Super Rugby Aotearoa - predictions and teams: Round Three
TACKLING BREAKDOWN CONCERNS: New Zealand is truly getting a head start on the rest of the world, as they come to grips with the new approach to tackle and breakdown laws.
As we head into Round Three of Super Rugby Aotearoa, New Zealand Referee Manager Bryce Lawrence revealed that they are continuously ‘adjusting’ their approach in the wake of a decision to just ‘blow the laws’ as they are.
It resulted in a rash of penalties in the opening fortnight – 58 penalties in Round One and 49 penalties in Week Two.
However, Lawrence – in discussion with the Breakdown television show said both players and referees they are making “positive” changes every week.
“We are getting some really good movement and player buy-in around things like off-side lines and space, so we are actually starting to see some really good attack,” Lawrence said.
“We saw that last Sunday with the Crusaders and Hurricanes moving the ball really nicely over multiple phases.”
This week the Blues and Highlanders are first into the spotlight when they go head-to-head at Eden Park on Saturday, while Crusaders host the Chiefs a day later in Christchurch.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger put his team on notice ahead of their showdown with the competition’s pacesetters – following impressive back-to-back wins.
“They are playing a smarter game this season,” Mauger said.
He also expects a bit of ‘tactical kicking’ and a few ‘high bombs’.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald back his team to do the business against a tricky opponent.
“They [the Blues players] are developing well to the style of game we want to play and adapting positively to the new rule emphasis, which will lead to a more exciting and fluid game,” MacDonald said.
“It is the last game before our first bye, which will give us the opportunity to reset for the next block of games.”
This week’s predictions
Saturday, June 27
Blues v Highlanders
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.05; 07.05 GMT)
The Highlanders have won 11 of their last 15 Super Rugby matches against the Blues; although just four of those 11 wins have been by a double-digit margin.
The last eight Super Rugby matches between the Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park have seen each team pick up four wins apiece, despite the Highlanders leading at half-time in six of the games in that span.
The Blues have scored 30+ points in each of their last two Super Rugby home games. The last time they scored 30+ points in more consecutive home games was a three-match span in 2014 – which included a 30-12 win over the Highlanders.
The Highlanders defeated the Chiefs (28-27) in their opening game of Super Rugby Aotearoa and will out to secure back-to-back wins against fellow New Zealand opposition for the first time since June 2018.
The Blues have won their last three Super Rugby matches against fellow New Zealand teams, with each of those games seeing the teams separated by just a single point at half-time on the day.
Nine of the Highlanders’ last 11 completed Super Rugby away matches have been won by the team leading at half-time on the day, the Dunedin-based side picking up just two wins in that stretch.
The Blues (21 in the first quarter) are the only team to have scored 20+ points in any quarter of matches in this Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign so far.
The Highlanders won 11 turnovers last time out against the Chiefs, the last time they won 10+ in back-to-back games was Rounds 13 and 14 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
The Blues’ Caleb Clarke (10) is the only player in Super Rugby Aotearoa (minimum two appearances) with an average metres gained per carry in the double figures.
The Highlanders’ Shannon Frizell (three) is the only player to have made more than two offloads in this Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign so far.
@rugby365com: Blues by 12 points
Blues: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Thomas Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Joe Marchant.
Highlanders: 15 Scott Gregory, 14 Sam Gilbert, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Ngane Punivai.
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: Mike Fraser
Sunday, June 28
Crusaders v Chiefs
(Addington Showgrounds, Christchurch – Kick-off: 15.35; 03.35 GMT)
The Chiefs have won each of their last two Super Rugby matches against the Crusaders, despite trailing at half-time in each of those games.
The Crusaders have won their last three Super Rugby home matches in succession against the Chiefs, as many as they had won the previous eight times they had hosted them.
The Chiefs have lost each of their last three Super Rugby matches, as many as they lost in their 12 games prior.
The Crusaders have won 17 of their last 19 completed Super Rugby matches against other New Zealand teams; although, the Chiefs handed them each of their two defeats in that time.
The Chiefs have averaged 43 points scored per game in their last five regular season away matches in Super Rugby, winning four of the games in that span.
The Crusaders have lost only two of their last 45 Super Rugby home matches. However, the Chiefs (Round One, 2016) were responsible for one of those two defeats.
The Chiefs have made fewer than 10 clean breaks in three of their last four Super Rugby matches against New Zealand opposition, as many times as they did in their previous 22 games prior.
The Crusaders had a tackle success rate of 91 percent in their last Super Rugby meeting with the Chiefs, the only time in their last 18 matches the Christchurch-based squad has had a tackle success rate above 90 percent.
Chiefs’ pair Lachlan Boshier (57) and Aidan Ross (47) have hit the most and second most effective rucks respectively of all players in the 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.
Sevu Reece (Crusaders) has scored five tries in his last five Super Rugby games against New Zealand opposition, including two braces in that time
@rugby365com: Crusaders by 15 points
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Cullen Grace, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor (captain), 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 George Bower, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ethan Blackadder, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 David Havili, 23 Leicester Faingaanuku.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Solomon Alaimalo, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Reuben O’Neill, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Adam Thompson, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Tumua Manu.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant referees: James Doleman, Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: Mike Fraser
* Stats provided by Opta Sports