AUCKLAND, NZ: Seven weeks in already? That went pretty quick. Media focus down here in New Zealand is slowly having a look forward to the All Blacks upcoming test series against England, which will ignite a bit of interest in the Super Rugby comp as players battle to make the squad. To be honest, what this comp needs a bit of interest, because right now it’s a little bit…stale (yeah I said it).
What we’re missing this year is a game, player or weekend that shows everyone what Southern Hemisphere rugby is all about. What we’ve had so far has been stop-start, boring footy played at a low intensity and in front of equally low crowds. Are the teams pacing themselves? Have they got their eyes on national honors and overseas contracts? Are the rules making it harder for teams to play an attractive brand of footy? The NRL and AFL certainly couldn’t care less as they lap up any wayward attention in this part of the world.
- One thing that is wrong is the standard of officiating and it’s refreshing to see something done about it. Three whistleblowers were given the boot this week after garbage performances left many fans shaking their heads in disbelief. However, credit where credit’s due to SANZAR by taking the necessary punitive measures and not just burying their heads in the sand.
- Concussions are a major topic of conversation right now and rightfully so. Hopefully this will lead to some serious research being done on the topic and not just lip-service by the governing bodies.
So, into what might hopefully be a week that’ll kick-start some enthusiasm into Super Rugby. We start on Friday night with the hapless Hurricanes taking on the Crusaders in Christchurch. #CRUvHUR
The two teams under the most scrutiny so far in meet each other in a match that should provide a lot of tension at least. This fixture has a history of low-scoring, tight encounters and I can’t see this one being any different. The Hurricanes welcome back second five Tim Bateman for the first time this season, who replaces a disappointing Hadleigh Parkes. The Canes will be hoping to get on the board quick and stay in front due to the Crusaders inability to score points this year, so they’ll have to keep their discipline in their own half. The Crusaders are desperate to give Kieran Read a win in his 100th Super Rugby match and will just be happy with getting back to their clinical, ruthless style before the season gets too long.
Prediction: The Crusaders may or may not reach their high level of intensity they’re known for in this game but they’ll still win. Crusaders by 5.
Man to watch: As well as Bateman, the Hurricanes bring fullback Andre Taylor back in for his first start of the season. If the Canes get anything going in this one, it’ll be off the back of his broken play running.
The Aussie Friday night fixture sees the Rebels host the Brumbies in Melbourne. #REBvBRU
If the Crusaders are searching for that clinical style of play, they should probably ask the Brumbies. The very impressive outfit head into this one strong favorites and welcome back centres Tevita Kuridrani and Christian Lealiifano, although Lealiifano will come off the bench. The Rebels get fullback Jason Woodward back from injury and will be hoping his goal kicking can be used to pick apart a very impressive Brumbies team. This is an important time for the Rebels, a couple more heavy losses and their season might slip into oblivion.
Prediction: The Brumbies will be too good in this one. If anything the only problem for them will be the returning players slotting back into an already well-functioning unit. Brumbies by 18.
Man to watch: Brumbies wing Joe Tomane gets a great chance to impress after replacing Henry Speight. However, big ups to Speight for dealing with his injury in the manliest way possible.
Saturday night sees the Blues welcome the Highlanders to Auckland. #BLUvHIG
The Blues knew exactly what they needed to work on this week, so hopefully their defense will be a bit more technically sound when they meet a Highlanders team that can strike from far and wide. However, the Highlanders have a few problems of their own, most tellingly a lack of urgency from the kickoff and a shaky set piece. Hooker Liam Coltman has paid the price for this and drops to the bench for journeyman Ged Robinson in an otherwise unchanged team. The Blues have one major change, halfback Bryn Hall comes in to replace Piri Weepu who suffered a minor stroke this week. All signs point to Weepu making a speedy recovery, thankfully. The Blues will be hoping to have a week off having to deal with another refereeing blunder, so the heat will be on the man in the middle more than anyone else.
Prediction: This is a tough alright, neither side has shown the sort of firepower they are capable of in recent weeks. I think home ground advantage will swing this one, so Blues by 6.
Man to watch: One bright spot in the Blues season so far is their back three, so watch out for winger George Moala to take his turn to light it up.
Later on over in Brisbane the Reds host the Stormers in the late game. #REDvSTO
Now here’s two teams that’ve had a fair few gripes with officialdom lately, the Reds being on the wrong end of a shocking penalty count last week and the Stormers seemingly unable to buy any luck either. The Stormers morale had better lift itself for this one, the Reds are a difficult proposition at home at the best of times, even if they have lost flanker Liam Gill. He’s replaced by Beau Robinson while the Stormers bring centre Juan de Jongh into the starting side. The Stormers will be wanting to save the embarrassment of coming home empty-handed from their Australasian tour, but it’ll be a tough ask in the heat of Brisbane.
Prediction: The home team will get up for this one and restart their faltering season. Reds by 16.
Man to watch: Big Number 8 Jake Schatz has been in good form for the Reds so far this season, look for him to make some big yards off the back of the scrum.
Over in South Africa there are two games, the first in Pretoria when the Bulls go up against the Chiefs. #BULvCHI
Fresh off a shock loss to the Force last week, you could be forgiven for thinking the Chiefs have gone straight out of the frying pan and into the fire with a visit to the revitalized Bulls. Coach Dave Rennie has made sweeping changes to the starting side, the most notable being a debut for 18-year-old winger Anton Lienert-Brown. The Bulls welcome back their winger Akona Ngdungane in an otherwise unchanged lineup from last week. The Bulls will be full of confidence after their upset win over the Sharks last week and all be relying on their tried and true tactics of forward play, kicking and waiting for their opponents to make mistakes. The Chiefs should be wary of this, they are relying on an expansive game plan so far this year so better make sure their passes stick.
Prediction: Two very different teams so one very tough game to pick. I’m going with the home side, simply because of the number of penalties I see them being awarded. Bulls by 9.
Man to watch: Bulls winger Bjorn Basson has shown this season that off he gets a bit of a head start he’s got the gas to find open space.
Last game of the weekend sees the Sharks face the Waratahs in Durban. #SHAvWAR
What a match up this should be, hopefully it’ll be the afore-mentioned kick-start the comp needs. Two high-flying teams with quality players square off in what some are picking to be a preview of the final. If only Israel Folau was playing, but he’s back in Sydney. He’s replaced by Jono Lance and former Wallaby Rob Horne comes in on the wing for the visitors. Meanwhile Jake White has rung the changes following the Sharks loss to the Bulls last week, the most notable being Lwazi Mvovo getting a run at fullback. Pat Lambie’s injury means Vodacom Cup star Fred Zeilinga wears the 10 jersey, with Frans Steyn probably taking over the kicking duties. This one should draw a big crowd and hopefully entertain.
Prediction: I think this one will live up to the hype and have a test-match intensity. There might not be many tries, but the home team should scrape in. Sharks by 1.
Man to watch: All eyes will be on Fred Zeilinga and if he can fill the considerable gap left by the in-form Pat Lambie.
It’s a big bye-week this time with the Cheetahs, Force and Lions taking some time off to ice their injuries and plan for the weeks ahead. For the Force and the Lions they might even have a little party to celebrate already exceeding everyone’s expectations of them this season. However, the Cheetahs won’t be invited as they don’t meet the entry criteria.
Well there’s another bunch of picks for the weekend. Let me know if they are helpful, insightful, educational, or just dead wrong. Enjoy the footy this weekend wherever you might be.
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, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.