Preview: Super Rugby, Round Six, Part One
DOUBLEHEADER: The Sunwolves fans might feel shortchanged, but the relocation of two of their team’s games has left us with an unexpected spin-off.
The Sunwolves versus Brumbies match is now played at the ‘neutral’ venue of Wollongong in Sydney, prior to the Waratahs versus Chiefs match – leaving us with a unique doubleheader.
Coronavirus fears have forced the schedule overhaul, after the Japanese government cancelled all sporting events for the next two weeks.
Next week’s Sunwolves versus Crusaders match will now be played prior to the Reds versus Bulls match in Brisbane.
While the Blues versus Lions match is still scheduled for Eden Park next Saturday (March 14), the kick-off time has been changed from 19.05 local time to 16.25 local time (to accommodate the scheduling of the Sunwolves versus Crusaders match).
This Friday it is Wollongong fans that get to enjoy the ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ outing.
We look at Friday’s matches!
Friday, March 6:
Sunwolves v Brumbies
(Wollongong Showgrounds, Wollongong – Kick-off: 14.45; 12.45 Tokyo time; 03.45 GMT)
The Sunwolves, following their Round One shock win over the Rebels, seem to have slipped back into old habits – haphazard and no real threat if the opposition is switched on.
They have lost heavily to the Chiefs (17-43), Reds (5-64) and Hurricanes (15-62).
Despite those results, Brumbies coach Dan McKellar still felt the need to talk them up as a real threat.
“The Sunwolves are a really dangerous team and we’re not reading into their recent results,” McKellar said.
“They got a good win over the Rebels at the start of the season and we’re certainly expecting a tough game on Friday.”
He said the team with a ‘Barbarians’ feel and look remains unpredictable.
“They will chip, they will off-load and play from side-to-side,” the coach said.
He said they will afford the Sunwolves the same respect they do for any other team.
“If you don’t connect and are physical on defence they will hurt you.
“We are all about making sure our mindset is where it needs to be.”
(Continue reading below …)
The other significant aspect to this match is the news this week that Wallaby coach Dave Rennie has sounded out McKellar about joining his staff as an assistant – leading into the 2023 World Cup.
Rugby Australia has pitched McKellar the possibility of serving an apprenticeship under Rennie and then replacing the New Zealander as Wallabies coach after the World Cup.
The Brumbies boss has never made any secret of his ambitions to coach at international level but also wants to finish the job he started in Canberra.
The most likely scenario if McKellar joins the Wallabies is he’ll coach in tandem with the Brumbies until his provincial contract expires at the end of next season.
Head to head
Prediction: The Brumbies have won each of their five Super Rugby meetings with the Sunwolves, with those victories coming by an average margin of 27 points. The Brumbies have won each of their last three away games in the Super Rugby regular season, their best such run since winning three in a row across the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. The Sunwolves have conceded 60 points or more in each of their last two Super Rugby games. They are just the second team in Super Rugby history to do so (Highlanders in 1996-1997) and no team has conceded as many points in three consecutive games. Only eight of the Brumbies’ 68 missed tackles (12 percent) have resulted in a clean break conceded, the lowest rate of any team this Super Rugby campaign. Thomas Banks (Brumbies) has scored three tries in his four games of this Super Rugby campaign and has crossed for one try in each of his four previous encounters with the Sunwolves. It would be one of the biggest upsets if they don’t win, but we feel the Brumbies should triumph by at least 25 points.
Sunwolves: 15 Yoshizumi Takeda, 14 Johannes Engelbrecht, 13 Siosaia Fifita, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jake Schatz (captain), 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Justin Downey, 5 Michael Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Efitusi Maafu, 1 Nic Mayhew.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Jarred Adams, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Ben Hyne, 20 Tevita Tupou, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Keisuke Moriya.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Solomone Kata, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Noah Lolesio, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Will Miller, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Murray Douglas, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Connal McInerney, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Tom Wright.
Referee: Federico Anselmi
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett, Aaron Pook
TMO: Ian Smith
Crusaders v Reds
(Addington Showgrounds, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.05; 16.05 Brisbane time; 06.05 GMT)
The Reds (one win and four defeats) will be rank underdogs against the 10-time and defending champions, who are unbeaten at home since 2016.
Games against the Bulls, Brumbies, Sunwolves, Melbourne Rebels and Waratahs follow in a run that will either set up or ruin the Reds’ play-off push.
Reds defence coach Peter Ryan admitted there is an air of desperation around the Brisbane-based franchise.
“Every game’s a crunch game for us from this point forward, having played five games and only won one,” Ryan said.
“I’m probably thinking that they [the Crusaders] are thinking it’s another notch in their belt in terms of a win for them.
“So if they are thinking that, then I’d like to go over there and get a win.”
Crusaders defence coach Andrew Goodman played down the suggestion that complacency could be a factor.
He said the Reds have been ‘close’ in a number of their defeats – going down 24-27 to the Brumbies, 20-27 to the Lions and 23-33 to the Sharks.
They also lost 27-43 to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, at the end of a three-week, around-the-world tour.
“They created a lot of opportunities,” Goodman said, adding: “They just didn’t finish off all those opportunities.”
“Hopefully we can keep the foot on [the gas] for the full 80 minutes and put them under pressure.”
Head to head
Prediction: The Crusaders have won 18 of their last 21 Super Rugby matches against the Reds, including each of their last seven in a row. The Crusaders are unbeaten in their last 33 home games (32 wins and a draw), a run that began at the beginning of 2017. In fact, the last time a side from outside New Zealand defeated the Christchurch-based side on their own patch was in 2015 (v Rebels, Round One). The Reds will be searching for their first Super Rugby win in New Zealand since April 2013 (v Chiefs); they’ve lost 14 consecutive games by an average margin of 19 points since. The Reds have scored 14 tries in the first halves of games this Super Rugby season, four more than any other team in the competition. David Havili (Crusaders) has made 14 offloads this Super Rugby campaign, the most of any player in the competition and more than double the amount of any other in the campaign. Of course, the Reds can win, but it is unlikely. It should be another one-sided match, with the Crusaders winning by 20 points … maybe even more.
Crusaders: 15 George Bridge, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Dallas McLeod, 11 Leicester Faingaanuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Ere Enari, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Cullen Grace, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 George Bower, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Reds: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Isaac Lucas, 9 Scott Malolua, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Liam Wright (captain), 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ed Craig, 17 Dane Zander, 18 Josh Nasser, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Filipo Daugunu.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Shane McDermott
Waratahs v Chiefs
(Wollongong Showgrounds, Wollongong – Kick-off: 19.15; 21.15 NZ time; 08.15 GMT)
The Waratahs climbed off the bottom of the standings with their first win of the season last week.
In contrast, the Chiefs dropped out of the top three with their first loss of the season – back in Week Four, followed by a bye last week.
While the Waratahs will hope for a repeat of their impressive win over the erratic and naive Lions, they will encounter a team far more desperate than what last week’s opponents were.
Chiefs coach Warren Gatland made it clear his team wants to deliver an improved performance.
“We were disappointed with our performance against the Brumbies in front of our fans,” he said of the 14-26 loss in Hamilton.
“On Friday we want to get our campaign back on track.
“The boys are eager to get back out on the field and deliver an improved performance.
“We know that our starts need to be sharper, so that is a focus heading into this game.”
Waratahs coach Rob Penney said it was vital the Tahs built on their drought-breaking first win of the season and bristled at the suggestion his team were underdogs.
“If we play to our capabilities, then we’ll be in the fight,” Penney said.
“If we’re in the fight, you know what it’s like, tight matches can go either way,” the coach added.
“We’re certainly capable enough to give them a fright.”
But the Waratahs expect the Chiefs, fresh off a bye, to come out firing having had a fortnight to stew over their last-up loss to the Brumbies.
“They’ve been brooding for a couple of weeks and that’s not good,” Penney said.
“I saw Neil Barnes on some television the other day, he’s obviously their forward coach, and he looked a bit angry still.
“I suspect that they’ve been drip-feeding that attitude into the last 10 days and someone’s got to pay for that. We’ve just got to be ready for it.”
Head to head
Prediction: The Waratahs have won eight of their last nine home games against the Chiefs including their last four in a row, their only defeat in that spell coming back in 2007. The Chiefs have won their last three away games in the Super Rugby regular season, their best such run since winning six in a row across the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. The Waratahs have lost 15 of their last 18 Super Rugby games against New Zealand teams, including their last four on the bounce across which they’ve conceded 40+ points in a game twice. The Chiefs have conceded just three second-half tries in this Super Rugby campaign – the joint-fewest of any team – while only the Jaguares (12) have scored more tries in this period than the Chiefs (11). Tom Staniforth (Waratahs) has made 41 tackles so far this Super Rugby season, the most of any player with a 100 percent tackle success rate and the second most of any Waratahs player overall (Michael Hooper -51). It may be closer that most pundits think, but in the end the Chiefs should win by nine points.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale (captain), 14 James Ramm, 13 Alex Newsome, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Jack Maddocks, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Mitch Short, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ryan McCauley, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Angus Bell.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Pat Tafa, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Michael McDonald, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Siosifa Lisala.
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Donald Maka, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Reuben O’Neill, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Lisati Milo Harris, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Alex Nankivell.
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Jordan Way, James Quinn
TMO: Ian Smith
Compiled by Jan de Koning; with additional reporting by AAP
* Stats provided by Opta Sports