Preview: Super Rugby, Round Three, Part One
DERBY DAY: This week we open with two intriguing domestic derbies – one in New Zealand and the other across the Tasman Sea in Australia.
It starts with the revitalised Blues at home to the defending champions Crusaders – two teams coming off very different results.
The Blues bounced back from their disappointing first-round loss to the Chiefs to smash the Waratahs in Sydney – a result that signalled their intention to no longer be the bottom feeders in New Zealand.
The Crusaders, who started with an impressive demolition of the Waratahs, stumbled against the New Zealand conference leading Chiefs.
The second match on Friday is between two desperate Aussie teams, neither of whom have won a match this season – the Rebels at home to the Waratahs.
The Rebels’ nightmare start saw them lose to the Sunwolves and then crash to the Brumbies in two away matches – hoping to end their drought in their first home match of the season.
The Waratahs lost heavily to the Crusaders in Round One, which was to be expected, but their 20-point loss to the Blues in Newcastle last week was a bitter blow to the once powerhouse of Aussie rugby.
- Preview continues below …
We look at the Friday’s matches!
Friday, February 14:
Blues v Crusaders
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.05; 0605 GMT)
It is New Zealand’s ultimate north-south clash, the traditional BIG one.
Between them, they have won 13 of the 24 titles on offer in the professional era, the first two going to the Blues (1996 and 1997) – although the men from Auckland have not been in the play-offs for almost a decade.
Their third and last title was won in 2003.
The Crusaders won the competition the last three years, to take their total to 10 – the only team with more than three titles.
It was always going to be a brutal encounter, but given their respective starts and the history between the two franchises, there is some extra spice in this one.
“When the Super Rugby schedule comes out, you always look first for the Crusaders game,” Blues coach Leon MacDonald said.
“They are the benchmark.
“It is the game where the hairs on the back of your neck bristle and this one will be no different.
“I know the boys are excited about this one.
“We know they will bring their best game to Eden Park – they always do – and especially so after a loss.
“And we will bring the best we have. I am sure it will be an amazing game.”
The Crusaders, stung by last week’s loss to the Chiefs, will look to not repeat the “unacceptable” number of errors they made in Hamilton.
“There is quite a bit of detail we didn’t get right in our game – the set-piece, particularly,” Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan told a media briefing this week.
“We didn’t get our maul going as well as we could have.
“We weren’t accurate at the breakdown, that’s been talked about really honestly this morning.
“There’s a few errors where we just missed detail.
“We will be better for it.”
Head to head
Prediction: The Crusaders have won their last 10 Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Blues, conceding an average of just 17 points per game across that period. The Blues have lost 25 of their last 28 New Zealand derbies in Super Rugby; both of their wins in that span came last season against the Highlanders (Round Six) and Chiefs (Round 14). The Crusaders have made the most offloads (24) of any side this Super Rugby season, nine more than the next best (Jaguares – 15). The Blues are one of two teams remaining (also Stormers) yet to concede a single point inside the first quarter of matches this Super Rugby season. Only the Rebels’ Dane Haylett-Petty (16) has beaten more defenders than the Crusaders’ David Havili and the Blues’ Mark Telea (14 each) in the 2020 Super Rugby season. The Crusaders are expected to bounce back and we feel they should win this one by eight points – denying the Blues even a bonus point.
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Thomas Faiane, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Tom Robinson, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Emoni Narawa.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Cullen Grace, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Will Jordan.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Rebels v Waratahs
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.15; 08.15 GMT)
It is truly the dance of the desperates.
Already under pressure in the conference race, another defeat will be catastrophic for either side.
It makes for an intriguing encounter.
It may not be pretty, but it will be entertaining.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels was philosophical about the challenge presented by a new look Waratahs outfit under coach Rob Penney.
“It’s funny, I read some stuff about the Waratahs – they seem to get a free license, because they talk about this young squad they have.
“I really only see only one young guy they have, maybe two young guys in there.
“I think we’ve got the same.
“That’s the nature of Super Rugby at the moment.”
Waratahs coach Rob Penney admits it’s mission-critical for his winless side this week.
“The boys are desperate to win,” Penney said.
“Mission-critical? I guess it is when you think about it deep and meaningfully.”
New Zealander Penney emphasised the vibe within the group remained positive.
“I think the coaching staff and the players are all aligned which is a critical thing,” Penney said.
“You walk into the environment, you wouldn’t think we’re 0-2 and points for and against so badly against us
“There’s still a lot of hope given what we’re creating and it’s just certain elements that aren’t functioning well for us at the moment.
“We think they are reasonably quick fixes, I hope they are and with that in mind the boys are hurting, but in a positive way.”
The Rebels’ slow starts proved equally costly – with Wessels saying discipline will also be a focus.
“The Tahs have been a bit of our bogey team, they’re the one team that we haven’t consistently performed against so they always present a bit of a challenge for us,” Wessels said.
“But they’ve got a lot of new things happening there and potentially there are some opportunities because of that.”
Head to head
Prediction: The Waratahs have won 15 of the 17 previous clashes between themselves and the Melbourne Rebels, including their last six on the bounce. However, the Rebels have earned a losing bonus point in their last three encounters. Thirteen of the Rebels’ last 15 Australian derbies at home in Super Rugby have been decided by a final margin of eight points or less, the Rebels winning eight matches in that period. The NSW Waratahs have won 12 of their last 16 Super Rugby matches against fellow Australian sides, with three of those four defeats coming at the hands of the Brumbies. The Rebels (314) are one of only three sides to have made 300+ passes so far in the 2020 Super Rugby campaign (Crusaders – 318 and Jaguares – 306). The NSW Waratahs’ Karmichael Hunt (4) is one of only two players to have made more than three offloads in the 2020 Super Rugby campaign so far (David Havili – 7). It is tough to separate the two, but home ground advantage should see the Rebels edge it – with a late penalty.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Reece Hodge, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Steven Misa, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Cabous Eloff, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Angus Cottrell, 22 Frank Lomani, 23 Andrew Kellaway.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Cameron Clark, 13 Alex Newsome, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Jack Maddocks, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Rob Simmons (captain), 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Angus Bell.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Lachlan Swinton, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Mark Nawaqanitawase.
Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning; with additional reporting by AAP
* Stats provided by Opta Sports