AUCKLAND, NZ – I’ve spent all week getting made fun of for getting more of my picks last week wrong, but honestly, who out there actually did pick the Rebels to beat the Crusaders? Or the Force to get over the Waratahs? Or…I could go on. So it is with much trepidation that I venture into the preview for week two of Super Rugby.
Reds utility back and star recruit Karmichael Hunt has been arrested and charged with drug trafficking. From The Guardian Australia:
He was charged along with two other men and a woman whom the CCC (Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission) said had been “identified allegedly arranging the supply of cocaine during an ongoing drug trafficking investigation”.
“The CCC will allege that during an investigation focused on a cocaine trafficking syndicate operating in south-east Queensland, these four individuals were identified contacting the syndicate and arranging for the supply of cocaine,” it said.
The CCC further alleged: “The three men and one woman arranged for the supply of cocaine for personal use or to on-supply cocaine to friends and colleagues between June and December 2014.”
This is massive news, obviously ruling Hunt out of any further participation in Super Rugby for the time being. We’ll have updates as the story unfolds.
Just one thing before we get into it: last weekend’s Sunday night match between the Tahs and Force kicked off rather late in the piece for us here in NZ and I missed the opening stages. Which was highly unfortunate, as then the winner of the Idiot Of The Week would’ve been a highly memorable one. Last year we all got a lot of joy out of Nick Cummins and his antics, so it was great to see another Force winger providing us with something to laugh at. Marcel Brache should’ve been the first Force player to score a try in 2015, but somehow forgot which way was down.
Round two action kicks off at Yarrows Stadium, New Plymouth, where the Chiefs run out in front of their (recently acquired) home crowd for the first time against the Brumbies. #CHIvBRU
Easily the two most impressive teams in week one don’t have to wait long to determine bragging rights. Star Chiefs rookie Damian McKenzie is rewarded for his great effort last weekend by getting dropped, but the guy who’s replacing him is no slouch. Aaron Cruden has a bit of a point to prove after a sloppy finish to 2014, he’s joined by captain Liam Messam at blindside and former All Black wing Hosea Gear gets his first run in a Chiefs jersey. The Brumbies, meanwhile, have one key man missing with flanker and captain David Pocock out with injury. Prediction: The Chiefs looked impressive last week and should only get better at home and with some key men back. Chiefs by 8. Man To Watch: Seta Tamanivalu should come off the bench at some stage to earn his first Super Rugby cap, he should look to continue his outstanding form from last year.
Over the ditch straight afterwards and we’re at AAMI Park, Melbourne, home of the Rebels. They’re meeting a wounded Waratahs side. #REBvWAR
If the Waratahs thought they could get an armchair ride to the top of their conference, they got a rude reminder last weekend that they shouldn’t take anything for granted against their ‘mates’. Especially when the team they are playing this week pulled off a shock result of their own. The Rebels will have their tails up but they got mixed results at the judiciary this week, losing halfback Nic Stirzaker to suspension but having big number 8 Scott Higgenbotham cleared to play. The Tahs have resisted making wholesale changes, putting out a similar XV to last week but with probably a polar-opposite approach to a team they should, on paper, wipe the floor with. Prediction: Even with home ground advantage, this Rebels team should run out of luck against a Tahs side deeply embarrassed last weekend. Tahs by 9. Man To Watch: Tahs winger Taqele Naiyaravoro got through quite a bit of work despite his team barely having any good possession, look for him to feature up the middle of the park.
Saturday morning action is at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria. That’s where the Bulls will be looking to bounce back against the Hurricanes. #BULvHUR
The shock of the Canes taking out their first game and the Bulls dropping theirs last week makes this match a little bit more interesting than more forecasters would have thought. Both teams have made changes in the loose forwards, the Canes one being a little odd with Ardie Savea getting dropped for the unheralded Callum Gibbons. Savea’s treatment by the selectors has had many scratching their heads, with his career seemingly put on hold for his own protection for some reason. Pierre Spies will pull on the 8 jersey for the Bulls in his first Super Rugby start in well over a year, he’ll also captain a side stung by their upset loss to the Stormers. Jesse Kriel also replaces Jurgen Visser at fullback. Prediction: The Canes are on a roll, even if it is only one in a row. All the old fans are brushing off the misery of so many disappointments over the years and daring to hope and, for better or worse, I’m one of them. Hurricanes by 5. Man To Watch: For the first time in four season Ma’a Nonu will pull on a Canes jersey and team up with his old mate Conrad Smith. All is forgiven for your Highlanders and Blues ventures, Ma’a (if you play well, that is).
On Saturday we’re at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin where the Highlanders and Crusaders look to reach the same heights as their classic encounter last season. #HIGvCRU
If this game is half as good as the last time they played in this stadium, this will be well worth watching. In fact, I implore all of you to watch the highlights of that game anyway, as it was probably the best game played in any competition in 2014. The big talk this week has been over the fact that Dan Carter will not be playing and exactly how serious his leg injury really is. He’s replaced by Colin Slade at first five with Israel Dagg moving into the starting XV at fullback. Interestingly, despite Andy Ellis being available, Todd Blackadder has stuck with rookie halfback Mitch Drummond for this week. The Highlanders had last week off and start the season with a pretty inexperienced tight five, but they’re no stranger to fielding young players. Ben Smith and Nasi Manu share the captaincy duties and will both look to have strong games first up. Prediction: There’s just something a little off about the Crusaders right now, what with injuries and hardly looking like the team they should be last week. The Highlanders will see that they’re ripe for the picking. Highlanders by 3. Man To Watch: Another guy the Blues didn’t want who ended up at the Highlanders, Waisake Naholo could be to 2015 what Malakai Fekitoa was last year.
The next game is all the way over at nib Stadium, Perth. The Force will look to continue their good start when they battle the Reds. #FORvRED
Well, here’s one that features teams with contrasting fortunes. The Force’s afore-mentioned heroics over the Waratahs means that their already under-strength side now has a dangerous levels of confidence and have only lost one key player in prop Pek Cowan to a neck injury. That confidence is justified given how awful the Reds were last week in their hammering in Canberra, the major change for them sees wandering soul James O’Connor being rushed into the first five position quicker than you can say ‘Karmichael Who?’. The Force should be wary of their first half lineout woes last week and can probably ill-afford to repeat that too often, although unless the Reds make a gigantic improvement then they’re unlikely to trouble them in this department. Especially since whatever the Super Rugby referees have against the Reds seems to be still going strong. Prediction: The home side should win this one running away. Force by 15. Man To Watch: Even though he’s probably not talismanic enough to turn this team around in one week, James O’Connor’s return will be interesting.
Overnight the action moves to South Africa, Newlands Stadium in Cape Town to be precise. That’s where the Stormers will show down against the Blues. #STOvBLU
Another team coming off a shock win last week (there’s a lot) is the Stormers, who not only dealt to the Bulls on their own turf, but did so in quite clinical fashion. The bad news for their opponents is that they’ll probably be in even better shape this week, with no injuries and the possible return of loose forward forward Siya Kolisi and winger Kobus van Wyk. This will be causing headaches for Blues coach Sir John Kirwan, whose side couldn’t even muster a try against the Chiefs at home last weekend. Don’t expect too many changes, while the Blues were disjointed their was enough in their performance to suggest that they could go on to improve. Prediction: Going to South Africa is tough enough without running into a team in form. It’s even tougher when you’re not in form either. Stormers by 8. Man To Watch: Demetri Catrakalis had a season in 2015 that could be best described as frustrating, so it’s good to see him back in some good form in week one at least.
Round two finishes off at Kings Park, Durban, where the Sharks will look to take a bite out of the Lions. #SHAvLIO
That’s if the cowardly Lions don’t get some courage and draw first blood themselves. A week ago this game would be pretty predictable, but since both teams lost (on the part of the Sharks, in shocking fashion) last weekend, there’s a bit more to this one than most would have thought. The Lions had all the ball but couldn’t get on the scoreboard against the Hurricanes, their biggest concern is that points machine Marnitz Boshoff can shake whatever was in his boot out that was making him miss kicks last week that he would normally get with his eyes shut. Meanwhile the Sharks defense will what they would have been working on during the week, giving up 35 last weekend would’ve hurt. They’ve made a few changes with S’bura Sithole, Mouritz Botha and Beast Mtawarira given the flick, replaced by Odwa Ndungane, Lubabalo “Giant” Mtyanda and Dale Chadwick. Prediction: Unfortunately, the Lions probably don’t have the firepower to match the Sharks who, while still losing last week, still put 29 points on the board. Sharks by 10. Man To Watch: Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis makes his first appearance in 2015, he should provide some inspiration to the home side.
The Cheetahs get an extra week to enjoy their first round win, perhaps they’ll have another braai to celebrate. Again, Super Rugby will take a backseat to the Cricket World Cup happening right now in NZ and Australia, with a blockbuster game tomorrow in Wellington between the Black Caps and England taking up the attention of most kiwi sports fans. Oh well, it is still February after all.
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, Jamie Wall, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.