Trans-Tasman Super Rugby classics
April 25, 2013
Will we see an all-Australian Super Rugby final?
Anzac Day celebrates the origins of our national pride as Australians and New Zealanders, recognising and paying tribute to the courage of the men from Down Under who landed at Gallipoli in 1915, the men "from the other side of the world" who forged our collective international identity on the world stage; Anzac Day, by extension, rightfully celebrates the bravery of Australia and New Zealand's men and women who have served subsequently in our name with honour in varied theatres of war, and thus we are proud to celebrate their memory at dawn services, at street parades, and with a schooner and a game of two-up.
We celebrate, too, with sport; except, of course, rugby union does not celebrate on the field, and Greg Growden has lamented elsewhere on ESPNscrum the inability of SANZAR, the Australian Rugby Union and the New Zealand Rugby Union to schedule Super Rugby fixtures to mirror the AFL and NRL blockbusters.
So, with an absence of Super Rugby to report on this sacred day, ESPNscrum has cast through the archives to conjure the spirit of Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop by recalling five classic trans-Tasman Super Rugby matches. They may not be the best matches featuring a Kiwi team against a bunch of Cobbers, but each is memorable for its own reason; the list is not meant to be a definitive top five, but a list to generate discussion and we hope you imbibe the Anzac Spirit to tell us which trans-Tasman Super Rugby matches you remember best.
Tell us your memories of trans-Tasman Super Rugby matches: what's your favourite Super Rugby match between a New Zealand team and an Australian team? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page to join the conversation.
Otago Highlanders 57 - 17 Queensland Reds, Carisbrook, Dunedin, March 3, 1996
Russell Barwick and Greg Growden discuss Digby Ioane and New Zealand ill-discipline
Every journey features its first step, and this fixture, the final match of the opening round of the inaugural Super 12 competition, featured the first trans-Tasman battle of the newly professional era. The campaign started badly for the Reds, the two-time reigning Super 10 champions, and they showed little indication that they would top the "home-and-away" ladder; conversely, few who saw Otago shred the Reds would have predicted the Highlanders would finish the season in eighth place.
But the match set a precedent in many ways - a precedent for fast and physical attacking rugby the northern hemisphere would come to deride as "touch rugby without defence"; it was a style of rugby that attracted fans and spectators who wanted value for their entertainment dollar, and the north-south divide had yet another stylistic principle to contest. The Highlanders scored seven tries to three, with Brian Lima, Stephen Bachop (twice), Taine Randell, Kupu Vanisi, Lio Falaniko and Brendon Timmins crossing for the hosts against tries from Ben Tune (two) and Garrick Morgan.
Auckland Blues 23 - 7 ACT Brumbies, Eden Park, Auckland, May 31, 1997
You couldn't expect flawless handling in the awful, wet conditions, even from the dynamic Blues; what we did get from the top two teams of the "home-and-away" season was a brutal knock-em-down-drag-em-out contest with Stephen Larkham, unfeasibly, producing two of the biggest hits at fullback. You've got to watch the video clip below. The match remained in the balance 15 minutes into the second half even though the Brumbies, in truth, hadn't been at the races, when Michael Jones, one of the greatest players in history, stole in from nowhere to intercept a pass from Pat Howard inside the visitors' 22 to cap an impressive individual performance, and to seal the victory that capped the first undefeated season in Super 12 history. Craig Dowd also scored for the Blues, while Joe Roff grabbed a consolation for the Brumbies.
Crusaders 96 - 19 New South Wales Waratahs, Jade Stadium, Christchurch, May 11, 2002
The Crusaders were imperious in 2002, completing the first perfect undefeated season to claim their fourth Super title with victory over the Brumbies in the decider. But their fantastic team of All Blacks was never more imperious than in the final round of the "home and away" season, when they scored a competition-record 14 tries (13 converted by Andrew Mehrtens) in dispatching the hapless Waratahs. We say "hapless", but the Waratahs finished second on the ladder having never previously made the semi-finals. Greg Growden, writing for Fairfax Media at the time, described it thus: "What an absolute disgrace! NSW are in the Super 12 semi-finals, but that doesn't mean much after they were humiliated beyond belief by the Crusaders in Christchurch last night, suffering their worst loss in 120 years of representative football. This wasn't an international rugby match, this was a ridiculous rout, as NSW were made the laughing stock of the Super 12 in a game that was as madcap as a lopsided fathers v sons beach touch-footy romp."
For all that the Waratahs produced a passable imitation of turnstiles, the Crusaders were sublime, particularly in the first half. Caleb Ralph (four), Leon MacDonald (two), Marika Vunibaka (two), Scott Robertson, Aaron Mauger, Daryl Gibson, Greg Feek and Justin Marshall scored tries for the champions elect, while Des Tuiavii, Francis Cullimore and Marc Stcherbina crossed for the Tahs. This match was memorable, but we've chosen not to ask Greg Growden for fear of reopening the old wounds of his Waratahs news beat.
ACT Brumbies 47 - 38 Crusaders, Canberra Stadium, May 22, 2004
The 2004 Brumbies might just be the best team of the Super era; certainly they were a Test team in all but name, with all but Joel Wilson having played for the Wallabies (and Wilson played for Australia A), and they were awesome in the first half of what might still be considered the greatest final of the Super era. The Brumbies bolted out of the blocks from the whistle, scoring four tries in the first 20 minutes to lead 33-0 as Crusaders and All Blacks fullback Ben Blair endured a nightmare with mistakes that led to the first three tries.
But the Crusaders showed the skill and resilience that had seen them claim four titles already, producing the relentless phase play for which they were renowned to threaten one of the all-time great fightbacks. Brumbies winger Mark Gerrard scored three tries but the victory was set up by the defence of the forwards with Radiko Samo, Scott Fava, Owen Finnegan, Jeremy Paul and George Smith tireless through the game. Joe Roff also bagged a brace for the Brumbies, for whom Jeremy Paul and Matt Giteau also scored tries. Richie McCaw, Aaron Mauger, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Casey Laulala and Dan Carter scored tries for the Crusaders. We'll leave you to tell us if this was the greatest Super final.
Queensland Reds 18 - 13 Crusaders, Suncorp Stadium, July 10, 2011
The hosts prevailed in an epic encounter, the Quade Cooper-inspired Reds playing with (over-)flamboyance while the Crusaders deviated not a jot from their pattern of phase play, and the result gave hope to a nation of fans that a Queensland-heavy team of Wallabies would win the IRB Rugby World Cup in New Zealand later in the year. We now know, of course, that Australia - Quade Cooper, in particular - lost their way before finishing third in New Zealand while the All Blacks erased the memory of so many ghosts with victory over France in Auckland (again), but that cannot devalue the brilliance of the fly-half and his team-mates against the Crusaders.
The match featured fantastic tries from Dan Carter and Digby Ioane before Will Genia - not for the first time, and certainly not the last - decided the encounter with his spectacular 65-metre solo breakaway try 12 minutes from full-time. The Crusaders mounted wave after wave of attacks to regain the crown, but the Reds would not be denied. Subsequently, only the Reds-Brumbies fixture in round 10 of the 2013 Super Rugby competition is considered to have matched the intensity of this fixture.
Tell us your memories of trans-Tasman Super Rugby matches: what's your favourite Super Rugby match between a New Zealand team and an Australian team? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.
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