AUCKLAND, NZ: The local excuse for a newspaper is already consigning the Blues season to the garbage can, down in Christchurch they’re ringing the changes and the Hurricanes fans seem to be thinking ‘oh boy, we’ve got another long season coming up’. Yep, all the signs are there that it’s Rugby season in New Zealand again.
Observations from Week Two
- Marnitz ‘Das Boot’ Boshoff of the Lions has 60 points in two games. At this rate he’ll rack up 480 points by the end of the regular season (the record is 263 by Morne Steyn of the Bulls in 2010).
- Whose stupid idea was it to schedule the Crusaders game on the day BEFORE the anniversary of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake? Surely the Crusaders should have been playing on February 22nd, but good on Christchurch for turning out in big numbers to support their team regardless.
- Reader feedback: Guy Duncan from Sydney asked about the high injury toll in the first two weeks and wondered if teams are playing too many pre-season matches. I think while this may be a factor it’s more symptomatic of early season play where bodies haven’t taken a knock in a while and are more susceptible to injuries.
- Off the ball highlight of the week, Jamie ‘Whoppa’ Mackintosh shows Richie McCaw absolutely no respect and decks him in open play:
So we’re into another exciting round, starting with an NZ derby between two teams under more than a little pressure this week. It’s the Blues up against the Crusaders right here in Auckland. #BLUvCRU
Chris Noakes paid the price for a pedestrian performance first up and has been given the chop for Benji M…oh wait, Simon Hickey. Coach Sir John Kirwan has gone for the pint-sized kid to make his debut at 10 over Benji, which has left a few scratching their heads as to why Hickey is only in the wider training squad if he rates so highly this early in the season. A similar reshuffle at first five for the Crusaders sees Tom Taylor take over from the miserable Tyler Bleyendaal. There’s been calls down in red and black land to free up the ball a little more, so this game could end up being a good one.
Prediction: The Blues thrashed the Crusaders in the corresponding fixture last year, but I’m picking the Crusaders by 10 and some serious questions getting asked of the Blues next week.
Man to watch: Crusaders second five Ryan Crotty (right). Easily their best last week, the fringe All Black will benefit from a more open game plan.
The Cheetahs already have two games under their belt and are off on their Australasian tour, while the Rebels will be hitting the park for the first time when the two sides meet in Melbourne. #REBvCHE
This is where the Cheetahs surprised everyone last year by recording possibly the most successful excursion by a South African side in Super Rugby. They’ll fancy their chances against the Rebels, a side they’ve never lost to. The Rebels will have a huge task on their hands containing the Cheetahs pack but if they can manage that and get some field position they will benefit greatly from the accurate goal-kicking of Jason Woodward.
Prediction: The Cheetahs should have too much muscle for this one, they’ve defied the myth of SA teams inability to travel and will want to go back to Bloemfontein with some more scalps. Cheetahs by 12.
Man to watch: Rebels centre Tamati Ellison (right) might be writing the latest chapter in his book ‘How to be a Rugby Journeyman‘, but his Super Rugby form since returning from Japan has been more than solid.
If the Hurricanes pack have washed ashore from the Indian Ocean where the Sharks pushed them last week, then they’d better dry themselves off before they take on the Stormers in Cape Town. #STOvHUR
Obviously scrum time is going to be crucial if the Canes don’t want another embarrassing defeat like last week, but at least they’re playing a team that got flogged as well. The Stormers suffered some injuries to add to the insult of losing, most notably Schalk Burger, however they do welcome back Jaco Taute at fullback, who has the ability to spark their back line. The Canes will be looking for an improved all round game, lack of any sort of penetration last week needs to be addressed if they are to have any chance.
Prediction: This might be a heart over head pick but I think the Canes should click for this one.
However it’ll be low-scoring and won on Beauden Barrett’s boot. Hurricanes by 6.
Man to watch: Prop John Schwalger comes in to bolster the Canes front row and hopefully end the misery of the scrum getting walked backwards for 80 minutes.
The very banged-up Chiefs get home field advantage when they welcome the surprising Highlanders to Hamilton on Saturday night. #CHIvHIG
The biggest loss for the Chiefs will be at halfback, where they will be down to their third choice starter…whose name I don’t even know*. Whoever he is, he needs to give Aaron Cruden decent service to continue his up-tempo style that worked so well last week. The Highlanders will be missing lock and World War 1 veteran Brad Thorn and will need to find a way through the Chiefs punishing defense. The Crusaders only managed to do that by accident last week.
Prediction: Just how long the Chiefs can keep up with the rate of injuries they’re suffering remains to be seen, but I think they can find enough in the squad to pip the upstart Highlanders. Chiefs by 7.
Man to watch: Cruden (right). Being given the captaincy has unleashed some serious trickery in the little Chief, let’s see what he pulls out of the bag before the rest of his team falls apart.
NSW vs. Queensland. Mate against mate, state against state…oh wait, this isn’t State of Origin, but it should be a good game nonetheless. #WARvRED
The used to call this one the ‘State of the Union’, which I thought was pretty clever. The Tahs head into this one on a high, they couldn’t have asked for more in their first outing. They’ll need some more steady goal-kicking from Bernard Foley to make sure of this one and a couple more tries from Izzy Folau wouldn’t hurt either. The Reds will be feeling pretty good too, dispatching the a good Brumbies outfit last time out and will want to get the ball to Quade Cooper to unleash the Reds backs as early as possible. This one could be an epic.
Prediction: Are the Tahs for real this time around? We’ll find out later in the season but home ground advantage should be the deciding factor in this one. Waratahs by 1.
Man to watch: I could say Israel Folau every week when the Waratahs play but in the spirit of fairness I’m picking winger Alofa Alofa (below) because he’s so nice they named him twice.
The other Aussie teams are in action against one another when the Brumbies head over to Perth to take on the Force. #FORvBRU
The Force hardly fired a shot last week and I can’t see that changing against a Brumbies team that’ll be desperate to make up for a miscue against the Reds. Both teams have explosive wingers in Henry Speight (Brumbies) and Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins (Force), so they’ll be wanting to get them involved as much as possible. The Brumbies have a lot to play for if they want to repeat their lofty finalist achievement of last season, so it should start here.
Prediction: This is my pick for the game in which both teams should collect 4 try bonus points, but the Brumbies will get a couple more. Brumbies by 15.
Man to watch: Jesse Mogg. Because he can do this:
Well, I can let you in on where the Lions went when they took a year off Super Rugby. Turns out they hung out with a girl called Dorothy and visited the Wizard of Oz who gave them some courage. They’ll need it when they take on the Bulls in Pretoria. #BULvLIO
Unbelievably, the Lions go in to this game favorites to go to 3 from 3. They’ll most definitely play to their strengths, which will be a healthy diet of forward play and kicking, while the wingers may as well try their luck asking out the cheerleaders. The Bulls will be hoping that home ground advantage can kick-start their season, but it already seems their squad lacks any sort of experience it takes to make a serious attempt at making the play-offs.
Prediction: I wouldn’t have ever thought I’d say this but this is the easiest game to pick of the weekend: Lions by 12 (all penalties and drop goals).
Man to watch: New Bulls first five Jacques-Louis Potgeiter will have the weight of the entire Bulls franchise on him when he steps out to fill the gap left by scapegoat Louis Fouche.
Highlight of the weekend for me will be attending the Blues/Crusaders match on Friday night at Eden Park. If it’s as good as the game last year then it’ll be a cracking start to a more than interesting round of games. What do you think of my picks? Let me know if they translate to any sort of monetary gain, legal or otherwise.
* Turns out Tawera Kerr-Barlow is slotting back in at 9 for the Chiefs. At the time of writing he was still listed as injured. Good luck TKB!
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