Australian teams charged with new hope in Super Rugby

Crusaders Ben Funnell, right, loses the ball in the tackle of Hurricanes Ben Lam during the Super Rugby game between the Crusaders and Hurricanes in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Brumbies' win gives Australian teams new hope in Super Rugby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Australian teams have begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel after several years of inadequate performances against New Zealand opponents in Super Rugby.

The ACT Brumbies' 54-17 win over New Zealand's Chiefs in last week's second round has been an encouragement not just to the Brumbies but to all four Australian teams to believe their long drought against New Zealand rivals may have broken.

The Melbourne Rebels' 20-10 win over the Auckland-based Blues in the 16th round of the 2018 season ended an almost two-year run of losses by Australian against New Zealand teams.

The drought coincided with a wider downturn in the fortunes of Australian rugby, including the Wallabies' 2018 season which was there worst in 40 years — and fed a general mood of pessimism among Australian fans.

The Brumbies' emphatic eight-try win over the Chiefs has now given Australian teams and their supporters some cause for optimism, as have other results in trans-Tasman contests so far this season. The Waratahs lost to the Wellington-based Hurricanes by only a point in the first round, missing a late penalty which would have given them a win, and the Queensland Reds led the Dunedin-based Highlanders until late in their second-round meeting, before the Highlanders escaped with a late try.

The Brumbies will play the Hurricanes, the Rebels will take on the Highlanders and the Reds will meet the Crusaders in a series of Australasian clashes in the weekend's third round and each team will approach those matches more positively, thanks to the Brumbies.

Friday's match against the Hurricanes in Wellington gives the Brumbies the chance to again set the tone for Australian teams, if they can win in New Zealand for the first time in five years.

Wallabies backrower David Pocock has recovered from a head injury suffered in the first round and will add strength to the Brumbies lineup while the Hurricanes are boosted by the return of All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who missed the first two rounds after his recent marriage.

"I suppose it's probably in the back of everyone's mind that we'd love to get a win on New Zealand soil but we haven't really talked about it," Brumbies scrumhalf Jerome Powell said.

He said the Brumbies had spoken about the need to keep their feet on the ground after last week's win.

"Everyone gets around you on a win," he said. "But it can quickly come and go so we're definitely not buying into it too much."

Rebels center Billy Meakes said the Melbourne-based team were impressed with the Brumbies' win but would wait for their own match against the Highlanders to decide whether it was evidence of a new trend.

"I don't know if we can read too much into that one as obviously the Chiefs weren't at their best and the Brumbies were much better," Meakes said. "We can only test that for ourselves. Obviously the Kiwi teams have been the pinnacle."

The Reds have a tougher task against the Crusaders who have started the defense of their Super Rugby title with wins over the Blues and Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have a 17-match winning streak against the Reds — Queensland's last win over the New Zealand side was the 2011 final.

In other matches, the Chiefs have a chance to bounce back from the loss to the Brumbies when they take on the Sunwolves, who came within a point last week of upsetting the New South Wales Waratahs.

In South Africa, the Lions host the Bulls in Johannesburg and the unbeaten Sharks are at home to the Stormers. In Buenos Aires the Jaguares host the winless Blues, the Argentinian team's third consecutive home match to start the season.

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