AUCKLAND, NZ – Week three of Super Rugby already? A few teams haven’t taken long to get a roll on while a few are struggling to get out of first gear. Before we have a look at another round of Southern Hemisphere rugby goodness, a lot’s been happening over the week that’s just gone.
While the Hurricanes fan base are getting to grips with the fact that their team is 2-0, there’s a bit of schadenfraude going on in yellow and black land over the fortunes of former coach Mark Hammett. He’s parted ways with the Cardiff Blues after not even seeing out his miserable debut season in the Northern Hemisphere, making his coaching future pretty murky. You don’t have to read between the lines much to know that it was never a very good fit for the former Crusaders and All Black hooker, despite plenty of talk from both camps about ‘respect’ and ‘putting family first’. If this is the last we see of Hammett in the top ranks it’ll be an ignominious end to a career that was deemed so important by the NZRU that they gave him the helm of the Hurricanes to stop him going overseas in the first place.
It didn’t take long for the judiciary to throw up some confusing rulings this season. Three NZ players have copped suspensions for foul play last week, however they’ve all received different sentences for essentially the same thing. Owen Franks, Hayden Triggs and Kane Hames all decided to let their fists do the talking but Triggs was the only one to have been issued a red card during the Blues/Stormers match, effectively costing his team the game. He got a one week ban, while Franks got two and Hames five. It seems the judiciary’s ruling took into account the ramifications Triggs’ actions had on the field, so the lesson here is if you want have fewer weeks off, wait till your team is losing and make sure the ref can see when you deck someone.
A lot of talk in Jamie Loyd’s excellent coverage of the rugby league World Club Championship (if you haven’t read it, you should!) regarding why union doesn’t have an equivalent. My answer to this is that union already does: an exceptionally strong international competition.
The weekend begins on Friday night at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin. That’s where the Highlanders will play the Reds. #HIGvRED
Can the Reds back up their impressive showing last week against all adversity? They’ll have their work cut out for them against the Highlanders, who have lost first five Lima Sopoaga for personal reasons and replaced him with new signing Marty Banks. He’ll square up against James O’Connor, who rainchecked his Reds debut till this week. Prediction: It’ll be a close game, but the home team should bounce back. Highlanders by 3. Man To Watch: Highlanders lock Tom Franklin is set to star in this year’s competition.
The next game is all the way over at nib Stadium in Perth, where the Force meet the Hurricanes. #FORvHUR
The Canes will be looking to make it three in a row and give their fans a reason to come back in droves to Westpac Stadium. They’ve fashioned a handy record over the years in Perth, something that hasn’t escaped the attention of the Force. Ray Lee-Lo steps in for Conrad Smith in the visitor’s backline, while James Marshall gets the nod at fullback. Meanwhile, cult-hero Nick Cummins will make his comeback to Australian rugby after a sojourn in Japan. Prediction: The Force of a Hurricane against the Force of a…Force? Tough one to pick, but I’ll take the Canes by 6. Man To Watch: Dane Coles will assume the Canes captaincy for the first time, good reward for an established All Black.
Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein hosts the next match, between the Cheetahs and Blues. #CHEvBLU
While the Blues will rue Hayden Triggs’ afore-mentioned moment of madness for last week’s result, on the upside they did show a bit of fight that stopped the game turning ugly scoreline-wise. They’ll need that again against a Cheetahs side that’ll still have their tails up after they beat the Sharks in round one then had a bye last week. One very notable change to the visitors sees Charles Piutau move into centre to get some much-needed ball in hand, while Luke Braid reclaims the spot he used to occupy as captain on the side of the scrum. Prediction: The Blues will continue to have just that into next week, Cheetahs by 10. Man To Watch: Jerome Kaino becomes the latest Super Rugby centurion in this match, he’s been one of the few shining lights in the Blues so far.
The big game on Saturday night is at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, where the Chiefs battle the Crusaders. #CHIvCRU
Well, this would be the big game, except there’ll be a World Cup Cricket match up here at Eden Park that night between NZ and Australia that will be occupying the nation’s attention on at the same time. So the poor Chiefs and Crusaders, despite being the two powerhouses of the NZ conference, will probably only be playing in front of their wives and girlfriends who haven’t ditched them for one of the Black Caps yet. Dan Carter’s still hurt, giving Colin Slade another opportunity to impress the national selectors. Meanwhile the Chiefs aren’t taking any chances, bringing back SBW, Augustine Pulu and Ben Tameifuna into the starting XV. Prediction: It’ll be close and both goalkickers will get a chance to win it. Chiefs by 2. Man To Watch: Crusaders number 8 Jordan Taufua has publicly stated that he’ll take on anyone who tries to ruffle Richie McCaw’s feathers.
Back over the Tasman next to AAMI Park in Melbourne, where the Rebels host the Brumbies. #REBvBRU
While the Rebels have been impressive so far in 2015, it’s hard not to think they’re about to cop a backlash of epic proportions from a Brumbies side who would feel hard done by in their loss to the Chiefs last week. However, they should probably chuck the ball to Christian Lealiifano to have a few more shots at goal this week than rely on their maul to score tries. The Rebels will continue to punch hard up the middle through Scott Higgenbotham, but need to shore up their defense to stop the clinical Brumbies getting within points scoring range. Prediction: Despite being at home, the Rebels will come undone. Brumbies by 12. Man To Watch: Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore will look to put an injury-plagued 2014 behind him when he gets his first start of the season.
Then we head back to the republic, Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria to be exact. That’s where the Bulls square off against the Sharks. #BULvSHA
Two of the traditional heavyweights of South African rugby will come out swinging in what has often been a brutal encounter in the past. The Bulls had two things last week in their loss to the Canes: Jack and Squat…and Jack left town. They need a serious adjustment if they are to avoid a third straight home loss in what should be a comfortable start to the season with a strong squad. The Sharks, meanwhile, have got over their shock loss to the Cheetahs with a tough win last week at home against the Lions and will look to crush the Bulls up front and in their scarily effective lineout drives. Prediction: The Sharks will look to improve on last week’s effort and will take this one. Sharks by 12. Man To Watch: Sharks flanker Marcel Coetzee had a ball last week at the back of the maul, he’ll play a prominent role in this one too.
The last game of the weekend is at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, where the Lions meet the Stormers. #LIOvSTO
There’s something a little different about the Stormers this year, they’re playing with a bit more swagger and determination. Even though they didn’t exactly set the world on fire against the 14-man Blues last weekend, they look a darn sight better than they did last season. Unfortunately for the Lions, they look just as bad as they’ve always been throughout their history and Marnitz Boshoff can’t even kick goals, taking away basically the only way they score points. This one should be pretty straight up and down. Prediction: If the visitors can hang on to their passes, this could get ugly for the Lions. Stormers by 20. Man To Watch: Oli Kebble had a strong game in the front row last week for the Stormers, if he can dominate up front they can get the quick ball they need.
The champion Waratahs get the week off to cool their heels and study up on the pretenders to their crown.
So we’re ready and set, all we need is the go button for round three of Super Rugby. Apologies for mentioning the Cricket World Cup again, my American masters have reprimanded me for daring to mention a sport that has the ability to confuse an entire continent. Let us now what you think will happen over the weekend or simply chime in with your thoughts. Till next time!
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