Pressure goes on Super Rugby's 1st round losers

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Even though only one round of Super Rugby has been completed, the season seems likely to be a long one for some teams.

History has proven that some teams are able to overcome slow starts. The Wellington-based Hurricanes lost 52-10 to the ACT Brumbies in the first round of the 2016 season and went on to win the title for the first time. The Queensland Reds lost two of their first three matches by wide margins in 2011 before winning their inaugural title.

But for other teams bad starts are a bad omen and pulling out of early slumps is difficult.

The Hurricanes, again, are an example: few teams have started the 2020 season in poorer shape in comparison to the year before than the Canes.

All Blacks flyhalf and influential playmaker Beauden Barrett, who had played all of his Super Rugby for the Wellington-based franchise — recently alongside brother Jordie — has quit to join the Blues who are based in Auckland where he now owns a home.

Just before the season began, Hurricanes head coach John Plumtree was snapped up by new All Blacks coach Ian Foster as an assistant, leaving Plumtree's assistant Jason Holland to take over the leading role.

The worst fears of Hurricanes fans over those defections were realized when they lost 27-0 to the Cape Town-based Stormers in round one. It wasn't the 27 points they conceded that worried fans most but the zero on their side of the scoresheet. The Hurricanes' hadn't been held scoreless in 11 years.

The Stormers fielded a powerful side, including Springboks captain Siya Kolisi and former Wales center Jamie Roberts. But it was the Hurricanes' errors and lack of discipline that contributed greatly to their scoreless performance. They conceded 12 penalties and lost two players to yellow cards.

That led the Stormers to angrily denounce the "cheap shots" employed by the Hurricanes.

"I thought that was a mean-spirited game," Stormers coach John Dobson said. "It was not good for the tournament going forward.

"It was very subtle stuff but when we reviewed the game a few times we were more and more angry."

The Hurricanes described Dobson's comments as "surprising and a bit disappointing."

Hurricanes coach Jason Holland retains confidence in his players..

"I know the group of players that we've got and I know the potential they have, I see it every day," Holland said. "I know the potential in this group and I'm sure when you're talking to me in three or four weeks it will be a different story."

The Blues play the New South Wales Waratahs Saturday in a match between teams which started the season with high hopes but lost in the opening round. The Waratahs went down 43-25 to the Crusaders and the Blues to the Hamilton-based Chiefs, losing 37-29 after leading 19-5 at halftime.

Unlike the Hurricanes, both teams showed potential. The Blues were well on top until former All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden sparked the Chiefs in the second half and the Waratahs closed to within six points of the Crusaders midway through the second spell before the defending champions rallied.

Neither side can easily afford the setback of a second straight loss.


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