Round 1 of Super Rugby has come and gone and it's like Super Rugby never took a break.
The Crusaders are dominating at home again, the Blues lost again and the Reds were close, but just not good enough for an opening win.
As we prepare for Round 2, our team of writers have answered some of the questions that have dominated build-up to Super Rugby.
NZ RUGBY IS AGAIN MANAGING ALL BLACKS WORKLOADS, IS IT REALLY NECESSARY IN A NON-WORLD CUP/LIONS YEAR?
Sam Bruce: I understand why New Zealand Rugby would want to ease some of their frontline players back into Super Rugby, but I would prefer to see the coaches of the five franchises have control over just when and how those rest weeks are implemented. It should in fact be a collaborative approach between player and franchise; a situation where an individual comes to his coach and says 'look, I'm just not right at the moment, I could use a week off'. We've seen that happen with mental health across a variety of sports, so why shouldn't a player have the same control over his physical wellbeing? On the flipside, if a player is feeling at ease with his body and mind then there should be no problem with him fronting up for all 16 regular season Super Rugby games. The All Blacks' season came to an end with the bronze medal match against Wales on Nov. 1, so any player involved in that game who returned to the field in Round 1 last week had virtually three months between fixtures, save for one trial match in the lead-up. I feel the whole setup could be managed a little better, particularly when Super Rugby needs all the headline acts it can get.
Brittany Mitchell: New Zealand Rugby has used the All Blacks' dominance as their defence for continuing their contentious resting policy, but in a non-World Cup I can't really see what the point is. Yes, there's the Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship and their Test matches against Wales and Scotland at home but realistically the All Blacks aren't playing for much this year. For a competition that's struggling for relevancy, sitting your biggest names throughout the season to keep them fresh doesn't make too much sense. They're not just hampering their own teams, they're hampering the competition at large. Fans want to see the best players; they want to see Beauden Barrett on the tear, Rieko Ioane diving into the corner for the score and a cheeky Aaron Smith dart around the back of the scrum. If they're to persist with this policy, they should at least allow Super Rugby coaches the opportunity to pick and choose when they rest their players.
WHICH AUSSIE PLAYER REALLY CAUGHT YOUR EYE IN ROUND 1, HEEDING DAVE RENNIE'S MESSAGE FROMT THE OUTSET?
SB:Having enjoyed an extended break over the summer, I was a little late in catching a glimpse of Waratahs winger Mark Nawaqanitawase and the buzz he was generating through the preseason. But after watching him finish for the Waratahs' opening try last week, it's safe to say Australian rugby has something reasonably exciting on its hands. That was the finish of a potentially world-class winger. Given there were four Crusaders defenders flying across in cover, he really had no right to finish that try. But the way he tangled up Crusaders opposite Will Jordan, and then burned the three others to the corner post, was brilliant. It was also fantastic to see Nawaqanitawase back himself and attempt the intercept that brought about his second Super Rugby five-pointer. He is sure to have moments of indecision and make the odd mistake throughout his debut year - the failed kick-and-chase midway through the loss to the Crusaders likely inspired some gentle ribbing from his Waratahs teammates post-match - but there was far more good than bad in his first outing. I'm sure he has Dave Rennie's attention.
BM: It's hard to pinpoint just one player who really stood out. Young fly-halves Noah Lolesio, Isaac Lucas and Will Harrison all made an impact and led their sides admirably, while Waratahs wing Mark Nawaqanitawase made a name for himself (even if it takes some practice pronouncing it) with his two tries against the Crusaders on Saturday. But for me the biggest standout was young Reds No.8 Harry Wilson who capped off an impressive Super Rugby debut against the Brumbies with a try on Friday night. One of the many Junior Wallabies to take the next step into professional rugby, Wilson was a little overshadowed in the lead up to the match, but was in the thick of the action from the first whistle. With six tackles, 14 runs and 54 metres - the most of any forward -- Wilson's stats speak for themselves as a player making the most of his time on the paddock. Running a strong flat line, Wilson was rewarded for his hard work on the pitch with a try when he barreled through the defence from five out. Despite a few early mistakes - including a flick pass to no-one off the back of an impressive 15-metre intercept run - Wilson's work around the park made him one of the most impressive across the weekend.
WHICH ROUND 1 LOSER BOUNCES BACK ON THE ROAD IN ROUND 2?
[Blues, Reds, Hurricanes, Bulls, Rebels]
SB: While the Chiefs-Crusaders clash is the clear standout game in Round 2, I'm most intrigued by the Lions-Reds clash in Johannesburg. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the Reds will be the team improving to 1-1 here. The South Africans were just plain dreadful over in Buenos Aires and while the Reds weren't exactly in devastating week-one form themselves, the Queenslanders really should have gone on with their 17-7 halftime lead. The Reds should also take confidence from last year's win over the Sharks in South Africa; they won't want to fall to 0-2 and then have to go on to Buenos Aires to face the Jaguares either. The South Africans will no doubt be a tougher proposition than what they were in Argentina but there has been a fair bit of change over in Johannesburg over the offseason and it may take some time for coach Ivan van Rooyen to put his own stamp on things. Reds in a tight one.
BM: This is not easy to pick, but let's give it a go. I'm also going to back the Reds to bounce back on the road, in South Africa of all places, and get their first win for 2020. They didn't play badly against the Brumbies last week and were disappointed they took their foot off the pedal after they'd built a strong lead. But I think this week they'll learn from their mistake and take a mongrel mentality to Johannesburg. Winning in Africa is always hard, and it'll take a lot of work for them to get over the line, but their scrum was strong in Canberra and they produced some lovely set-piece moves that finished with scores. They're a young pack, and it'll be a tight contest, but I think the Reds have the skill and ability to get over the line.