AUCKLAND, NZ: Apparently it’s a big weekend for something called the 6 Nations, so most eyes in the Northern Hemisphere will be turned to that. Down here we’ve had our equivalent standard competition of the 6 Nations back in October, we call it the ITM Cup. Alright, blatant baiting aside, it’s also another big week for Super Rugby, where a couple of teams are finding themselves in must-win territory already. (Note: I refer to game times in NZ time)
One team with no such worries are the Chiefs, who welcome the Stormers to Hamilton on Friday night. #CHIvSTO
One thing the Chiefs may have to worry about though is their injury toll. If they can get through this season and win the comp again it’ll be an astounding achievement considering at this rate they’ll be playing it in wheelchairs. The Stormers will still be spewing over their one-point loss to the Crusaders last week and have looked miles better than their shambolic opening loss to the Lions lately, so hopefully they give the ball a bit of air and feed their Springboks. Especially Gio Aplon, who will have fond memories of Waikato Stadium after he got this stunner back in 2011:
Prediction: This is a really tough one but I feel that the Stormers are going to suffer another bummer of a loss in the dying stages. Chiefs by 3.
Man to watch: The first shout-out to a guy playing his 100th Super Rugby match this weekend, Chiefs flanker Tanerau Latimer. Yet another NZ open side who had the misfortune of timing their career to coincide with Richie McCaw’s, this is a guy who could walk on to any other international team in the world.
Later on Friday evening the Crusaders take a trip over to Melbourne to face the Rebels. #REBvCRU
The Crusaders may have pulled off a victory last week, but it hasn’t kept the questions coming about their imminent demise. Everyone seems to be forgetting that this is a team that dropped their first 3 last year as well and still made the playoffs, but oh well. The Rebels have had a massive win and a massive loss so far, so they’ll be hoping the seesaw tips back in their favor…for good. If it doesn’t this could be just what the Crusaders need to get their season back on track and shut a few mouths. The rest of the comp aren’t exactly screaming out for that to happen.
Prediction: The wagons have been circled this week down in Christchurch and I expect the red and blacks to come firing out and torch the unfortunate Rebels. Crusaders by 20.
Man to watch: Crusaders hooker Ben Funnell would’ve expected plenty of game time given Cory Flynn’s propensity to get injured, so he’ll look to cement a starting spot.
A nice early kick-off is a bonus for Hurricanes fans in Wellington when they take on the Cheetahs. #HURvCHE
Sadly, that’s about the only bonus Hurricanes fans have had this season. Calls to axe coach Mark Hammett have been getting louder all week, so hopefully the players have welcomed the break from criticism they should be getting too. The Cheetahs were gallant last week against the Reds, but showed some serous defensive frailties that the Hurricanes can exploit to not only win the game, but hopefully some fans too. If there’s one thing you won’t miss in this game it’ll be the amount of glaring empty yellow seats at Westpac Stadium, which is not a good look.
Prediction: This breaks my heart to say this but given the weather forecast for NZ this weekend (horrible), I can’t see the Hurricanes being able to do the one thing that’ll win them this game, which is freeing up the ball. Cheetahs by 9 (lots of kicks).
Man to watch: Second shout-out to a guy playing his 100th Super Rugby match this weekend, venerable All Black centre Conrad Smith. A man whose name has become synonymous with the term ‘text-book-tackle’, Smith has been a loyal servant to a franchise that should have given him at least one championship in his hard-working career.
The early kick-off in Wellington means we’ll follow up that game with the Highlanders squaring off against the Force in Dunedin. #HIGvFOR
No matter how bad the weather is in the rest of the country, it won’t make any difference in Dunedin’s lovely indoor stadium. They call it the ‘Glasshouse’, but I think a better nickname would be the ‘Garage’, given it’s large door at one end. The Highlanders come off their bye most likely chomping at the bit to get back into their work, but have been rocked by the terrible news of the forced early retirement of popular squad member Buxton Popali’i. The Force are coming off a stunning upset of the Rebels last week and know that any hope they have of winning will be done by running the ball.
Prediction: So, all that considered, this one will be my shoot-out of the week. There’ll be a lot of tries, some crazy skills and a lot of students getting drunk in the stands and trying to get on TV. After all that it’ll be the Highlanders by 15.
Man to watch: While a lot of scrutiny has been laid on every other NZ first five this season, Highlander Lima Sopoaga has quietly gone about his work effectively. Look for a break-out game here.
Across the Tasman Sea and the 3rd Saturday game where the Brumbies do battle with the Waratahs. #BRUvWAR
Can I get through another Waratahs writeup without mentioning Israel Folau? Damn, just did it. As well as featuring the best athlete in the comp, this match will also be another virtual Wallabies trial with the likes of Pat McCabe and Tevita Kuridrani from the Brumbies trying to outshine Adam Ashley-Cooper from the Waratahs. The Waratahs have always had a tough time in Canberra, winning there only twice, but they’ll be feeling confident after two big wins and a bye. The jury is still out on the Brumbies, they face a big challenge to take out the Reds for the other Aussie playoff spot.
Prediction: While their record in Canberra stinks, I think the Waratahs have too much momentum heading into this one. It won’t be a walkover like their last games, but a win nonetheless. Waratahs by 12.
Man to watch: Another guy who will need to play his way back into a Wallaby jersey is Waratahs centre Kurtley Beale. Look for him to find some consistency to match his amazing abilities in this match.
Overnight in South Africa we have two games, the first being the Lions meeting the Blues. #LIOvBLU
So far this season the most we have seen of Benji Marshall has been on ads for health insurance during halftime. Well that’s all about to change as Sir John Kirwan gives him a run at fullback in an obviously pre-planned move. As well as that change Chris Noakes comes back in at first five as SJK claims he is ‘creating competition’ for spots in the team. The Lions have switched back to their original first five too, trying to liven things up last week by bringing in Elton Jantjes obviously didn’t work so Marnitz Boshoff gets the nod there. This means the Blues better be very careful of giving away any kickable penalties, because Das Boot doesn’t tend to miss.
Prediction: Usually this game would probably skip the attention of everyone except the most die-hard Blues fans here in NZ, but plenty will be tuning in to see how Benji goes. I’m picking him to have a blinder, so Blues by 15.
Man to watch: There’s only one player anyone is interested in in this game and I’ve already mentioned him twice. A big game here could mean Benji can say goodbye to the ‘Benchie’ nickname he’s had since the start of the comp.
Last stop in week 5 is Durban, where the Sharks take on the Reds. #SHAvRED
The Reds have had a patchy start to 2014 and things don’t get any easier when they head to the form team of the comp’s home ground on Sunday morning. They’ll be relying on a return to form from halfback Will Genia and another display of generalship from Quade Cooper like last week. What they don’t want from last week is another porous display on defense because if they let the Sharks score 33 points, unlike against the Cheetahs, they’ll lose. The Sharks welcome back first five Pat Lambie, who has recovered from the very South African ailment of tick fever, but lose Pieter-Steph du Toit and Paul Jordaan to injury. The big Sharks pack have smashed everyone who has come to Kings Park so far, so the Reds have everything ahead of them if they are to come out on top.
Prediction: There is a reason that the Sharks are up the top of the table and it’s not the cheerleaders. Their bully-boy tactics will prove too much this weekend, so it’ll be Sharks by 18.
Man to watch: One player who will benefit from a big forward performance will be Sharks winger Lwazi Mvovo. Some good momentum will see him dot down.
Over in Pretoria the Bulls have the week off, which means it’ll be raining there this weekend.
So, there’s my thoughts on another upcoming round of Super Rugby. I was spot on with one pick last week, the Reds/Cheetahs game was a tryfest, so I can get them right every now and then. What do you reckon will happen? I’ve already braced myself for a backlash from Northern Hemisphere fans for bagging the 6 Nations, in fact I already copped it on Twitter this week for daring to criticize Brian O’Driscoll. Talk about hitting a nerve!
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