Super Rugby Round 14 Preview: The business end is here

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AUCKLAND, NZ: Welcome in to another installment of Super Rugby. Round 14 really marks the start of the run towards the playoffs, so expect thing so expect things to maybe get a little tighter in the comp. Or they may not, given that my picking abilities lately have been pretty bad. So, with that I’d like to offer a few more…

Observations:

  • Super Rugby kicked off in it’s professional format back in 1996. Also in that year a boy called Taniela (Daniel) Tupou was born in Tonga. He eventually made his way to NZ and currently plays for the Sacred Heart College 1st XV right here in Auckland (College means High School here in NZ). You probably would’ve heard of him over the last few days due to his amazing hat trick that has gone viral on YouTube and even made it’s way to some pretty prominent sports sites around the world. Good on Taniela for being a beast and getting rugby a bit of exposure, but I hope he doesn’t get burdened with the massive expectations that will be on him now. We should remember that he is playing high school rugby, some of those kids are half his size. Interestingly, it turns out he’s not even eligible for NZ (yet), so his future career may end up being in the country of his birth.

  • Speaking of rep rugby, it finally got officially confirmed that the All Blacks will be thrashing the USA Eagles in Chicago later in the year (I believe I broke the news of this story about a month ago). While I’m sure many American rugby fans will be thrilled with this and will hopefully pack out Soldier Field (the only stadium of that size they could use because it’s not named after a competing financial company to AIG), the average fan here is seeing this as a at worst a farce and at best a demonstration. A demonstration in how far the gap between the best team in the world and the US is.  Ever since the NZRU sold it’s soul to AIG we’ve had to put up with their stupid name being on our jersey, which makes me want to puke every time I see it. Now the All Blacks have to play one of these jacked-up AIG commercial excuses for a game of international rugby so a bunch of fish head administrators can line their pockets. I’m sorry, but it’s not washing with me and it’s highly doubtful this match will break any viewing records in this part of the world. Most of this stems from a feeling of resentment the public has towards the NZRU due to the fact that the All Blacks are yet to play a test match in the Pacific islands in 40 years, despite their amazingly beneficial contribution to not just NZ rugby, but the world. I understand the game in this country needs money, but this whole situation is a little too blatant for everyone’s liking down here.

Right, rant over. Time to start off our coverage of the weekend, which begins in Wellington where the Hurricanes look for revenge against the Crusaders. #HURvCRU

The first game these two teams played back in round 6 was an odd one, high-scoring but ultimately disappointing. Since then both teams have come into form, so this has the potential to be the match of the week. Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph returns to face the team that didn’t want him as a coach with a chip on his shoulder so big he’s got a bowl of dip on the other. The Canes have lost All Black hooker Dane Coles to injury, unfortunately for the Highlanders Super Rugby’s top hit-man Motu Matu’u comes in to take his place. Tim Bateman comes back in at second five after a wretched run of injuries this year. Conrad Smith will still be hurting after Malakai Fekitoa smashed him in their last game, now that match-up is especially interesting as Fekitoa has made the All Blacks training squad. That’s just one of a lot of big match-ups across the park, which could draw a big Friday night crowd. However, I was down in Wellington during the week and it was quite nasty, so if you are going take a jacket.

Prediction: This is tough alright, both sides are capable of some amazing footy when they want to. Home ground advantage should be enough for the Canes here, though…just. Hurricanes by 3.

Man to watch: After getting a break last week Hurricanes flanker Jack Lam will look to continue his impressive season, the fact that he isn’t even in All Black contention speaks volumes about the depth of loose forwards in this country.

Who said I was boring?

Who said I was boring?

No Australian game on Friday night means the action continues on Saturday evening in Christchurch, where the Crusaders host the Sharks. #CRUvSHA

What a difference a month makes. Four weeks ago the Sharks would’ve been favorites going into this one, now the Crusaders are hot favorites. Fresh off their massacre of the Reds, the home side will have a ton of confidence and a packed house to watch them continue their timely run of form. So much form, in fact, they’ve rested fullback Israel Dagg and brought in Tom Taylor. There’s another change at halfback with Willi Heinz starting ahead of Andy Ellis. The only worry they’ll have is the on-going concussion problems of Number 8 Kieran Read, who will miss this match as well. The Sharks are one bad result away from officially hitting the panic button, coach Jake White has been criticized lately for his conservative game plan and they’ll have to make sure their tackling is on point if they are gong to have any chance in this one.

Prediction: Everything is pointing to a comprehensive victory for the home side here, expect another brutal performance from them. Crusaders by 20.

Man to watch: It justs keeps getting better for Crusaders first five Colin Slade, this week named in the All Blacks training squad. Looks like he may just have got all the injuries out of his system and is consistently playing to the potential he has.

Reds fan with severe sunburn.

Reds fan with severe sunburn.

The late game on Saturday is an Australian derby match in Brisbane, where the Reds take on the Rebels. #REDvREB

Well unfortunately this game is like being in a club at about 3am when the lights are coming on and the only people left are the ones who haven’t got lucky. They’ll stagger into one another and maybe go home together, but whatever happens will be ugly, forgettable and not worth watching. These two sides are going to finish bottom of the Australian conference, although at least the Rebels have the excuse of not being expected to do any better. The Reds on the other hand, full of Wallabies and expected to be a real threat this year, have nothing to show for this season other than a bunch of (valid) complaints against the officials and Quade Cooper managing to not say anything inflammatory on Twitter. The loyalty of Brisbane sporting folk is pretty commendable, they will still show up in numbers to watch these two awful teams play.

Prediction: Who knows. The Reds were horrible last week and the Rebels showed some guts against the Hurricanes. Rebels by 8.

Man to watch: No one.

Show us your best Honey Badger face.

Show us your best Honey Badger face.

Over in South Africa there’s an interesting game in Cape Town where the Stormers welcome the Force. #STOvFOR

Interesting because if the Force can get up for this one, they’ll go home from South Africa unbeaten, which is a rare feat for an Australian side. They couldn’t have picked two better opponents for their tour, not they anyone would’ve known that the Cheetahs and Stormers would’ve been so garbage at the start of the season. The visitors will most probably name an unchanged lineup, their policy of playing simple but attractive rugby has won them more than a few fans outside of Western Australia. The Stormers again make a change at first five, old head Peter Grant coming back in at the expense of Kurt Coleman. The Stormers did show they are a challenge at home a couple of weeks back with a win over the Highlanders, but that’s probably firmed the Force’s resolve not to take this match lightly.

Prediction: The fairytale will continue for the Force, they are just too good a story to bet against. Force by 10.

Man to watch: Since the Force haven’t named their team yet I’ll say Nick Cummins, because he’s funny and actually really good.

Jesse Mogg: Show me the money!

Jesse Mogg: Show me the money!

The next game in Africa is in Bloemfontein, where the Cheetahs meet the Brumbies. #CHEvBRU

The Brumbies open up their tour with a game that they will have been looking forward to after a run of top-of-the-table clashes. The Cheetahs admittedly have been better lately by fixing up their leaky defensive systems that were conceding 50 points a game at one stage, but they’ll be heavy underdogs on their home patch. The Brumbies showed they can be ruthless last week in a dour win over the competition leading Sharks, now they’ll look to open it up in the afternoon sun. Cheetahs winger Cornal Hendricks comes back in to their side, hopefully he can spark a bit of form out them. The visitors could be forgiven for keeping an eye on their game next week against the Bulls, so they better make sure the Cheetahs don’t take advantage of that.

Prediction: The Australian leaders should have too much firepower for this one, but expect the Cheetahs to put up a fight. Brumbies by 10.

Man to watch: Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg has just re-signed with the team for the foreseeable future, he’ll celebrate with a try in this one.

The best time to watch footy.

The best time to watch footy.

Last game of the round is another Sunday evening kick-off, this time in Sydney where the Waratahs take on the Lions.

The Waratahs have fallen off the radar a bit lately since their less-than-succesful trip to South Africa, so they’ll be hoping to build on a win and a bye in the last two weeks and get their playoff run going. They were particularly impressive against the Hurricanes for all but 5 minutes in their last game, however in that 5 minutes the Canes scored 17 points. The Lions will still be spewing over their non-call rip-off last week against the Highlanders and will be making sure nothing gets left in the hands of incapable officials. I’m loving these evening kick-offs, long may they continue. If this game is anything like the last Sunday game, we’re in for a few tries.

Prediction: Despite their surprising display of intestinal fortitude against the Highlanders last week, the Lions should probably find the going too tough here in Sydney. Waratahs by 16.

Man to watch: Tahs fullback Israel Folau could run riot in this one if they can open the game up.

Cheers for the freakin' weekend!

Cheers for the freakin’ weekend!

The Blues are probably greeting their bye week with open arms after their hiding from the Chiefs last weekend. Both of them and the Bulls have the weekend off, probably watching the results pretty closely I’d say. Pick of the week is the Hurricanes/Highlanders match, so wherever you are in the world, tune in.

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@:RugbyWrapUpJunoir Blaber, Nick HallJames HarringtonJamie Wall, Jaime LoydDJ Eberle, Cody KuxmannKaren RitterJake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

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Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington, NZ and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre playing career in which the highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on anything to do with Rugby to anyone that'll care to listen.

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