AUCKLAND, NZ: Another week has flown by in the Southern Hemisphere and the footy season rolls on with another weekend of action to look forward to. We’re inching closer to the international season, which will see the All Blacks destroy England in a warm up for what should be a fascinating Tri-Nations. Before we crack into the match-by-match previews, here are some…
- The biggest surprise this year has been the form of the Australian conference. Every team bar the Reds has either lived up to or exceeded expectations and there is a real chance one of them will make it all the way to the final. Several key players are in excellent form so watch out for the Wallabies to be a real threat to the All Blacks dominance.
- While the Crusaders season seems to be getting back on track, star first five Dan Carter is running around New York hanging out with Rory McIlroy. Of course, this story drew a barrage of criticism from all the knuckleheads in this part of the world who don’t think he’s entitled to a bit of time off.
Well, it finally happened, Mark Hammett has chucked it in as coach of the Hurricanes. Not really that surprising, his contract is up at the end of the year and he can go get a pay raise taking over some unlucky club in the Northern Hemisphere. He’ll stay in charge till the end of the 2014 campaign, which is actually showing some signs of life now. Can he turn it around before leaving? The more interesting question is who will replace him, the coaching landscape in NZ is pretty bereft of any obvious replacements. Perhaps a foreign coach could jump in to fix the problem-child of NZ Super Rugby? Another interesting question is why the NZRU are seemingly happy to let Hammett go up north, considering the reason he was given the Canes job in the first place was to ‘stop him taking valuable NZ coaching knowledge offshore’. Now he’s had four seasons experience coaching Super Rugby and is leaving, so that original decision looks a little silly.
So, straight into week 9 after all that. The Friday night game sees the Highlanders take on the Bulls in Dunedin. #HIGvBUL
The Southern Men have reshuffled their team a little bit for this week, most notably giving workaholic Number 8 Nasi Manu a bit of a rest and bringing back Bid Bad Brad Thorn into the starting lineup. Poor Kurt Baker got slapped with a six-week suspension for this , so Patrick Osborne comes in to replace him. The Bulls have been hit with injuries too and have hauled Victor Matfield out of the coaches box to pull his boots on. The battle between him and Thorn should be pretty good, it’ll be like watching your Dad get in a punch up with another guy’s Dad after he’s had too many at the rugby club. Both these teams are coming off tight games last week and have excellent goal kickers.
Prediction: I have the feeling that the Bulls effort last week was a bit of an aberration, they travel badly and the Highlanders will open them up in this one. Highlanders by 15.
Man to watch: Highlanders Number 8 Elliott Dixon gets a rare chance to start, look for some bruising runs from him.
The action heads over the ditch to Brisbane where the Reds entertain the Brumbies. #REDvBRU
The first game between these two turned out to be a little anti-climatctic, with the Reds strolling home for a 10-point win. Times have definitely changed since then, the Brumbies having got a lot better and the Reds falling away a little bit. Again it’ll be a Wallaby halves trial with Nic White and Matt Toomua trying to get a direct edge over Will Genia and Quade Cooper, but to be honest there’s match-ups across the whole park to look forward to. The Reds discipline problems will have to sort themselves out before kick-off, because the Brumbies will be more than happy to sit back and punish them, as well as let their exciting back line chime in for a couple of tries.
Prediction: This one has the makings of a classic, let’s hope the weather stays good and lets the two teams give the ball a bit of air. However, the away side is just playing too well to ignore, Brumbies by 5.
Man to watch: Reds second five Anthony Fainga’a gets a reprieve thanks to an injury to Mike Harris. He’ll be marking the in-form Pat McCabe, who will using him as a turnstile like he did to the Blues last week if he’s not on his game.
Saturday night kicks off in Hamilton, where the Chiefs return home to face the Rebels. #CHIvREB
Fresh off their two eerily similar drawn matches in South Africa, the Chiefs find themselves in the psitions of being winless for the last three games. While beaten last week against the Highlanders, the Rebels did enough to probably make the Chiefs take this game somewhat seriously, although they have made a few changes. The biggest is Daddy’s Boy Gareth Anscombe coming in at first five for an injured Aaron Cruden, which will be very interesting to watch. The Rebels field an unchanged lineup and will be looking for another big performance from Captain Comeback Scott Higgenbotham. Of note it’ll be the first Chiefs team in quite a while to not start with either Cruden or flanker Liam Messam, the latter getting a spell on the bench after some heroic performances on the road.
Prediction: The Rebels will most probably end up copping a backlash from a Chiefs side that will not be happy about not getting a win in a month. Chiefs by 20.
Man to watch: Anscombe. For all his critics, the kid has shown he does have the ability to step up when it counts. Now he has a chance at his favored first five position, he won’t waste it.
A trip right across the Australian continent is next, the Force meeting the Waratahs in Perth. #FORvWAR
At the start of the comp this was the sort of match I was dreading to have to preview. Really nothing would have got me interested, but after 8 weeks things couldn’t have changed more. The unbelievable run the Force have made and the consistent form the Waratahs have shown make this more or less the match of the round. Big news is the return of Israel Folau to the Tahs, while wingers Peter Betham and Alofa Alofa sit out with injuries. The Force’s major change is the loss of form centre Junior Rasolea, so stand-in Marcel Brache will need to have a big game. He won’t have to worry about marking Rob Horne, who has been suspended for being an angry man last week. Probably gets it from his coach. There’ll be a huge crowd to watch this one at NIB Stadium in Perth, which will be great to see in the traditionally AFL dominated city.
Prediction: I’m loving the Force right now making a mockery of all predictions of their season. The feel good story of this season will get another chapter, Force by 3.
Man to watch: Israel Folau is on a mission to not just break the Super Rugby try scoring record, but absolutely destroy it this season.
Sunday morning the South African leg of the weekend kicks off in Bloemfontein, where the Cheetahs host the Crusaders. #CHEvCRU
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder probably couldn’t have asked for a better draw after a disastrous start to the season. They proved last week they can do the hard yards last week against the Lions, now they have the perfect opportunity to prove they can cut loose and score some big points. That’s because they’re up against the Cheetahs, a team so bereft of any defensive nous they immediately associate the word ‘tackle’ with fishing gear. The return of All Black superman Kieran Read will give the Crusaders some serious go-forward but they will need to be on their guard against the Cheetahs, who, despite conceding an avalanche of points have proven they can still score plenty of their own. This one could be the shoot-out of the week but something tells me the Crusaders will be aiming to keep the Cheetahs away from the try line just as much as they want to cross it.
Prediction: The Crusaders would have gained a lot of confidence last week and this will help them get up for this one. Crusaders by 18.
Man to watch: Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo has been talked up a lot but hasn’t done much so far this season. This will be the perfect opportunity for him to stretch his legs.
Last match of the round is in Johannesberg, where the Lions welcome the Sharks. #LIOvSHA
The Sharks come off their bye probably thirsty for some blood while the Lions are licking their wounds after a limp performance last weekend to the Crusaders. Lions coach Johan Ackermann has reacted to the loss by shfting first five Marnitz Boshoff to fullback and replacing him with Elton Jantjes. Hang on a minute Johan, you tried this already this season and it didn’t work? Maybe Elton has been mowing his lawn for him. The Sharks welcome back their number one first five Pat Lambie, who has been in great form this season and doesn’t need to do the coach any favors to justify his place in the team. This is a pretty important game for the Lions, who could slip back into the also-rans with a loss.
Prediction: The Sharks are top of the table for a reason and have found a ruthless way to win, so this one will be low-scoring. Sharks by 6.
Man to watch: The outstandingly named Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis has been in good form this year and will look to solidify his grip on a Springbok jersey in this game.
Another short preview this week because the Blues, Stormers and Hurricanes have the week off. Maybe their coaches could all get together and talk about how disappointing their teams have been so far this year. That’d be a pretty lame party.
Like my picks? Let me know about it. Don’t like them? Let me know about that too. For all you readers up north, the sun is still very much shining down here (at least in Auckland anyway) so if you want to experience what it’s like to watch footy in shorts and a singlet, come on down. I’ll even pick you up from the airport!
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.