Super Rugby Aotearoa - predictions and teams: Round Two
THE CRUSADE STARTS AGAIN: The 10-time Super Rugby champions and pre-season favourites the Crusaders enter the race this week.
Having sat out Week One – when the Highlanders edged the Chiefs 28-27 and the Blues smashed the Hurricanes 30-20 – the Crusaders travel to Wellington on Sunday to open their account.
The Highlanders have a bye this week, the victorious Blues make the 110-kilometre trip over the Bombay Hills from Auckland to Hamilton to face the Chiefs.
It is another intriguing weekend of Kiwi derbies that will also test the resolve of the match officials – especially after last week’s extraordinary high count of 58 penalties in two matches.
Despite the reaction of many, the message is clear: Referees are not going to back down from their firm stance and likely to blow a few more concertos before the season is over.
For the teams it is a case of adapt or die.
Chiefs coach Warren Gatland wanted to focus on what went wrong last week and what they could fix this week.
“Last week against the Highlanders we weren’t clinical enough and they capitalised on those opportunities we gave them,” Gatland said of the one-point loss in Dunedin.
“This week we need to be sharper and deliver a more dominant performance,” he said of their home game against a very dangerous Auckland-based outfit.
“The Blues have some great playmakers and will be a dangerous team.
“They performed well last week against the Hurricanes and will be hoping to back it up again.
“The guys are excited to run out to the field in front of what is expected to be a near-capacity crowd. It is now up to us to deliver for them and show our thanks for their support,” Gatland added.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald cautioned against reading too much into last week’s win over the Hurricanes.
“We know that last week was a good start, but that we will need to get better if we want a positive result against the Chiefs,” said MacDonald.
“The players who took the field will be better for that experience, especially understanding the importance of discipline at the breakdown and getting back into competition after such a long lay-off.
“We know that depth will be really important in this competition and we are fortunate to have the likes of Dalton and Akira to come into the starting line-up. Parts of our play were good last week but we must lift to another level against what we know is a very good and very physical Chiefs side as well as a healthy rivalry with our neighbours.”
(Continue reading below … )
This week’s predictions
Saturday, June 20
Chiefs v Blues
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.05; 07.05 GMT)
The Chiefs have lost only one of their last 17 Super Rugby games against the Blues and earned a 37-29 win when they met in the opening round of the 2020 Super Rugby season.
The Chiefs have won their last eight home games on the bounce against the Blues. However, five of those eight wins have been by a margin of seven points or fewer.
The Chiefs have lost their last two home games in Super Rugby; the last time they lost more home games in succession was a four-game stretch across the 2001 and 2002 campaigns.
The Chiefs have trailed at half-time in each of their last eight Super Rugby games against New Zealand opposition; although, they have picked up three wins and a draw in that time. The Blues have won their last four away games in Super Rugby; a fifth consecutive win on the road would set a new record for the Auckland franchise.
The Blues have won their last five Super Rugby games on the bounce; the last time they won more was a seven-game streak in 2011.
The Chiefs have conceded the opening try of the game in two of their last three Super Rugby games hosting fellow New Zealand opponents; however, they have managed to bounce back and win twice in that span.
The Blues won 10 turnovers in their opening round clash of Super Rugby Aotearoa, their most in a game since Round 16, 2018 (11 v Rebels). The Auckland side hasn’t won more than 10 turnovers in a game against the Chiefs since Round 8, 2015(11). Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) has been directly involved in nine tries in his last nine Super Rugby appearances (3 tries, 6 try assists) and has scored 104 points in that span.
Rieko Ioane (Blues) has scored three tries in his last three Super Rugby appearances against the Chiefs, including a brace in his most recent game against them.
@rugby365com: Chiefs by five points
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Reuben O’Neill, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Dylan Nel, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Solomon Alaimalo.
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 Matt Duffie.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Paul Williams
TMO: James Doleman
Sunday, June 21
Hurricanes v Crusaders
(Regional Stadium, Wellington – Kick-off: 15.35; 03.35 GMT)
The Crusaders have won their last five Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Hurricanes. The last time they won more in succession against them was a seven-game stretch from 2005 to 2008.
The Hurricanes have won five of their last six Super Rugby games at home to the Crusaders. However, their sole loss in that span came in their most recent home meeting against them.
The Hurricanes will be aiming to avoid back-to-back Super Rugby defeats at home for the first time since Round Four, 2014 after losing 24-15 to the Blues in their most recent game on home turf.
The Hurricanes have lost two of their last three Super Rugby games and will be out to avoid back-to-back regular-season defeats for the first time since June 2018.
The Crusaders have won nine of their last 10 Super Rugby games, including their last four on the bounce. Those nine wins have come by an average margin of 23 points per game.
The Crusaders have lost two of their last three games in Super Rugby away to fellow New Zealand opponents, scoring an average of just 22 points per game in that stretch.
The Hurricanes players beat a combined 42 defenders in their last Super Rugby encounter with the Crusaders. Only once in the last decade has any Hurricanes squad beaten more in a single game (43 v Sunwolves in Round One, 2017).
The Crusaders conceded just six first-half tries during the 2020 Super Rugby season, the joint-fewest of any team in the competition.
Ben Lam (Hurricanes) has crossed for a try in each of his last five Super Rugby games – the longest streak of his career in the competition. He has also bagged four tries in his last four games against the Crusaders.
David Havili (Crusaders) made a competition-high 14 offloads throughout the 2020 Super Rugby season; it is as many as he had made throughout the previous 29 games of his career in the competition
@rugby365com: Crusaders by seven points
Hurricanes: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 TJ Perenara (co-captain), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles (co-captain), 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Ben May, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Billy Proctor, 23 Kobus Van Wyk.
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Cullen Grace, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Samuel 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.
Referee Brendon Pickerill
Assistant referees: James Doleman, Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: Mike Fraser
* Stats provided by Opta Sports