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Highlanders

While we are transitioning into International mode and also at Club Rugby too going into the 2nd half of 2024 next month, let’s look back at the 2024 Super Rugby Season following the Blues A+ Grand Final performance that sealed their long-awaited drought for their 4th championship trophy for the first time since 2003 over the Chiefs at Eden Park last night.

It began with the Crusaders largely not being the same team anymore that won them multiple championships despite their late season resurgence where they were one place short of the Top 8 while the Melbourne Rebels had a rare spectacular run on the field in 8th before their poor financial health regardless of this however unfortunately ended the team’s 14 year existence. Plus, NSW Waratahs were at an all-time low once again other than the two wins v Crusaders off the back of numerous injuries in the treatment room, particularly with their front rowers. Queensland Reds also had some fresh breath of under new coach Les Kiss including the Highlanders with their big rebuilding phase over in Otago but then they were both nowhere near past the Quarter-Finals alongside the Fijian Drua off the back of another excellent home season in 7th. Time will tell if the Drua will continue to progress & go Top 6 under a new coach while looking to improve their away form next season.

The same goes with the ACT Brumbies who continues to fall short in the semis yet again as they still continue to hold the title as Australia’s No.1 Super Rugby team, although we did witness a surprise semi elimination in the top-ranked Hurricanes by the Chiefs before the Waikato-based franchise weren’t simply up to the task against the championship-winning Blues last night. Nothing much also happened to Moana Pasifika and the Western Force when they had some wins off the back of a huge off-season drive but both are still underwhelming for the majority. It remains to be seen if the Force will benefit from the Rebels demise in an 11-team competition (short term) next year that would hopefully improve Australia’s record in Super Rugby as well as Wallabies at International level, so they can look to win games again. If not, while we understand of having a national footprint when the world has changed nowadays – three teams may finally be the way to go again with Rugby Australia helping the Force out elsewhere like reviving Global Rapid Rugby & have them play against teams in South East Asia.

And finally, congratulations to the Blues on their fourth championship when they first won this competition back-to-back while Super Rugby was born under Super 12 back in 1996 followed by a 3rd one in 2003 before they finally broken the 21-year hoodoo last night on top of the short-lived Trans-Tasman crown over the Highlanders during COVID back in 2021. They too have been unstoppable who can unseat any team including the top regular-season ranked Hurricanes while setting the standard all along including the Grand Final v Chiefs, even without Beauden Barrett at least in the short term until next year due to him playing in Japan. But it’s all about having an excellent group of players who is still around day in, day out alongside an experienced head coach of Vern Cotter after lifting his first major silverware off the back of long stints in France & Scotland.

So there you go for 2024 as Season 2025 would see 16 regular season matches and two weekly byes alongside a Top 6 Finals system like it was back in 2011-15 with the Top 2 going straight into the semis with 3rd-6th placed teams to play in the first week Quarter-Finals, then the other winning two will face the best two in the Final Four before the best of the best two teams will battle it out in the hope of lifting that championship next time around in 12 months’ time. After that, depending on the four Australian teams performance, Super Rugby would ideally like to say 12 teams but would otherwise have to go with 10.

The South African teams are well and truly happy in Europe following their split back in late 2020 while Japan wants to stay on its own with the Top League, a Jaguares reunion from Argentina may still pose financial and logistical issues & having Canada and USA onboard including a Hawaii-based team is still far off competitively right now for at least the next 10 years.

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The 4th and last Quarter-Final Super Rugby match of 2024 stops at GIO Stadium in Canberra as the 3rd placed ACT Brumbies welcome back the 6th placed Highlanders from Dunedin after being forced to sit outside the Top 8 last year for the first time since 2022. The first half was tight with the Highlanders benefiting the winning penalties such as two penalty conversions plus the one TRY but it was the Brumbies that controlled the pitch where they went into the break with a one-point buffer, 17-16.

In the end though, it’s all about the Brumbies who continued to extend their lead with another two tries – despite seeing another physical battle with Highlanders unable to get over the line even with the ball on hand before time ticks away against them towards full-time. The final score was Brumbies 32-16 Highlanders as the home fans will now book their flights by following their team with pride and optimism to Eden Park in Auckland v the Blues that will take place on Friday night this time around at 5pm during the early evening here. If you’re used to watching on 9Gem during Saturday nights, make sure you tune in 24 hours earlier for this special one in case you miss out. Before this game, Blues wrapped things up very easily at home turf 36-5 when they continued to shine their all-round attack while the Fijian Drua walked away with just the one TRY. 

One of the best Brumbies players on song off the wide right is Andy Muirhead following his outstanding Quarter-Finals performance v the Highlanders. What would life be like had he played for the Wallabies? Surprised it still hasn’t happened despite being 30 (hoping Joe Schmidt will consider him) where he unpacked so many tricks out of the bag thanks to the dominant possession. All he wanted is for the ball to come to him and that came at the right time when the Brumbies needed to go out wide and he’s your man to wrap things up like a gift present – just unbelievable as always. If one isn’t enough, Charlie Cale is the next best thing on the Brumbies 8 back row at age 23 – who not only was good defensively but also really impressive with his physical grit – that helped crack the walls past the Highlanders. He’s excellent at scrummage and maul time including at the ruck to dig it in while being an excellent support player with his mobility where tries were made possible for the Brumbies. He left the pitch after 50 odd mins in a very good position off the back of a good restart straight after half-time.

Now it’s up for the Brumbies to go one better for the Grand Final by going up against 2nd-placed Blues in Eden Park on Friday night. They’ve fallen short including the last semis encounter there when Super Rugby came back to normal two years ago as winning the trophy would mean anything & everything to both the Canberra-based team, the Wallabies & Rugby Australia.

And Highlanders No.10 Cam Millar was really good off his kicking tee in all areas that gave his team an early headstart thanks to the winning penalties & early Brumbies handling errors. Gotta credit the scrambled defense & the scrummaging where the Highlanders were able to pick up some positives against the No.1 Australian Super Rugby team like that restart later during the 1st half, having closed it out so quickly off the left by Jona Nareki. But their Finals comeback after finishing 6th has unfortunately came to an end after they were just unable to grasp their attack for the most part, especially with low possession while couldn’t get the job done from one point down in the last 40. There is still a long way to go which is a far cry when they used to be oh so good like a decade go but the Highlanders are getting there & hopefully be Top 4 by 2025-2026.

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After 15 weeks of regular season action, let the three-week Playoffs begin as we are edging closer to close out the 2024 Super Rugby Season before the International season begins next month off the back of a three-game series (Wallabies v Wales and All Blacks v England) as well as bit of Club Rugby in between (NSW Shute Shield and QLD Hospital Cup as well as New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship) followed by The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup throughout August and September. Here’s what you need to know which of the Top 8 have made it and which four have been left out of the cold.

The four teams that were eliminated outside the Top 8 bubble are the NSW Waratahs following so many injuries (mainly the front row department) combined with very poor form other than winning both games v the Crusaders as if 2014 comes around again (12th), Moana Pasifika even though they made some progress by winning a few games but they’re still not yet competitive as they would’ve liked during their third season (11th), Western Force when they had a poor start off the back of a huge off-season drive but some rare wins here and there only at home as the campaign goes on wasn’t enough to justify their slim Finals hopes (10th) & lastly, the Crusaders with so many key men moved on including the seasoned winning head coach combined with a few injuries whose recent winning form & some unlucky losses just wasn’t enough to make it on time (9th).

We will begin with the 4th & 5th placed team tonight at around 5pm AEST between the Chiefs and Queensland Reds once again at FMG Stadium in Waikato. Can we see the Reds go one better or will the Chiefs continue its strong NZ teams run going into the second week semis next weekend? Then we have all three games throughout Saturday from early afternoon to night to round off the first week’s play. We will pick it up from there between the 1st and 8th placed match of the Hurricanes and the Melbourne Rebels. Rebels had a great on-field season thanks to a brilliant front row while their backline has been sublime but their constant off-field troubles financially saw the writing off the wall to the Melbourne-based team after 14 years. Yes, making the finals for the first time is a great way to end things on a high but then it’s like an extra round of rugby as the favourites remain to the Canes with a new Super Rugby champion being crowned soon now that the Crusaders is out.

Saturday night in New Zealand sees the Fijian Drua play in their 2nd straight Playoffs year after finishing 7th again in their third season of existence. They will be up against another difficult team likewise in the Blues who will be hosting them at Eden Park in Auckland. Can the Drua finally live up to its full potential when they haven’t been great away from home or will the Blues continue its championship hunt going into the semis yet again & win a trophy that the fans have long been waiting for (2021 Trans-Tasman trophy doesn’t count) since the start of the 2020s? And finally we finish off the big Saturday at GIO Stadium in Canberra between the ACT Brumbies and the returning Highlanders who is now back in the Top 8 after they fell short in 9th last year. Well, the Highlanders had their moments this season as whether or not if they can continue their resurgence by causing a storm to the best Australian Super Rugby team? If not, will see the Brumbies make the semis once more and hopefully they go one better to hopefully be the next Australian Super Rugby winner after the Tahs 10 years ago.

And with Super Rugby moving on with a 11-team competition next year (for now) with two weeks of byes and an extra regular season round, this is widely expected to be the last year we will see an eight-team Finals format since its big and then reduced expansion back in 2016. The quarter-finals may stay on but it will be slightly different by going with a six-team Finals route as it once was before between 2011-2015 where the Top 2 teams will get the first week off with two matches instead of four – 4th v 5th (winner meets 1st) and 3rd v 6th (winner meets 2nd). It’s still a long way away from its absolute best even with South Africa now already moved on and thriving across Europe as we will go with four Australian teams from five while it remains to see if Moana Pasifika and even the Western Force can lift themselves up from the bottom at least over the next year or two.

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Week 14 of the 2024 Super Rugby Season ended with a rare Sunday afternoon game at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand, between the hosts Highlanders and visitors Fijian Drua. The first half belongs to the Highlanders fair and square 18-0 with two tries and penalty goals whereas the Drua despite showing some attacking threat couldn’t get themselves over the in-goal line. 2nd half might have seen Drua at last register the one & only points off the penalty goal. However, the boys from Dunedin continued to hammer them with more tries on the board that the home supporters was so happy to see, with Finals expected to be around the corner thanks to their huge win 39-3. Now bring on the regular season finale next weekend where it’s going to be a tight race to secure the 8th & final spot before we look ahead to the three-week Finals starting Friday June 7.

There is one man who is great at overcoming adversity such as an ACL knee injury two years ago followed by a foot injury last year and his name is Jona Nareki who plays on the Highlanders left wing. He has electrified the team this afternoon with his excellent pace having been supported by his numbers up front that reflects his two-try performance v Fijian Drua. Let’s hope he can kick on & stay injury free as his side is now ahead of the Rebels in 6th thanks to the bonus point win with the Hurricanes next on Saturday. Then there’s another attacking Highlanders player you need to know and it’s Jacob Ratimaitavuki-Kneepens from the back at No.15. He’s someone who is tall, never stops running & also kicks around having injected the extra dimension his side was after with one TRY for himself earlier on while he played a key  influence for his wingers by his side like Nareki and Timoci Tavatanawai. He’s come from a long, long way where he learned so much after being around Waikato & the Blues setup with finals now being well & truly locked in to have an extended run from here.

And 20-year-old No.10 Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula just became the second Fijian Drua player to reach 100 points after he scored the one and only three-point penalty goal earlier in the 2nd half. He’s got the mobility and creative eye at 5 ft 9 in that gave the most out of the Drua’s attacking chances on occasions including a great start earlier on where his side were almost there to lead the Highlanders in Dunedin. It’s unfortunate that the Drua couldn’t get the job done before they struggled to stop on its own that reflected such a huge defensive mess where the Highlanders had a great sigh of relief & they too have been exceptional in return as he needs their huge home support to get the Drua going with pride ahead of the Rebels on Saturday.

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The last four weeks of the 2024 Super Rugby season saw some great success with the New Zealand teams still going strong minus the Crusaders still unluckily, while the Australian sides have proven that they are up to the challenge that would make a huge difference to their upcoming Wallabies campaign later this year with three more regular rounds to go.

Then it’s all about Finals Footy once again to round off the season campaign after this from the quarter-final followed by the semi-finals and the Grand Final.

New Zealand teams

The Blues recently became unstoppable having just surpassed the Hurricanes on top of the ladder yesterday as they just got the Highlanders, Crusaders & Chiefs to go, which shouldn’t be too hard to go into the Finals with plenty of optimism for a fourth title. Hurricanes as said haven’t done too bad at times without Cameron Roigard but still had some tough times against Blues yesterday & the Brumbies two weeks ago in Canberra, let’s see if they can hold keep on winning where Moana Pasifika should be easy while Chiefs & Highlanders is a bit difficult.

Chiefs also had some easy wins in recent weeks against the bottom 3-4 teams & the race is on for the Waikato side to hopefully get the job done that might be a bit challenging starting with the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday followed by the Top 2 teams (Hurricanes & Blues). Meanwhile, Highlanders recovered well from their worst trip v Reds (31-0) in Round 9 by putting themselves back in the Top 8 at 7th with some good wins even though it wasn’t pretty. Yes, things are going to get difficult when facing the Top 2 sides other than Fijian Drua in Round 14 but sure they can cause a storm like it was before. 

And last but not least the Crusaders who got themselves another win in Christchurch two weeks ago v Rebels 38-0 with some great improvements to see at times. However, time is running against them as they really need to win big, which won’t be easy against Brumbies & then Blues other than easy finish v Moana Pasifika to hopefully make the Top 8 just in time after Round 15.

Australian teams 

ACT Brumbies are still high and flying bar the Blues loss back in Round 9 as they still sit 3rd with an easy run-in that would hopefully give themselves a good Finals run and then end the drought to take home the trophy. Queensland Reds on the other hand returned to winning ways other than also a close Round 10 loss v the Blues. Now the run-in might look a bit difficult when the Drua is so strong on the home front while they got a few being injured but then you got the Western Force at home followed by the Waratahs again shouldn’t be too hard to seal a good run-in v Chiefs or Brumbies in the Quarters.

Western Force also has a great strong home atmosphere off the back of wins against the Crusaders back in Round 9 & the Fijian Drua last night, which puts them back on track towards an outside possibility of playing Finals footy with the Waratahs next up followed by Reds away & then the Brumbies after that. Then don’t know what to say about the NSW Waratahs when they are at their lowest ebb once again with so many being injured other than two lucky wins v the Crusaders with more losses going against them. The only positive I can say that they’ve put in their best effort to hopefully get themselves up first at the finish line, but then they’re last right now with two difficult games to finish it off (Force & Reds) other than Moana Pasifika.

And the Melbourne Rebels are still hanging in 6th with three tough games to go with two being at home, such as the Chiefs on Friday followed by the Brumbies and then the Drua away in Fiji. It all depends on the other results but they will still make it even it means an extra week of playing considering the Crusaders are still struggling with the Waratahs going way worse. Then the big question mark is whether or not if the Rebels will be back next year & beyond who is still broke despite recent on-field success? We still don’t know when you got a businessman-led consortium group ready to save the club from liquidation but then the powers of Rugby Australia has the final say at Rugby HQ with still no resolution to either stay or go at this stage.

Pasifika teams 

Well, Moana Pasifika had their moments earlier during the season where they were flirting with the Top 8 bubble a few times here & there. However, a recent string of losses meaning they will unfortunately miss out as progress will take a bit more time before Moana can start winning more games from here; They got the 2nd-placed Hurricanes next up followed by the Waratahs & Crusaders, even though all of their final three regular season games are going to be played within New Zealand.

Same goes with the Fijian Drua who always have an outstanding home atmosphere in Lauktoka, Fiji like the Force bar the Hurricanes loss back in Round 9. They might be able to play another week of Finals this year depending on other results with the next two games being at home against the Reds & Rebels other than the Highlanders in Dunedin but their away form still much leaves to be desired which is gonna bite back to haunt them including the 48-10 loss v Force last night in Perth. That is going to be their next big step alongside a new head coach with Mick Byrne agreeing to step up with the national team soon.

Post-notes

2/3rd in with three regular weeks to go as the race for 6th-8th is still on where we could still see an odd upset or two on top of the continued Australian teams’ winning progress & the battle for 1st & 2nd between the Blues and Hurricanes, with the lone Australian side Brumbies and the Chiefs being the outside favourites as they’re all locked up with the QF hosting rights.

While the Reds will surely end up in 5th, The Rebels and Highlanders would most certainly be a given as the Waratahs are unable to improve anytime soon with more injury hit-lists in the treatment room. And who is going to claim 8th?

It’s going to be between the Drua, Force and Crusaders – with the Crusaders hopefully getting the last remaining Finals spot, even though things weren’t the best where lots of new guys have a huge job to fill after so many people including a few big-name players and even the head coach in Scott Robertson getting the All Blacks job have came and gone in the off-season.

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Saturday night’s Super Rugby match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, NZ was a tug-o-war for both of the bottom four teams on the table – the hosts Highlanders and the visitors Western Force from Perth. The first half was really quiet for the first 30-35 mins but the Force snagged the one successful penalty goal going into half-time by 0-3. Then the Highlanders have responded well with the one and only TRY from their No.9 Folau Fakatava in the 47th minute and although the Force might have won another penalty or two where they eventually found the second three-point penalty goal, but they were so fortunate to wrap up the night with a huge sigh relief including the home fans. The final score was Highlanders 7-6 Force.

Despite some injury cloud within the Highlanders dressing room, they now move to 8th ahead of Moana Pasifika with five rounds to go while the Force remain last after the Crusaders won for the 2nd time in a while last night in Christchurch v Melbourne Rebels 39-0. With that being said, Highlanders will jet off to Tonga v Moana Pasifika next Saturday afternoon as let’s see if they can overcome the visitors strong crowd to follow up another win to keep their Top 8 hopes alive. Force, on the other hand, will continue their NZ trip once more but then it will be even tougher v the Chiefs in Waikato next Saturday night.

We’ll start with Jake Te Hiwi on the inside centre at No.12 for the Highlanders who is not only defensively sound but can also smash it and create a hole for his team-mates to finish the job done as well. It goes to show he wears the shirt with pride considering he’s from there and has gone through the ranks that earned himself an opportunity to earn his stripes at Super Rugby level as his brute physicality and the way he talks up with his players saw the best out of him tonight. If one 22-year-old isn’t enough for the Highlanders fan to be excited about, how about Oliver Haig on the No.6 blindside back row? He might have grew up in the UK but moved to NZ during his teenage years and he’s loving his rugby here ever since. Surely the physical battle suits him perfectly in the best of both worlds and hemispheres whose showings tonight reflects how capable he is to push the Force out of his way and make them hard to beat defensively while he can back things up and shield the opposition with a brick wall going forward. Still a long way to go but if they can help keep the Highlanders on the right track & play Finals again, then that would be great for both Otago and NZ Rugby as these two here are future All Blacks material.

And Argentinean Santiago Medrano has been a huge part of the Western Force side for a few years now except 2022 after he put in a huge shift to try and stop the Highlanders in his tracks on the front row at tighthead. He’s tall and he’s got brute to muscle his way through the gate when his side won possession earlier on that saw his team-mate Ben Donaldson snag a late penalty goal just before half-time. Unfortunately, the Force just couldn’t make things work when their attacking executions was so isolated with 1-2 numbers having to do all the work by themselves despite having the advantage, which in turn let him and his forwards down defensively. The Force will have to give their all if they are to win the next odd game here and there.

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Round 8 is now done and we are at the halfway stage of the 2024 Super Rugby Season with one more shortened series of four games next weekend while some teams will undertake the required week-long off the field and all 12 teams will then look to bring it home non-stop towards the end of this regular home and away portion. For now, let’s look back what happened over the past month between Rounds 5 to 8 when we finished March while having an Easter long weekend before entering April and the clocks have moved back an hour with all cold game nights ahead after Daylight Savings was over one week ago.

New Zealand teams

Hurricanes still strong albeit Cam Roigard’s knee injury that will keep him out of the field for six months as let’s see if that unbeaten run continues with games coming up v Fijian Drua as well as two Aussie teams like Brumbies & Waratahs. What else? Blues also on the same wavelength as the Hurricanes where they got the Brumbies next up followed by the Reds and Rebels, so won’t be easy when facing Aussie opposition but they should be alright though with 1-2 wins mainly v Reds and Rebels. Chiefs also not bad despite some losses lately v Crusaders in Christchurch a few weeks ago as well as the unbeatable Hurricanes just now & they have a good next series of matches which we will expect to see them again at Finals time. Then Highlanders have shown that they can always stay in the game but four losses over the last month isn’t a good look whose progress is still in the rebuilding phase which will take a bit more time. And on the Crusaders, great to see them win at last two weeks ago v Chiefs. Although they were unlucky v Waratahs again the other day thanks to Will Harrison’s last-minute drop goal, but they are on the right track though lately as they still need to win the rest if the Saders want to play Finals this year.

Australian teams

ACT Brumbies are still unstoppable who currently sits 2nd with games coming up v the Top 2 such as Blues next Saturday and the Hurricanes after that. Can they be the top ranked side in this comp other than being just the best here that saw them accomplish regular semi-finals over the last couple of years? We’ll see. Melbourne Rebels, on the other hand, got away with really good wins off the back of the Waratahs as that team so far can only win v the new-look Crusaders, as well as Fijian Drua who still struggle away from home and of course, the Highlanders by a comfortable margin. They now sit 4th amid financial problems at the start of this year as nothing is still guaranteed whether if they will be back playing next season & beyond.

Plus, the Queensland Reds good start under Les Kiss has turned sour in recent weeks after three straight losses to the Western Force, ACT Brumbies and now Moana Pasifika. The good news is they are still within the Top 8 bubble in 6th but bad news is they need to win games again if Queensland wish to do well in the Finals and not let it slip out with fear like last year when Brad Thorn had his course as head coach. Meanwhile, the NSW Waratahs are still struggling other than winning games v the Crusaders and they too have a series of tough matches ahead after next week’s bye like Chiefs, Hurricanes and also the Brumbies again. And while the Western Force was fortunate to celebrate the rare home win v Reds, they still haven’t been at their best despite having lots of experienced players. Looking ahead, the run-in fixtures doesn’t look any good to them as an outside finals berth looks less likely but surely they will get some wins at home though like Crusaders, Drua and Waratahs.

Pasifika teams

We all know that the Drua like the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels can have a strong home crowd impact which reflects their impressive winning record there but not so much away from home. They got the Hurricanes and Moana Pasifika coming up at home soon to close out April, so this could mean business for them to get back on track to stay inside the Top 8 bubble and hopefully play Finals again like they did during their sophomore campaign last year. And what about Moana Pasifika? They made some excellent progress at last as seen in the early rounds of 2024, although they had some heavy losses recently until Moana beat the Reds the other day but that was against the top teams. They will need at least 3-4 wins now in order to enjoy their first finals experience as long as the ladder doesn’t change that much over the next 4-6 weeks, but again Moana is making some gradual progress on their third year before they can be more like Drua and win more games in the long run.

Post-Notes

All in all, the New Zealand teams are still dominating Super Rugby as the Crusaders downfall should only last this season while Australia has made some great progress too – including a couple of upset wins against some of the established or original foundation teams should I say – with the Brumbies and Rebels being their best so far in 2024. Nothing much will change as wouldn’t mind a couple of more upsets and other team wins that isn’t a New Zealand team or from somewhere in the bottom four, but the only exception we might see is for the Crusaders to win all the remaining games as they can & make the Finals just inside the Top 8 by the time we wrap up Round 12 before all 12 teams will then become eight teams after Round 15.

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It was a huge scoring game at AAMI Park in Melbourne tonight with Highlanders unpacking the brawns of physical strength thanks to their good start or early lead while picking up some good points along the way, but then the Melbourne Rebels outsmarted them with an abundance of pace, accurate passing and communication and an unreal backline that got way with another win in front of their home crowd. Rebels responded well to the Highlanders opening converted TRY with two Darby Lancaster tries on top of their 1st minute opening score account where they were leading 26-10 at half-time. Highlanders thought they’re beginning to close in after the break but nowhere close enough as the Rebels went on to extend their lead further afield with a Carter Gordon scoring double followed by another Darby TRY that sealed the hat-trick to close the match his way and the Rebels way, 47-31. Rebels will take the well deserved rest next week before they travel to Christchurch on Friday 26th for R10 v the under fire Crusaders & Highlanders head off to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Friday v the Reds.

Andrew Kellaway was outstanding by leading the Rebels backline who made his side’s attack so much better that gifted them tries at No.15. He absolutely knows where to find his man where he is right on the money with the ball on hand through the counter-attack as long as the numbers are there like Darby Lancaster’s first-half double TRY on the left-wing as well as No.10’s Carter Gordon’s first try of the match when the Rebels extended their lead in the 2nd-half. Then tough to say who is 2nd best as discussed between Darby and Carter – both of whom are exceptional Rebels youngsters – but gotta say Darby made a huge name for himself with a hat-trick of tries, having established himself in the World 7s circuit for Australia before and now he continues to cause opposition players carnage in the 15s and Super Rugby level. This Melbourne Super Rugby team is high flying right now in 4th amid financial problems but surely they have a really great squad with Kellaway being an established Wallaby while Gordon earned some stripes last year & surely Darby will be fast-tracked soon enough under Joe Schmidt.

And Sean Withy never stopped working hard in order for the Highlanders to keep the Rebels in check whose physicality and application on the blindside (No.6 flanker) opened up plenty of opportunities that went his side’s way. His opening TRY puts them up front for a short time while he adds so much pressure to make that brick wall against the Rebels so they don’t steal it under his watch including at scrum and mauls, even though the Highlanders were trying to play catch up in a race against time after losing the lead for the majority. But what really let him down tonight is that his side’s so scared of attacking earlier on despite winning a few penalties yet the defense is so poor while the backline weren’t simply up to the Rebels’ standard; Okay, some late changes might have helped but it still puts them at odds as the clock ticks down & sadly it was too late.

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What you need to know so far after one month or Week 4 of 15 in the 2024 Super Rugby Season?  Let’s begin with the New Zealand teams who still enjoy plenty of success except one team at the moment despite a huge off-season overhaul. The Hurricanes have been outstanding with no losses so far on top, Chiefs still enjoying success after topping the table & then fell short at the Grand Final bar the Reds loss last weekend, the Blues aren’t that bad without Beauden Barrett only for this year, Highlanders making some encouraging progress after they missed out the Finals last year & the defending champs Crusaders are a completely different team now with four straight losses & as well as a lengthy injury list.

Meanwhile in Australia, things aren’t that bad over here as there’s plenty more to prove after a disastrous year in this sport including an early exit from the World Cup. The Reds new era under coach Les Kiss has been so far, so good other than the last minute Super Round loss v Hurricanes, as well as regular semi-finalists Brumbies still going strong. Plus, the Waratahs may have taken the odd win v the new-look Crusaders also at the Super Round but have unluckily lost lately both on home turf. Western Force still hasn’t won yet despite injecting more Super Rugby experience & although the Rebels has won some games, but only against Force & Moana on what might be their last season since they’re broke.

And Moana Pasifika has made the step up  with some success after a slow first two years, while the Fijian Drua might have also won v Crusaders on home soil in Fiji last weekend but still have unfinished business to prove if they wish to play in the Finals once again in June this year.

Looking at the next four weeks, things won’t change much unless the Crusaders finally climb back up from the bottom that will shake up the ladder a bit. I would be a bit surprised though if we will manage to see just a few shock upsets here & there.

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We are about to enter the 28th year of Super Rugby & yet things are still not the same as it once was back in the glorious 1990s-early 2000s when Australia (Wallabies) benefited so much success right until the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Yes, they won just three Super Rugby championships ever since but that doesn’t mean they are on the same standard as their Tasman neighbours, New Zealand. There has been so many changes through the off-season with regards to musical chairs at players and coaching staff amongst multiple teams. Waratahs handed over control to Rugby Australia recently while the Reds got a new head coach. Plus, Brumbies staying strong as the leading Super Rugby team here, as well as Western Force who are looking to return to the finals with the recruitment of some experienced players. And this week, the Melbourne Rebels entered voluntary administration even though they will continue to play just for this season, despite some star hirings of their own.

Over in New Zealand, most of the five teams (Blues, Hurricanes & of course Crusaders) except Chiefs & Highlanders will now have new head coaches where most of them from last year have joined Scott Robertson at the All Blacks as the Crusaders will begin a brand new era in 2024 without him. He was the one who delivered so many Super Rugby championships including last year’s final v Chiefs & it remains to be seen if the Crusaders can keep on winning including delivering another championship under former Waratahs coach Rob Penney. And for the Highlanders, they are under a big rebuilding phase with Jamie Joseph back onboard to try & return to its former glory as the head of rugby after they missed the Top 8 finals bubble in 9th last year.

We also don’t forget the two Pasifika teams to round off the line-up with Fijian Drua coming off from a great second season before they were elminated by the Crusaders in the last 8 as winning away from home would be the great next step to stay in the Top 8 & Moana Pasifika needs more time so they can really win games after they finished last over the last two seasons.

This year could be a great opportunity to see an even/level playing field where it’s Australia’s time at last to catch up to NZ but despite there will be some really close games, the outcome won’t change much where we will see a New Zealand winner once again whether it’s going to be the Crusaders or Blues or Chiefs by surprise whereas the Brumbies will continue being the best Australian Super Rugby team. Likewise in previous seasons though, the Brumbies will unfortunately still be nowhere near the Grand Final radar either in the quarter or semi finals. Yes, Rugby Australia is going with the high performance centralisation system alongside Joe Schmidt as their new head coach in the hope of also winning games again following a disastrous group stage campaign for the first time ever at last year’s World Cup in France. But the question remains to be seen whether or not if they can support five teams, having seen the Rebels fall into trouble off the field this week? While there will always going to be some Victorian/Melbourne born talent, there’s no guarantee that the Rebels will continue to play at AAMI Park going into 2025 and beyond. For now, the new season will start on Friday 23rd February right until mid-June where every game is live and Ad-Free on Stan Sport while there’s always a Saturday night game being simulcast via free-to-air on 9Gem.

Predicting ladder 2024

  1. Crusaders (champions)
  2. Chiefs (then semi-finalists)
  3. Blues (runners-up)
  4. ACT Brumbies (then semi-finalists)
  5. Hurricanes
  6. NSW Waratahs
  7. Queensland Reds
  8. Highlanders
  9. Fijian Drua
  10. Western Force
  11. Melbourne Rebels
  12. Moana Pasifika
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