Preview: Super Rugby - Round One, Part One
LET THE GAMES BEGIN: The wait is over. The 2019 season gets underway on Friday – a competition that will have supernumerary attention focussed on it, because it is a World Cup year.
To add to the drama there will be no June international break this year.
Super Rugby will run unimpeded from mid-February until the play-offs in June and July.
The action will start with a dulcet all-New Zealand derby between two former champions – the Chiefs and Highlanders.
That is followed by another gemütlich serving – the Australian derby between the Brumbies and Rebels.
We look at Friday’s matches!
Friday, February 14:
Chiefs v Highlanders
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
Injuries to key players will have a big influence on the Chiefs, as they look to join the three-times champions club.
Apart from the nine-time champion Crusaders, only two other teams have won the title three times – the Blues (1996, 1997 and 2003) and the Bulls (2007, 2009 and 2010).
The Chiefs, champions in 2012 and 2013, will have to start their quest for the third title without the services of their main strike weapon – All Black Damian McKenzie, who has suffered an ankle injury.
The Chiefs’ problems in the No.10 channel is weighty.
Tiaan Falcon ruptured his Achilles tendon and is out for the year. Marty McKenzie has a hip injury, while Jack Debreczeni has an abdominal strain.
As a result former New Zealand Under-20 and former Blues player Orbyn Leger will start at flyhalf – despite having played most of his rugby at inside centre. The Chiefs have World Cup-winning All Black Stephen Donald as back-up on the bench.
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Not long till the lads take the field for our first home game of the season ‼️ who's coming along to support?NOTE: make sure you purchase your game tickets from www.ticketrocket.co.nz & NOT Viagogo!🎟️ http://bit.ly/2CQnxNs#BeLegendary#CHIvHIG
Posted by Chiefs Rugby on Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger had his own selection dilemmas.
”There were some tough calls,” Mauger told the Otago Daily Times.
“We had 38 guys put their hand up for selection as you would expect at this time of year,” Mauger said.
The need to manage his All Blacks through the early rounds of the competition – at the ‘request’ of the All Black coaching staff – and the late arrival of some players compounded the issue.
”It would not have been right to have put all those All Blacks under that much pressure going into the first round,” Mauger told the ODT.
“We are going to manage how those guys come in.
”Those guys who have been here for the whole pre-season have been outstanding and we are confident those guys will be able to go and do the job.”
2018: Chiefs won 45-22, Dunedin
2018: Chiefs won 27-22, Hamilton
2017: Chiefs won 24-15, Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 25-15, Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 26-13, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs have won their last three games on the bounce against the Highlanders, this after having lost their six games against them prior. The Highlanders have won on two of their last three visits to Waikato Stadium to face the Chiefs, picking up a losing bonus point in their only loss in that span. Each of the last 14 New Zealand derbies has been won by the team leading at half-time on the day, with each of the last six seeing the home team triumph. The Highlanders averaged 143 tackles per match last season in Super Rugby, the most of any team; however, their tackle success rate against the Chiefs in week 17 last season (74 percent) was their worst for any match. Only the Waratahs’ Taqele Naiyaravoro (1478) gained more metres last season than the Chiefs’ Solomon Alaimalo (1447).
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Bailyn Sullivan, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Orbyn Leger, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tyler Ardon, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick (captain), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Telani Seu, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Jackson Hemopo, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Patelesio Tomkinson.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi, Nick Briant
TMO: Aaron Paterson
Brumbies v Rebels
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.45; 08.45 GMT)
It is “excitement” all-round. It always is before the start of the opening round.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels will hope the excitement is not ‘deflated’ as it was last year – when they looked like play-off contenders for the most part, only to run out of puff in the latter stages.
“It’s obviously exciting to get underway, but going up to Canberra is not an easy challenge,” Wessels said in an interview on the Rebels website.
“We’ve got to turn up.
“We’ve done a great job of keeping everything simple and how we compete every day and get a little bit better, all of the players have really bought into that.”
The Rebels and Brumbies met in a pre-season outing in Canberra last month and the Brumbies came away with a 52-38 win.
However, Wessels does not add much value to that result, saying the two sides will look vastly different when they face off on Friday.
“A couple of our players didn’t play in it and a couple of their players didn’t play in it too,” he said.
“Everyone holds everything back during the trials, so you don’t get much of a read, but we are ready for the challenge.”
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar also felt Friday’s game will be on another level to last month’s ‘friendly’ hit-out.
McKellar spoke of the ‘excitement’ and potential of the Brumbies.
“Seeing what we’ve learnt over the past 12 months and seeing that transfer [into the way we play], that excites me,” he told the Canberra Times.
“I think what we’re doing off the field, and the environment we’re creating for the players, excites me as well.
“We’ve spoken a lot about being a group who looks back on their careers with fond memories.
“As long as we keep understanding errors are opportunities, and we grow, that’s the big thing.”
2018: Rebels won 27-24, Canberra
2018: Rebels won 33-10, Melbourne
2017: Brumbies won 32-3, Canberra
2017: Rebels won 19-17, Melbourne
2016: Brumbies won 30-22, Melbourne
Prediction: The Rebels have won four of their last six games against the Brumbies, including their last two on the bounce; they had never previously strung consecutive wins together against the team from the nation’s capital. The Brumbies have earned four wins in their last five games, more than they had accrued in their 14 games prior. The Rebels have won their season-opening fixture in five of their last six Super Rugby campaigns, their only blemish a 56-18 loss to the Blues in Round One, 2017. The Brumbies had the poorest goal-kicking success rate in Super Rugby last season, converting just 65 percent of their attempts, however, the Rebels sat only just ahead of them with a rate of 69 percent. David Pocock (Brumbies) averaged 2.5 turnovers won per 80 minutes in Super Rugby last season, the best rate of anyone to play 200+ minutes.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano (captain), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Peter Samu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andy Muirhead.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Esei Ha’angana, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Rob Leota, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Semisi Tupou.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Stats courtesy of Opta Sports