with the pressure the Hurricanes were putting us under,” he said.
“But we were pretty willing in that first half…the ball was in play for a long time, for long periods, and the boys who were playing their first game really felt it.”
Returning openside flanker James Lentjes scored two tries in the second half while the only significant injury had been a sprained ankle to centre Fetuli Paea.
Facing the Crusaders first up in Super Rugby Aotearoa, Brown was confident the team was as prepared as it could be.
“It is going to be a hard team to pick. We are a lot stronger in the outside backs, and the loose forwards are really strong,” he said.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald, whose side enjoyed two wins in Cambridge, said after the week of Level 3 disruption the side had fronted up well.
“We’re seriously thrilled, we were really worried about getting to the starting line of this competition or limping in without any rugby at all so to get this hit out was huge for us,” he said.
Like Brown, he said he would have headaches over selection for the first-round game against the Hurricanes as there was depth in several positions.
Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu wasn’t getting carried away over the wins. They had achieved that in the past so knew only so much could be read into the pre-season success.
However, they had been a confidence boost.
He was especially pleased to be on the right side of the penalty count, something that could be a factor in the season.
Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan said the games had been a step up from their first game, with more intensity and pressure but they had still created opportunities they hadn’t cashed in on.
Lineouts were an area that needed more attention ahead of the competition in the two weeks before they start.
Crusaders captain Codie Taylor had an early experience with the demands of the captain’s challenge, and specifically the language required. He had made a challenge but there was confusion in what he sought and referee Paul Williams misunderstood and didn’t apply it.
He apologized later to Taylor for getting it wrong.
“He’s learning as well, so better to learn here than next week come comp [competition] time,” he said.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said it was disappointing to lose David Havili to a head knock in the first few minutes of the game. He would be subject to concussion protocols. Moments later Will Jordan had taken a hit to the ribs and experienced some discomfort.
He was hopeful Jordan would recover quickly.
Ahead of the first game on Friday he was keen to see a reduction in the offside penalties the side has conceded in its warm-up games.
Highlanders 35 (James Lentjes 2, Shannon Frizell, Ngani Punivai, Connor Garden Bachop tries’ Josh Ioane 4 con, Mitch Hunt con)
Hurricanes 12 (Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape tries; Barrett con.) HT: 12-7
Crusaders 21 (Cullen Grace, Sevu Reece, Brodie McAlister tries; Richie Mo’unga 3 con)
Chiefs 14 (Quinn Tupaea, Shaun Stevenson tries; Bryn Gatland 2 con)
Blues 26 (Jonathan Ruru 3, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens tries; Otere Black 3 con)
Crusaders 19 (Leicester Fainga’anuku, Mitchell Dunshea, Chay Fihaki tries; Fergus Burke 2 con)
Blues 14 (Tom Robinson, Kurt Eklund tries; Zarn Sullivan 2 con)
Chiefs 7 (Etene Nanai-Seturo try; Damian McKenzie con).