AUCKLAND, NZ – It’s do-or-die for a few teams this weekend in Super Rugby, most notably the Crusaders. Their 2014 grand final rematch with the Waratahs in Sydney is a straight elimination game, meanwhile the Stormers have a fantastic opportunity to jump ahead of the Bulls in the South African conference. The Hurricanes can rest easy, they’ve sewn up the number one seed with three rounds to play but still will be eager to flex their new-found dominance over their local rivals heading into the final.
The Super Rugby Crusaders and English Premiership Saracens will do battle in August in New Orleans, continuing a rivalry that stretches back to the First Crusade (although the stakes were much higher back then). Hmmm, given the fact that the troubles in the Middle East by the two sides that these teams are named after are very much still going, kinda raises questions about the appropriateness of those names, doesn’t it? Anyway, the unlikely timing and venue should probably serve as a warning to anyone going that they aren’t going to be seeing Richie McCaw, Kieran Read or even Nemani Nadolo, given that’s when the international season is in full swing. In fact, the Crusaders will be so under-strength they’ll be fielding guys from their development team (and probably below), who are more used to playing in front of crowds made up of their parents and girlfriends. Saracens will most probably be the same, but who knows, it may be a decent game.
Super Rugby refs copped it big time last week and the main culprits have paid the price. Glen Jackson has been demoted to running the touchline while Vinny Munro has been told to go find something else to do altogether for their part in the Hurricanes/Chiefs controversial finish last week. Over the ditch Rohan Hoffmann has been handed a flag and told not to make any more mistakes after he hilariously told the Sharks it was halftime against the Tahs. Problem was that it wasn’t, meaning that the visitors had to play out a lineout five metres from their own line instead of about 40.
The Cheetahs awful 2015 Super Rugby season was obviously too much for coach Naka Drotske to bear. The former Springbok hooker is going to split with two weeks to go in the season, in all honesty no one will probably hold it against him (or even notice) the way they’ve been playing.
Super Rugby round 15 fixtures:
At Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua: Chiefs vs. Bulls #CHIvBUL Predicton: Chiefs by 10
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Reds vs. Sharks #REDvSHA Prediction: Reds by 12
At Eden Park, Auckland: Blues vs. Hurricanes #BLUvHUR Prediction: Canes by 20
At ANZ Stadium, Sydney: Waratahs vs. Crusaders #WARvCRU Prediction: Tahs by 5
At nib Stadium, Perth: Force vs. Highlanders #FORvHIG Prediction: Highlanders by 15
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Cheetahs vs. Lions #CHEvLIO Prediction: Lions by 8
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers vs. Rebels #STOvREB Prediction: Stormers by 16
The Canes have changed their entire front row for their match against the Blues, with Chris Eves, Dane Coles and Jeff To’omaga-Allen replacing (the suspended) Reggie Goodes, Motu Matu’u and Ben Franks. Jeremy Thrush takes over as skipper for the rested Conrad Smith, while Ma’a Nonu will equal Tana Umaga’s record as most-capped Hurricane with his 122nd appearance.
The Chiefs loss to the Canes last weekend wasn’t just limited to the scoreboard, they’ve had to call in veteran Ross Filipo to lock their scrum along with Johan Bardoul. Injuries have hit the Chiefs engine room hard, they’ll be in for a real test against Victor Matfield and the Bulls.
Ben Smith will play his 100th game for the Highlanders against the Force in Perth. The man they call ‘Bender’ (not for the same reasons that British schoolboys use the term), has been outstanding this season, which is highly impressive given that tag can be placed on the past two years as well.
‘The Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira comes back in for the Sharks for the (mercifully) last act of their Australasian tour. The same can’t be said for Quade Cooper for their opponents, the Reds, who will once again rely on rookie Jake McIntyre at first five.
Game of the round: Given the implications for both teams, the Tahs/Crusaders clash at Sydney Olympic Park should be played at a pretty high level of intensity, If it’s anywhere near as dramatic as last year’s grand final, won 34-32 by the home side, it’ll be well worth staying up for.
Enjoy the footy wherever you are this weekend, I’ll be back with a comprehensive wrap as Super Rugby surges to it’s climax in 2015.