WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Coach Warren Gatland’s early-season confidence in his Waikato Chiefs side after their victory over the defending champions the Canterbury Crusaders has led him to resting three key players for next week’s clash with the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
The Chiefs produced another second-half fightback to beat the 10-times champion Crusaders 25-15 in the second week of Super Rugby to highlight their own title credentials.
The Hamilton-based side had been tipped pre-season to be the closest challengers to the Crusaders from New Zealand and proved it by weathering a first-half onslaught from Scott Robertson’s side before slowly overtaking the visitors in the second.
Gatland has decided to leave captain Sam Cane, centre Anton Lienert-Brown and flyhalf Aaron Cruden in New Zealand for their clash with the Sunwolves in order to prepare for the week four clash with the Australian leading ACT Brumbies at home.
“It’s important at the start of the season; we need to rotate the squad,” Gatland told reporters in Hamilton.
“We need to be giving players in the squad some game time, and making sure that we are prepared for towards the end of the season if we do pick up other injuries.”
The Sharks, who mauled the Highlanders 42-20 under the roof in Dunedin on Friday, and Stormers also highlighted their own title credentials in what is shaping as a competitive South African conference.
The Stormers, who beat the Wellington Hurricanes 27-0 last week, kept their opposition scoreless for the second successive week with a defence-dominated 13-0 victory over the Bulls in Cape Town.
A much improved Hurricanes side, however, went the length of the field with a little over two minutes remaining to set up a match-winning try to replacement scrumhalf Jamie Booth as they beat the Jaguares 26-23 in Buenos Aires.
The Brumbies were the only Australian side to record a win, with their 39-26 victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Canberra on Friday cementing their pre-season favouritism for the Australian title.
“It’s a good start and ... we’ve just got to keep building momentum,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said.
An ill-disciplined Queensland Reds were beaten 27-20 by the Lions in Johannesburg.
While the New South Wales Waratahs were dismal in their 32-20 loss to the Auckland Blues, they received some good news with winger Mark Nawaqanitawase cleared of serious injury after he landed awkwardly on his neck when scoring a try.
“He got a bit of a fright but he’s walking and talking and being his jovial self in the change room,” coach Rob Penney told reporters on Saturday.
“It was one of those ones where he got a bit of a fright and came off and he has bounced back.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Richard Chang