||Join us in a few hours as we head to Durban when the Sharks host the Cheetahs at 15.05 GMT (17.05 SA Time)|
||FULLTIME! McKenzie kicks the ball into touch and the Chiefs claim the victory!|
||Chiefs has possession back and are close to the Blues 22, keeping the ball among the forwards as they look to eat up time|
||The Blues have a line-out just inside Chiefs territory|
||The match has opened up now as the Blues look to sneak a late winner! Inside Chiefs territory now! TURNOVER! The Chiefs manage to snuffle the attack and hoofs the ball back down field!|
||McKenzie puts Lowe through a gap before he hands it off to Pulu. The ball is kicked through and crosses the try line but Visinia manages to touch the ball down and it's a 22 metre drop out for the Blues|
||Now the Blues knock it on to hand the Chiefs the feed to the scrum on their 10 metre line|
||Chiefs with ball in hand on their 10 metre line but the knock it on! The momentum seems to shifting towards the Blues now as the crowd gets behind their team|
||West retains his 100% record with his 6th successful kick of the match|
||5 metres from the line now. PENALTY! Chiefs are caught offside. West will line it up to have a shot at goal|
||Visinia gets the ball and kicks the play back into the Chiefs 22 for a line-out! The Blues steal it and are in prime possession to strike|
||The throw-in is not straight and the Blues will have the feed to the scrum on their 22|
||It's getting a little scrappy now as the ball seems to have become a hot potato! PENALTY! Blues are penalised for diving onto the player on the ground. The ball is popped into touch on the Blues 22|
||MISS! McKenzie fails to restore the lead. 22 metre drop-out to the Blues|
||Chiefs have turn over possession inside Blues territory and place a grubber kick just shot of the Blues 22. PENALTY! Chiefs force the Blues to hold onto the ball and concede the penalty. McKenzie will line up another shot at goal|
||West continues to knock them over for the Blues as they look to claw their way back into the match|
||PENALTY! The Blues are placing all the pressure on the Chiefs at scrum time! West will have a shot at goal|
||Lowe gets under a high ball but can't hold onto it! Scrum to the Blues just outside the Chiefs 22|
||Massive shove from the Blues! PENALTY! Their hard work comes to nothing as they concede a penalty for going in on an angle|
||The ball finds Visinia on the left touchline and he has a crack at the Chiefs defence. He fails to hold onto the ball in the tackle and the Chiefs will have the scrum feed inside their 22|
||PENALTY! Chiefs wheel the scrum and are penalised. The Blues pop the ball into touch inside Chiefs territory! Symons returns to the field|
||The attack comes to nothing as the Chiefs knock the ball on! Scrum to the Blues close to their 22|
||The Chiefs have made it into the Blues 22 but a chip kick coughs up possession. The Blues attempt to release some pressure but will have to defend a line-out just outside their 22|
||The Blues look dangerous with ball in hand and have made their way into the Chiefs 22. TURNOVER! The Chiefs win the ball back and launch an attack of their own|
||He makes the kick look so easy and restores the 11 point lead|
||Chiefs look to hit back straight away as they make their way up to the Chiefs' 22. PENALTY! The Blues fail to roll away this time and McKenzie has a chance to add 3 points|
||WEST slots the penalty to reduce the deficit to 8 points|
||PENALTY! YELLOW CARD! Matt Symons is given his marching orders for not rolling away at the breakdown! They were warned in the first half|
||Blues have started the stronger of the sides as they make their up to the Chiefs' 22|
||KICK-OFF! McKenzie gets the second half underway!|
||HALFTIME! What an entertaining match thus far as the Chiefs dominated the half. Let's hope the Blues don't fold when they return to the field|
||West slots his third penalty of the match from right in front.|
||PENALTY! Chiefs fail to roll away at the breakdown and the ref has a word with their captain. The TMO has been called on to have a look at an off-the-ball scuffle! It's just hand bags, nothing major|
||Sonny Bill Williams breaks the Blues defensive line again but can't link up with a teammate. Blues attempt a counter and have a line-out on the Chiefs' 10 metre line|
||McKenzie finds his radar again and slots the penalty from about 50 metres on the angle|
||PENALTY! The Blues are their own worst enemy, giving away too many penalties at the breakdown. McKenzie lines up another kick at goal|
||The cow bells makes no difference as West grabs his second penalty of the match|
||The Blues have made their way up the field and come up just short of the 22. PENALTY! Chiefs are penalised at the breakdown. West will have a shot at goal from 30 metres|
||It has the legs but not the direction as he misses his first kick of the match|
||PENALTY! Jerome Kaino is penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown. McKenzie will have a crack from 50 metres this time|
||Pressure is mounting on the Blues as they can't seem to hold onto the ball long enough to launch a meaningful attack|
||McKenzie makes a break through the Blues defence, gives the pass to Williams who hands it off to Lowe but the wing spills it! Ominous signs for the Blues|
||This youngster has the radar locked! Splits the uprights once again|
||Chiefs are all over the Blues at the moment! PENALTY! Blues penalised for being off their feet at ruck time. McKenzie will have a shot at goal from 43 metres|
||McKenzie slots his second conversion of the match|
||Sonny Bill Williams latches onto a chip kick by Weber and gives the ball to Bryce Heem, who scores in the corner! The Blues defence was nowhere to be seen.|
||Damian McKenzie makes no mistake with his first kick in Super Rugby!|
||TRY!!! Williams sends James Lowe down the left touchline and the wing brushes off a few tackles to brag the first try of the match|
||Issues at scrum time for both sides as neither team can get a decent hit. Front rows failing to keep their bind|
||No problem for West as he gets the Blues' first points of the season! Splits the uprights!|
||PENALTY! Chiefs are caught offside and West will have a shot at goal from the 22|
||PENALTY! Blues get the first penalty of the match on the halfway line. West finds touch just short of the Chiefs' 22|
||KICK-OFF!! Ihaia West gets the game underway!|
||The teams have made their way onto the field and we are about to get underway! The crowd erupts as the home side runs onto the park|
||It's a perfect day for running rugby! No rain predicted. Strap yourselves in folks! This is going to a bumpy ride!|
||The return to Super Rugby of the charismatic, skillful and dangerous Sonny Bill Williams headlines the players to watch in this match|
||History suggests it will be another win for the Chiefs! They are unbeaten in 6 matches, over 3 years, against the Blues. 3 of which have come in Auckland|
||Welcome to the 4th match of the 2015 Super Rugby Season! The Blues are at home against The Chiefs!|
The first Saturday of the Super Rugby season will be consumed by local derbies. Jan de Koning looks at Saturday and Sunday's games.
The first Saturday of the Super Rugby season will be consumed by local derbies - intriguing encounters that will be a delectable mix of brute and brains.
The day's drama starts when the three-time champion Blues host the two-time champion Chiefs in Albany.
We then head across the Indian Ocean to South Africa for two more derbies - the Sharks at home to the Cheetahs - both looking to put last year's disappointments behind them, the Sharks after being knocked out in the semifinals and the Cheetahs after failing to reproduce their sublime 2013 form when they reached the play-offs for the first time in history.
The day's action is concluded with the big north-south derby between the Bulls and Stormers in Pretoria - a game steeped in tradition and an encounter that seldom disappoints.
On Sunday the spotlight shifts to Sydney - where the big questions centres on Michael Cheika and his ability to juggle both the Waratahs (Super Rugby) and World Cup (Wallaby) jobs.
Cheika brought a first Super title to Sydney after building a side stacked with Wallabies including Benn Robinson, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau.
Their main competition in Australia should come from the Reds, who have hired New Zealand-born code-hopper Karmichael Hunt and given another chance to wayward back James O'Connor.
We look at Saturday and Sunday's matches!
Saturday, February 14:
Blues v Chiefs
(North Harbour Stadium, Albany - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The return of serial code-hopper Sonny Bill Williams headlines the encounter in Albany.
His obvious talent aside, many wonder of he will be the spark that brings the Chiefs a third Super Rugby title in four years.
Williams, back from yet another stint in Rugby League, will hope to not just add another Super Rugby title, but also a World Cup gold medal to his collection this year.
With Williams grabbing the headlines, the absence of a trio of All Blacks stars - flyhalf Aaron Cruden, flank Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick - almost slipped by unnoticed.
They are sitting out as part of the agreement with the New Zealand Rugby Union to 'manage' key players ahead of the World Cup.
It won't be the first time the two teams have met this year. Both sides travelled to Whangarei on January 29 for the first of the pre-season games.
Blues coach John Kirwan admitted that his team must improve "significantly" after the blitzed them early in the game and then held on in the second half for a deserved win.
"However, it served a good purpose," Kirwan said, adding: "It gave me the other coaches some valuable pre-season knowledge about how the team was performing.
We know, this weekend we need to make sure we nail our execution, individual skills and urgency around the park."
The day after the Blues play the Chiefs, they will be travelling to South Africa for a two-game tour.
"With that in mind, I'm placing huge emphasis on the opening match,""Kirwan said, adding: "I'm expecting them to go out and give everything they've got. It's like a final for us."
2014: Chiefs won 11-8, Auckland
2014: Chiefs won 32-20, Hamilton
2013: Chiefs won 26-16, Auckland
2013: Chiefs won 23-16, Mount Maunganui
2012: Chiefs won 41-34, Auckland
2012: Chiefs won 29-14, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs have just a 46 percent win rate against compatriots when playing away from home, while the Blues boast a 63 percent win rate against fellow New Zealand sides at home. The Chiefs are enjoying a seven-match winning sequence over the Blues. In their last 14 games of last season, the Blues followed back-to-back defeats with two consecutive victories. The Chiefs have won their season opener in each of the last two seasons. The Chiefs had the worst discipline in 2014, conceding a competition-high 12.8
penalties per game. This may well be the only away win of the weekend - the Chiefs to sneak it by less than 10 points.
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 George Moala/Hamish Northcott, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (captain), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacments: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott/Ben Lam.
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Johan Bardoul, 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacments: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Bryce Heem.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Sharks v Cheetahs
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
It is a game in which both teams will be searching for answers to questions that have been troubling them since last year.
The Sharks dropped out at the semifinal stage of both the Super Rugby and Currie Cup competition - with the former a particularly big let down, given the star quality of their playing roster.
Sharks coach Brad Mcleod-Henderson, determined to see his charges finally go on and claim a Super Rugby title - having been runners-up four times, losing semifinalists four times and lost in the preliminary stages of the play-offs once.
While not advocating a complete change in gameplan, McLeod-Henderson admitted there need to be some adjustments.
"You also want to play smart and do what is working for you," he said.
"If the opportunities are there we want to be able to take them, but we still need to make sure that we are doing the basics well, defending well, our set pieces need to function and we need to make sure that we are accurate at the breakdown.
"If we do all those things I am sure it will be an exciting game."
He added that they will not really focus on results too much, but are more focused on their performances.
"If we play to our potential I am sure we will get off to a winning start," the coach said.
The Cheetahs, who will hope to put a disappointing 2014 behind them, have turned to Stormers import Joe Pietersen to solve their flyhalf problem - a result of Springbok Johan Goosen's departure to France.
With Elgar Watts still working his way back to full fitness after a lengthy injury lay-of and young Willie du Plessis a touch too raw for the bruising Sharks, Pietersen is the man entrusted to guide the Cheetahs.
"Joe has impressed since joining us and has earned his start against the Sharks," Drotské said.
"We are eager to see how he performs in Durban."
The loss of three Springboks to the Bulls - hooker Adriaan Strauss, prop Trevor Nyakane and flank Pieter Labuschagne - could be the most telling blow for the Bloemfontein-based outfit.
While Springbok fullback Willie le Roux will be at his post against the Sharks, flank Heinrich Brüssow and centre Johann Sadie have not been considered for the Sharks game after their stint in Japan.
2014: Cheetahs won 27-20, Bloemfontein
2014: Sharks won 19-8, Durban
2013: Cheetahs won 12-6, Durban
2013: Sharks won 29-22, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 34-15, Durban
2012: Sharks won 34-20, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Sharks have won six of the last eight matches between the sides, but the two defeats in this sequence came in 2013 and 2014. The Cheetahs have won three of seven away games against the Durban-based side. The Cheetahs last won their opening fixture of the year in 2007, since then they have lost all seven Round One matches. The Sharks have started each of the last two seasons with a victory, including a win over the Cheetahs in 2013. The Sharks also beat the Cheetahs on the opening day in 2011. The Sharks conceded 17 turnovers per game last season, more than any other side in the competition. There is no doubt the Cheetahs have the ability to beat the Sharks, but the home team just seem to have too much class - the Sharks by 10 to 15 points.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Jean Cook, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Minnie.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 BG Uys, 18 Nicolaas van Dyk, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Johannes Prinsloo, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Bulls v Stormers
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The Bulls are determined to prove their detractors wrong and they could not have asked for a better opening-round test that their arch-rivals - the Stormers.
The three-time champions will be led into battle by veteran Victor Matfield in the absence of No.8 Pierre Spies - who starts on the bench as he eases his way back to full fitness.
The Bulls have spoken throughout the pre-season of a more attacking approach and Matfield again emphasised the point at a media briefing this week.
"We want to go out and score tries - if you don't score tries you won't win this competition," Matfield said.
"If you look at the stats each year, it is almost always the team that scores the most tries that wins it.
"So it is about scoring tries and we've worked hard on that, especially playing from broken field, so hopefully we can score some nice tries this year."
In Adriaan Strauss, recruited from the Cheetahs in the off-season, the Bulls may just find the spark that could ignite another successful campaign.
However, the Stormers have their own wrecking ball in No.8 and captain Duane Vermeulen.
For coach Allister Coetzee it is important that they don't have another slow start, as they did the last few years.
"It goes both way, it is the first game for them [the Bulls] as well," Coetzee told a media gathering in Cape Town.
"They are sitting with players who had just 10 and 20 minutes against Saracens [in a pre-season outing] - coming back after [being out injured for] some time."
He admitted that it is always tough going to Loftus Versfeld.
"It is our third year running that we have to play our opening match away from home," Coetzee said, adding: "We have to rectify that, after not getting off to a good start the last two years.
"Last year it was the Lions [at Ellis Park, a 10-34 loss] and in 2013 it was the Bulls [a 17-25 loss at Loftus].
"You ask any team playing away in their opening game, it is never easy - we have to rectify that.
"On top of that you have to go to altitude in the opening game - match fitness [or the lack of it] will be a factor.
"That is what we experienced against the Lions [in Johannesburg] last year - it is not an excuse, but it is a factor.
"We have to deal with it. We have a plan or two and hopefully that helps."
2014: Stormers won 16-0, Cape Town
2014: Bulls won 28-12, Pretoria
2013: Stormers won 30-13, Cape Town
2013: Bulls won 25-17, Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 19-14, Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 20-17, Cape Town
Prediction: The Bulls went unbeaten at home in 2014, winning seven and drawing one. They have lost just one of their last 19 at home. The Stormers lost seven of eight away matches last term, but their solo victory in that run of games came in their final away match of the season - a two-point squeaker against the Sharks. Defeat to the Sharks in the opening round of last season was the first opening weekend defeat tasted by the Bulls since 2007 (also against the Sharks). The Stormers lost their opening games in 2013 and 2014. There is no doubt the Bulls are a quality outfit at home and that gives them a slight. The Bulls should win, but it will be by less that 10 points.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen/Neethling Fouché, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Pierre Spies, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Sunday, February 15:
Waratahs v Western Force
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney Kick-off: 16.05; 05.05 GMT; 13.05 AWST)
Michael Cheika has the unenviable task of juggling both a Super Rugby (Waratahs) and international (Wallabies) coaching jobs.
For added spice they will have an enormous target on their backs after wining the Super Rugby title last year.
Cheika said that the season ahead would be about capitalising on the momentum of a positive pre-season, and building on a successful formula.
"The key thing for us is not to reinvent the wheel, we need to be very clear about the identity of the team and not think about the result," Cheika said at a media briefing this week.
"[We must] just think about playing the best rugby possible and enjoying ourselves - and making sure we're 100 percent committed.
"The squad have committed very well to everything we've asked them to do in the pre-season and they've prepared well. I'm lucky to have the whole squad to choose from for this weekend.
"For us to be successful this year we need to have two or three lads who weren't in the starting team last year to step up and put some pressure and claim a place in the side.
"We have to move forward, we have to keep driving forward and being competitive with each other and I think there are a few guys from the pre-season who have put their hand right up for selection this weekend."
Western Force coach Michael Foley said his side is looking forward to kicking off its 2015 season this weekend.
"Playing the champions at their home is a good test for us first up," Foley said.
"Having pushed each other day after day throughout the pre-season, the boys are keen to get the season started."
2014: Force won 28-16, Perth
2014: Waratahs won 43-21, Sydney
2013: Waratahs won 28-13, Perth
2013: Waratahs won 23-19, Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 23-18, Perth
2012: Force won 21-20, Sydney
Prediction: The Force was one of just four sides to defeat the eventual 2014 Super Rugby champions last season. The Waratahs went on a nine-match winning run at the end of last season, their previous best winning run stemmed just five games. The Force have won twice before in Sydney, but the The Perth-based franchise has lost its opening fixture of the season every year since inclusion to the competition in 2006. Bernard Foley, the top points scorer in Super Rugby last season, and Israel Folau will be the game-breakers for the Tahs. The Waratahs should have too much class and win by 10 to 15 points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Will Skelton, 4 David Dennis (captain), 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Stephen Hoiles, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Solomoni Rasolea, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (captain), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Luke Burton.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
By Jan de Koning