AUCKLAND, NZ – Four rounds to go so it’s officially crunch time in Super Rugby 2015. If you’ve been turning a blind eye to rugby in these parts of the world, here’s the state of play: the Hurricanes are currently outright leaders with a game in hand of their nearest rivals, the Chiefs. Those two finally meet this weekend in one of the most highly anticipated games in Super Rugby history. The Stormers have wrested tenuous control over the Bulls for the lead in the South African conference, but both should be mindful of the surprising Lions. Meanwhile the Brumbies will have a interesting couple of weeks trying to maintain their one-point lead over the Waratahs in the Aussie conference.
If the Canes needed a reminder to not get cocky, all they have to do is take a look at what was happening at this stage last year. The common perception was that all the Sharks had to do to take their first ever title was show up, such was their dominance up until that point. Unfortunately, the players started believing it too and shock losses to the Stormers and Cheetahs meant they limped into the playoffs badly wounded. By then it was no surprise that they got rolled by the Crusaders in the semi final, that’s how quickly things changed. Given that the Canes assistant coach is John Plumtree, formerly of the Sharks, I’m pretty sure that case-study has been drilled into their heads relentlessly this week.
Whoops, looks like Waisake Naholo wants to play for the All Blacks after all. Problem is that last month he signed a contract with Clermont starting at the end of the Super Rugby season, so word is he’s trying to get out of it for a potential trip to the World Cup. That, plus his value for an overseas contract once he does decide he wants to go will go up a fair bit since he’d be a capped All Black. In other Naholo-related news, he’s out for the game against the Cheetahs with an injury.
The Blues coaching saga continues, with Sir John Kirwan’s latest plan to bring in former All Black Tabai Matson as his assistant and eventual successor hitting a snag – Matson doesn’t want to. Like the scene in Empire Strikes Back when Luke rejects Darth Vader, Matson has decided to stay at the Crusaders (although both teams could be considered the Dark Side by the rest of NZ rugby fans). The Blues board has now delayed the announcement of their coaching future till August, which is making the situation more and more ridiculous. The longer it goes, the more it looks likely Kirwan being reappointed, so it just seems like the powers-that-be are just waiting for the announcement (and any potential criticism) to be overshadowed by the all-important All Black season.
Super Rugby Round 14 Fixtures:
At Eden Park, Auckland: Blues vs. Bulls #BLUvBUL Prediction: Bulls by 10
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Reds vs. Rebels #REDvREB Prediction: Rebels by 6
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Hurricanes vs. Chiefs #HURvCHI Prediction: Canes by 5
At Allianz Stadium, Sydney: Waratahs vs. Sharks #WARvSHA Prediction: Tahs by 15
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions vs. Brumbies #LIOvBRU Prediction: Lions by 10
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Cheetahs vs. Highlanders #CHEvHIG Prediction: Highlanders by 5
The Reds welcome back Karmichael Hunt, this time the former NRL star with try his hand in the centres for their game against the Rebels.
Another round of changes for the Blues, which has been the story of their season really. Most notable being a recall for Ben Lam on the wing and Jamison Gibson-Park at halfback.
Noted pretty-boy Ryan Tongia gets Waisake Naholo’s spot after the latter’s afore mentioned injury. However it’s the Cheetahs who’ll be doing it tough, losing both their halfback (Sarel Pretorious) and first five (Joe Pietersen) for this match.
Game Of The Round: No contest, it’s Saturday night’s clash in the capital between the Canes and Chiefs. In what might be a pre-cursor to the final itself, these teams have a rich history of exciting matches. Here’s the last time they met at Westpac Stadium, let’s hope the weather in Wellington improves over the torrential rain they’ve been having all week.
Super Rugby, end-game phase. Make sure you’ve got a sweet place to watch it all!
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