Super Rugby Aotearoa - predictions and teams: Round Seven
STOPPING THE JUGGERNAUT: One team is undefeated and another is winless. These are the contrasts ahead of a gripping round as the competition heads into the home straight.
The Hurricanes have the testing task of ending the Crusaders’ unbeaten run in a crucial match on Saturday, while the Chiefs hope to finally break their duck when they face ambitious Blues.
On the eve of this crucial round, New Zealand Rugby unveiled Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa, the unique trophy that will be presented to the winner.
Created by Otaki carver Bill Doyle, the trophy represents the coming together of the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders in the wake of the disruption and turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa, which translates to Stand As One New Zealand, will be on display in Christchurch for the Crusaders crunch match against the Hurricanes, before heading north to Eden Park for the Blues versus Chiefs match.
The trophy remains up for grabs heading into Round Seven – with the Crusaders holding a five-point lead at the top of the table on 18 points, ahead of the Blues (13), the Hurricanes (12), and the Highlanders (10).
Only the Chiefs (four) are mathematically out of contention.
Saturday’s encounter in Christchurch holds the key to the season.
The Crusaders could effectively win the competition if they score a bonus-point win over the Hurricanes.
However, the latter could move to within a point of the leaders if they pick up five points.
And that would also open the door for the Blues to close the gap on a Crusaders team that has a game in hand.
The Hurricanes took to history to inspire them ahead of this crucial outing.
They looked at footage of the last time they beat the Crusaders in Christchurch – a 35-10 win in July 2016.
That was also the year the Hurricanes won their only Super Rugby title.
That was, remarkably, also the last time the Crusaders lost in Christchurch.
They are now on a 36-game unbeaten streak at home.
The likes of Thomas Perenara, Ardie Savea and Dane Coles – and current assistant coach Cory Jane – were in the Hurricanes team that day and some relayed their experiences of toppling the mighty red team.
“Everyone will be ready for this game,” said Hurricanes wing Kobus van Wyk, who missed the cut for the trip to Christchurch.
In contrast, the Chiefs will be looking to turn around a forgettable start to the season.
“If there’s one team we can get up for, it’s the Blues,”scrumhalf Brad Weber said.
(Continue below … )
This week’s predictions
Saturday, July 25
Crusaders v Hurricanes
(Addington Showgrounds, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.05; 07.05 GMT)
The Crusaders have won their last six Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Hurricanes – more than they had won in their 15 completed encounters prior.
The Crusaders have won 15 of their last 19 home games against the Hurricanes in Super Rugby, including their last five such encounters on the bounce.
The Hurricanes have won eight of their last 10 Super Rugby games away from home in the regular season; although, they have not managed to clinch a losing bonus point from either of their two defeats in that span.
The Hurricanes have made nine break assists by offload in Super Rugby Aotearoa, more than twice as many as any other team in the competition.
Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) has scored five tries in his last five Super Rugby games against the Hurricanes, contributing to a personal tally of 82 points across that period (15 conversions, nine penalty goals).
@rugby365com: The Crusaders by 10 points
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor (captain), 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Fainga’anuku.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Thomas Perenara (captain), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Vince Aso, 23 Chase Tiatia.
Referee: James Doleman
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Mike Fraser
TMO: Ben O’Keeffe
Sunday, July 26
Blues v Chiefs
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 15.35; 03.35 GMT)
The Blues have won two of their last three Super Rugby games against the Chiefs and will be looking to snatch back-to-back wins against them for the first time since 2010/11 – after earning a 24-12 victory when they last met in Round Two of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
The Chiefs have won seven of their last nine away games against the Blues in Super Rugby, including a 37-29 win when they met in Round One of the 2020 Super Rugby campaign – their last encounter in Auckland.
The Chiefs have lost a club-record equaling six consecutive Super Rugby games heading into this fixture and will be looking to avoid an outright club record of seven straight defeats; although, they have earned a losing bonus point in five of the six games in this current stretch.
The Chiefs have gained 122 metres from mauls in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the most of any team in the competition; although, only the Blues (three) have scored more tries via mauls than the Chiefs (two) in this campaign.
Rieko Ioane (Blues) has scored 15 tries in his last 14 games on home soil for the Blues, including five tries in his last four home games.
@rugby365com: Blues by eight points
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Blake Gibson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Luteru Tolai, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Otere Black or Emoni Narawa, 23 Harry Plummer.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Reuben O’Neill.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Quinn Tupaea.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Paul Williams
TMO: Mike Fraser
* Stats provided by Opta Sports