The Auckland Blues, with Beauden Barrett on debut, thumped the Hurricanes 30-20 on Sunday as the return of live sport in New Zealand drew a full house to Auckland’s Eden Park.
More than 43 000 packed the ground in the largest turnout at a Super Rugby match in New Zealand for 15 years, as fans starved of professional sport for three months celebrated the return of an unfettered contest less than a week after the country declared itself free of COVID-19.
The pre-match talking point was the maiden appearance for the Blues of former Hurricane stalwart Barrett, a two-time World Player of the year.
The Blues were further bolstered by the appearance of All Blacks and Crusaders legend Dan Carter offering guidance from the sideline.
On Saturday, the Highlanders edged a 28-27 thriller against the Chiefs.
The highest profile sports fixture worldwide since the pandemic, and one of the first with an unrestricted crowd, did not disappoint. Bryn Gatland’s last-gasp drop goal settled a nail-biter in Dunedin.
Gatland drilled the winning points in the 79th minute, denying the Chiefs – who are coached by his father, ex-Wales boss Warren – after they had snatched the lead with their own drop goal just a minute earlier.