Preview: Super Rugby - Round One, Part Two
FINAL FLING: The Sunwolves start their final season in the SANZAAR playpen against the Rebels, as the tournament celebrates its 25th season in the professional era.
The defending-champion Crusaders start their campaign against the Waratahs.
The Stormers, who have kept World Cup stars such as Siyamthanda Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit, while Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende have moved to France and Japan, play the Hurricanes.
The Jaguares are at home to the Lions in the final match of the opening weekend.
The defections have hit every Super side, including the Jaguares – primarily Los Pumas in disguise.
After losing last year’s Final to the Crusaders, the South Americans must now fancy their chances of going one better.
Super Rugby’s most successful country has been New Zealand.
Five Kiwi teams – the Blues (three times), Chiefs (twice), Crusaders (10 times), Highlanders (once) and Hurricanes (once) have won 17 of the 24 titles since the game went professional in 1996.
Australian teams the Brumbies (two), Reds (once) and Waratahs (once) have won four titles between them, with the Bulls from South Africa winning three titles.
The amateur era saw three seasons of Super Rugby – Transvaal winning it in 1993, while Queensland won it in 1994 and 1995.
* To read Part One, CLICK HERE!
We look at all the Saturday matches!
Saturday, February 1:
Sunwolves v Rebels
(Level Five Stadium, Fukuoka – Kick-off: 12.45; 16.45 NZ time; 03.45 GMT)
Japan’s Sunwolves will be looking to go out with a bang in their fifth and final year in Super Rugby.
The Tokyo-based side, who begin their campaign at home to the Melbourne Rebels in Fukuoka at the weekend, have won just eight of 61 matches since joining the competition in 2016 and are set to become a statistical footnote of SANZAAR’s failed expansion drive.
But new coaching coordinator Keisuke Sawaki promised the Sunwolves, who have been on the wrong end of some ugly hidings in their short history, would look to build on the feel-good factor generated by last year’s World Cup in Japan when the hosts reached the quarterfinals.
“We want the players to be proud to have represented the Sunwolves and for the fans to have enjoyed watching us,” the 44-year-old told local media.
“There’s a tailwind behind Japanese rugby at the moment so we want to make people happy and to go out and win in style.”
Rebels coach Dave Wessels, who named an experienced attack across the park with capped Test players littered through their backline, said he felt there was “stability” in their side in 2020 – something they have spoken about often in the pre-season.
“I feel like the team is further down the road than we were this time last year so it’s amazing to have a bit of continuity in the group and just what a difference that makes,” he said.
“I think we calculated, I think the average caps in the matchday 23 is about 45 – which is a huge step forward in experience from probably what we had in previous times.
“The Sunwolves to their credit under difficult circumstances have put a pretty good squad together,” he added.
“You look at the names they’ve got, just go through the backline, Rudy Paige, Garth April, Ben Te’o, JJ Engelbrecht, they’re all Test players in the inside backs.”
Prediction: The Rebels have won each of their five previous Super Rugby games against the Sunwolves, outscoring them by at least 20 points on each occasion. The Sunwolves have lost their last eight home games in succession in Super Rugby; their last home win came in Round 17 of the 2018 campaign against the Bulls. The Rebels have won their season opener in six of the last seven Super Rugby campaigns, including each of their last two. The Rebels conceded just seven offloads per game last Super Rugby season, fewer than any other team in the competition; though, the Sunwolves were one of only five teams to make nine or more offloads per game in that period. Semisi Masirewa (Sunwolves) gained 8.7 metres per carry in the 2019 Super Rugby campaign, the most of any of the 82 players to have made at least 100 carries throughout the season. The Rebels look too strong for what is a scratch Sunwolves team and should win by 15 points or more.
Sunwolves: 15 James Dargaville, 14 Siosaia Fifita, 13 Keisuke Moriya (co-captain), 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jake Schatz (co-captain), 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Brendon O’Connor, 5 Michael Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conraad Van Vuuren, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Jarred Adams.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Mitch Jacobson, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Shogo Nakano, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Rob Leota, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Steve Misa, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Theo Strang, 23 Andrew Deegan
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
Crusaders v Waratahs
(Trafalgar Park, Nelson – Kick-off: 19.05; 17.05 Sydney time; 06.05 GMT)
The 10-time and reigning champions, the Crusaders, begin their pursuit of an unprecedented fourth straight title with a clash against a dangerous Waratahs side in Nelson.
The Crusaders haven’t lost to the Waratahs at home since 2004, but face a huge challenge from the Sydneysiders with a number of key players missing from their 2019 campaign.
The powerful Crusaders forward pack which laid the platform for their consecutive titles over the past three years has been decimated with retirements and sabbaticals for Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Jordan Taufua, Owen Franks and Matt Todd – along with backline general Ryan Crotty.
Wing George Bridge and prop Joe Moody will also sit out Saturday’s season-opener due to All Black rest requirements, while hooker Codie Taylor and wing Sevu Reece will be injected off the bench.
However, coach Scott Robertson has taken a positive approach to the loss of talent.
“Obviously a lot of those guys have been part of the furniture here for a long time, so there is a real fresh feel around the place,” he said.
“Naturally, when you lose a lot of leaders it’s time for the next crop to come through and take a bit more on their shoulders.
“I think that’s what we’ve done as a leadership group so far this year.”
The Waratahs are under former Canterbury player and coach Rob Penney’s hand.
“If our set-piece struggles then the halfbacks [flyhalf and scrumhalf] will gets the hard ride. We’ve got to get it right up front,” Penney said.
“We need a few things to go our way and we need to play one of the best games we’ve played in a while.”
Prediction: The Crusaders have won 12 of their last 14 regular season Super Rugby games against the NSW Waratahs; though, they’ll be out to avoid consecutive defeats in such fixtures for the first time since 2004. The NSW Waratahs’ only away win at the Crusaders in Super Rugby came in 2004 (43-19); they’ve lost on all 13 of their other attempts. The Crusaders have won their season opener in each of the last three Super Rugby campaigns; they have never previously done so on more than three successive occasions. The Crusaders are undefeated in 31 Super Rugby games at home since the beginning of the 2017 campaign; the last team to defeat them at home was the Hurricanes in July 2016. The NSW Waratahs have won seven of their last eight season openers when they’ve begun their Super Rugby season away from home; though, this will be the first time they’ve commenced their campaign on the road since 2013. The NSW Waratahs haven’t won a Super Rugby game in New Zealand since April 2015, losing all nine of their attempts since. The Crusaders gained 492 metres, made 14 clean breaks, and scored 32 points per game last Super Rugby campaign, more than any other team in any of those three categories. The NSW Waratahs finished last Super Rugby season with a tackle success rate of 87% -the best rate of any team; Michael Hooper (210) was the only player to make 200+ tackles last campaign. NSW Waratahs’ Jack Maddocks scored 10 tries in the 2019 Super Rugby campaign, the second-most of any Australia-based player and just two shy of Folau Fainga’a (12). Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs) has made 1,075 carries and 1,422 tackles in Super Rugby since the beginning of 2010, one of only two players to reach 1,000+ in both categories in that time (Liam Messam). Despite having lost some experience, the Crusaders should ease to a comfortable win – at least 12 points.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 Leicester Faingaanuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Cullen Grace, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Sevu Reece.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons (captain), 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Chris Talakai, 17 Damien Fitzpatrick, 18 Angus Bell, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Carlo Tizzano, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Mitch Short, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Dan Waenga (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Stormers v Hurricanes
(Newlands, Cape Town – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05; 02.05, Sunday, February 2 NZ time)
The Stormers are rated South Africa’s best bet to end a decade-long title drought.
With eight Springboks in the staring XV – five of those in the pack – to go with a British and Irish Lions veteran for good measure, the hosts can’t escape the favourites tag.
The talking points in the build-up were the selection of Welsh legend Jamie Roberts at centre and Springbok captain Siyamthanda Kolisi moving to No.8 from the side of the scrum.
Kolisi said playing at No.8 won’t change the way he approaches the game.
“The only difference is the scrum,” he said.
“That is where I started playing at Under-19,”adding: “Dawie [Snyman, backs] and Norman [Laker, defence] coached [Western Province U19] back then.
“Dobbo [head coach John Dobson] also saw me playing [at No.8] back then.
“It might take me a couple of games to fully get to grips with No.8, but I really enjoy it.
“I have more freedom and you still have to be as fit as a when you are at No.6.”
The Stormers coach, Dobson, said that following a busy pre-season, his team are determined to make a convincing start to their campaign in their final season at Newlands.
“We are very excited about the team that we are putting out this weekend and the potential for us to make a good start to the last season at Newlands.
“We want to play the kind of rugby that will make our supporters smile and that starts on Saturday against the Hurricanes,” he said.
He described the Hurricanes as a “very strong” side.
“Their pack is hard-working and quite abrasive. They also have size and X-factor in their backline.
“They will chase some tempo in the game, but we will engage them at scrum and maul time.”
Hurricanes coach Jason Holland said – despite losses to the Blues and Crusaders – their pre-season build-up was useful.
“We worked hard through our pre-season matches at improving parts of our game and performance,” Holland said.
“Nobody shows too much in pre-season games, so we are looking forward to trying a few things.”
Holland added that every player named in this weekend’s squad knows it will be a tough game, especially since the Hurricanes haven’t won in Cape Town since 2006.
“The Stormers will be a physical challenge for us and we expect them to be very direct and attack us up front.
“We will look forward to that challenge and intend to put them under pressure with our style of rugby.
“We’ve had a thorough week in Cape Town and are in good shape heading into the weekend.”
Prediction: Eight of the last nine Super Rugby games between the Stormers and Hurricanes have been won by the home team of the day; the last time the Hurricanes won away to the Stormers was in March 2006. The Stormers will be hunting for back-to-back wins against New Zealand opposition for the first time since February 2015 – after a 34-22 win over the Highlanders in Round 15 last season. The Hurricanes have won three of their last five Super Rugby season openers and will be looking to string together successive wins in such fixtures for the first time since 2005-06 – after opening their 2019 campaign with a one-point win over the NSW Waratahs. The Stormers made just eight clean breaks per game last Super Rugby season; Dillyn Leyds’ season total of 23 clean breaks were 10 more than any other Stormer and the joint-second most of any South Africa-based player. Thomas Perenara (Hurricanes) has been directly involved in 104 Super Rugby tries in the last decade, more than any other player in the competition in that time (54 tries, 50 try assists). Despite their favourites tag, the Stormers are unlikely to run away with the game. In the end, they should win by a converted try – seven points.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Alister Vermaak, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Ernst van Rhyn, 21 Johan du Toit, 22 Godlen Masimla, 23 Rikus Pretorius.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Fletcher Smith, 9 Thomas Perenara (captain), 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Auma, 17 Pouri Rakete-Stones, 18 Tevita Mafileo, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Devan Flanders, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Vince Aso.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Egon Seconds (South Africa)
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans (South Africa)
Jaguares v Lions
(Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires – Kick-off: 20.00; 23.00 GMT; 01.00, Sunday, February 2 SA time)
The Jaguares, as losing finalists, are expected to again go a long way in 2020.
However, Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada is downplaying suggestions the South Americans can go one step further than last year’s breakthrough effort and win the championship in only their fifth year.
Their post-World Cup losses are significant.
Pablo Matera (to Stade Francais), Tomas Lavanini (Leicester Tigers), Juan Manuel Leguizamon (Seattle Seawolves), Santiago García Botta (Harlequins), Enrique Pieretto (Exeter Chiefs), Ramiro Moyano (Toulon) and Martín Landajo (Harlequins) all took flight.
But Quesada is looking at the big picture for Argentina rugby, filling the gaps with young talent and with plans not to risk player burnout before the international season – as the 10th-ranked Los Pumas target the top eight before the draw is made in November for the 2023 World Cup.
“I think the message is clear that the priority, and most importantly, are Los Pumas,” he said.
“The national team is the largest to which one can aspire. That is clear in all our heads and [what we are] working on.”
The Lions arrived in Buenos Aires with seasoned players like Elton Jantjies and Jannie du Plessis to guide the young group.
Hooker Pieter Jansen, now first-choice in the absence of Malcolm Marx (on a Japanese sabbatical), said the Johannesburg-based franchise is “excited” to see what they can do and put our own stamp on the Lions’ story.
“The expectations [within the team] are quite high for this season,” Jansen said, adding: “Especially with how well we performed in the Currie Cup last year [as losing finalists].
“Our focus has been on the Jaguares throughout the pre-season and it is a big task for us.
“It is an immense challenge.
“We know what challenge awaits us and we are up for it.”
Prediction: The Lions have won five of their last six Super Rugby games against the Jaguares, including their last three on the bounce. The Jaguares have won their last six Super Rugby home games in succession, conceding an average of just 13 points per game across that span. The Lions have begun each of their previous four Super Rugby seasons with a win, despite not having scored more than 28 points in any of those four games. The Lions have conceded exactly 10 penalties in four of their last five Super Rugby games against the Jaguares; however, they’ve not received a card of any denomination in that period. The Jaguares’ Sebastian Cancelliere gained 9.8 metres per carry in the 2019 Super Rugby campaign, the most of any player to make at least 50 carries. The home team is notoriously slow starters, but they still seem to have too much firepower for a Lions team that arrived late in the week. The Jaguares should win by at least 10 points.
Jaguares: 15 Santiago Carreras, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Juan Cruz Mallia, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Tomas Cubelli (captain), 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Francisco Gorrissen, 5 Lucas Paulos, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Javier Ortega Desio, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Matias Orlando.
Lions: 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Tyrone Green, 13 Duncan Matthews, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Ruan Vermaak, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Morné van der Berg, 23 Manuel Rass.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Pablo Deluca (Argentina), Martin Cordoba (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Compiled by Jan de Koning; additional reporting by AFP
* Stats provided by Opta Sports