Preview: Super Rugby, Round Six - Part One
AXE HOVERING: By the time the first match kicks off on Friday, the Sunwolves will know if they still have a future in the competition.
Amidst the wild rumours flying about the Sunwolves’ possible axing from Super Rugby, SANZAAR has confirmed that an announcement will be made on Friday (14.00 Sydney/New South Wales time – about 03.00 GMT).
“Please be advised that SANZAAR will issue an official statement on the future of the Super Rugby tournament on Friday 22 March,” the statement said.
“SANZAAR and its stakeholders will not be making any comment on Super Rugby until the statement has been released.”
This has not stopped the media from ‘reporting’ (speculating) on the pending demise of the Japanese team.
Alternative rumours have the Sunwolves dropping down to a newly-created Tier Two competition.
This is overshadowing the build-up to what could be an intriguing round of rugby.
We look at the first three matches of the weekend!
Friday, March 22:
Blues v Highlanders
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The Blues will hope that the bye last week has not arrested the momentum they had built up with their maiden win (28-20) over the Sunwolves in Week Four.
The Highlanders – six points and five places above the Blues on the standings – also did not play last week, but for an entirely different reason.
Their game against the Crusaders was cancelled after the Christchurch massacre.
It is against this background that the two teams tried to create a semblance of normality in their build-up to Friday’s outing.
The Blues are the more desperate of the two teams.
It is three years and 20 games since they last beat New Zealand opposition.
Ironically the Highlanders were the last Kiwi franchise to be defeated by the Blues – 33-31 in February 2016.
“It’s stating the obvious, but it’s been a while since the Blues knocked off a New Zealand franchise so we need to be good,” assistant coach Tom Coventry told the New Zealand Herald.
“I think they [Highlanders] were a bit frustrated [the previous week] against the Hurricanes and obviously they’ve had a bit of a tough week as well when missing out on the Crusaders.
“I’m sure they’ll be fresh for it but maybe have a little of anxiety about losing a week.”
The Highlanders realise they will be up against a desperate opponent and the call has gone out for “more energy”.
The inclusion of seasoned flyhalf Marty Banks is expected to provide the impetus for the up-tempo game they must play.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said they “performed well” in all four games played this season – despite losing their last two outings.
Last week’s cancelled game did not help their cause.
”Obviously, there was a couple of big moments we’d have liked to [have been] better in, in terms of controlling the game,” he told the Otago Daily Times – when asked about the defeats against the Rebels and Hurricanes.
2018: Highlanders won 34-16, Auckland
2018: Highlanders won 41-34, Dunedin
2017: Highlanders won 26-20, Dunedin
2017: Highlanders won 16-12, Auckland
2016: Blues won 33-31, Auckland
Prediction: The Highlanders have won six of their last seven Super Rugby games against the Blues, including their last four on the bounce. The Blues are winless in their last 20 Super Rugby games against New Zealand opposition; their last derby win came in Round One, 2016 against the Highlanders (33-31). The Highlanders have won just two of their last nine games away from home against fellow New Zealand opposition, trailing at half-time in eight of those nine fixtures. Rieko Ioane (Blues) has scored seven tries in his last four Super Rugby games on home turf, as well as providing three try assists in that span. Shannon Frizell (Highlanders) scored a hat-trick of tries in his only previous game against the Blues in Super Rugby and has scored four tries in his last three games overall.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua or Matt Duffie.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Patelesio Tomkinson, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Nic Berry, Brendan Pickerill
TMO: Ben Skeen
Saturday, March 23:
Hurricanes v Stormers
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington – Kick-off: 19.35; 08.35 SA time; 06.35 GMT)
The Stormers, coming off a three-match winning streak, are looking to end a 10-game losing streak in New Zealand.
The Hurricanes game is the first of four on their Australasian tour – which also includes the Blues next week, the Reds and Rebels in Australia.
The Hurricanes will be without the services of All Black hooker Dane Coles.
Having played five consecutive games, he is due to stand down to meet the All Blacks rest requirements.
Stormers captain Siya Kolisi said that his team will be giving it everything to get their tour off to a winning start.
“We are going there with confidence, we are not going to hold back,” the loose forward said.
“We are going flat out to give it our best. We are going to give it everything we can.
“We are going to keep working hard at the things we are good at and try and manage the game at our own pace as well,” he said.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck believes that his team can still improve in a number of areas.
“I still think that there is a lot for us to do, but when we get it right tactically, this team can do some good things,” Fleck said.
“Tactically we are going to have to be pretty smart and control the tempo of the game, because the Kiwis like to speed things up.
“They are pretty physical at the breakdown and like to get the ascendency there, so we have got some work to do,” the coach added.
The Hurricanes showed promise when they put the Brumbies away (43-13 in Round Three), but they have lived on the edge in three other matches – beating the Waratahs 20-19 in Week One, lost 22-38 to the Crusaders a week later, beat the Highlanders 25-22 in Week Four and drew (23-all) with the Chiefs last week.
2017: Hurricanes won 41-22, Wellington
2015: Hurricanes won 25-20, Wellington
2014: Stormers won 19-18, Cape Town
2013: Stormers won 18-16, Palmerston North
2012: Stormers won 39-26, Cape Town
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won their last two games on the bounce against the Stormers in Super Rugby, after having won just one of their seven meetings prior. The Hurricanes have won 24 of their last 25 Super Rugby games on home soil, including their last 12 on the bounce; they’ve not lost at home to a South African squad since April 2013 (Stormers). The Stormers have lost their last eight consecutive Super Rugby games outside South Africa, conceding an average of 40 points per game in that spread. The Stormers boast the best tackle success rate (87 percent) of any team in the competition this season. Wes Goosen (Hurricanes) has made an average gain of 11.5-metres per carry this season, the highest of any player to have made at least 10 carries.
Hurricanes: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett (captain), 9 Richard Judd, 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Liam Mitchell, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Danny Toala.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Dan du Plessis, 23 Damian Willemse.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Waratahs v Crusaders
(Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney – Kick-off: 19.45; 21.45 NZ time; 08.45 GMT)
It will be an emotional affair.
After last week’s cancelled match, the Crusaders will be charged up to bring some joy to the people of Christchurch.
The cancellation of the Highlanders versus Crusaders game was entirely appropriate.
Waratahs assistant coach Chris Whitaker doesn’t think the Crusaders will be impacted by the cancellation of their game with the Highlanders – saying they were the form team of the competition and would be a good test for the Waratahs’ defence.
And the Crusaders are struggling to come to terms with the Christchurch tragedy, the Waratahs are trying to cope with their own trauma.
The Waratahs had to deal with the fall-out of their decision to press ahead with plans to play on the patched-up Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Waratahs confirmed the SCG had been cleared for use against the Crusaders.
SCG ground staff had to replace large sections of the turf after it was destroyed during the Waratahs’ win over the Reds two weeks ago.
The new surface stood up to the rigours of last Friday’s NRL clash between South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters and SCG representatives and independent consultants have since deemed the field up to Super Rugby standards.
Veteran Wallaby centre Adam Ashley-Cooper said facing the nine-time champions was a game every Super Rugby player looked forward to.
The 34-year-old made his Super Rugby debut against the Crusaders in 2005 for the Brumbies and has played them on 11 occasions.
“I haven’t [played the Crusaders] but that just fuels the fire even more,” Waratahs youngster Lachlan Swinton told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I love hearing stuff like that and being around the older boys like that. When they say stuff like that it really adds to the whole experience.
“You do have to acknowledge the fact that they are a world-class team.
“Especially against the Crusaders, they’re a big, physical pack and we’re all going to have to be at our sharpest when it comes to the contact areas.”
2018: Crusaders won 31-29, Christchurch
2017: Crusaders won 41-22, Sydney
2016: Crusaders won 29-10, Christchurch
2015: Waratahs won 32-22, Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 33-32, Sydney (Final)
Prediction: The Crusaders have won 14 of their last 16 Super Rugby games against the Waratahs; however, 10 of those 16 games were decided by a single-figure margin. The Waratahs have won just one of their last 12 regular season Super Rugby games against New Zealand opposition. The Crusaders have won their last 15 Super Rugby games on the bounce against Australian opposition; their last defeat in such a fixture came in Round 15, 2015 against the NSW Waratahs. The Crusaders have made an average of 15 clean breaks per game this Super Rugby campaign, more than any other team in the competition and four more per game than the Waratahs. Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs) remains just one try shy of equalling Doug Howlett (59) as the most prolific try scorer in Super Rugby history; however, he’s managed to score only once in six previous games against the Crusaders.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Lachlan Swinton, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Karmichael Hunt.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Braydon Ennor, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty (captain), 11 George Bridge, 10 Brett Cameron, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Quinten Strange, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Ere Enari, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Will Jordan.
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Stats courtesy of Opta Sports