Super Rugby returned with a bang this weekend with the Chiefs and Highlanders kicking things off in a pulsating battle in Waikato. The Highlanders fought back, with 14 men, to beat the Chiefs 27-30. The action continued with the Rebels claiming a rare opening day victory of the Brumbies in Canberra.
Saturday's action kicked off with the Blues pushing the Crusaders all the way while the Waratahs missed a perfect opportunity, via the boot of Bernard Foley, to beat the Hurricanes while the Sunwolves were brushed aside by the Sharks. The action moved to the Republic where the Bulls thrashed the Stormers before the Lions broke their away game hoodoo in Argentina.
Here is our team of round one:
1. Dylan Smith - Lions
The young South African loosehead has a long way to go to break into one of the Springboks most competitive positions but if he continues his season the way he started it in Argentina he could earn a test call up. He battled well in against a tough but relatively inexperienced Jaguares front row and was all of the park on defence attack. He edges Blues' loosehead Alex Hodgeman to a place in the side with James Slipper also impressing on his return to Super Rugby.
2. Akker van der Merwe - Sharks
Some stiff competition coming from the likes of Rebel's hooker Anaru Rangi, the Crusaders' Andrew Makalio and the Lions' Malcolm Marx but the Sharks' Akker van der Merwe claims the #2 jersey this week. The man nicknamed the 'raging warthog' scored a brace against the Sunwolves and was excellent at the set pieces.
3. Tyrel Lomax - Highlanders
An absolute rock in the scrums against the Chiefs, Lomax made a big impact for the Highlanders on attack with some lovely touches and carried the ball hard to line. He also made all of his attempted tackles and could be a player to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen got around Brookvale Oval well but gave away a few needless penalties Ofa Tu'ungafasi was good off the bench for the Blues.
4. Scott Barrett - Crusaders
The game in Eden Park had everything, including a superb performance by a Barrett. The middle Barrett, Scott, fronted up to the physical battle the Blues threw at him and was outstanding in doing the nitty-gritty work and some. Luke Jones was another player who impressed on his return to Super Rugby for the Rebels while Patrick Tuipulotu was outstanding for the Blues.
5. Lood de Jager - Bulls
His Super Rugby season was sadly cut short last year but de Jager looks to be making up for lost time and is relishing the added responsibility that comes with the Bulls captaincy. He was physical as ever against the Stormers and dominated the set pieces in his side's comprehensive victory. Michael Allardice was busy for the Chiefs while Marvin Orie filled the gap Franco Mostert left with a busy shift in Argentina.
6. Marnus Schoeman - Lions
An extremely tough call on Tom Robinson whose red hair was seen all of Eden Park in a massive performance against the Crusaders but the Lions' blonde haired flanker takes this one. The short busy flanker was a menace at the breakdown, made over 10 tackles and scored a hattrick in the Lions 16-25 victory in South America.
7. Ardie Savea - Hurricanes
Savea brought his sensational form with the All Blacks in 2018, into the new year with a huge game against the Waratahs. His individual battle with Michael Hooper was worth the gate fee at Brookvale Oval alone. The All Black loose forward scored a crucial try in the first half and almost had a second later on in the game. Matt Todd was sensational for the Crusaders, despite being thrown around like a rag doll by Ardie Savea, while Lachlan Boshier played to his usual high standard against the Highlanders.
8. Akira Ioane - Blues
A regular in our team of the week last year, Akira Ioane picked up from where he left off last year and put in another sensational performance against the Crusaders which will certainly catch the eye of Steve Hansen. The man celebrated his 50th appearance for the Blues and was unlucky not to be on the right end of the result with some powerful carries earning him 100 running metres from 18 carries.
Duane Vermeulen enjoyed a stellar return to Super Rugby against his former employers while Dan du Preez was impressive against the Sunwolves.
9. Aaron Smith - Highlanders
The All Black scrumhalf looked back to his best off the bench for the Highlanders after a testing 2018. He picked up the tempo of the game and helped his side to an unlikely 27-30 win despite being a man down. He scored the match-winning try with a dummy that inspired by Highlander's youngster Folau Fakatava.
10. Quade Cooper - Melbourne Rebels
It was if he never left. Quade Cooper was excellent against the Brumbies on Friday linking up with his longtime friend Will Genia. Cooper had a calming effect on the Rebels backline and dictated play in a game that could have gone either way. The Wallaby playmaker didn't try too hard but still managed to display moments of brilliance. The Bulls flyhalf Handre Pollard is unlucky to miss out with a stellar game against the Stormers as he converted all of his kicks at goal and took the ball to the line. Finally, Orbyn Leger showed what the Blues missed out on his debut for the Chiefs.
11. Rosko Specman - Bulls
Burst onto the Super Rugby scene with a superb double against the Stormers. He breezed through the Stormers defence with some lovely footwork and doubled up soon after. He racked up 94 running metres and beat 7 defenders making 3 clean breaks. George Bridge was at his ever-consistent best against the Blues while the Crusaders did well to keep Rieko Ioane relatively quiet.
12. Anton Lienert-Brown - Chiefs
Billy Meakes was superb against the Brumbies, especially on defence but the inside centre role goes to Anton Lienert-Brown who laid down a strong statement of intent against the Highlanders. He run some incredible lines to carve open the Highlanders defence and topped that off with some stellar offloads. Ryan Crotty was also brilliant against the Blues as he consistently put the likes of Braydon Ennor and co into gaps.
13. Braydon Ennor - Crusaders
An incredible performance by the young Sader in his preferred position of outside centre as his exploited the holes in the Highlanders defence to make 80 running metres, beating 8 defenders and 3 clean breaks. He combined brilliantly with Ryan Crotty and beats Jesse Kriel to a place in our team of the week.
14. Jack Maddocks - Melbourne Rebels
Another outstanding performance by the ever-improving Jack Maddocks who made his test debut for the Wallabies last year. He was heavily involved in the clash against the Brumbies scoring two tries and racking up 60 running metres. He beats the Crusaders Manasa Mataele and Sbu Nkosi to a place in the side.
15. Warrick Gelant - Bulls
A weekend filled with strong performances but fullbacks with not one of them completely ousting the rest. Israel Folau and Jordie Barrett were good in Brookvale, Ben Smith was solid against the Chiefs, as too was Shaun Stevenson in the same game. However, Warrick Gelant's commanding performance against the Stormers sees him claim the #15 jersey. Gelant seems to have grown from last season with his tactical kicking game and link up play one of his strong suits against the Stormers.