AUCKLAND, NZ – Here we go with a round that could really put the ‘Super’ into Super Rugby. I am of course referring to a couple of big name derbies on in all parts of the comp, firstly the Brumbies and Waratahs in Australia, the Hurricanes and Crusaders here in NZ and the Bulls and Lions over in South Africa. All matches could have conference implications so let’s just say all eyes will be on those three games. But let’s cast said eyes over what’s been happening this week off the field.
Are the Sharks tanking their games? As well as being fodder for witty wordplay like that, the somewhat out-of-the-blue accusation came from an NZ news site that offers one explanation for their shocking run of form of late. While it remains an unproven allegation, it is pretty interesting and asks a few questions about South Africa’s murky sports betting scene. Given that rugby would be one of the hardest games to try and rig, I would be highly surprised if there’s anything in the claims. However, given what’s happened in other sports it’s good to be as vigilant as possible.
Chiefs utility back Tim Nanai-Williams has pledged allegiance to Samoa to fulfill his dreams of playing in the 2016 Olympics. This means he could be picked for Manu Samoa’s one-off test against the All Blacks on July 8th in Apia. Being a former All Black Sevens representative, he took advantage of the strange eligibility loophole World Rugby opened up to get into the Samoa side.
Given that there won’t be any first fives left in Christchurch at the rate they are leaving these days, the Crusaders will welcome news that former playmaker Stephen Brett has indicated he may return to fill the gap next season. Since most NZ fans will probably be scratching their heads to remember who Brett is, he played 70 games for the Blues and Crusaders before trying his luck overseas once the dream of an All Black jersey finally died. Most female fans will probably have a clearer recollection of Brett’s pretty-boy looks.
Super Rugby Round 12 fixtures:
At Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin: Highlanders vs. Sharks #HIGvSHA Prediction: Highlanders by 15 (unless someone out there knows something I don’t?)
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies vs. Waratahs #BRUvWAR Prediction: Brumbies by 3
At Eden Park Auckland: Blues vs. Force #BLUvFOR Prediction: Blues by 8 (yes, you are reading that right)
At Westpac Stadium, Wellington: Hurricanes vs. Crusaders #HURvCRU Prediction: Canes by 5
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Rebels vs. Chiefs #REBvCHI Prediction: Chiefs by 15
At Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Cheetahs vs. Stormers #CHEvSTO Prediction: Stormers by 9
At Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria: Bulls vs. Lions #BULvLIO Prediction: Bulls by 6
The Hurricanes welcome back All Black hooker Dane Coles after a four week layoff with an elbow injury. He’ll come off the bench in this blockbuster game in which Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett brings up his 150th Super Rugby appearance.
Akira Ioane’s good form sees him get a start over Steven Luatua in the Blues game against the Force. He’ll be joined by Jerome Kaino in the loose forwards in a game that they’ve probably been looking forward to. Reason being they’ll go in as favourites for the first time in a while.
The Bulls might want to give their players some driving lessons after Dean Greyling and Hencus van Wyk managed to crash their car and injure themselves badly enough to miss this weekend’s match against the Lions.
If the Sharks are throwing their games they won’t have to try too hard against the Highlanders, who have made seven changes including their All Black trio of Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa.
Game of the round: The Hurricanes and Crusaders have had some classics over the years, plus one grand final that no one could see. Here’s a one-point thriller from 2013, complete with Dan Carter failing miserably at trying to get the victory with a drop goal.
Round 12 of Super Rugby promises to be pretty tantalizing, so make sure you take in as much of the action as possible.
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