AUCKLAND, NZ – Round nine already? Super Rugby really has ripped along at a great rate of knots in 2015. If you’re just joining us: the Hurricanes remain remarkably unbeaten, the Brumbies are the best of the Aussies and the Bulls are leading the way for the South African sides, despite having a loss last week to the plucky Lions. Before we get into this week’s preview, it’s worth noting a few things that have been going on off the pitch.
A couple of former All Blacks have been in the news this week, one for all the wrong reasons. 100-test veteran and former captain Mils Muliana has been questioned by Welsh police over an alleged sexual assault that happened earlier this year. While the matter is still before the police, it’s provoked a seriously embarrassing response from certain sections of NZ society. NZ Herald columnist Dana Johanssen had this to say about the sad state of affairs.
Meanwhile Brad Thorn has announced his retirement from top level footy at the remarkable age of 40. Thorn boasts potentially the greatest resume in rugby union AND league, having won a Rugby World Cup, NRL Premiership, State of Origin series and Super Rugby title. Oh, and a Heineken Cup, ITM Cup and lifted the Ranfurly Shield. He remains one of the most popular All Blacks of all time, however it’s interesting to compare his public perception with that of a man with a very similar career, Sonny Bill Williams. While SBW is routinely labeled a ‘mercenary’ and ‘overrated,’ people tend to overlook the fact that Thorn walked out on NZ rugby in 2001, abruptly returning to the Brisbane Broncos rather than touring the UK with the All Blacks. FYI, this is not a criticism at all of Thorn or SBW, they are professional sportsmen who are completely entitled to do whatever they like with their playing careers.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is in hot water for opening his mouth again, but at least this time it’s not because of a foul-mouthed sideline tirade. Cheika apparently approached ref Jaco Peyper to talk about scrum interpretations at halftime of the Tahs victory over the Blues a fortnight ago and the Blues, which is completely against the rules in any form of the professional game. While Cheika is pleading ignorance to having knowledge of that rule, it seems whatever they talked about did in fact have an effect on the penalty count in the second half in a game the Tahs won after a controversial yellow card to Jerome Kaino in the 70th minute.
Argentina’s yet-to-be-named new Super Rugby team has signed it’s first player and he’s a pretty important one. National captain and hooker Agustin Creevy will no doubt attract some of his Pumas team mates to the new venture, but it will undoubtedly be a tough first season for a team that has to travel halfway across the world for any of their away games.
Super Rugby Round Nine Fixtures
At Eden Park, Auckland: Blues vs. Brumbies #BLUvBRU Prediction: Brumbies by 5
At AMI Stadium, Christchurch: Crusaders vs. Highlanders #CRUvHIG Prediction: Crusaders by 4
At Allianz Stadium, Sydney: Waratahs vs. Stormers #WARvSTO Prediction: Tahs by 15
At nib Stadium, Perth: Force vs. Cheetahs #FORvCHE Prediction: Force by 8
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions vs. Sharks #LIOvSHA Prediction: Lions by 6
At Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria: Bulls vs. Reds #BULvRED Prediction: Bulls by 20
The Hurricanes will stay unbeaten after this round, as they’ve got the bye. They’re joined by the Rebels and Chiefs who put their feet up as well.
The high-flying Lions have made four changes to the team that toppled the Sharks last week, including a recall for halfback Faf de Klerk.
The ruggedly handsome veteran Tahs centre Adam Ashley-Cooper makes his return from a knee injury this weekend in Sydney against the Stormers. The two-try hero from last year’s Super Rugby grand final has only played one and a half games so far in 2015.
All Black prop Owen Franks will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance for the Crusaders on Saturday night. Franks and his brother Ben (currently with the Hurricanes) run a chain of gyms around NZ which teach, among other things, SAMBO sport fighting. SAMBO is a martial art developed in the former Soviet Union, which may explain the brothers propensity to throw opposition players out of rucks at a great rate of knots.
Game of the Round: Despite coming up against the top Australian Conference team, the Blues may well have their best chance of winning this weekend. The reason? They’re back at Eden Park, a venue they’ve only lost at once in the last three years. Note I said they have their best chance at winning, not they actually will, as you can see in my predictions. These two teams have a history going right back to the early days of Super Rugby, including the grand final in 1997, when the Blues were a much more successful organization. Here’s a high scoring encounter from 2010:
There you go, cocked, locked and ready to rock for Super Rugby Round Nine. Enjoy the footy wherever you might be in the world!
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