AUCKLAND, NZ – It’s a funny old time for Super Rugby here in this part of the world. A couple of the bigger, historically superior teams have been knocked out of the comp (Blues and Crusaders), so a lot of rugby talk isn’t about the playoffs and who will win, rather the form of the individual players. Remember, it’s a World Cup year, so everyone’s trying to figure out who will fill the last few spots in the All Black squad. Plus there’s the fact that Hurricanes fans don’t want to jinx our team’s remarkable run so far.
The afore-mentioned Blues and Crusaders have had on-going coaching dramas this season, in the case of the latter a bit unfairly on the shoulders of Todd Blackadder. The former All Black captain has been copping it mercilessly despite having a pretty good record (two grand finals and five consecutive playoff appearances), which says a lot more about the high standards of the organisation. Meanwhile the Blues have completely painted themselves into a corner with Sir John Kirwan, leaving their decision as to whether to continue on with him to such a late date that it’s almost a forgone conclusion that they will. Given most coaches capable of taking over Kirwan’s role will be involved in the World Cup, none are likely to commit so close to the tournament. Also after it’s finished will be too late as they will need longer than that to start rebuilding the team’s shattered reputation.
Dylan Hartley continues to be NZ rugby’s gift that just keeps giving. As in, giving out stupid penalties and reasons to get suspended. The Tauranga-born England test hooker again proved why he’s not at all missed by his country of birth by head butting Jamie George in last weekend’s English Premiership semifinal. This means he’ll be banned for all of England’s warm up tests and first RWC game, which in turn leaves a massive question mark over whether he’ll be selected at all. Given that his accumulated suspensions now total over an entire year, I wouldn’t be risking it. The guy is nothing but a liability.
Speaking of liabilities, how about this from French fullback Yoann Huget? What the hell was that about? I mean, at least he had the good manners to (sort of) apologize, but that’s got to be the worst act of thuggery this year. Remember, this is a guy who got done for the highly un-rugby-like crime of faking an injury last year, so it just goes to show that cowardice is one of Huget’s main personality traits.
On a lighter note, while the Hurricanes on field results have been fantastic, their high-five game needs a bit of work. Blade Thomson managed to slap himself in the face after Dane Coles’ try last weekend, this bit of footage made it around the world to entertain even those who’ve never seen a game of rugby before in their lives.
Super Rugby Round 16 Fixtures:
At Trafalgar Park, Nelson: Crusaders vs. Hurricanes #CRUvHUR Prediction: Canes by 15
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Brumbies vs. Bulls #BRUvBUL Prediction: Brumbies by 6
At Kings Park, Durban: Sharks vs. Rebels #SHAvREB Prediction: Sharks by 8
At Rugby Park, Invercargill: Highlanders vs. Chiefs #HIGvCHI Prediction: Highlanders by 3
At nib Stadium, Perth: Force vs. Reds #FORvRED Prediction: Force by 3
At Newlands Stadium, Cape Town: Stormers vs. Cheetahs #STOvCHE Prediction: Stormers by 18
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Lions vs. Waratahs #LIOvWAR Prediction: Lions by 1
The Blues have got the bye, so no one will be complaining about them (much) this week.
Otere Black will get another run in the Canes’ number 10 jersey after an impressive display last weekend against the Blues. He’ll be marking Dan Carter in their match up in Nelson. This should be a pretty open game given that the home side have nothing to lose and Carter needs to impress before the All Black season.
The Chiefs’ interesting treatment of the McKenzie brothers continues in their match against the Highlanders in Invercargill. Older brother Marty takes over at first five despite an excellent performance there last week from Damian, who shifts to fullback. Meanwhile their injury ward is again reaching World War 1-like levels, with Johan Bardoul, Michael Allardice, Brodie Retallick, Matt Symons, SBW, Tom Marshall, Augustine Pulu and, crucially, captain Liam Messam all out this week.
Robbie Coleman returns to the starting Brumbies side to face the Bulls. He’ll slot in at second five with Christian Leali’ifano filling in at 10 for the injured Matt Toomua.
The Sharks finally return home after a luckless overseas adventure, but they’ll have to face the Rebels without Frans Steyn. They will, however, have Ryan Kankowski at the back of the scrum.
Game Of The Round: OK, they’re not playing under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, but the Highlanders and Chiefs have a history of great clashes. In fact, they can lay claim to perhaps the greatest passage of play in a Super Rugby game ever back in 2013. This is a huge game for both teams, the Highlanders could jump ahead of the Chiefs as the second-ranked NZ side and fourth overall on the table.
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