Brutal reality check for Australian rugby

It was on Thursday at Rugby Australia’s headquarters that Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said the opening round of Super Rugby trans-Tasman would “tell us a little bit”.

Unfortunately, all it revealed was how far Australian rugby remains off the pace compared to their New Zealand cousins.

Australia’s fears have come to fruition.

The gulf has not shrunk and on the evidence of Friday night’s two opening Super Rugby matches, it remains as wide as ever.

After the Reds were given a 40-19 reality check and made to pay for resting players against the Highlanders in Dunedin, the Waratahs continued the bleak start to the five-week crossover tournament as they were beaten 64-48 at the SCG.

“We want to be playing an attacking brand and attack the Kiwi sides. We made it pretty clear that we didn’t want to sit there and let them roll the punches on us. In saying that, defence is a real key for us and we really need to improve,” Waratahs captain Jake Gordon said.

The result wasn’t a surprise.

After all, the Waratahs were paying $501 to win the tournament having failed to beat Australian opposition in eight matches.

The concern is two defeats to New Zealand opposition could blow out to five by Saturday night.

Then the losses start to add up like they did in 2017, when Australian rugby went winless throughout the entire season against New Zealand opposition.

Rennie said he didn’t believe Australian’s rugby players had suffered “scarring” from the repeated losses, but he spoke like a man wanting Super Rugby AU to continue beyond 2021 to keep fans this side of the ditch interested.

“I’ve really enjoyed the first part of the comp and obviously we’ll watch with interest and we’re going to learn a lot over the next few weeks,” he said.

On the field, the Waratahs showed spark in attack, but no rugby side can be successful if they can’t defend and as much as their opponents were also guilty of not showing much starch, they did enough to win.

It should be remembered, though, this Hurricanes side, without their champion halves TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett, finished last in Super Rugby Aotearoa and lost their playmaker Ruben Love after three minutes due to concussion.

The Hurricanes piled on ten tries against the Waratahs. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

In a wild match where it looked at one point like the two teams would break the record for the most points in a match (137 in 2010 as the Chiefs beat the Lions 72-65), the Hurricanes prevailed, scoring 10 tries to seven as 112 points were chalked up to make it the fifth most points in a Super Rugby game.

The visitors took a 33-24 lead into halftime and although the Hurricanes looked like blowing past the Waratahs right throughout the match, the home side never backed down.

In fact, when the home fullback Jack Maddocks burst onto a short ball from Ben Donaldson – the Waratahs’ greatest ray of light in a dire year – in the 69th minute, they remained a sniff.

The try was overturned, however, as he inexplicably dropped it.

Fortunately, Wallabies back-rower Lachie Swinton didn’t repeat Maddocks’ blunder as he scored moments later from a nice set-piece play to cut the deficit to 54-43 in the 72nd minute.

But replacement back Pepesana Patailo sealed the deal for the Hurricanes, before a late runaway try to Maddocks, who didn’t repeat his earlier blunder, to score out wide.

All Blacks World Cup-winner Julian Savea scored a brace, while fellow New Zealand stars Dane Coles and Jordie Barrett also crossed for tries.

Harry Johnson-Holmes scored a second-half brace for the Waratahs, while his prop partner Angus Bell, who re-signed with the Waratahs earlier in the week, also scored.

The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for the Waratahs who will fly to Auckland, while the Hurricanes host the Rebels who open their campaign against the Blues on Saturday.

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