AUCKAND, NZ – It’s a very special round of Super Rugby in this part of the world this weekend. Saturday April 25th is not only ANZAC Day here in New Zealand and Australia, it’s also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the battle we commemorate on that date. ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a joint military formation made up (mostly) of men from our two countries that fought in World War I firstly during the Gallipoli campaign, so it’s appropriate that some of the games over the weekend are between Kiwi and Aussie teams.
SANZAR dropped the ball a little bit last year by not allowing the national anthems to be played before the kick off in the Brumbies/Chiefs game. But, to their credit, they’ve realised the importance of the occasion this time around and have sanctioned full ceremonies before every trans-Tasman game. It’s worth noting that 13 All Blacks and nine Wallabies were killed in action during the war. One Wallaby player, Blair Swannell, was killed on the day of the ANZAC landing itself.
Anyone who follows NZ rugby would now have heard about the cruel season-ending injury Aaron Cruden suffered in last weekend’s win over the Crusaders in Christchurch. It seems every RWC year seems to not be a good time to be a first five in contention for the All Blacks (unless you’re Stephen Donald). Attention has now become firmly focused on the form of Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade and the fitness of Dan Carter. But I’m sure Steve Hansen hasn’t deleted Donald’s number from his phone just yet.
It seems like it’s been a week of people casting doubts on the pull of the All Black jersey to keep players in New Zealand. Fellow columnist James Harrington had this to say on the situation in his piece about French clubs opening their chequebooks of late. Yes, the flow of players has been a little more strong than usual of late, but this isn’t really worth getting too worried about given that this happens after every RWC. The team in NZ that should be concerned the most will be the Crusaders, not the All Blacks, given that all of their first fives are going to be leaving at the end of the year.
Really bad news for Jason Woodward. The returning Hurricanes fullback has struggled for game time since moving back from the Rebels this year, so turned out for his club side the Upper Hutt Rams on Saturday. He probably should’ve stayed in the clubrooms and had a beer but instead he managed to break his leg out on the field, meaning his season is over. This will prove to be a test for the Canes’ depth chart, but their regular fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder has been in such good form there’s talk of an All Black call-up later in the year.
The Brumbies have made an interesting signing this week, with former Arizona State TE Chris Coyle set to give the game without pads and helmets a crack. Coyle was once a member of the Houston Texans and has harboured a desire to play pro rugby when he was cut from the roster. It’ll be a move that will be pretty closely watched by US rugby fans and, if successful, could signal more US recruiting by Australian teams.
Los Pumas first five Nicolas Sanchez is the latest big name to join Agustin Creevy at the new Argentinean Super Rugby team that will commence playing next year. He described after signing as ‘a mixture of feelings’, let’s hope one of them is commitment to a pretty tough cause.
Super Rugby Round 11 fixtures:
At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton: Chiefs vs. Force #CHIvFOR Prediction: Chiefs by 20
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies vs. Highlanders #BRUvHIG Prediction: Brumbies by 12
At AMI Stadium, Christchurch: Crusaders vs. Blues #CRUvBLU Prediction: Crusaders by 15
At ANZ Stadium, Sydney: Waratahs vs. Rebels #WARvREB Prediction: Tahs by 15
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions vs. Cheetahs #LIOvCHE Prediction: Lions by 5
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers vs. Bulls #STOvBUL Prediction: Stormers by 3
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Reds vs. Hurricanes #REDvHUR Prediction: Canes by 20
There’s a McKenzie starting for the Cruden-less Chiefs this weekend, but it’s not the impressive Damian who filled in at 10 earlier this year. Dave Rennie has gone with his journeyman older brother Marty, possibly at the urging of the boys’ parents, who want to avoid any arguments later in life about who the coach’s favourite was.
Gamblers beware: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has taken the opportunity to rest his All Blacks for this fixture against the Brumbies. Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa will all take one half of their mandatory two-week stand down in anticipation of the international season.
Twins will be in the starting XV for the Brumbies on the other side of the field. While the (not related) All Black Smiths watch from the sideline props JP and Ruan Smith will pack down in the front row.
Prop Coenie Oosthuizen has been ruled out of the Cheetahs side to play the Lions this weekend in what will most probably be one of their last chances to make a meaningful run to the playoffs.
Game of the round: It seems a bit odd given that all the attention will be on the ANZAC fixtures, but the match you want to watch this weekend will actually be the clash of the South African Conference heavyweights. The Bulls and Stormers have had some mighty battles over the years, including squaring off in the 2010 final at the 94,000 seat Soccer City Stadium. Man, I really miss those vuvuzelas (said nobody ever).
So on a weekend of remembrance let’s hope we get to see some footy action we’ll never forget. If you are heading out to the dawn services, stay warm! #LestWeForget
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