AUCKLAND, NZ – Teams are all over the place in the latest round of Super Rugby, with only one all local affair taking place. It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday and all across the rugby world players will be dedicating their performances to their old ladies, except Richie McCaw, who we all know was assembled secretly out of surplus body parts and precious metals at NZRU headquarters some years ago. While that may not be entirely accurate, here’s something that probably is, some…
- Another week, another rumor about dropping the South African sides and making a separate Australasian competition. Once again, ain’t gonna happen any time soon. The media should really stop making a habit of reporting on these, they are a waste of everyone’s time.
- 100-test All Black and Chiefs fullback Mils Muliaina is quitting NZ rugby (again) and heading up to Connacht, who are making a habit of recruiting Kiwis lately. He’ll be replaced next season by Dwayne Sweeney, who is coming back from a three-year stint in Japan. So here’s a new case of musical chairs, no doubt Sweeney will head off again and get replaced by someone coming back in a few years’ time.
New Plymouth? Isn’t that where the Hurricanes are usually play? If you haven’t heard, the Taranaki RFU turned it’s back on the Hurricanes franchise this season and aligned with the Chiefs. Just in time to see the Canes play pretty well and the Chiefs title hopes break down with their massive run of injuries. The irony of the Taranaki connection is that their provincial captain Kane Barrett is playing for the Blues, on the bench after a reshuffle sees Steven Luatua move into the starting XV due to Peter Saili’s absence. The Chiefs are still battered by injuries and are struggling to put a team on the park that would inspire anyone to think they are championship quality, but the Blues disgraceful away record will give them some hope. The Blues will hope it’s not an unlucky 13th road loss for them, it’ll be their best chance to pick off an NZ conference opponent so far.
Prediction: This should be a decent match, if it opens up the Blues will have a shot. If not, the Chiefs will have the fortitude to grind it out. I reckon it’ll be the former, Blues by 10.
Man to watch: Ma’a Nonu ignited the Blues last week and reaffirmed his place as the number 1 second five in the world. When he starts playing like he did last week, he keeps it up.
The action keeps going on Friday night over in Melbourne where the Rebels host the Hurricanes. #REBvHUR
Another Rebels home game, another potential banana skin game for an in-form team. The Canes head to Melbourne desperate to make up for last week’s disappointing loss to the Waratahs, but they’ve been able to mainly deflect a lot of criticism from that onto referee Steve Walsh, who is admittedly an awful human being. Ardie Savea gets a start on the open side, giving Jack Lam a well-earned rest. The front row gets a reshuffle with Ben Franks swapping to tight head to accommodate exciting young prospect Reggie Goodes. On the other side of the park some of the Rebels will have to remember which team they are playing for, with Jason Woodward, Scott Fuglistaller and Tamati Ellison all Wellington boys. The Rebels are staring down the barrel of another under-performing season and should probably open it up to give their fans some respite. The Hurricanes have everything to play for in this one, a Chiefs loss could see them climb to the top of the table.
Prediction: The Canes will click back into gear in this match and run riot over a team that’s caused them more than a few problems lately. Hurricanes by 20.
Man to watch: Canes fullback Andre Taylor has been a revelation since getting his starting jersey back. Look for a couple of tries from him.
Saturday night starts with a return home to Dunedin for the Highlanders, who go into battle against the Lions. #HIGvLIO
After getting stung by the lowly Stormers last week the Highlanders will be happy to be under their roof and against another struggling team. Shane Christie and Ged Robinson get starts at open side and hooker respectively while the biggest change is Hayden Parker coming in at first five for the impressive Lima Sopoaga. The Lions welcome back Marnitz Boshoff at 10 and will probably rotate their squad as much as possible on this tour following their dire performance against the Chiefs last week. While the action on the field should be pretty straight-forward, the action in the stands and after the game should be pretty interesting as Otago University students get drunk and try it on with one another. Many an awful pickup line will be tried, most will fail and Sunday morning will be an entertaining mix of walks-of-shame and trips to the Family Planning Clinic.
Prediction: Three words: One. Way Traffic. The Highlanders should mow the Lions easily, picking up at least 6 tries. Highlanders by 35.
Man to watch: Journeyman Highlanders hooker Ged Robinson is missing the Wellington reunion over in Melbourne on Friday, so he’ll make up for it with a big game here.
Possibly the game of the round on Saturday night is in Canberra, the home team Brumbies squaring up against the Sharks. #BRUvSHA
Potential preview of the final? Wow, I’m a NZer and I just said that. If that’s going to happen both these teams need to show a pretty quick return to form from last week, with the Brumbies getting smoked by the Crusaders and the Sharks boring the Rebels into submission. The main talking point of this one is the return of master coach Jake White to his old team’s stomping ground. He’ll be spewing that he left them in such a good state that they are now title contenders and has to get his Sharks psyched for a potentially crucial tour game. Frans Steyn stays at first five while Keegan Daniel comes in at open side for the Sharks, who will look to ground and pound their way to victory. The Brumbies name a mostly unchanged lineup and will try and play their attractive, up-tempo game plan. It must be pretty fun for coach Stephen Larkham to sit and control the game from a stand that’s named after him.
Prediction: The Sharks have a lot to prove on this tour, but I think this one will be a bridge too far. The home team will be too slick, Brumbies by 12.
Man to watch: Beastly Brumbies Number 8 Fotu Auelua returns from injury and will wreak some serious havoc with ball in hand.
The South African leg of this weekend starts in Bloemfontein, where the Cheetahs welcome the Force. #CHEvFOR
This is a very interesting match-up as it’ll really tell us if the Force mean business this year or are just a fun story. They come off the bye with few injury concerns and will look to pick up where they left off. The Cheetahs, on the other hand, have brought back Johan Goosen and Coenie Oosthuizen and first five and prop respectively. They had a pretty creditable showing last week against the Bulls and proved again their best bet to getting a result is to chance their arm. If they do it could be a game worth watching as the Force have been playing some attractive stuff themselves. The Force will be out for revenge after last year’s meeting ended in a shock loss to the Cheetahs at home.
Prediction: The Force have had a week off, are on a high and are injury free. The Cheetahs are just looking to salvage something from this season. Force by 12.
Man to watch: Force captain Matt Hodgson has had a big season this year. Although international honors are probably a bit of a stretch, he should impress enough in games like this to win some serious respect.
The only derby match of the round is in Pretoria, where the Bulls host the Stormers. #BULvSTO
Ch-ch-ch-changes…David Bowie’s classic track should be playing as the Stormers run onto the park for this one, 6 changes to the team that got up over the Highlanders last week. I can’t really be bothered typing them out and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter as the Stormers are obviously looking towards the future with their remaining fixtures. The Bulls still have a shot at the playoffs, even though it’s a bit distant, so will probably be licking their lips at taking it to the Stormers at home. Only one change to their team, JJ Engelbrecht coming in on the wing.
Prediction: The Bulls should probably have enough to get up over the resurgent Stormers, this one will go down to goal kicks. Bulls by 9.
Man to watch: Any of the Stormers new players. Take your pick.
A nice little change up in the draw sees a match in Brisbane on Sunday evening, where the Reds meet the Crusaders. #REDvCRU
A rematch of the 2011 final, this one probably won’t be as close. The Crusaders are on a roll heading into this one and the Reds are too, except they’re rolling right down the toilet. Richie McCaw starts back at open side where he belongs and will look to use this game to get him back into match fitness for the All Blacks, as well as continue his rivalry with Quade Cooper. First five Colin Slade is in rare form and should continue to be a decent attacking threat. The Reds need to completely overhaul their game plan after last week’s embarrassment against the Blues, they were so bad Cooper and Will Genia must be worrying about their Wallaby jerseys. Whatever happens, hopefully all the player’s Mum’s are proud of their boys, win or lose.
Prediction: Another one way traffic game, Crusaders by 20.
Man to watch: Nemani Nadolo will relish getting a decent open space to work with and cause a bit of damage on the Crusaders wing.
The Waratahs get the week off, but have no one to share it with. Poor guys, I’m sure they can find something to do in the bright lights of Sydney.
Enjoy the footy this weekend and remember to be nice to your mothers, without whom we’d never be able to get our uniforms clean, get to the game or have someone to whinge to about the ref after the game.
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.