WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The earliest ever start to Super Rugby overshadowed its 25th season launch at the weekend with one coach saying the current heat in Australia that is fanning bushfires also producing "dangerous" playing conditions.
The competition started for the first time in January on Friday and ACT Brumbies coach Dan McKellar compared the conditions to an oven as temperatures approached 40 degrees Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) during his side's 27-24 victory over the Queensland Reds in Canberra.
"We talk about player welfare, we've got big men having to run around and they're in good condition but I'm hoping round one next year is not anywhere near January 31," McKellar told reporters.
"You're limited with your preparation time and it's dangerous, it really is."
The Brumbies game had been in doubt because of a massive bushfire raging south of Canberra, with the Australian Capital Territory placed under a state of emergency earlier in the day.
McKellar's side, however, underlined why they are tipped to win the Australian conference with their victory against the Reds, just hours after the Waikato Chiefs opened the season by overturning a 19-5 halftime deficit to beat the Auckland Blues.
The Chiefs, under former Wales coach Warren Gatland, and with flyhalf Aaron Cruden back in the squad after two seasons in France, over-ran the home side to record a 37-29 win on Eden Park.
The win indicated the Hamilton-based side should challenge the Canterbury Crusaders as the top team in New Zealand, although Scott Robertson's South Island side underlined their depth with a 43-25 win over the New South Wales Waratahs.
The Crusaders have won the last three Super Rugby titles under Robertson but had a mass exodus of All Blacks forwards from the side following last year's Rugby World Cup.
The win over a wasteful Waratahs side, however, showed they were still exceptionally dangerous on the counter-attack with Braydon Ennor and Will Jordan scoring two tries each and outlining early cases for higher honours later this year.
The Jaguares, who were beaten by the Crusaders in the final last year, picked up where they left off with centre Matias Moroni scoring two second-half tries to lead the Buenos Aires-based side to a bonus-point 38-8 win over the Lions.
It gave Gonzalo Quesada's team the early lead in the South African conference alongside the Stormers, who hammered a woeful Wellington Hurricanes side 27-0 in Cape Town.
The Stormers, however, could be sweating on the fitness of Springboks captain Siya Kolisi who lasted only 26 minutes before he came off with a knee injury that coach John Dobson said could be "serious".
The Durban-based Sharks beat the Bulls 23-15, while the Japan-based Sunwolves, entering their final season and fielding a side made up of journeymen and untried local youngsters, secured a 36-27 win over the Melbourne Rebels.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)