x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Ma'a Nonu sent off in sloppy opener

A red card for the New Zealand international Ma'a Nonu was the low point of a sloppy Super 15 Rugby season opener between the Wellington Hurricanes and the Otago Highlanders. The Highlanders won 14-9.

Ma'a Nonu will make headlines for all the wrong reasons after being sent-off in last night's opening Super 15 Rugby match between the Wellington Hurricanes and the Otago Highlanders in Wellington.

The Highlanders won the encounter 14-9 but it was Nonu's red card that will be the main talking point from an error-strewn, ill-disciplined match.

Nonu was sin-binned 10 minutes before half time at Westpac Stadium after referee Stu Dickinson had given the Hurricanes a team warning for repeated infringing at the breakdown.

A shoulder charge on Jimmy Cowan in the 50th minute, which left his New Zealand teammate sprawled face down on the turf, not unsurprisingly saw Dickinson reach for the cards again, showing Nonu another yellow then red.

The Hurricanes were trailing 11-6 at that point after Lima Sopoaga's try and two penalties had cancelled out Aaron Cruden's two penalties.

Jason Eaton could have won it for the Hurricanes in his 50th match only to knock on with the line begging.

Elsewhere, the New South Wales Waratahs gave a rough welcome to the Melbourne Rebels by ruining their Super 15 debut with a 43-0 walloping. It was the first time in 15 seasons that the Waratahs held an opposition team scoreless.

The Rebels, led by former World Cup-winning Australia coach Rod Macqueen, had no answer for the relentless Waratahs' attack in the seven-try win. Kurtley Beale and Drew Mitchell scored two tries each, and Robert Horne, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Phil Waugh also dotted down.

Stirling Mortlock, the Melbourne captain and former Wallaby who had a solid game as he continues his comeback from back surgery, said it was a painful lesson for the new team.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us, New South Wales are a class side," Mortlock said. "We were nowhere near where we needed to be tonight. In reality we were outplayed everywhere. Our discipline let us down, our defence was slack as well."

Melbourne kept the Waratahs scoreless for the first 24 minutes with plenty of possession, but suffered an early blow when playmaker James Hilgendorf injured his shoulder in a tackle by Polota-Nau and was replaced in the seventh minute by Danny Cipriani , the former England fly-half.

The Waratahs, who have 14 former and current Test players in their 22, showed experience, class and patience. Wallabies fullback Beale and Test winger Mitchell scored in the first half for a 10-0 lead after 40 minutes.

As the Rebels ran on replacements, their combinations faltered and the Waratahs powered ahead, with Beale and Mitchell scoring their second tries, while centre Horne and Waugh also crossed. Macqueen said a yellow card to hooker Ged Robinson two minutes into the second half for a deliberate foul at the breakdown was a "killer." New South Wales scored off the next play.

In today's games, the Pretoria Bulls, the Super champions, start the defence of their title with a visit to the Golden Lions, the Canterbury Crusaders open their account with a trip to Auckland Blues, Australia's ACT Brumbies welcome the Waikato Chiefs from New Zealand and the Natal Sharks face the Free State Cheetahs.