AUCKLAND, NZ – And so we reach the penultimate round of Super Rugby, with the semi finalists having been found after last weekend’s playoffs. It’ll all take place on another Super Saturday night, with both games being played back to back on either side of the Tasman Sea. The Crusaders will be hoping for a reverse result of their epic loss to the Sharks back in round 14, while the Waratahs are after a another victory over their Australian conference rivals the Brumbies in their clash. However, before we look at those fixtures there’s been a bit of news happening in this part of the world over the week.
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of his former team mate at the Brisbane Broncos Israel Folau, former league sensation Karmichael Hunt has announced he’ll sign with the Queensland Reds for next years Super Rugby comp. Hunt was a star in the 13-man game, having a distinguished career at the Broncos and also representing Queensland at Origin level and the Kangaroos (the Australian national side). He is no stranger to union, however, having had a stint at Biarritz for a season in 2010 before playing in the AFL for the Gold Coast Suns. Like Folau, he’s struggled to make any significant impact playing Australian Rules and should be a great asset to the Reds, who will be hoping for a much better season than this year.
In a really pathetic sign of the priorities of the NZ media, the biggest story regarding women’s rugby lately is not about the Women’s Rugby World Cup (which you can read about here thanks to fellow columnist Karen Ritter), but the barring of a Southland teenager from playing in a social grade club side against men. Honestly I don’t think letting a female have a run against a pack of over-the-hill booze hounds old enough to be her Dad is going to hurt anyone. Let her play.
The All Blacks this week mourn the passing of 20-test prop Kevin Skinner, whose legendary rough justice in the 1956 series against the Springboks is credited with greatly aiding the team to victory. Skinner was also the NZ heavyweight boxing champion in 1947 and brought those skills to the rugby field, where he brutally dealt with both Bok props he marked. The 1956 series was a watershed moment for the All Blacks, remaining the highest attended tour of all time in NZ. One of the most notable people to send condolences was current superstar Sonny Bill Williams, who, like Skinner, managed to become an All Black and heavyweight boxing title holder.
Super Saturday begins in Christchurch, where the Crusaders will need to be on their game when they welcome the Sharks to AMI Stadium. #CRUvSHA
This is because, as mentioned earlier, the Sharks managed to unbelievably knock of the Crusaders in their last encounter in Christchurch. What made it even more remarkable is that they did it with 14 men after the first 10 minutes and then spent another 20 with only 13. They also managed to score some cracking tries in the victory. The Sharks welcome back Pat Lambie to first five, pushing big Frans Steyn out to second. Another change comes in the pack, where the player who was red carded, flanker Jean Deysel, gets a start due to an injury to Anton Bresler. The Sharks will look to repeat their game plan of smashing the Crusaders forwards and hanging on to the ball if they are to have any chance in this one. It’ll be a formidable task, given that the Crusaders haven’t lost a home playoff match ever. They also have Dan Carter starting at first five for them and the motivation that not winning a title in six seasons has caused people to think they’re not the powerhouse that has effectively ruled Super Rugby since it’s inception anymore. The fact still remains they are the best NZ team and they’ll probably be getting support from outside Canterbury, which is a highly unusual occurrence. It’ll be a cold night in Christchurch, so the wingers will have to keep themselves warm chasing kicks.
Prediction: While the Sharks pulled off the impossible in their last match, I don’t think lightning will strike twice for them. The Crusaders just need to be ruthless and rely on Dan Carter’s boot. Crusaders by 9.
Man to watch: Crusaders captain Kieran Read is a big game player and will need a high work rate to contain the Sharks ball running forwards.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl
Sharks: SP Marais, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (c), Thomas du Toit. Reserves: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Etienne Oosthuizen, Tera Mtembu, Charl McLeod, S’bura Sithole, Tonderai Chavhanga.
Straight after that match the action is in Sydney, where the all Australian semi sees the Waratahs take on the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium. #WARvBRU
If the record this year between the two previous teams was exciting, the one between these two is as well with honours shared in their two meetings. The men from Canberra burst the Tahs early season form bubble with a five point win in round 4, but their round 17 meeting saw the Tahs exact an horrific revenge on an injury-hit Brumbies with a 39-8 hiding. The Brumbies are coming off a close shave against the Chiefs last week that went right down to the wire and have named an unchanged team. Meanwhile the Tahs would’ve been watching closely on their week off and would’ve worked on fine-tuning their line out after seeing what the Brumbies forwards are capable of. Two big changes from their last game against the Reds see Israel Folau and Rob Horne come back into the side and the home fans will be expecting big things from both. Hilariously, it seems that aside from the usual animosity between neighbouring teams, there is a great deal of hatred of the Brumbies by the Tahs due to an incident on last years Wallaby tour of the northern hemisphere. It seems the Brumbies players were the ones who snitched on the rest of the team going out drinking before the Irish test, causing some of the offenders to be dropped.
Prediction: While they might still be dirty about the drinking incident, the Tahs should hold it together and will be too strong for this one in front of their home crowd. Waratahs by 12.
Man to watch: Cult hero lock Jacques Potgeiter has been a revelation this season for the Tahs, which is an apt way to describe him given his biblical appearance.
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (c), Stephen Hoiles, Kane Douglas, Jacques Potgieter, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Tola Latu, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Will Skelton, Mitch Chapman, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbon, Matt Carraro, Taqele Naiyaravoro
Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Robbie Coleman, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Ben Mowen (c), Jarrad Butler, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Leon Power, Ben Alexander, Josh Mann-Rea, Scott Sio. Reserves: Ruaidhri Murphy, Ruan Smith, Allan Alaalatoa, Fotu Auelua, Tom McVerry, Michael Dowsett, Joe Tomane, Pat McCabe.
There it is, two more games and then the grand final. I’m picking a Waratahs/Crusaders match up in Sydney, what do you all think?
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.