PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 13 - Part One
DERBY TIME: The Crusaders may be on a road trip to South Africa, but Friday is earmarked for two crucial derby matches.
The Hurricanes, who closed the gap to within six points of the table-topping Crusaders last week, travel to Auckland to take on the Blues.
You could not have asked for two more contrasting teams.
The Hurricanes – much like the Crusaders – are a team of consistency. They were champions in 2016, runners-up in 2015 and reached the semifinals the last two years.
They look a good bet for the play-offs again and certainly the Crusaders’ biggest threat.
The Blues last featured in the play-offs back in 2011 and have only finished in the top 10 once since, when they were ninth in 2017. To their credit, they would have finished eight had it not been for the farcical conference system that has been in place.
The second match is an all-Australia derby – the conference-leading Rebels hosting the vastly improved Reds in Melbourne.
The Rebels are currently third on the combined tournament standings, but it is again courtesy of the fatuous conference system. They should be seventh, on 24 points, the same as the ninth-placed Brumbies and two points ahead of the 10th-placed Reds.
Melbourne won’t be a place for the faint of heart.
Friday’s action concludes with the enticing fixture in Pretoria – the Bulls hosting the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld.
We look at Friday’s matches!
Friday, May 10:
Blues v Hurricanes
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Blues are looking forward to returning to their home, but there is sure to be some nerves ahead of the arrival of the Hurricanes.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he is challenging the side to put the last three weeks of indifferent performances behind, them as they face the Hurricanes for the first time this season – also the first of three back-to-back derby matches against fellow Kiwi sides.
“We are clearly disappointed with our overall performances in the last three games away,” MacDonald said of defeats to the Chiefs (29-33), Highlanders (12-24) and Brumbies (21-26) – all away matches.
“There have been lots of good aspects in each of those games, but there have been one or two aspects in each of them that has let us down,” the coach added.
“We are looking to put a complete performance together, one that we can be proud of and one that our fans deserve.
“We continue to work hard and there are lots of good signs but one or two things let us down in these last two games in particular. This is an excellent opportunity for the team to right the ship.”
Hurricanes coach John Plumtree is expecting the Blues to pose a real challenge, despite the Auckland franchise’s recent form.
The Hurricanes are also seeking to produce a complete 80-minute performance.
They turned on an outstanding first half to lead 26-0 against the Rebels last week, but then went into cruise mode and had to battle hard in the second half – before claiming a 29-19 win.
Plumtree feels the Blues have the ability to cause an upset.
“We know they are a really physical side, who will be desperate to get a result and get back into the play-off race,” he said.
“They have only lost once at Eden Park this year and that was a close defeat to the Crusaders.
“We know how difficult it is going to be.
“But it’s a challenge we are looking forward to and we really want to get our game going to carry on the momentum we have built up.”
2018: Hurricanes won 42-24, Wellington
2018: Hurricanes won 36-15, Auckland
2017: Hurricanes won 28-24, Auckland
2016: Hurricanes won 37-27, Wellington
2016: Hurricanes won 23-19, Auckland
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won their last seven Super Rugby games against the Blues, holding a half-time lead over the Auckland side in six games of that span. The Blues have won five of their last six Super Rugby games at home, including their last four on the bounce. The Hurricanes have avoided defeat in their last two New Zealand local derbies away from home, this after losing their previous five such fixtures. The Hurricanes have conceded just four tries in the final quarter of games this Super Rugby season, the joint-fewest of any team in the competition. Rieko Ioane (Blues) has made 22 clean breaks this Super Rugby season, more than any other player in the competition.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (captain), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Matt Duffie.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara (captain), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Chase Tiatia.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Rebels v Reds
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.45; 09.45 GMT)
The Rebels will be looking to bounce back from three consecutive losses, a month-long winless streak that included a bye.
Melbourne coach Dave Wessels believes is side can rebound after a period of inconsistency – defeats to the Stormers (24-41), Waratahs (20-23) and the Hurricanes (19-29).
The coach believes the Reds are the perfect team to start the recovery period.
“I feel like we’re a different team to where we were 10 days ago,” Wessels said.
“We’ve got a couple of games at home now [against the Reds and Bulls],” he said, adding: “So it’s important we find our rhythm and our flow and really enjoy rugby again as well.”
Reds coach Brad Thorn is aware just how dangerous the Rebels can be, especially given what is at stake.
“The Rebels are tough opposition,” Thorn said.
“They’ve only lost one game at home this year and will be looking for a good performance in front of their fans.”
Reds attack coach Jim McKay said his side has learnt plenty from their Round Seven loss to the Rebels in Brisbane.
“The Rebels did a very good job – one of their strengths was the line-outs and that’s continued to be so,” McKay said.
“And then also the breakdown presence as well.
“At the moment, they’re the best-operating line-out in the competition, defensively as well.
“And they also concede the most penalties around breakdown as well.”
2019: Rebels won 32-13, Brisbane
2018: Reds won 37-23, Brisbane
2018: Rebels won 45-19, Melbourne
2017: Reds won 29-24, Melbourne
2016: Rebels won 31-28, Brisbane
2016: Rebels won 25-23, Melbourne
Prediction: The Rebels have won three of their last four Super Rugby matches at home against the Reds, including a 26-point win in their last such fixture, their biggest ever victory over the Reds in the competition. The Reds have one Super Rugby victory from their last 11 Australian local derbies away from home, that victory came in May 2017 in a visit to the Rebels in Melbourne. The Rebels have won three of their last four Super Rugby games at home, despite being tryless in the first half of two of those fixtures. The Reds have beaten 28 defenders per game in Super Rugby 2019, more than any other team in the competition and eight per game more than the Rebels (20). Quade Cooper (Rebels) has made nine try assists so far this Super Rugby campaign, the most of any player in the competition and more than twice as many as Reds’ best Samu Kerevi (four).
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Pone Fa’amausili, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Campbell Magnay.
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Angus Blyth, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Bulls v Crusaders
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT; 05.10, Saturday, May 11 NZ time)
The Bulls are desperate to bag a win before they head off on a month-long tour to Australasia.
They host the table-topping and defending champion Crusaders in a crucial Round Thirteen clash – looking to cement their position at the top of the South African conference.
The Bulls and Sharks are both on 28 points, although the Sharks have played an additional game – with the Bulls on a slightly superior points differential, 49 to 41.
While the Bulls head off on a tough tour – with games against the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues and Highlanders – the Sharks are just ending their Australasian expedition.
Bulls captain Handré Pollard said they are determined to leave the South African shores on a strong footing.
“We travel overseas after this and will only be back at Loftus next month,” Pollard said of a trip that will only see them return to Pretoria on June 16.
“This is a very important match for us.
“We need to do well here in order to maintain our log position and to get some momentum for the tour.
“Everyone realises what is at stake,” he added.
The Crusaders will be looking to cement their position at the top of the standings and also make amends for last week’s draw with the Sharks.
Coach Scott Robertson has named an unchanged forward pack, but made some significant changes to the backline – Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf, Ryan Crotty at inside centre, Jack Goodhue at outside centre and David Havili at fullback.
Crusaders backs coach Ronan O’Gara said the changes were rotational, with squad depth the key.
“We don’t focus on who is in the Jersey, we focus on the jersey,” the former Irish international told @rugby365com.
“There is a great emphasis here on our team and competition for places.”
O’Gara added that his team is expecting a massive challenge from the Bulls.
“We realise it is a big challenge and the Bulls have really hit form,” he said.
“It is a big challenge playing the Bulls at home.
“They are a quality team, with strengths spread throughout the park.
“That is why you get involved in rugby, to test yourself against great teams,” O’Gara added.
2018: Crusaders won 33-14, Christchurch
2017: Crusaders won 62-24, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 31-19, Pretoria
2013: Crusaders won 41-19, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 28-13, Christchurch (quarterfinal)
2012: Bulls won 32-30, Pretoria
Prediction: The Bulls have won five of their last six Super Rugby matches against the Crusaders at home; though, they succumbed to a 24-62 defeat in their last such fixture. The Bulls have won only one of their last 12 Super Rugby games against New Zealand opposition, and have lost their last four such fixtures on the bounce. The Crusaders have won seven of their last eight Super Rugby matches in South Africa, including the last four on the bounce – their most consecutive wins in the nation. The Crusaders (87 percent) boast the best tackle success rate in Super Rugby 2019, just one percentage point higher than the Bulls (86 percent). Handre Pollard (Bulls) has kicked 48 goals so far this Super Rugby season, the most of any player in the competition.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehan Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, Egon Seconds
TMO: Willie Vos
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by Josh Isaacson
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports