Super Rugby Aotearoa Round 2 review: Next great All Blacks No. 8?

Round 2 of Super Rugby Aotearoa produced another two, tight, entertaining contests with the Blues and Crusaders both securing victories away from home.

The Blues knocked over the Chiefs in Hamilton, their first win in the city in nine years, while the Crusaders erased any concerns of a slow start after the Round 1 bye, Scott Robertson's side powering away from the Hurricanes late in Wellington.

Read on as we review the weekend's action.


For anyone who had bothered to watch Super Rugby earlier in the season, before it was suspended and then cancelled before the coronavirus pandemic, they likely would have caught a glimpse of the big Blues No. 8 keeping Akira Ioane on the bench.

After winning selection for the Blues' opener against the Crusaders, not only did Sotutu retain his spot but he also went about compiling some of the best stats for a forward in the competition and certainly established himself as the standout at No. 8 in Super Rugby.

And he is certainly producing the same level of quality in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Sotutu appears to have the classic all-round skillset of some of the game's great No. 8s; for not only does he do the nuts-and-bolts of the role superbly -- ball-carrying, lineout jumping and solid defence -- he is also clearly blessed with touch, both out of hand and off the foot.

Earlier this year, in Round 2 against the Waratahs, Sotutu dropped a delightful grubber-kick to supply a try for Blues winger Mark Telea. And he was at it again on Saturday night as he fired a beautiful left-to-right spiral cut-out pass that again found a flying Telea, in stride, as the Blues secured the second try that would eventually see off the Chiefs.

Earlier in Hamilton, Sotutu had already contributed two key moments in the contest as he powered over from close range for a try of his own and also won a penalty from referee Ben O'Keeffe at the breakdown.

Sotutu and Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu are both in excellent form. Tuipulotu is already an established All Blacks forward and will be in the box seat to replace Brodie Retallick this season, with the veteran lock opting to sit out the rest of the year after the Japanese Top League season was cancelled.

Retallick also has another year to play in Japan, unlike returned Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock whose one-year sabbatical has already ended now that he is back in Christchurch.

And there is a clear vacancy at No. 8 for the All Blacks after Kieran Read's retirement. New Zealand coach Ian Foster could have been considering switching either new skipper Sam Cane of Ardie Savea to the No. 8 jersey, but such has been Sotutu's efforts for the Blues that a back-row that reads Savea-Cane-Sotutu will surely come under consideration at Test level.


The good news is that there were eight less penalties (50) in Round 2 of Super Rugby than there was in the competition's opening week (58).

Ultimately, players, coaches and fans alike would like that number to come down further still, and the referees themselves would also like to be blowing the whistle on fewer occasions.

These are not new laws the players are adjusting to, merely a renewed focus from New Zealand's referees and some slightly different interpretations that seem to be catching players out.

Take Blues hooker James Parsons, for example, who was left completely bemused after referee Ben O'Keeffe penalised him for going off his feet at the breakdown. As late as last year, Parsons' partial clean-out wouldn't have raised an eyelid as players repeatedly attempted to clear defenders at the breakdown by diving onto them.

But now, with referees demanding all players stay on their feet at the breakdown, Parson's cleanout was rightly penalised.

But, in this columnist's opinion anyway, the most vital change we have seen so far in Super Rugby Aotearoa has been a renewed focus on the angle of breakdown entry. Players have, for years, been getting away with entering the breakdown from the side, a blatant ignorance of the laws that has put opposition players at risk of injury and contributed to the tackle contest becoming a complete mess.

It also negated those dominant tackles that well-organised opposition defences have been able to effect and, in doing so, give themselves a chance at a turnover.

Players who don't enter "through the gate" are easy for referees to spot, either by looking at the angle which they hit the ruck or, if they have missed that split-second movement, where exactly the cleanout finishes.

There will likely be some higher penalty counts to come, or at least the odd spike from an overzealous referee. But after just one week, it seems the players are better understanding the breakdown message.

Now is not the time to undo all that good work.


It took all of a minute for the Crusaders to shake off any concerns that there might be just the slightest bit of rust in their game after three months of no rugby, followed by the Round 1 bye in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

A sharp interchanging of passing had Sevu Reece on a run to the corner before some fans had found their seats at Sky Stadium, while Richie Mo'unga's perfect grubber kick for Braydon Ennor saw the visitors grab their second five-pointer before the clock had run up 15 minutes.

It really should have come as no surprise, given the Crusaders had played an internal trial last weekend; the match so keenly contested that it actually went to into golden-point. The two internal teams eventually called time at 21-all, but the intensity with which they had played that match had clearly put the Crusaders in the right frame of mind for Sunday's 39-25 win over the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes had done well to stay in the contest through a succession of first-half penalties, with the Crusaders probably lucky not to have a player sent to the sin-bin for repeated infringements.

That did eventually occur after halftime when Jack Goodhue was given a 10-minute breather, but the Crusaders were still able to steady and then pull away once more with two tries in the closing 11 minutes.

But it wasn't the perfect performance from the Crusaders either. The 10-time Super Rugby champions had an unhappy afternoon at the lineout, losing five balls on their own throw.

Coach Scott Robertson could also have a further problem on his hands with reports skipper and lock Scott Barrett could miss the entire tournament with a foot injury.