Just four teams are unbeaten and South Africa’s Bulls lead the table after two rounds of the injury-hit Super 14 rugby tournament.
The Bulls’ 59-26, seven-try demolition of the Blues in Pretoria on Saturday gave them a perfect 10 points from two games, a one-point edge over the Waratahs and Brumbies and a two-point break on the Sharks who share 2-0 records.
Rugbyweek reports that six teams, including the defending champion the Crusaders, have 1-1 records after two rounds and four teams – the Chiefs, Highlanders, Reds and Cheetahs – remain winless.
The Bulls have scored 11 tries in two home matches and have two further matches in South Africa, against the Lions and Stormers, before embarking on a five-match road trip.
Springboks flanker Pierre Spies scored two tries on Saturday, bringing his tally for the season to three, and flyhalf Morne Steyn contributed 20 points from three penalties, four conversions and a drop goal.
The Bulls raced to a 29-0 lead and were ahead 34-12 at halftime before the Blues rallied to take a four-try bonus point from a match in which 11 tries were scored.
“The boys did really well tonight. This is a still a good Blues side, so a win against them is pleasing,” Bulls captain Fourie du Preez said.
Injuries had a heavy impact on teams, including the Blues, Reds and Crusaders, which lost second-round matches.
The attrition rate was particularly high among captains.
Of the New Zealand teams alone, the Hurricanes, Highlanders, Chiefs and Crusaders were without regular captains while Blues skipper Keven Mealamu played with a limiting calf injury.
The Highlanders missed captain Jimmy Cowan and vice-captain Jamie Mackintosh in their 22-17 loss to the Hurricanes, whose captain Rodney So’oialo missed the match because of a disciplinary suspension.
The Crusaders, who lost 18-16 to the Brumbies, were without All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and internationals Leon MacDonald and Brad Thorn.
The Chiefs, beaten 11-7 by the Waratahs, lost captain and All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina midweek to a back injury when he rose too quickly from his chair after a team meeting.
In addition, Queensland lost captain Berrick Barnes to a thigh injury on its way to a 27-24 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town.
The injury toll was particularly obvious in New Zealand where 15 All Blacks, including McCaw, Daniel Carter, MacDonald, Muliaina, hooker Andrew Hore, centres Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui, halfbacks Cowan and Piri Weepu, locks Thorn and Ali Williams have missed early matches.
Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper said the high injury rate reflected the effects of an extended season.
“I think we are going to see a lot more of this unless something changes,” he said.
“Our top guys that play in the All Blacks … they just don’t get enough rest and recovery time. Something has got to change and change fast, because we are all losers out of this.”
Teams with selection stability have prospered in the first two rounds. The Waratahs and Brumbies, whose captains Phil Waugh and Stephen Hoiles have played both rounds, are unbeaten as are the Sharks and Bulls who have been untested by injuries.
The Blues’ problems mounted when they lost winger Rene Ranger with a fractured eye socket and added lock Kurtis Haiu and All Blacks Tony Woodcock and Isaia Toeava to an already long injury list after their loss to the Bulls.
The high attrition rate among the New Zealand teams, four of which were among second-round losers, has left many with a makeshift look.
“Over here (in South Africa) the media I’ve talked to don’t really recognize a lot of the names in the New Zealand teams,” Blues coach Pat Lam said.
“There’s no question that we have the talent – it’s the experience factor that you do lose.”
The Brumbies drew on experience to score and convert a late try, through Wallabies Mark Gerrard and Stirling Mortlock, for an 18-16 win over the Crusaders.
The Sharks were denied a four-try bonus point for the second week in succession in their 25-10 win over the Lions.
“We were disappointed not to get the bonus point, but the Lions defended very well, and we made too many mistakes,” said Sharks captain Johann Muller.Tweet