Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Serious step up as season proper starts

Augustine Pulu impressed for the Blues. Photo / Getty
Augustine Pulu impressed for the Blues. Photo / Getty

My impressions of Super Rugby's round one in a nut shell: there were some good individual and team performances and some inevitable rust as players go from pre-season to the competition proper.

People may ask - what's the difference? Well, it's a big one. In pre-season matches, you can play for 15 minutes, have a rest, and return. In a competition match, you're going as hard as you can until you drop.

How did I go with my predictions? Of the New Zealand teams, the Blues repaid my positivity. I thought once they got going, they were very good against the Rebels in Melbourne. They are a team who will provide their opposition with a few challenges this year. There were some great individual performances, and a lot has been made of Rieko Ioane, but I thought Augustine Pulu was outstanding at halfback.

Pulu's performance would have put a smile on the faces of the Blues coaches, and possibly those of the All Blacks selectors, with the British and Irish Lions tour approaching.

The Highlanders-Chiefs game in Dunedin was dominated by the hosts but they lacked their usual patience. In the past, they've been happy to string 15 phases together to break down teams but they looked panicky and tried to force things before they did the hard work.

I agree with Chiefs coach Dave Rennie when he said it was a match they were lucky to win due to the Highlanders' inability to finish them off. The Chiefs scrambled brilliantly on defence and got points when they needed to. That ability to win a game they perhaps didn't deserve to is the hallmark of a champion team. Of the previous 12 games the Highlanders played under the roof, they lost only once - to the Crusaders. This was an important win for the Chiefs.

The Crusaders took on a new-look Brumbies and after 20 minutes, you couldn't help but be impressed. They still have firepower to come back, as do a lot of New Zealand teams, but they had to grind out a tough win against a resilient opponent.

That's a good result for the Crusaders. There was a bit of pre-season hype about their new signings. They and new coach Scott Robertson will know they have to work hard to contest this competition and that's not a bad thing.

What can you say about the Hurricanes against the Sunwolves? I've mentioned that the defending champions should again be in the mix this year, but you can't read anything into this result. They put away an inept Sunwolves team who, if they weren't throwing passes to them, weren't bothering to tackle.

I've picked the Waratahs and Reds to be strong and while they both won, they weren't as impressive as they could have been. The Lions got the job done and the Stormers had a good result at home. I've questioned where the Jaguares were at - and they won. Yes, it was only against the Kings but it was in South Africa and they did it without regular No 9 Martin Landajo and No 10 Nicolas Sanchez.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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