Justin Marshall: Thrilling opener great way to start season

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Blues halfback Bryn Hall bursts away from Highlanders no.8 Liam Squire in the opening match of Super Rugby season between the Blues and the Highlanders at Eden Park.
Blues halfback Bryn Hall bursts away from Highlanders no.8 Liam Squire in the opening match of Super Rugby season between the Blues and the Highlanders at Eden Park.

The biggest thing this new competition needed to get people engaged again was for the opening game to be exactly like it was.

The Blues v Highlanders match on Friday was a pleasure to watch. If you were one of the 22,000 at Eden Park, you got great value for money.

The quality of rugby was impressive and the drama of the close scoreline and finish should really get people's excitement levels up for the season again.

The next game of the night, the Brumbies v Hurricanes in Canberra, didn't have the same quality, and while the Chiefs and Crusaders fought out a close one in Christchurch on Saturday, I believe the Blues and Highlanders were the two most impressive New Zealand terms in round one.

Both teams backed their skills - they were patient - and I can't recall many errors. It was fast moving and there were some quality tries scored.

The Blues got the result but on this evidence, the Highlanders will again be very competitive.

Tana Umaga's team have some attitude about them. They've got the pre-season results and now this one, and look a happy team.

The Hurricanes just didn't gel and the Brumbies look a playoff team. There has been a lot of talk out of Canberra that this is their year. You'd have to say the Hurricanes were off their game, but the Brumbies are going to be a very well-balanced and hard team to beat. They are title contenders.

The Hurricanes just have to move on, they're better than that. It was a disappointing performance and the one thing they didn't do last year when they were consistent and deservedly made the grand final.

I thought the Crusaders showed plenty of intent. They've had some dramatic changes in terms of personnel and their game plan was all about keeping the Chiefs in the right end of the field. The return of Israel Dagg, Robbie Fruean and Ryan Crotty will make that backline a different beast because I can hardly remember them making a line break.

If they were a little more positive at times, they might have won. The Chiefs will be happy with that result because I don't think they were at their best. They were lured into the Crusaders game plan but, boy, they looked good when they cranked it up a gear. The two tries they scored in the second half were of the highest quality and they look a playoff team at this early stage.

So round one is out of the way, with plenty of drama already, and next weekend looms as just as significant. The Hurricanes now have to galvanise themselves to play the Highlanders in Dunedin. That's a massive game. And the Crusaders host the high-flying Blues. What a contest that will be.

- NZ Herald

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