Preview: Super Rugby, Round Two, Part One
ROAD TRIP: The Sharks start their four-match tour of Australasia against tournament latecomers the Highlanders on Friday in a game that will answer many questions.
Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown, back from his stint with the Sunwolves and Japan national team, felt that while having a first-round bye left the Highlanders feeling they were late for the party.
However, that extra week also had its benefits.
“It’s given us another week to prepare our guys and we’re looking forward to a pretty big start,” Brown said.
The Sharks – who will also face the Hurricanes, Rebels and Reds – are happy to hit the road early.
Given the heat and humidity they faced in their Round One win over the Bulls, playing in an indoor stadium in New Zealand represents the perfect opportunity to play some exciting rugby without the risks posed in Durban during February.
* Continue reading the preview below …
“The guys are enjoying the conditions here,” coach Sean Everitt said from the team’s training base on New Zealand’s South Island.
“We play this match against the Highlanders under cover, so the conditions will suit us.
“I think the guys will find it refreshing although this first week is tough because we’ll have just one training session due to the travel. But we are happy with all the prep we did in pre-season.”
* In the other Friday match, the Brumbies continue to chase a record for most consecutive home wins.
The Brumbies have won nine consecutive Super Rugby games at home and are honing in on the record set 22 years ago.
The Brumbies won 13 straight games in Canberra between 1996 and 1998.
They’ll look to make it 10 home victories on the bounce when they host the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
“Not many people like travelling to Canberra,” Brumbies and Wallabies hooker Folau Fainga’a said.
“It’s just a special place to play and we have to keep that winning mindset.”
The Brumbies are Australia’s most successful Super Rugby club with two titles and they’ve played finals in six of the past seven seasons.
We look at the two Friday matches!
Friday, February 7:
Highlanders v Sharks
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.05; 08.05 SA time; 06.05 GMT)
The Highlanders are the unknown factor in Round Two – having had their first ‘bye’ in the opening week.
The Sharks, in contrast, recorded as hard-earned 23-15 win over the Bulls – defying pre-tournament predictions that the loss of a host of senior players would adversely affect them.
However, Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown said there hadn’t been a lot to take out of the Sharks’ opening game – played in hot conditions in Durban.
He felt the Durban conditions resulted in largely a kicking game, which will not be the case in Dunedin.
The Sharks versus Bulls game was a typically rugged affair, based on pressure and territory.
“They were pretty good,” Brown said of the visitors.
“It was obviously in Durban, where it was really hot by the looks.
“It just became a kicking battle and a defence battle.
“There was not a lot to take out of that game and we see how they’ll go this weekend.”
The Highlanders have opted for two openside flanks in James Lentjes and Dillon Hunt – meaning the breakdown battle will be key.
“It will give us the ability to go at the ball and give us the ability to cover a bit of grass as well and they’ve both got big engines,” head coach Aaron Mauger said.
The Sharks have a strong set-piece so the front row will get a stern test.
The Highlanders also don’t see the prospect of giant Springbok Andre Esterhuizen running at Josh Ioane in the midfield as a concern.
Ioane shifted out one place from flyhalf to accommodate new No.10 Mitch Hunt.
Mauger’s message to the Durbanites is simple: “We back Ioane all the way. He’d be one of our best defenders, head-on,” Mauger said.
“We think it’s a real point of difference, his physicality, whether he’s carrying the ball at the line or defending.
“We’ve got full confidence in Josh to do the job there.”
Sharks coach Sean Everitt admitted the team’s win over the Bulls had not been error-free.
Constant improvement and above all consistent performances was what they will be working towards this season.
“We’ve said before that this team needs to be more consistent,” Everitt said, adding: “We’ve been criticised for that, so consistency is key.
“Going overseas for four weeks is tough, we know that, but this team has a vibe about it and they are really keen to take up the challenge.”
Head to head
Prediction: Two of the last three Super Rugby matches between the Highlanders and Sharks at Forsyth Barr Stadium have been decided by three points or less, the Sharks winning by a single point (15-14) in their most recent meeting at the venue (22 April 2016). The Highlanders are undefeated in their last five Super Rugby games on home turf, after having led at half-time in each of those five fixtures. The Sharks have picked up competition points in each of their last seven Super Rugby regular season games in New Zealand, despite having won only twice in that period; they’ve also earned a draw and four losing bonus points in that time. The Sharks have made more than 10 clean breaks in four of their last five Super Rugby games away to New Zealand sides since the beginning of the 2018 campaign after not having done so even once in the six seasons prior. Teihorangi Walden (Highlanders) has been directly involved in three tries in his last three Super Rugby games against South African opposition (two tries, one try assist); in fact, he’s been directly involved in three tries in his last three Super Rugby games overall as well (two tries, one try assist). You can get really good value on a Sharks win, but the travel factor makes the Highlanders short-odds favourites – by five points.
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Tima Fainga’anuku, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Josh Ioane, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6 Dillon Hunt, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Paripari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Michael Collins, 23 Teariki Ben-Nicholas.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Le Roux Roets, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Henry Chamberlain, 23 Jeremy Ward
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, James Doleman
TMO: Chris Hart
Brumbies v Rebels
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.15; 08.15 GMT)
Rebels coach Dave Wessels wants his men to show more physicality after they were bullied by the soon to be extinct Sunwolves in Japan last week.
Wessels has replaced his props and openside flank in a bid to atone an embarrassing season-opening loss to the Sunwolves.
“We were very unhappy with our performance,” Wessels said.
“We’re a good team who played badly, I don’t think we’re a bad team,” he added.
“We didn’t defend well. We weren’t happy with our level of physicality – we’ve looked at that pretty hard this week.
“There’s some frustration in the group at the moment. With ourselves more than anything else. We feel like we’ve let each other down.
“We’ve had a disappointing start but we’ve learnt in the past that Super Rugby is not won in round one, so hopefully this is a turning point for the rest of our season.”
The Rebels have won their past four clashes against the Brumbies and will look to halt their nine-game winning run at home.
“We know if we play well we can cause them a lot of problems, as we have done a number of times over the last couple of years,” Wessels said.
“Maybe we were a bit too conservative going into the Sunwolves game, so we’ve certainly got a few things we’ll unleash on Friday.
“We want to play the game now and get last Saturday out of our mind as quickly as we can.”
Wessels said a short turnaround and international travel was behind his front-row changes.
“The primary battle you have with the Brumbies is their set-piece,” he said.
“[Brumbies prop] Allan Alaalatoa has played 80 minutes so he’s playing against two relatively fresh props and I think over the course of a game that’s going to make a difference.”
Head to head
Prediction: The Rebels have won their last four Super Rugby matches against the Brumbies in succession, as many as they won in all of their 13 meetings prior. The Brumbies have won their last nine Super Rugby games at home in succession. The last time they won more consecutive home games in the competition was an 11-game stretch across the 2014 and 2015 campaigns. The Rebels have won four of their last six Australian derbies in Super Rugby, with all but one of those six games decided by a margin of seven points or fewer on the day. The Brumbies made a tally of just two offloads in the opening round of the 2020 Super Rugby season, the joint-fewest of any team. Indeed, the last time they made fewer in a game was in April 2015 against the Blues (one). Anaru Rangi (Rebels) made 14 successful line-out throws during the first round of the 2020 Super Rugby season, more than any other player; he made just two unsuccessful throws. The Brumbies look a good bet for some serious money against a team that has again flattered to deceive. The Brumbies by 10 points.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Solomone Kata, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Caderyn Neville, 4 Murray Douglas, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Harry Lloyd, 18 James Slipper, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Will Miller, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Bayley Kuenzle, 23 Andy Muirhead.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Wells, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Steve Misa, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Gideon Koelenberg, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Ryan Louwrens, 23 Campbell Magnay.
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy, Jordan Way
TMO: Ian Smith
Compiled by Jan de Koning; additional reporting by AAP
* Stats provided by Opta Sports
* Picture credit: Wayne Seagreen
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