AUCKLAND, NZ – Right, apparently now it’s officially the footy season, even though Super Rugby has been going for eight solid weeks now. For those who came in late: the Hurricanes are running the show with an unbeaten record, the Australian conference is dominated by the Brumbies and in South Africa the Bulls are starting to show signs of championship potential. Before we get into the preview there’s been a bit happening down in this part of the world off the field.
In a shock move, All Black Charles Piutau has signed with Ulster with his contract beginning after the World Cup. They gave him 2 million reasons to give up the chance to potentially play against the British Lions, for the All Black Sevens team in the Olympics but also, unfortunately for him, any participation in the big show at the end of the year. Rumour has it that Steve Hansen will most likely rule him out of contention for the RWC squad and pick someone who has committed to NZ rugby for the long term. It’s pretty hard to not think that the Blues shocking run of form lately may have been a factor in Piutau’s decision, ironically his spot next year will be filled by none other than Rene Ranger, who has just returned from a similar overseas adventure.
Former All Black midfielder Daryl Gibson has been appointed full-time coach of the Waratahs, taking over from Michael Cheika, who will now focus on the Wallabies. It’s been an interesting career path for Gibson, proving that you don’t need to graft away in NZ or go and work wonders in Wales or Ireland to make it as a Kiwi coach.
Super Rugby Round Eight:
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Hurricanes vs. Stormers #HURvSTO Prediction: Canes by 15
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels vs. Reds #REBvRED Prediction: Rebels by 8
At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton: Chiefs vs. Blues #CHIvBLU Prediction: Chiefs by 20
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies vs. Cheetahs #BRUvCHE Prediction: Brumbies by 13
At King’s Park, Durban: Sharks vs. Crusaders #SHAvCRU Prediction: Crusaders by 3
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions vs. Bulls #LIOvBUL Prediction: Bulls by 9
All Black midfielder Ma’a Nonu will become the first back to play 150 Super Rugby games when he runs out for the Canes on Friday night. He’s played for two other teams in his career, the Blues and Highlanders.
Karmichael Hunt will make a low-key return to the Reds bench against the Rebels after sitting out a six-week suspension for possession of cocaine.
In a time when everyone seems to be getting concussed, it’s Tony Woodcock’s turn. The Blues and All Blacks prop will sit out their match against the Chiefs, but given the way the Blues have been going this year, it’s not going to make much difference.
Nine months ago Dan Carter decided to knock his wife up, so he’ll miss this weekend’s game against the Sharks while the result of his marital bliss is delivered this weekend. It’ll be the second child for Carter, the timing of this baby thankfully means there’ll be no interruptions of this sort once the RWC rolls around (well, none that he’d want anyone to know about, anyway).
Game to watch: The Chiefs and Blues have played some classics in the past, none more so than this match in 2012. Yes, the Blues aren’t up to much but that doesn’t mean this game won’t feature some decent footy.
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