Super Rugby Pacific: Hurdles, TMO troubles and tiny changing rooms

It was, admittedly, quite funny watching All Black and Chiefs captain Sam Cane sheepishly glance around at the small doorway surrounded by rubbish bins that he led his team out of yesterday afternoon.

The tiny smattering of applause that greeted them heralded the start of the New Zealand rugby season, so for all of Queenstown's picturesque beauty, the cameras couldn't for one second hide the fact that Super Rugby Pacific was being held at a ground usually used by teams made up of local farmhands and tradesmen (especially since they set a couple up in the miniscule changing rooms).

But once the Chiefs and Highlanders kicked off, history had been made. Wakatipu RFC now sits proudly alongside the likes of Eden Park, Sydney's ANZ Stadium and Ellis Park in Johannesburg as a Super Rugby venue, having already been made official on Wikipedia.

The crowd was limited to a few folks watching through the makeshift fences around the ground. But given what's happening in Wellington right now, NZ Rugby bosses are probably wondering why they didn't just proceed with the season as originally planned and sell tickets, they've currently got a great view from their Molesworth St office that rules against mass gatherings aren't getting enforced.

Cane remarked after the game that the surroundings, plus the fact that they'd taken a five minute van ride to the ground, made it feel a bit like a pre-season fixture. However, the 26-16 win by his team was a good watch, despite some very damp patches on the field and the glare of the sun playing havoc with lineouts on the western touchline. The Chiefs have somehow come into 2022 with the dark horse tag again, despite making the Super Rugby Aotearoa final last year and fielding eight All Blacks in their squad for the opener, but that's only going to last so long if they keep defending the way they did yesterday.

They probably should have won by more, although there has to be a big question mark over Pita Gus Sowakula's first half try. The big number eight spectacularly leapt over Aaron Smith like a hurdler, however that should really have been deemed dangerous play even though his boots easily cleared the diminutive halfback. Some sort of clarification on that would be helpful, however Sowakula was greatly helped by the fact that he did it around the blindside of a ruck and left the ref somewhat unsighted.

It's not the biggest deal in the world at all, as it likely didn't influence the result and more importantly didn't result in an injury, but it did raise a bit of a problem given what happened a little bit later on in Dunedin. It was there where the Crusaders showed that any talk of a potential decline in fortunes for the 11-time champions were very premature as they beat the Hurricanes 42-32, but the big talking point was the consistent role the TMO played in proceedings. A spectacular second half try by Ardie Savea was rubbed out due to a very debatable knock on earlier in the movement, but the fact that referee Brendan Pickerill had him in his ear at all completely contradicts a briefing put out by NZ Rugby last week that stated "reducing TMO involvement was a key focus for match officials this season."

Presumably TMO Mike Fraser didn't get the memo? Also, it doesn't seem like the Australian side of the competition is being reffed under the same new guidelines, which is another head scratcher.