AUCKLAND, NZ – The final regular season round of Super Rugby 2015 is upon us and if you’re just joining us, where the hell have you been? While no teams outside of the existing top six can force their way into the playoffs, the Australian Conference title is still up for grabs between the Waratahs and Brumbies pending the results in their games against the Reds and Crusaders respectively. Meanwhile the Chiefs and Highlanders will find out which one of them will finish higher on the final table. But there’s been a bit happening off the field this week too.
The World Rugby Under-20 championships are happening right now in Italy and it’ll be scant consolation to Blues fans that two of their (rare) success stories from this horrible season are carrying on their good form at international level. Winger Tevita Li and loose forward Akira Ioane have been standouts for the ‘Baby Blacks’ in the tournament so far, Li getting across the tryline twice in their win over Ireland. In fact, all scorers for NZ in the 25-3 victory are currently on Super Rugby contracts, Blake Gibson (also from the Blues) nabbing a try as well and Otere Black (Hurricanes) doing the goal kicking. It’ll be an interesting clash of national development as a great deal of the French U-20 side are already on the books of Top 14 or ProD2 sides.
The Stormers have potentially dodged a bullet with controversial former All Black coach John Mitchell passing on taking the helm from 2016 onwards. Mitchell is remembered in this part of the world for his spiteful relationship with the media (describing them as ‘fleas’ and ‘lizards’), leading to some truly baffling responses while being interviewed. His most famous soundbite was when he repeatedly referred to the All Black season being a ‘journey’, after which he’d often trail off into nonsensical metaphors. Ironically, this was after he’d been brought in on the reputation of his ‘no-nonsense hard-man’ playing style.
If the Crusaders wider training group thought they were going to be eating gumbo and passing out beads on Bourbon St in August, they might be in for a bit of a let down soon. With news that the NRFL has canned the Independence Cup match between the Leicester Tigers and a ‘Rough Riders’ All-Star team, clouds of doubt are seriously forming over the scheduled match at the Superdome between the Crusaders and Saracens. NZ Rugby will most probably pull the pin on their support for the venture very soon, to protect the Crusaders brand from being involved in a potentially farcical situation involving an empty stadium and a bunch of no-name players. NZR are rabidly protective of their image and won’t want to be associated with an essentially unsanctioned game that will bring them little benefit, especially now that it seems that the NRFL wishes to operate outside the protocols of both USA Rugby and World Rugby.
Super Rugby Round 18 Fixtures:
At Eden Park, Auckland: Blues vs. Highlanders #BLUvHIG Prediction: Highlanders by 15
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels vs. Force #REBvFOR Prediction: Rebels by 12
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies vs. Crusaders #BRUvCRU Prediction: Brumbies by 3
At Yarrows Stadium, New Plymouth: Chiefs vs. Hurricanes #CHIvHUR Prediction: Canes by 8
At Allianz Stadium, Sydney: Waratahs vs. Reds #WARvRED Prediction: Tahs by 20
At Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria: Bulls vs. Cheetahs #BULvCHE Prediction: Bulls by 16
At Kings Park, Durban: Sharks vs. Stormers #SHAvSTO Prediction: Sharks by 6
The Lions get to go on holiday early with their bye.
There’s an interesting side-plot to the Chiefs/Canes game on Saturday. You see, back in the day New Plymouth and the surrounding Taranaki area was part of the Hurricanes area, but the union decided a couple of years ago to throw their lot in with the Chiefs instead citing unhappiness that the Canes didn’t play there often enough. So it’s not without a decent dose of irony that the biggest Chiefs game they’re hosting this year is against their former team, with a sell out crowd expected. All eyes will be on SBW on his return from injury.
The Blues can sort of rest easy, Malakai Fekitoa has been ruled out of the Highlanders side to play them on Friday night. Sort of because the visitors will still have Auckland cast-off Waisake Naholo, who will be more than motivated to rub some more misery into the Blues awful season.
Will Skelton will be looking forward to throwing his considerable 140kg bulk at the Reds in the match they used to market as the ‘State Of The Union’. He’s coming off a two week suspension, the Tahs potentially need a bonus point win if the Brumbies can get up over the Crusaders the night before.
Notice I picked the Sharks to get up over the Stormers, that’s because the visitors are fielding a second-string team in preparation for the finals (they’ve resigned themselves to having already missed out on a home playoff). Meanwhile the home side is at full strength and will be desperate to send off Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis as well as Willem Alberts with a win before they head overseas next season.
Game Of The Round: Even though the Canes will end up on top no matter what, they’ll be keen to shut down the Chiefs after their contentious victory a few weeks back. It’s also highly likely this won’t be the last time they meet this year either, the next time could be the grand final. Both are banged up, but it should still be a highly entertaining game with the winner taking a great step in winning the hearts and minds of the Taranaki fans.
Last round before the playoffs, but for a lot of players it’s the last round altogether before they either don their national colours or go on a nice little break. Enjoy the footy wherever you are this weekend!
That’s it for now! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.