The revamped Melbourne Rebels posted their highest points tally while the Highlanders won a helter-skelter New Zealand derby as the Australasian Super Rugby conference season launched on Friday.
The Rebels, bolstered by key off-season signings headed by Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia, posted seven tries in whipping the under-manned Queensland Reds 45-19 in Melbourne.
Meanwhile in Dunedin, the Highlanders won an end-to-end thriller over the Blues featuring nine tries in a 41-34 victory.
The new-look Rebels, reinforced by 12 new players from the jettisoned Western Force club, set records with seven tries in their biggest match score in Super Rugby under former Force coach Dave Wessels.
The Reds never recovered from losing skipper Scott Higginbotham to a red card in the 10th minute for using his shoulder in a forceful high tackle, and were further reduced when lock Lukhan Tui was yellow carded for a lifting tackle on Genia shortly afterwards.
Genia was outstanding in his first match for the Rebels, inspiring the team before his early replacement in the 57th minute with the job done with a 45-14 lead.
“To get a win in round one and get the season off on a positive note I am really happy for the boys,” Rebels skipper Adam Coleman said.
“Absolutely outstanding game from Willy G (Genia), he leads by example, he’s very composed under pressure, the way the players listened to him I could sit back and let him do his thing.”
In Friday’s first match, Rob Thompson and Teihorangi Walden scored try doubles for the Highlanders, with Blues wing Rieko Ioane also getting a brace.
The Highlanders scored five to four, only managing to hold onto the lead when the frantic pace of play finally slowed in the last 15 minutes.
It continued a dismal run for coach Tana Umaga’s Blues, who finished bottom in the Kiwi conference last season and have not beaten a fellow New Zealand side since round one in 2016.
The three-time champions have not made the play-offs since 2011 but newly-anointed captain Augustine Pulu said he remained confident of improvement this season.
“We got the effort and that’s all you can ask for but we’re still disappointed and there’s a few things we can work on,” he said.
“We’re going to build from this.”
The Aucklanders led 24-17 at the break, with the try-fest continuing after the restart when Highlanders prop Siate Tokolahi locked up the scores at 24-24.
Ioane’s second try put them in front before Blues forward Antonio Kirikiri was sinbinned for a high tackle on Sopoaga.
It resulted in the Highlanders stealing the ball from a Blues scrum feed then slipping it to Teihorangi Walden for a converted try that levelled the score at 31-31.
They went on the attack again and Walden latched onto a Thompson chip kick to score his second and put the Highlanders ahead again.
The sides exchanged penalties but the Highlanders were able to hold on to their buffer until the final whistle.