AUCKLAND, NZ – Two rounds to go in Super Rugby and the scramble is on to secure a playoff spot in every conference. The Hurricanes are still top of the table, despite a shocker last week against the Crusaders. Speaking of the Crusaders, I have an apology to make – I said they were officially out a couple of weeks ago, whoops! They still do have a chance as long as they get maximum points out of their last two games and a couple of other results go their way. The points shouldn’t be a problem this week (see why below), but before that there’s been a bit happening off the field before the weekend.
The All Blacks suffered another hit to their probable squad this week with Patrick Tuipolotu ruled out for the rest of the year with a hip injury. The door now opens for a lot of form lock/loose forwards, with the name on most people’s lips being the Hurricanes’ James Broadhurst. As well as him there’s his team mate Jeremy Thrush, and the Crusaders’ duo of Dominic Bird and Luke Romano. Adding to the intrigue is the possibility that Steven Luatua might be out of the World Cup as well, which will open that door even wider and leave room for a potential bolter.
At least the All Blacks are getting injured and not arrested or suspended, unlike the English. Hot on the heels of Manu Tuilagi taking a swing at a cop and Dylan Hartley headbutting the guy who’s going to now take his spot (beautiful irony there), everyone’s favourite car-wreck of a first five did just that and nicked for drunk-driving too. Yes, Danny Cipriani had not only just made his England recall after a solid season with Sale, but starred in their thumping win over the Barbarians with a man-of-the-match performance. Sadly, the man who is only rivaled by Zac Guildford for off-field stupidity spent the next few hours getting hammered then jumping in his Mercedes, which he ploughed into another car. Well done champ, you’ve just given Owen Farrell a big reason to smile and Stuart Lancaster a bit of a headache as he crosses out yet another name from his squad.
The rumblings of discontent are already starting with a rumours of the British & Irish Lions match schedule when they tour NZ in 2017. The visitors will be scheduled to play against the five NZ Super Rugby teams, which is a break in tradition of facing the historical provincial unions. This means that there won’t be any games outside the main cities, which will fuel talkback radio anger for a good year and a half.
Super Rugby Round 17 fixtures:
At McLean Park, Napier: Hurricanes vs. Highlanders #HURvHIG Prediction: Canes by 7
At nib Stadium, Perth: Force vs. Brumbies #FORvBRU Prediction: Brumbies by 15
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels vs. Bulls #REBvBUL Prediction: Rebels by 5
At Eden Park, Auckland: Blues vs. Crusaders #BLUvCRU Prediction: Crusaders by 20
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Reds vs. Chiefs #REDvCHI Prediction: Chiefs by 10
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Cheetahs vs. Waratahs #CHEvWAR Prediction: Tahs by 10
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers vs. Lions #STOvLIO Prediction: Stormers by 3
The Sharks get the bye.
The Blues have hit new lows in the personnel department, having to hand no less than four players their debut starts. Lock Will Lloyd, flanker Joe Edwards, fullback Matt Vaega and number eight Airi Hunt will all run onto Eden Park, the combination of both injuries and players being snapped up by the NZ U-20’s side currently playing in Italy at the World Champs.
Dominic Bird gets a chance to press his case for a return to an All Black jersey with a start for the Crusaders. Meanwhile, they back line that was so potent against the Hurricanes last week remains unchanged.
Jacques Potgeiter returns from injury to the Tahs’ bench for their game increasingly important game against the Cheetahs. Out on the wing Rob Horne’s suspension means Matt Carraro gets to stretch his 30-something year old legs.
In the equally important clash between the Force and Brumbies in Perth, Sias Ebersohn has paid the price for a garbage season (although it’s about 15 rounds too late). He’s been bumped out of the home team’s first five spot by Zack Holmes. Blake Evener comes in to lock for the visitors to cover for the injured Sam Carter.
Game Of The Round: The Lions desperately need to win against the Stormers and score four tries doing it. The last game of the round could potentially be the most entertaining, it’s also the Lions last game of the regular season as they have a bye next week. A win here will see them take the top spot in the South African conference for one week at least, then they get to sit back and nervously see if the Sharks can tip up the same opponents next weekend.
Crunch time is upon us in Super Rugby, while the Canes are sitting pretty it’s turning into a real scrap below them.
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