The first weekend of Super Rugby has come and gone but the Australian Conference picture remains muddy.
The Rebels played 40 minutes of good rugby before capitulating, the Reds narrowly avoided a home loss against a South African opponent, the Brumbies showed steel on the defensive end but not much by the way of attack and the Force and Waratahs were reduced to some scrappy play in treacherous conditions at Allianz Stadium.Round two will shed some light on where each Australian Conference team stands but the question remains - can anybody stop the might of the New Zealand Conference?
Here's how the Power Rankings stand with round two upon us.
Perhaps the most terrifying part of their 83-17 win against the Sunwolves was that the Japanese side weren't as horrible as the scoreline made them out to be. The Hurricanes have perfected the art of keeping the ball alive and the majority of their first half tries came as counter attacks which featured several offloads that require a skill level well above the capabilities of most Super Rugby teams. With Dan Coles and Beauden Barrett left on the bench to rest, it was an ominous performance from the Canes.
The Chiefs leapfrog the Highlanders after they caused an opening round upset at Forsyth Barr Stadium. A pair of James Lowe intercepts and some stellar defensive work earned the Chiefs a gritty win, having had just 41 percent of possession. The Highlanders sent wave after wave of attack their way, often in the red zone, but they kept the home side try-less - a feat which is unlikely to be replicated for the remainder of 2017.
The Chiefs were in a defensive groove on Saturday afternoon and the Highlanders, despite their impressive attacking arsenal, could not break it. They had plenty of ball, territory and subsequent opportunities but handling errors after several phases brought them to their knees. They will still win plenty of games of rugby this season but that loss will hurt them in the scheme of the New Zealand Conference.
The Lions scored what turned out to be an impressive win in what was a surprisingly riveting contest against the Cheetahs, who played the majority of the running rugby in the first 40 minutes. The Lions were really tested on both sides of the ball and passed with flying colours in what was a thriller in Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs will be a better side this season than they were last if they continue to play at that level. Where the Lions and Waratahs stand in the scheme of Super Rugby will be on show for all to see on Sunday morning (AEDT).
Tough to move up from their ranking last week but it also can't be justified to shift them a spot down. The Christchurch side is a notorious slow starter and they would have just been happy to take the four points on Saturday afternoon, as cliche as that sounds. They were met by a Brumbies team that gave an A-grade defensive performance but lacked any sort of spark in attack as new halves pairing Joe Powell and Wharenui Hawera found their feet. We will know far more about how the Crusaders are travelling when they travel to Forsyth Barr Stadium to square off with the Highlanders on Saturday afternoon.
The 15,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium were all thinking their high hopes for 2017 had been crushed when the Reds conceded the first try of the match as a result of a Quade Cooper dropped ball but they fought and fought hard. It was a game they would not have won in the Richard Graham era. They led for 10 minutes against a Sharks team which is heavily reliant on the boot of Pat Lambie but it was enough. Similar to the Crusaders, it was a performance which did not justify a move up or down the rankings. A win against the Force in Perth may be a different story.
The Stormers have jumped the Waratahs in the Power Rankings and put the rest of the South African Conference on notice after a rousing win against the Bulls. The 37-24 scoreline flatters the Bulls, who were beaten in every facet of the game in the first term and gave away a 24-0 lead at half-time. Conversely, the Stormers were played with a level of poise not seen since their days as title contenders in the early part of this decade. If they are as similarly impressive against the Jaguares it will be time to put them in official "watch this space" territory.
A win is a win but the Tahs hardly set the world alight in their 19-13 win against the Force. Both teams have since said they would have liked to have played a more attacking brand of rugby but the conditions simply did not suit. It was dour but a win against the Lions in Johannesburg would be instrumental in firing up their season. Just ask Nick Phipps.
The Blues round out the New Zealand Conference as the ninth best team on the RUGBY.com.au Power Rankings but still a few rungs below their NZ counterparts. They would be a contender in Australia and South Africa, such was their level of play on Thursday against the Rebels. Melbourne shot out of the gates with purpose and defensive intensity which initially rattled the Blues but they settled and proceeded to belt the Rebels on their home deck. Their fixture is a concern considering they play in the NZ Conference but they will push for finals footy if they play as they did in the second half all season long.
Making their top 10 debut, the Brumbies deserve plaudits for their narrow loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch. They will beat teams on their defensive work alone if it is maintained to their round one level but they must find some further spark in attack if they are to trouble the serious contenders in this competition. That will come once Powell and Hawera begin to gel but it would want to be soon.
The Sharks' loss against the Reds was the win that got away if there has ever been one. They led for 70 minutes and played smart, territorial rugby that was both low risk and low reward but it worked. They've dropped two spots in this week's rankings for the simple fact that a better team would have won that match given the erratic play of the home team - particularly in the first half. They let the Reds off the hook and will be looking to rectify that against the Brumbies on Saturday night.
Saturday night was a false start for the Force. They were solid against the Tahs and will have their chance to shoot up the rankings against the Reds tomorrow night. Their biggest off-season improvement was in the backs and the conditions did not allow them to shine on Saturday. Watch for a big improvement there tomorrow night.
There are no consolation prizes in Super Rugby, which is not the news Bulls fans wanted to hear on Sunday morning. They allowed the Bulls to get out to a 24-0 half-time lead but reeled in that scoreline in the second term to a flattering 37-24. The Cheetahs were impressive against the Lions and the Bulls will need to be well above their first half standard if they are to keep up.
After a shaky debut season, the Jaguares played plenty of positive rugby against the Kings. While the Kings were set on attacking through kick, after kick, after kick, from the boot of flyhalf Lionel Cronje, the Jaguares were not deterred and were subsequently rewarded, jumping out to a 27-point lead before a consolation try. There are positive signs in Argentina but they will face a whole new level of rugby when they face the Stormers in round two.
Along with the Stormers, the Cheetahs proved to be a surprise packet in round one. They stuck it to the Lions and were only beaten in the 76th minute by a Rohan Janse van Rensburg. They played enterprising rugby but as always with the Cheetahs, consistency is key.
It was a promising start but round one ended up being nothing short of disastrous for the Rebels. A 31-3 second-half demolition at the hands of Augustine Pulu and Rieko Ioane was enough to slide the Rebels down the rankings. Things won't get any easier against the rampaging Canes on Saturday afternoon.
They are going to rely on the boot of the aforementioned Cronje but there are signs that he may be able to kick them to a few wins this season. In saying that, they showed limited defensive prowess against a lowly Jaguares team and that points to some drubbings against stronger opposition.
Where else can you rank a team that lost by 66 points in their first game of the season?