AUCKLAND, NZ: Well a big fat apology is in order; I couldn’t bring you the regular review of round 7 due to crazy work commitments. But enough sniveling, let’s talk Super Rugby!
Hurricanes 29 Crusaders 26. Freakin’ awesome game, exactly the one I was crying out for in my preview last week. Sealed by the best individual try this year by Alapati Leuia:
Rebels 32 Brumbies 24. Banana skin moment for the Brumbies, they let their guard down against a resurgent Rebels. Big night for Jason Woodward, who bagged a team record 27 points for the Rebels.
Blues 30 Highlanders 12. The Blues got it going finally on both sides of the ball with some sweet tries and decent defense. Highlanders were very shabby and never looked like scoring.
Reds 22 Stormers 17. The Reds did just enough to get past a tired Stormers and will have to lift considerably in their next few games. Stormers looked relieved to be off home at the final whistle.
Bulls 34 Chiefs 34. Big shootout in Pretoria saw the Chiefs claw back three tries in the last 10 minutes and clinch a draw. Some great skills on display in this one.
Sharks 32 Waratahs 10. Hyped match of the round turned into an ill-tempered fizzier as the Sharks dominated from the kick-off. Judiciary had their hands full after this one.
Idiot of the week: Me, for not informing you of all this till now!
So, with that out of the way it’s time to focus on this weekend and hopefully another exciting round.
We start in Dunedin where the Highlanders meet the Rebels. #HIGvREB
The Highlanders will be licking their wounds after a pants-down hiding last week and unfortunately run into a team with their tails up in the Rebels. Unpredictability has been a hallmark of both these teams so far this year, so hopefully both show up ready to run the ball. The Highlanders welcome back Gareth Evans to the side of the scrum while the Rebels have a change on their flank too with Sean McMahon coming in. Whatever the result, the Highlanders can still claim to have the only roof in Super Rugby when the game is finished.
Prediction: Due to the up and down nature of both of these teams, I’ll say the Highlanders are going up and the Rebels are going down. Highlanders by 15. (Got the win right, points wrong: Highlanders 33-30).
Man to watch: Highlanders and incumbent All Black halfback Aaron Smith must be keeping an eye on the good form of a few other number 9’s in NZ right now, so I’m picking him to start lifting his game in this one.
Over the ditch in Canberra on Friday the Brumbies play host to the Blues. #BRUvBLU
Two sides with proud Super Rugby histories look to reclaim a little glory in a match that has more than a few story lines to it. The Brumbies will be furious they fell apart against the lowly Rebels last week but will be even more anxious at the fact that they are suffering casualties at an almost World War 1-like rate. Their patched together team will have their hands full against a Blues outfit coming off back-to-back wins and actually starting to look like the championship contenders they were touted as at the start of the season. Blues halfback Bryn Hall had a huge game last week filling in for Piri Weepu and linked well with another young find in first five Simon Hickey. Canberra has traditionally been a graveyard for visiting teams, but the Brumbies may have to start resurrecting a few corpses if they get any more injuries.
Prediction: This will be a close one that’ll most likely come down to goal-kicking. I think the Blues have found their self-belief and should take this one. Blues by 10. (Got that one wrong! Brumbies 26-9)
Man to watch: Francis Saili returns to the Blues bench with an uphill battle to get his starting spot back. He should rise to the occasion and show off the skills that goyt him into the All Blacks last year when he gets on the field.
On Saturday night in Napier the Hurricanes welcome the Bulls to their non-traditional venue. #HURvBUL
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett’s week got just that bit better when he learned that not only has he been overtaken by Todd Blackadder as the coach most likely to lose their job at the end of the season, also he got couple of injured players back for this game. Victor Vito and Brad Shields return to add some power to the loose forwards, while Tim Bateman’s comeback was short-lived and he is replaced by form back Alapati Leuia at second five. The Bulls must have got lost on their way to NZ because they only arrived yesterday and for some reason Victor Matfield has decided not to play on this tour unless he has to and has named himself co-coach instead. So that tells you how seriously they are taking this game.
Prediction: The Bulls have a history of being atrocious travelers and I don’t see their reputation being enhanced in this game. Hurricanes by 20.
Man to watch: In keeping with our theme of All Blacks with a point to prove, Hurricanes wing Cory Jane falls into that category when he comes back into the side. Watch for the trademark defense and fend.
Later on Saturday night the Reds battle the Force in Brisbane. #REDvFOR
The Reds may be taking this game a little more seriously after the Force have shown they’re no easy-beats so far this year. Reds wing Rocket Rod Davies plays in his 50th Super Rugby match while the other wing is Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, who is playing his first. The Force hopefully haven’t spent their bye-week getting hammered and ahead of themselves, the season still has a long way to go and they need some more good results to make their season a success. This is a perfect opportunity to get over a team that has been bullying them since their inception, so they’ve brought back Number 8 Ben McCalman to the starting side after his suspension.
Prediction: Aussie derbies are generally tight, boring encounters, but I’m picking this one to buck the trend and contain more than a few tries. As well as this, I reckon the boys from Perth will get up for an upset. Force by 6.
Man to watch: No All Blacks in this game (apart from Alby Mathewson), but keep an eye on Kiwi Jayden Hayward at fullback for the Force. He’s been in good touch so far and will have plenty to do in this game.
The South African leg of this week starts in Bloemfontein, where the Cheetahs square off against the Chiefs. #CHEvCHI
Another team coming off a bye is the Cheetahs, although they certainly won’t have been in the same mood as the Force last weekend. Their run of home matches doesn’t get off to an easy start against the defending champs, who showed some real mental fortitude to come back and draw in their last match. Fullback Gareth Anscombe gets a start for the Chiefs, as well as halfback August Pulu, two quality players. The Cheetahs have lost Number 8 Phillip van der Walt with a broken hand and he is replaced by Jean Cook. Their season so far has been about as disappointing as a bad blind date so far this season, so expect the crowd for this one to be pretty sparse.
Prediction: The Chiefs showed enough last week to suggest they can overcome their injury obstacles and potentially do a three-peat. Chiefs by 18.
Man to watch: Chiefs winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma could get plenty of ball in this game and he certainly knows his way to the try-line.
Over in Johannesburg the Lions entertain the Crusaders. #LIOvCRU
One thing that is a little unfair about the discussion about their loss to the Hurricanes last week is that fact that the Crusaders actually played really well. Hopefully they have realized this as well because they’ll need some confidence against the Lions, who will fancy their chances at home. They come off their bye week with a largely unchanged team and the knowledge that they’ll at least get scores in multiples of three thanks to their goal-kicking machine Marnitz Boshoff. The Crusaders lose one All Black lock in Luke Romano, but can afford to replace him with another one in Dominic Bird. The Lions will be keen to bank as many points as they can before they have to head offshore, so they’ll be fired up for this one.
Prediction: This is the toughest game of the round to pick, with the Lions playing some effective footy and the real Crusaders yet to be seen yet in 2014. I’m going for an upset in this one as well, Lions by 3.
Man to watch: Crusaders wing Johnny McNicholl dotted down twice last week and is really repaying the selector’s faith in him over Zac Guildford this season. Look for him to get a couple more here.
Last game of the round sees the Stormers meet the Waratahs in Cape Town. #STOvWAR
I’m not sure what if the Waratahs had a flat tyre on the way to the game, had an undercooked breakfast or maybe just got up on the wrong side of the bed last week but they were an angry bunch of men. Unfortunately this did nothing to help them so hopefully they can keep their emotions in check this time. They’ll be hoping Israel Folau can make it into the side as well as Kurtley Beale. The Stormers have lost captain Jean de Villers to injury as well and desperately need a big game to restart their season.
Prediction: The Waratahs have an absolutely disgraceful record in South Africa in recent seasons and I think this will be in the back of their minds. The home side will be so happy to be playing back in Cape Town they’ll put in a big performance. Stormers by 9.
The Sharks get the weekend off so here’s a pic of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks NRL team’s cheerleaders:
So there’s another weekend of footy to look forward to. Apologies again for my slackness but I’ll be more on to it next week, I promise. Special shout out to all my American rugby friends who can celebrate making the next World Cup, well done to the Eagles and all their loyal fans. I see you’re not in the All Blacks pool, probably a good thing.
Let me know what you think of my picks, so until next week have fun catching all the Super Rugby action.