NZ champs plays like chumps

The Highlanders stole a 21-19 win against the Crusaders and the rubble Reds were rampant against the Blues in Vodacom Super 14 friendlies. Does this mean a change of guard in 2006? Forget it.

New Zealand’s two championship teams played like chumps in losing their pre-season openers, but they were the real deal in name only. When you glance at the team line-ups, very few of the influential players were on show. No team likes to lose but the scoreline would be of little consequence to either Robbie Deans, coach of the Crusaders or David Nucifora, coach of the Blues, given the nature of the trial matches. Nucifora gave 10 players their Blues debut against the Reds in the 29-14 defeat in Brisbane and rested all his All Blacks. He will introduce six of them against the Waratahs later this week.

Deans was equally conservative with his All Blacks, playing very few of the stars from the 2005 international and Super 12 season. The Highlanders and Crusaders meet in the first round of the competition and neither coach was prepared to give too much insight into their respective starting XVs.

Australia’s team experienced a mixed bag in the friendlies, with the Waratahs and Reds winners, but the Force and Brumbies comfortably beaten by the Cheetahs and Waratahs respectively.

The competition first round is February 10