Rebels vs Blues: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

It was a frenetic, yet brutal start to the Super Rugby season as the Blues thrashed the Rebels in Melbourne.

Here are five things we learned.

1. Pre-season form might not be the worst indicator after all

Nothing went right for the Rebels in the second half tonight. Photo: Getty ImagesThe signs that this kind of performance was brewing had been there all pre-season for the Rebels, who were beaten 27-5 and 32-13 in trials against the Force and Reds, respectively, in their two hit outs. Both performances were riddled with poor defensive reads and a lack of spark from their halves, which proved to be the two most glaring weaknesses in tonight's performance.

2. Garden-Bachop must lift

Off the kicking tee and in general play, rookie Kiwi flyhalf Jackson Garden-Bachop must improve on tonight's performance if he is to retain his spot. Coach Tony McGahan is searching for answers at flyhalf after deciding Jack Debreczeni would be better suited to fullback and he has not found anything in Garden-Bachop's trials or Round 1 performance. The Rebels' forwards were beaten at the breakdown tonight but not by much - it is the backs that need to provide better attacking spark and that starts with the 10.

3. Blues put New Zealand Conference on notice

Akira Ioane was one of the Blues' best forwards tonight. Photo: Getty ImagesThere was a brief 10 minute period in the first half where the visitors looked rattled by Melbourne's initial defensive intensity but they rode that out and ended up well on top. Augustine Pulu is a star at halfback and Rieko Ioane is not far behind at outside centre. Their set piece was clinical and while the Rebels were far from top class opposition, the Blues will push for finals football if they keep performing at that level in 2017.

4. Rebels injury toll rises

Nic Stirzaker holding his head in his hands at the 14th minute mark said it all. The captain had guided his sided to a solid start but when he copped a knock and failed his concussion test, the wheels started to fall off. Jonah Placid also hobbled off with what looked to be a bad leg injury.

5. New Zealand's halfback depths knows no bounds

Augustine Pulu's performance was world-class tonight. Having left the Chiefs for the Blues due to a lack of playing time behind Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Pulu will put the pressure on Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara in the quest for the All Black top job if he continues to create opportunities in attack with his sharp turn of foot, pinpoint passing and superb spatial awareness.

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