PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 16
VIDEO RIP-OFF: The South African conference, who started a week early, will watch from the sidelines this week as the New Zealand and Australian teams play ‘catch-up’ before the June break.
However, it was the decision by the New Zealand Rugby Union to released a video detailing how to correctly pronounce the names of some Super Rugby players, that caused the biggest stir.
Just one day after the video was made public, video production firm The Coconet reacted angrily on Twitter, saying it two years ago made a video of Polynesian Rugby League players doing exactly the same thing.
“Disappointed that the well-resourced @SuperRugbyNZ has decided to rip it off and copy everything from the name to the gfx and sound effects,” The Coconet said.
— Krit (@talkingkrit) May 30, 2018
The action on the field is likely to cause as much drama as the social media battle off the field.
We take a look at all the Round 16 matches!
Friday, June 1:
Highlanders v Hurricanes
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 7.35 GMT)
The Highlanders have recalled their big names, as they start a late-season push for the play-offs, by hosting the Hurricanes.
The Dunedin-based franchise have named 10 current or past All Blacks in their line-up – including Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock – who were all rested for last week’s patchy win over the Reds.
Flank Liam Squire also returns from a broken thumb.
Assistant coach Mark Hammett said that after five weeks on the road, the side was excited to be back home – where they have won 11 games in succession.
“We want to give a huge push towards making the play-offs this week before we hit the June break,” he said.
“The players are really looking forward to being back under the roof in front of a vocal home crowd.”
Brad Shields will become just the 14th player to bring up 100 appearances for the Hurricanes, when he leads the team out against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The match will be the 99th Super Rugby appearance for Shields, who also started for the Hurricanes against the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
Shields will join Tana Umaga, Rodney So’oialo, Andrew Hore, Cory Jane, Victor Vito, Jeremy Thrush, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Neemia Tialata, Julian Savea, Dane Coles, Beauden Barrett and Thomas Perenara to reach the milestone in the club’s 23-year history.
2018: Hurricanes won 29-12, Wellington
2017: Hurricanes won 41-15, Wellington
2016: Hurricanes won 27-20, Wellington
2016: Highlanders won 17-16, Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 21-14, Wellington (Final)
Prediction: Each of the Highlanders’ last eight games at home against the Hurricanes has been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer, though the Dunedin side has picked up just three wins in that span. The Highlanders have won nine of their last 11 New Zealand derbies when playing as hosts, including wins in their last three such fixtures. In fact, the Dunedin squad have won their last 11 games in succession at home; the last and only time they won more was a 13-game streak from 2000 to 2002. The Hurricanes have conceded the fewest metres of any side this season, allowing their opponents just 348 metres with ball in hand, while they’ve also missed the fewest tackles of any side (19.6 per game). Rob Thompson has assisted six tries this season, the most of any non-halfback; two of those assists have come via kicks, only Beauden Barrett (three) has set up more tries with the boot this campaign. Despite last week’s loss, the Hurricanes remain one of the most consistent and dangerous teams in the competition. They should win by 12 points.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Kalolo Tuiloma, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita/Murray Douglas, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Angus Mabey and Mike Lash
TMO: Aaron Paterson
Saturday, June 2:
Blues v Rebels
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 AEST; 05.15 GMT)
The Rebels are in a desperate struggle with the Waratahs for the top spot in the Australian conference and automatic home advantage in the first round of the play-offs.
Just one point separates the two sides.
In contrast, the Blues dropped out the play-off race months ago and have not won a match at home all season.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels said they are determined to keep the pressure on the Waratahs.
“We’ve worked hard over the last couple of weeks on our ability to finish games strongly,” the coach said.
“This is due in large part to the work our conditioning staff have put into the team as well as the impressive impact our bench has made in recent weeks.
“They’ve come on and really wanted to rattle the cage.
“Guys like ‘LT’ [Lopeti Timani] and ‘Syd’ [Geoff Parling] have been particularly impressive in this regard.
“It’s great to have Ross [Haylett-Petty] coming back in. He trained really well this week and effectively forced us to pick him.
“He gives us flexibility in the back five and is obviously fit and powerful. We look forward to seeing his impact.”
The Blues will be extremely disappointed not to have broken their duck at Eden Park this season and making their task that much more difficult is the fact that they lost their best strike weapon Rieko Ioane – due to the All Blacks’ rest protocol.
Ioane’s pace and power was extraordinary in a losing effort to the Crusaders, before their bye last weekend.
Fullback Michael Collins admitted the result column doesn’t look pretty from the outside.
“From an outsider’s perspective, you probably only see losses and that’s 100 percent understandable,” he said.
“But from in the camp the belief has always been there and everyone gets on.
“I believe in the direction we’re heading and what we’re trying to achieve.”
The Blues, second to last on the table with only the Sunwolves below them, in an extraordinary run of results lost to the Chiefs, Sharks, Highlanders, Jaguares, Hurricanes and Crusaders in Auckland.
“We’ve got two New Zealand derbies and two games against Australian teams in which to make a statement and that’s what we intend to do.”
Asked about the Blues’ appalling home record, Collins said: “In the past, we haven’t been able to win away or win two in a row so I have no doubt that will change.”
2017: Blues won 56-18, Melbourne
2016: Blues won 36-30, Auckland
2015: Rebels won 42-22, Melbourne
2013: Blues won 36-32, Auckland
2012: Rebels won 34-23, Melbourne
Prediction: The Blues have won four of the previous six games between these teams in Super Rugby, including each of their last two and a 38-point win in their last meeting – the biggest win in the history of the fixture. The Blues are undefeated in their last 11 games against Australian opposition, though eight of those 10 wins came by single-figure margins. The Rebels head into this fixture on the back of consecutive victories and have now won six games this campaign, a seventh victory would equal their most wins in a single Super Rugby season. The Blues average a competition-high 124 carries per game this season; however, they’ve made fewer than 100 carries in four of their last seven games. Amanaki Mafi has made 185 carries this season, more than any other player, while he’s gained 1005 metres, almost twice as many as any other forward (Albertus Smith next on 524 metres). The Blues have had a strange season – with impressive performances against the top teams and shocking showings against the minnows. They may have one of their better games and win by seven points.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Sonny Bill Williams/Terrence Hepetema, 11 Tumua Manu, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (captain), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Matiaha Martin, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Ben Nee-Nee, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Thomas Faiane/Terrence Hepetema.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman (captain), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Tayler Adams, 23 Lopeti Timani.
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Angus Mabey
TMO: Ben Skeen
Chiefs v Crusaders
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19:35 local; 07:35 GMT)
The Chiefs take an 11-match home winning-streak into their clash with the Crusaders.
However, their recent form against the reigning champions has not been convincing.
The Chiefs have lost their past three meetings with the Crusaders, including 23-45 defeat in February.
The visitors are also on a high, after overcoming numerous injuries to beat the Hurricanes last week and give themselves a five-point lead at the top of the table.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said there was no room for complacency, as he looks to take his team into the Test break in a commanding position.
“The Chiefs have an extremely good scrum,” Robertson said.
“Given their injuries, they have done a great job with the players that have come in for them – as have we, so it will be a great battle.”
Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes told the Waikato Times that they will have their work cut out against a “very experienced” pack, that does their job very well.
“That’s what you aspire to play against – the very best,” Barnes said.
“So we’re up for the challenge.
“It’s nice to be home, we’re all showing benefits of being in our own beds for a week now, and all sleeping well and the sun’s shining, so we’re all very happy.”
Ironically, though, after a week of sun, showers are forecast for Saturday, which could have the Chiefs nervous, after the Kiwi conference-leading Crusaders put on a wet-weather clinic in last Friday’s 24-13 win over the Hurricanes in Christchurch.
“To be perfectly honest, I haven’t actually seen the forecast, so perhaps I should check it,” Barnes quipped.
“But at this stage, we haven’t altered our plans.
“If it turns out that it’s that way, obviously we’ll make some adjustments when we get closer to game time. But at the moment I don’t see a lot of shifts in the way we tend to play the game, regardless of how bad the weather is.”
2018: Crusaders won 45-23, Christchurch
2017: Crusaders won 27-13, Christchurch (semifinal)
2017: Crusaders won 24-31, Suva
2016: Chiefs won 23-13, Suva
2016: Chiefs won 27-21, Christchurch
Prediction: The Chiefs have won four of their last five games against the Crusaders in Hamilton, including a 24-point win when they last faced off at the venue. Indeed, the Chiefs have won their last 11 games on the bounce in Hamilton, having not lost at the venue since Round 11, 2016 against the Highlanders. The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 13 New Zealand derbies, with four of their last five wins in such fixtures coming by margins of more than 10 points. The Chiefs have made more metres (496) and more clean breaks (15) per game than any other club so far this campaign. Richie Mo’unga has won 18 of his last 19 Super Rugby games, including his last five in a row against New Zealand opposition – he was missing for each of the Crusaders’ last two Super Rugby defeats. Of course, the Chiefs have a chance of winning, but given the venue and expected conditions, the Crusaders should cruise to victory – at least 12 points.
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai (captain), 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ethan Blackadder, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Jone Macilai.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Richard Kelly (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Reds v Waratahs
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 19.45; 09.45 GMT)
Waratahs forward Michael Wells said strong “body language” is a big priority for the Sydney-based franchise against fierce rivals the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
Wells said Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper and forwards coach Simon Cron called out players in the post-match review for showing signs of weariness in last week’s fading loss to the Chiefs.
“In reviews, it is a pretty sobering moment when blokes see Cronny [Cron] pull up clips and they’re on the haunches and sucking in the deep ones.
“It is something we are going to work on, the body language,” Wells said.
“If your life is on the line, which is how we should be playing, we have to make the effort.
“We have rectified that. A few blokes have been put on notice and we will be better this week.”
Reds coach Brad Thorn was just as ‘passionate’ about getting a win.
“It’s a big game this weekend,” an animated Thorn said.
“Queensland v New South Wales is one of those games everyone marks down on their calendar.
“We’re excited to be playing them at Suncorp Stadium, in our traditional maroon strip.
“We haven’t made a lot of changes for the match because we feel the team has put in two big efforts where we’ve just fallen short in recent weeks.
“This is our last match at Suncorp Stadium for a number of weeks, so it would be great to see a lot of support from our home crowd.”
2018: Waratahs won 37-16, Sydney
2017: Waratahs won 29-26, Brisbane
2016: Waratahs won 15-13, Brisbane
2016: Waratahs won 30-10, Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 31-5, Sydney
Prediction: The Waratahs have won their last eight games on the bounce against the Reds by an average margin of 19 points per game; however, they had lost their five meetings prior to that run. The Reds have won their last two Australian derbies when playing as hosts, the last time they won more was a five-game streak from 2012 to 2013. The Waratahs have won seven of their last eight away games against teams currently in the Australian conference, including wins in their last two such fixtures. Only the Crusaders (four) and Hurricanes (six) have conceded fewer tries in the final quarter of games than the Waratahs (seven) this campaign. Of the 170 players to make 50+ carries this season, the Reds’ Filipo Daugunu has the best average gain (11.4 metres) of any player, while the Tahs’ Taqele Naiyaravoro has the second-best rate (10.8 metres). The Reds have been looking increasingly ragtag in recent weeks and the Waratahs – who are playing for top spot in the conference – should win by two converted tries.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Liam Wright, 22 Ben Lucas, 23 Jayden Ngamanu.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (Captain), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Bryce Hegarty
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Will Houston, Jordan Way
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore
Sunday, June 3
Brumbies v Sunwolves
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 16.05; 06.05 GMT; 15.05 Japan time)
The Brumbies are in a stand-off with the Wallabies coach Michael Cheika over his demand to withdraw Test stars David Pocock, Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio from Sunday’s clash against the Japan Sunwolves in Canberra.
Cheika made the request amid concerns over the tight six-day turnaround between the Super Rugby game and next week’s opening Test with Ireland in Brisbane.
But the Brumbies are determined to have their best players available to boost their hopes of attracting 15,000 fans for the Sunwolves game amid worries over declining crowds.
The Brumbies have pledged to donate AU$15,000 (US$11,350) to charity if they reach their 15,000 Sunwolves crowd target, with average crowd numbers in the national capital dipping below 8,500 per game this year – putting them in danger of recording their worst average crowd figures in Super Rugby history.
Brumbies Chief Executive Michael Thomson was keen to work with Rugby Australia to reach an outcome, but said: “Our obligation is to rugby in this region, our members and our fans.
“We need to recognise that. We’re still trying to work through this issue and hope a resolution to the benefit of both parties can be reached.”
2018: Brumbies won 32-25, Tokyo
2016: Brumbies won 66-5, Canberra
Prediction: The Brumbies have won each of the previous two games between these teams, winning by 61 points in Round 14, 2016 but by just seven points in Round 2 this season. The Brumbies will be looking for back-to-back wins in Super Rugby for the first time in exactly one year. The Sunwolves remain on the hunt for their maiden Super Rugby win away from home, having lost their previous 20 away games by an average margin of 29 points per game. The Brumbies have two penalty goals scored against them per match this season, more than any other team in the competition, while the Sunwolves (0.5) have had the fewest slotted against them. Hayden Parker has slotted 29 of his 30 attempts at goal this season (97 percent), no other player to have attempted 5+ kicks has recorded a success rate of 90+ percent. The Sunwolves may have won their quota of games this season and given the Brumbies’ recent form this could get ugly. The Brumbies to win by 20 points or more.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Connal Mcinerney, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 TBC, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andrew Smith.
Sunwolves: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Sione Teaupa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco , 7 Edward Quirk , 6 Willem Britz, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 James Moore, 3 Hencus van Wyk, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Craig Millar (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze , 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Nikoloz Khatiashvili, 19 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 20 Fetuani Lautaimi, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Gerhard van den Heever, 23 Kai Ishii.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Will Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AFP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports