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Week 2 of Super Rugby and what we can expect

Will the Crusaders’ Blues Continue?

This weekend’s Super Rugby kicks off with the Crusaders hosting the Blues in Christchurch. This is always a big game and one to look forward to. The Crusaders have dominated Super Rugby since inception and the Blues have not done to badly themselves.

The Blues won their opening game and even though it was a close game it was against the defending champions. As with most of the New Zealand sides they have had a lot of personnel changes and this makes it difficult to read too much into the first week’s result. The same can be said for the Crusaders who lost stalwarts like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. The lost they suffered to the Chiefs was significant as they were playing at home.

Does this mean the Crusaders will fall against the Blues? Well you never know although the Blues win was at home. Both sides still have game makers and breakers although not as many as in the past. The players still need to find each other as many new combinations have been created and it is only the second week of the season.

The teams have met 26 times in the past with the Blues winning only 11. This game should be much easier for them as explained. I can however not see them beating the Crusaders by too big a margin and will give it to them within 5 points

Crusaders

15 David Havili, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Kieron Fonotia, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody. Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Johnny McNicholl

Blues

15 Matt Duffie, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Matt McGahan, 9 Billy Guyton, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino (captain), 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi. Substitutes: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19  Akira Ioane, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Male Sa’u

Will the Brumbies stampede on or will the Waratahs stop them?

The Brumbies started the 2016 season with an impressive 52-10 win against the Hurricanes. Not that it was against the run of play, but most fans didn’t expect the margin. The Waratahs also had a good start to their campaign and it should be fair to say that the game Canberra on Friday is between the two Australian title contenders.

This is going to be a very closely contested game with both sides able to run the ball from just about anywhere on the field. Yet they both have strong packs and can dominate upfront. They have faced each other 27 times with the Waratahs winning 16. In all the average points difference is 1 but looking at the recent history the team that wins does so in style.

The flyhalves will play pivitol roles for both sides. Kurtly Beale can be an elusive runner while Christian Lealiifano has a dangerous kicking boot on him. The Tahs will have to stop Kuridrani and if they can do that the game should be theirs to win.

In this game discipline will play a big role as neither side will want a player sent off. My gut feel is telling me the Waratahs will win this game. The margin 10+ points.

Brumbies

15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Scott Sio. Substitutes: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Nigel Ah Wong

Waratahs

15 Israel Folau, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Zac Guildford, 10  Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 David Dennis, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Angus Taavao, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan. Substitutes: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Matt Sandell, 18 Jeremy Tilse, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Bryce Hegarty

Can the Chiefs scalp the Lions?

The first game on Saturday will be the Chiefs hosting the Lions in Waikato. Both sides have their tails up after scoring wins away from home on the opening weekend of 2016. The Lions probably feels better than the Chiefs seeing as they had to make the big trek from South Africa to Japan. Still they played the new boys on the block, The Sunwolves, while the Chiefs beat the mighty Crusaders in their own back yard. If you want to see full on running rugby, both these sides can bring that to the party and will probably do so again this weekend.

The chiefs should be the favourites this weekend. Not only because the Lions had to make two day long flights across numerous time zones in the last 14 days, but also because they have won 13 of the 18 encounters between the two sides. It will be a high scoring game should history be anything to go by. Don’t be surprised by a 20+ victory margin either. I believe it will be closer than that but purely because of the traveling by the Lions the Chiefs will win by around 7 points

Chiefs

  1. Damian McKenzie, 14. Latu Vaeno, 13. Seta Tamanivalu, 12. Charlie Ngatai, 11. James Lowe, 10. Aaron Cruden, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8. Maama Vaipulu, 7. Sam Cane (captain), 6. Tom Sanders, 5. Brodie Retallick, 4. Michael Allardice, 3. Hiroshi Yamashita, 2. Rhys Marshall, 1. Pauliasi Manu. Substitutes: 16. Nathan Harris, 17. Mitchell Graham, 18. Siate Tokolahi, 19. Taleni Seu, 20. Michael Leitch, 21. Brad Weber, 22. Anton Lienert-Brown, 23. Glen Fisiiahi

 Lions

15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith. Substitutes:  16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Fabian Booysen, 21 Jaco van der Walt, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg

Can the Hurricanes bounce back or will the Highlanders do it?

This is a game that both sides will want to win after losing their opening encounters last weekend. The Highlanders did so by a narrow margin and will look back at the game and wonder why? Probably because of ill-discipline and poor goal kicking. The Hurricanes, well they will know it was just because the Brumbies were too good for them.

This is a tough call to make as the Highlanders are defending champions yet the Hurricanes have won more games against them than what they have lost. Both sides have the players to make this a close fought affair and that it will probably be. The Hurricanes will try and dominate up front before setting their backline loose. The Highlanders will play the percentage game but can run it from anywhere on the field. The Highlanders to win by less than 5.

Highlanders

15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Shane Christie (co-captain), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds. Substitutes: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Jason Emery

Hurricanes

15 Nehe Milner-Skudder/James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Reggie Goodes. Substitutes: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 James Marshall/Jason Woodward, 23 Willis Halaholo

Reds or Force who will it be?

This might look like an obvious pick to make. The Reds are at home and therefore they should win against the much weaker Force side. Well if that is what you think, think again. These two sides have met 12 times with the Reds winning 6 and there has been a draw as well. The Force had 4 wins and the draw in the last 6 games between the two sides. The last game did go to the Reds however.

This is one of those encounters where you know that the scores will be high or the victory margin will be huge. To be honest the Force has always been a much better team away from home as long as they played in Australia. The Reds on the other hand has underperformed for a couple of seasons now. I am going with the Reds b y between 10 and 15 points

Reds

15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Curtis Browning, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons (captain), 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 Ben Daley. Substitutes: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Sam Balakai, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Michael Gunn, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Junior Laloifi

 

Force

  1. Dane Haylett-Petty, 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Ben Tapuai, 12. Junior Rasolea, 11. Semisi Masirewa, 10. Jono Lance, 9. Alby Mathewson, 8. Angus Cottrell, 7. Matt Hodgson (captain), 6. Brynard Stander, 5. Adam Coleman, 4. Steve Mafi, 3. Guy Millar, 2. Nathan Charles, 1. Pekahou Cowan. Substitutes: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Chris Heiberg, 18. Jermaine Ainsley, 19. Ross Haylett-Petty, 20. Ben McCalman, 21. Ian Prior, 22. Peter Grant, 23. Marcel Brache

Bulls to trample Rebels?

The Bulls might have lost against the Stormers last week while the Rebels won away from home against the Force, but that will mean nothing come Saturday. The Bulls have a young side while the Rebels side is more set. Again it will not mean much.

The Bulls have not lost to the Rebels and they will not be looking to do so at their holiest place, Loftus Versfeld. The Closest the Rebels has come to a win was in 2012 when they lost 41-30. Other than that they have not scored more than 10 points in a game against the Bulls, this while the Bulls have never scored less than 40. It might not be such a big score by the Bulls this weekend but they should win this one by no less than 10 points.

Bulls

15 Warrick Gelant , 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Substitutes: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel

Rebels

TBA

Will the Storm be too much for the Cheetahs?

For South Africa this will be the game of the weekend. Both teams are known for the running rugby they can produce through their backs. Both sides have strong forwards and can get the rolling maul to the work as well (ask the Bulls how well the Stormers make theirs work). The Cheetahs has never won this encounter by a huge margin and even though the Stormers has done so on more than one occasion it is never a one sided affair.

The teams have met 14 times with the Stormers winning 9. With an average of 50 points in a game and a winning margin of around 5 on average it does say a lot about these two sides. They like to play against each other and do so running the ball. The Stormers should win this one with ease and it will be with at least 10 points.

Cheetahs

15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais. Substitutes: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Boom Prinsloo, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Niel Marais

Stormers

15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (co-captain), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble. Substitutes: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones

Can the Jaguars pounce again?

The Sharks did record a win in their opening game and yes it was away from and it was by 33 points, but it was against the Kings. Not South Africa’s strongest rugby province at the current moment or even for the last 20 years. The Jaguars also recorded a win and yes it was also away from home and yes it was a close call winning by 1 point. Still they did it against the Cheetahs, a team known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

That it will be a good game I have no doubt. The Sharks will hope to build on the momentum they have. The Jaguars will want to show that they can continue winning and they should as the bulk of the team has played for Argentina at the international level. This game will be won up front and if that is the case it should go to the Jaguars, but discipline will be important as well and here they lack a bit. All I have to go on here is my head, my heart and my gut. My head says Jaguars, My heart says Sharks, and my gut says it will be a brilliant game won by a kick in the last minutes by the Jaguars.

 

Sharks

  1. Willie le Roux, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Joe Pietersen, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Daniel du Preez , 7. Jean-Luc du Preez, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Coenie Oosthuizen, 2. Franco Marais, 1. Tendai Mtawarira (captain). Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Juan Schoeman, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Hyron Andrews, 20. Philip van der Walt, 21. Michael Claassens, 22. Garth April, 23. S’bura Sithole

Jaguares TBA

Last weekend I got 8/8. Let’s see how I do this week. Follow me on twitter @djvanman or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Vanman1979 and let me know your predictions.

A CRACKING START TO SUPER RUGBY 2016 AS THE STORMERS STEAL THE SHOW

The first weekend of Super Rugby 2016 has come and gone quicker than my salary. A good weekend of rugby it was though. High paced and electrifying rugby was seen. Only three really big victories and 4 games that could have gone either way. Any rugby lover would be happy with the rugby they saw.

The Blues beat the Highlanders but as predicted this one went down to the wire. The Highlanders will kick themselves for the yellow card they received. This probably made the difference in the game. Both sides struggled with kicking at goal. Blues 33-31 Highlanders.

The Hurricanes will look back at the Brumbies game and wonder what happened. Yes they missed a kick or two, but the Brumbies out played them. Even when the Brumbies were down to 14 men, and this happened twice, the Hurricanes didn’t look like they could buy a try. Brumbies 52-10 Hurricanes.

The Cheetahs once again showed us how you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Leading 24-3 at one stage, they still managed to lose. True the Jaguars played with 13 men when the Cheetahs scored their tries. Still one would think that when you have a 21 point lead you can build on that. Hats off however to the Jaguars that stuck to their guns. They did not allow the scoreboard to put pressure on them and though before the break. A well-deserved win by the new kids on the block. Cheetahs 33-34 Jaguars.

The Lions travelled to Tokyo and although the Sunwolves had 4 world cup players in their team, the Lions were not overwhelmed at all. The Wolves played good rugby and the Lions did not have it all their own way. Both teams a gain missed crucial kicks at goal. Still it was a good show of running rugby. Sunwolves 13-26 Lions. Both sides still have some work to do going forward.

The Crusaders missed Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Although they led the game for most of 65 minutes it was the last 15 minutes that mattered. The Chiefs came back and scored two late tries giving them a victory. Missed kicks at goal could have made the result much different but only that it would have given the Chiefs a bigger winning margin. Crusaders 21 -27 Chiefs.

The Waratahs versus Reds game was true to form. Both of these sides can be contenders in Australia and it is always a hard game. The Waratahs made sure of the win in the first half and the Reds were always going to struggle to come back. The fact that they got two yellow cards didn’t help them much. Waratahs 30-10 Reds.

The Force v Rebels game remained true to history. The away side winning although this time it was with a slightly bigger margin than what we have come to expect between these two sides. The Force will rue the mistakes made on the attack as this gave the Rebels just what they needed. In the end a good old contest between two equally strong sides. Force 19-25 Rebels.

The Kings started well but then they just fizzled out against the Sharks. The Sharks were always going to win this one, but I expected much more of a fight from the Kings. The off the field woes of the Eastern Cape side has carried over on to the field. The Sharks can also not read too much into the victory taking into account the opponents. Hopefully the Kings can sort out their problems and rather sooner than later or it will be a long season for them. Kings 8-43 Sharks.

The game of the weekend was the Stormers versus Bulls game and the first half lived up to expectations with the home side leading only 9-6. The second half however was a totally different ball game. The Stormers came out with a vengeance and it showed. The play of the weekend being the driving maul from their own 22. It looked like a freight train without brakes and the Bulls could only look on as it stormed forward. At one stage it looked like the Bulls players falling back was helping the maul move towards their own tryline. The Stormers will be happy with their performance while the Bulls can’t take a lot of positives from the game. Stormers 33-9 Bulls.

SUPER RUGBY 2016 ABOUT TO KICK-OFF

The coming weekend sees the kick-off of Super Rugby 2016. A lot has been said and written about the new format and two debutant teams. Pre-season games have been played and many have read into this and what we can expect for the season to come. However until the first weekend is over we will not truly know where the teams stand. Here is a look at what the weekend holds in store for us.

The Blues will take on the highlanders in the opening game of the season. This is always a good game to watch as both teams can rate themselves as contenders for the number 1 spot in the New Zealand conference. The last couple of seasons however both of these sides struggled in the first couple of weeks. Expect some good running rugby. The Blues to take this one purely because they have the home ground advantage. Kick-off at 8h35 SA time at Eden Park.

The Brumbies will then take on the Hurricanes at the GIO Stadium at 10h45 SA time. This is another good match up with two of Australia’s top 3 teams playing against each other. The Hurricanes have never really lived up to their potential in the past, but they have been known to make the front runners stumble. The Brumbies is always a side to watch. Again I will give this to the Brumbies due to the home ground advantage, but they will have to counter the Hurricanes up front. If not they will struggle to win.

One of the games that will have most neutrals pinned to their seats will be the Cheetahs vs Jaguars game. Purely because everyone will want to see what the Jaguars are going to bring to the table. This game should be filled with fast paced action and a lot of running. However the scrum and rolling maul will play a big part as well. That is if the Jaguars will stick to the tried and tested Argentinian style of rugby. Most will give this game to the Cheetahs. But to be honest I see the Jaguars winning this one. This is the perfect game to finish off Friday’s action. Kick-off at 19h00 in Bloemfontein.

Saturday will see an early start for Lions fans. The Sunwolves host the Lions in Tokyo with kick-off at 6h15. This will have many neutrals up early as well. The Lions did not have the best of warmup games but I will not read too much into that. The Sunwolves are an unknown factor. Still if the Lions stick to what they do best, running the ball and using the forwards to get quick ball, they should win this one. Then again we all know what Japan did against the Springboks in the World Cup. I am hoping to see fast running rugby in this game.

The Crusaders and Chiefs game is one of the two games of the weekend for me. The Crusaders has lost some key players and this might impact on them in a negative way. The Chiefs, as we all know, are one of those teams that can have a brilliant game one week and the next look like they have not played together in months. This game will see some good running rugby with hard tackles and lots of turnover ball. This is another game where I am going against the main stream and pick the Chiefs to win.

In Australia the Waratahs and Reds will take each other one. Easy pick is the Waratahs to win. I just can’t see the Reds winning this one. Then we also have the Force and Rebels taking each other on. If history serves t be right the Rebels will win as they are playing away from home.

The Kings vs Sharks game should be an easy pick, but both sides have been going through some of the field issues. The Sharks struggled of last season and unless there has been a monumental mind shift in the squad i don’t believe that it has changed. Management and players are essentially the same. The Kings are in financial crisis and players are begging to get paid. This can’t be good for them either. Still the Sharks should win this one.

The Game of the weekend will end of the action on Saturday. The Stormers take on the Bulls. This is never a high scoring game and kicking should play a big part in the outcome. Still running rugby is always on the cards. The Stormers are under a caretaker coach of sorts and the Bulls have their tails up after some good warmup results. The game however is played at Newlands and it has become extremely difficult to beat the Cape side at home in recent seasons. The Stormers should win this by a slim margin.

Sharks has nothing to lose against Blues

Saturday at 14:50 the sharks will host the Blues at Kingspark in Durban. The visitors have a lot more to lose than the hosts.

The Sharks will be under a new coaching staff and have most of their key players back. The only area where there is concern is at centre. We will have to wait and see who will play in this position. Will it be Pat lambie or Butch James in the 12 jersey? My pick would be James as he has much more experience in this position. The Sharks will probably have free reign to play their natural game.

The Blues are looking to win this game and keep in touch with the Chiefs at the top of the NZ conference. A loss can see them losing momentum and even fall out of the top 6, depending on their next two games. This all while the Sharks are happy to just play and win with no pressure really on them. They can only make it into the top 6 on a very slim mathematical chance.

Expect to see some adventurous rugby by the Sharks, while the Blues will look to play more structured at first. They will want to secure the win before they open up the game. Still this will be a game well worth watching.

Prediction: I’m going with the sharks. When you have nothing to lose, you will probably win it will be a close game none the less.

Team information not available at the time I wrote this.

follow Dave on @djvanman on twitter

Sharks has nothing to lose against Blues

Saturday at 14:50 the sharks will host the Blues at Kingspark in Durban. The visitors have a lot more to lose than the hosts.

The Sharks will be under a new coaching staff and have most of their key players back. The only area where there is concern is at centre. We will have to wait and see who will play in this position. Will it be Pat lambie or Butch James in the 12 jersey? My pick would be James as he has much more experience in this position. The Sharks will probably have free reign to play their natural game.

The Blues are looking to win this game and keep in touch with the Chiefs at the top of the NZ conference. A loss can see them losing momentum and even fall out of the top 6, depending on their next two games. This all while the Sharks are happy to just play and win with no pressure really on them. They can only make it into the top 6 on a very slim mathematical chance.

Expect to see some adventurous rugby by the Sharks, while the Blues will look to play more structured at first. They will want to secure the win before they open up the game. Still this will be a game well worth watching.

Prediction: I’m going with the sharks. When you have nothing to lose, you will probably win it will be a close game none the less.

Team information not available at the time I wrote this.

follow Dave on @djvanman on twitter

MORE HEARTBREAK FOR THE REBELS AT EDEN PARK

Following losses by less than a converted try in each of their past three outings, the task got no easier for the RaboDirect Rebels as they headed to Auckland to take on a rejuvenated Blues lineup.

Looking to win their first ever match outside of Australia, the Rebels brought Shota Horie into the starting lineup and made history in the process; the hooker became the first Japanese player to start for an Australian Super Rugby team.

Lachie Mitchell replaced the injured Rory Sidey in the 12 jersey, while former Brisbane Broncos junior Bryce Hegarty replaced the suspended Kurtley Beale on the bench as he aimed to make his first start in Super Rugby.

James  O’Connor looked to get the Rebels underway with a long-range penalty goal attempt in the 2nd minute, but while he had the accuracy the distance wasn’t quite there, and he was also unable to make it count when presented with a second penalty opportunity a few minutes later.

And while Blues counterpart Chris Noakes also failed with an early penalty attempt, the hosts did take the lead in the 10th minute when flying winger Frank Halai crossed out wide following a fluid team passing move; Noakes did, though, miss the conversion.

The Rebels haven’t had any problems scoring tries in season 2013 and, at the venue where the 2011 World Cup Final was held, that again proved the case. Ali Williams was one of the heroes for his country on that night two years ago, but when he coughed it up under pressure from Scott Higginbotham, the Rebels took full advantage. Horie made some valuable metres, and the visitors were able to find enough space for Mitch Inman to score in the corner.

The kicking curse continued, with O’Connor missing the conversion, and Noakes also missed when the Blues hit back with another try within five minutes. Francis Saili and Rene Ranger combined brilliantly in the lead up, and although the TMO was called upon, referee Garratt Williamson awarded the try to Saili after he recovered his own kick.

Charles Piatau continued his electric form to set up a second try for Halai with just over a quarter of the match gone, and Noakes was able to finally kick straight and convert the try; the first successful kick from either side in seven attempts.

With O’Connor off the field after succumbing to a chest injury, Saili rapped up the four-try bonus point for the Blues after just 27 minutes, but as they have done in recent weeks the Rebels hit back immediately through Higginbotham when he spotted a small gap to breach the Blues’ defence.

Jason Woodward stepped in for his injured teammate but missed the kick, and O’Connor’s replacement Angus Roberts lasted just a couple of minutes before he dislocated his shoulder and left the field.

The Blues were not done with scoring for the first half yet, with Halai taking over as the competition’s leading try scorer when he shrugged off Cooper Vuna to complete his hat trick following more good work from Saili.

Hegarty had joined the fray and instantly looked at home at this level, while big lock Hugh Pyle and skipper Higginbotham continued to lead the way for the Rebels as they had done in recent weeks. But as the sides entered the sheds at half time, the Rebels were trailing by 19 points and the enormity of the task confronting them would not have been lost on Head Coach Damien Hill when he addressed his troops at the break.

Jarrod Saffy was like a man possessed when play resumed, first gaining plenty of metres when he spotted a gap in the Blues’ line and then setting Fuglistaller up as the Rebels camped on the Blues try line; the Blues defence had held firm against the Stormers last week however, and did so again with the Wellingtonian held up over the line.

Minutes later, Nic Henderson was also held up as the visiting forwards looked to show the way. Like a big cat playing with his food, Higginbotham’s one-handed pick and gos were a highlight and their hard work was finally rewarded when Mitchell crossed for the Rebels’ third try and kept their slim hopes alive.

After this week signing with Hawkes Bay in the ITM Cup competition, Ged Robinson re-acquainted himself with his homeland when he replaced Horie with half an hour of the game remaining. Horie’s ability to consistently get to the breakdown had been impressive, while Gareth Delve also replaced livewire Saffy.

The Rebels were looking especially dangerous in the maul, and Delve became the third Rebel to be held up over the line as the visitors looked to score their fourth try and secure the subsequent bonus point.

They kept their impressive set piece pressure and intensity high from the resulting scrum, and were eventually rewarded as Inman crashed and bashed his way over the try line after receiving from Hegarty. Woodward slotted a difficult kick, his first successful goal kick in Super Rugby, and the deficit was seven points with fifteen minutes remaining.

Former New Zealand U-20 representative Woodward then slotted a penalty goal after Blues run-on debutant Brendan O’Connor, who had been hugely impressive at blindside flanker, was caught offside at the ruck as the Rebels again pushed forward.

But the Blues weren’t done just yet. On a night when the Blues’ young guns had been so impressive, it was the experienced Rene Ranger who sold a great dummy and scored underneath the posts as the Blues were forced to complete multiple phases for one of the few times in this free-running game.

And as they struggled to gain and then keep possession of the ball, it signalled game over for the Rebels 36-32. They never gave in despite their chances of victory slipping further away every minute, and received further consolation when they picked up their second bonus point as Woodward scored while the hooter blared.

A lovely backline set piece ensured that for the second week running the Rebels were on the wrong side of a narrow defeat in an eleven try game, but backline coach Nathan Grey would have been pleased with the execution as Inman laid off the final pass to add a try assist to his own double.

The Rebels discipline across the first 70 minutes was markedly improved from recent performances, only conceding three penalties before a few late in the game as they tried everything to regain possession. However an inability to control the Blues’ lightning quick backline, with three players running over 100 metres with the ball, was the difference. The Rebels’ kicking game also suffered, both in-play and when shooting for goal, in the absence of O’Connor and Beale.

With the British & Irish Lions tour less than a month from kicking off, Wallaby hopefuls Pyle, Inman and Higginbotham again led from the front to ensure they are well and truly in the frame when Wallabies coach Robbie Deans selects his squad for the three test series. Hegarty also maintained his impressive opening for the duration of his time on the pitch, and looks to have a long future at this level.

But the immediate focus shifts to next weekend when the Rebels host South African powerhouse the Stormers at AAMI Park. The Stormers, who would be disappointed with their standing in the competition prior to the match against the Waratahs, are renowned for their tough defence. They also possess their own twin tower locks in Andries Bekker and Eben Eztebeth, with Pyle and Cadeyrn Neville bound to be looking forward to locking horns with them.

Blues 36 – RaboDirect Rebels 32

Blues – tries: Halai (3), Saili (2), Ranger. Conversions: Noakes (3)
RaboDirect Rebels – tries: Inman (2), Mitchell, Woodward. Conversions: Woodward (2). Penalties: Woodward

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Blues hammer Hurricanes

The Blues hammered the Hurricanes with 4 tries to none and 28-6 in a game that had even the spectators out of breath when the final whistle went.

The Blues had a promising start as they ran the ball from their own 22 before chipping it over the defence. The touchline however won out. The Hurricanes got lucky as a TMO referral for foul play, forearm to the face, resulted in only a penalty against Franks. These two teams played the first Super Rugby match back 1996 and today they are still in each other faces. Hard rugby being played. Both sides used the kicks effectively in the opening stages of the game yet they were not scared to run the ball.

The Blues drew first blood after working the ball nicely. They moved it quickly and Frank Halai went over under the posts. The Blues went straight back on the attack from the restart but squandered a scoring opportunity. The Hurricanes moved the ball down to the other side of the pitch before Barrett missed a penalty attempt. After a long period that saw both sides moving across the field, Tusi Pisi slotted a drop goal for the Hurricanes. Beauden Barrett reduced the deficit further with a penalty shortly after. A messy passage of play ensued from both sides that nearly saw the Blues score. TJ Perenara stopped a possible try from the Blues. He held up a player in the tackle. The second time he saved the Hurricanes in the half. The Blues did score as the hooter went through Charles Piutau.

The Blues started the second half they way they ended the first by scoring a try through James Parsons. This also signalled the beginning of the end for the Hurricanes. The Blues kept on applying pressure and it nearly paid off for Piutau but he knocked the ball on as he went over the line. The Hurricanes couldn’t clear their lines and the blues got the bonus point try through Tom McCartney. The Hurriacnes just didn’t seem to have answers for the Blues attack. The Hurricanes did get over the line but the Blues held them up through a brilliant tackle.

The Hurricanes started running everything as they got desperate. This opened up the game and some exciting rugby was on display by both sides for the last 20 minutes. The ball getting air and being moved from goal line to goal line and touchline to touchline. The Hurricanes just didn’t have any luck as a Julian Seavea try was disallowed because the ball he intercepted was passed from a Blues player with a foot in touch.

Jaco Peyper had a brilliant game and he allowed it to flow with good advantage play. He also went to the TMO when not sure but not for everything.

Scorers
Blues 28 – Tries:
Frank Halai, Charles Piutau, James Parsons, Tom McCartney Conversions: Chris Noakes (4).
Hurricanes 6 – Penalty: Beauden Barrett Drop goal: Tusi Pisi
Referee: Jaco Peyper.

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Highlanders Blues continue

The Highlanders suffered their 6 straight loss this season as the Blues romped home with a 29-18 victory in Auckland this morning.

The Highlanders started the game looking like a totally different side to what we have seen so far this season. Had Colin slade kicked all his attempts at goal the halftime lead could have been 12-17, but then if Chris Noakes had kicked all his kicks it would have been 15-17. The Blues only reaaly looked dangerous during the first half in the 10 minute period when Nonu was in the bin. It was also during this time that they racked up their 12 points through tries by Steven Luatua and Angus Ta’avao with Noakes converting one. The Highlanders scored via 2 Colin Slade penalties and a Ben R Smith try that Slade converted.

Steve Walsh handled the binning of Nonu quite brilliantly in my view. The TMO suggested just a penalty, but Walsh having seen the footage himself on the big screen reversed his decision and handed the big man a yellow card. And the tackle with no arms was clearly a card offense. Walsh at one stage also told Andrew Hore to watch the way he speaks to him. Nice to see a referee laying down the law.

Early in the second half George Moala received a yellow card for a tackle on Buxton Popoalii. Walsh indicated it was either that or the other. Having seen the tackle it was a harsh call. Popoalii was going down as Moala went in for the tackle and he got caught on the chin. The end result was Popoalii stretchered off the field. This type of tackle will always see a yellow card, still it was harsh as the intend was not to go high.

The Blues rode out the 10 minutes with only 14 men without conceding any poiints. They were first to score as Piri Weepu strolled over the line after a break by Williams who offloaded to Gear before Weepu received the ball. Noakes converted. The Highlander then hit back against the run of play when Phil Burleigh scored in the corner. Slade could not convert the try leaving the score at 19-18 to the Blues.

Noakes added a penalty for the hosts. Then they decided to run the ball from their own 22m area. After various passes Weepu strolled over for his second under the posts. The Highlanders tried their best to come back but brilliant defence and an unsited TMO meant they could not get close again. A rolling maul nearly saw a Highlanders try, but they were told twice to use it and didn’t.

Scorers:
Blues 29 – Tries:
Steven Luatua, Angus Ta’avao, Piri Weepu (2). Conversions:Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes (2). Penalty: Noakes
Highlanders 18 – Tries: Phil Burleigh, Ben R Smith. Conversion: Colin Slade. Penalties: Slade (2).

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Super Rugby Round 8: A punter’s nightmare

2012 Super Rugby season

This weekend’s action is filled with a couple of derbies and this always makes it difficult to predict who will win. With a season as this one is turning out to be previous records does not count for much either and there is bound to be an upset once again this week. The question is just which game it will be in. Here is a look at the games, teams and my predictions.

Blues v Highlanders – Eden Park, Auckland – 5 April, 8h35 CAT

The Highlanders might have beaten the Blues both home and away in 2012 but at the current moment it seems as if they can’t even get 4 points for a bye. They are where the Blues were last year. It is going to cost a lot for them to win this game away from home. The Blues are still a bit up and down this season, but this game should put them on the winning way again.

Prediction: Blues by 10-14

Blues Team: 15. Charles Piutau, 14. Frank Halai, 13. Rene Ranger, 12. Jackson Willison, 11. George Moala, 10. Chris Noakes, 9. Piri Weepu, 8. Peter Saili, 7. Luke Braid, 6. Steven Luatua, 5. Ali Williams (c), 4. Culum Retallick, 3. Angus Ta’avao, 2. James Parsons, 1. Tim Perry. Replacements: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18. Anthony Boric, 19. Brendon O’Connor, 20. Jamison Gibson-Park, 21. Baden Kerr, 22. Francis Saili

Higlanders Team: TBA

Brumbies v Kings – Canberra Stadium, Canberra – % April, 10h40 CAT

This should be a no brainer for anyone that has watched SupeRugby this year. Yes the Brumbies were lucky to beat the Bulls last week, but then they only just returned from South Africa that week. Yes the Kings are playing good defensive rugby and they are always looking for an opportunity to score, but this is their 3rd week on tour and they have some injuries.  The Brumbies will probably not use the kick and chase against the Kings and rather play with ball in hand. This way they can breakdown the defence and tire out the Kings. The Kings would want to use the same tactic, because if they are going to kick the ball away they will be punished.

Prediction:  Brumbies by 20+

Brumbies Team: 15. Robbie Coleman, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Joseph Tomane, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 9. Nic White, 8. Fotu Auelua, 7. George Smith, 6. Ben Mowen (c), 5. Ettienne Oosthuizen, 4. Peter Kimlin, 3. Dan Palmer, 2. Siliva Siliva, 1. Ben Alexander. Replacements: 16. Stephen Moore, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Sam Carter, 19. Colby Faingaa, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Andrew Smith, 22. Zack Holmes.

Kings Team: 15. George Whitehead, 14. Sergeal Petersen, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Andries Strauss (c), 11. Ronnie Cooke, 10. Demetri Catrakilis, 9. Nicolas Vergallo, 8. Cornell du Preez, 7. Wimpie van der Walt, 6. Devin Oosthuizen, 5. Rynier Bernardo, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Grant Kemp, 2. Hannes Franklin, 1. Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: 16. Bandise Maku, 17. Kevin Buys, 18. David Bulbring, 19. Jacques Engelbrecht, 20. Shaun Venter, 21. Marcello Sampson, 22. Elric van Vuuren

Sharks v Crusaders – Kings Park, Durban – 5 April, 19h10 CAT

Many will rate this as the game of the weekend. I however see it as one of 3 rather big games this weekend. The Sharks comes from a bye and will be rested, but as we have seen many times this might not be the best thing there is for a team. They have not beaten the Crusaders since 2006 and only twice since 1998. This does not mean they can’t do it this week. They would have seen what the Crusaders did with the Stormers and look to counter that. The Crusaders however is a team that has a game plan for each team they play. They are strong on both defence and attack and will not be easy to beat. This is still however a game that can go either way.

Prediction: Crusaders by 3-7

Sharks Team: 15. Francois Steyn, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Keegan Daniel (c), 7. Marcell Coetzee, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Anton Bresler, 19. Ryan Kankowski, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Riaan Viljoen, 22. Louis Ludik

Crusaders Team: 15. Tom Marshall, 14. Adam Whitelock, 13. Robert Fruean, 12. Ryan Crotty, 11. Zac Guildford, 10. Tyler Bleyendaal, 9. Andy Ellis, 8. Luke Whitelock, 7. Matt Todd, 6. George Whitelock (c), 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Luke Romano, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Corey Flynn, 1. Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Joe Moody, 18. Dominic Bird, 19. Jordan Taufua, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Telusa Veainu, 22. Israel Dagg

Hurricanes v Waratahs – Westpac Stadium, Wellington – 6 April, 8h35 CAT

This is the second big game of the weekend and again a game that can go either way. The Hurricanes have been winning close contests this season and are looking good at home. Last weekend’s win would serve as added motivation for a team believing they can make the play-offs. The Waratahs are having a normal up and down season, but you can never write them off. Still it might just be a stretch to far for them.

Prediction: Hurricanes by 5

Hurricanes Team: 15. André Taylor, 14. Alapati Leiua, 13. Conrad Smith (c), 12. Tim Bateman, 11. Julian Savea, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. TJ Perenara, 8. Victor Vito, 7. Ardie Savea, 6. Brad Shields, 5. Jason Eaton, 4. Mark Reddish, 3. Ben May, 2. Motu Matu’u, 1. Ben Franks. Replacements: 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18. James Broadhurst, 19. Faifili Levave, 20. Chris Smylie, 21. Tusi Pisi, 22. Reynold Lee-Lo

Waratahs Team: 15. Israel Folau, 14. Peter Betham, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Rob Horne, 11. Drew Mitchell, 10. Bernard Foley, 9. Brendan McKibbin, 8. Patrick McCutcheon, 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Dave Dennis (c), 5. Kane Douglas, 4. Sitaleki Timani, 3. Sekope Kepu, 2. John Ulugia, 1. Benn Robinson. Replacements: 16. Luke Holmes, 17. Paddy Ryan, 18. Mitchell Chapman, 19. Wycliff Palu, 20. Matt Lucas, 21. Ben Volavola, 22. Tom Kingston

Force v Rebels – NIB Stadium, Perth – 6 April, 10h40 CAT

These two teams has not yet been in a game where one team has won by more than 7 points and you can expect another close encounter. The Rebels might have won the first game of the season, but they have been hammered on their recent South African tour and have issues in the squad. The Force will look to record a victory at home and can do it against the Rebels.

Prediction: Force by 3

Force Team: TBA

Rebels Team: 15. James O`Connor, 14. Richard Kingi, 13. Mitch Inman, 12. Rory Sidey, 11. Jason Woodward, 10. Angus Roberts, 9. Nick Phipps, 8. Scott Higginbotham (c), 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 6. Luke Jones, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 4. Hugh Pyle, 3. Paul Alo-Emile, 2. Ged Robinson, 1. Nic Henderson.  Replacements: 16. Shota Horie, 17. Laurie Weeks, 18. Jarrod Saffy, 19. Jordy Reid, 20. Nick Stirzaker, 21. Tom English, 22. Cooper Vuna

Cheetahs v Stormers – Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – 6 April, 17h05 CAT

This is going to be the 3rd cracker game of the weekend. The Cheetahs have won 4 in a row of which 3 were on tour. They are building momentum and believe. Currently lying 6th on the overall log they will not want to relinquish that position. The Stormers need to start winning, but they know that this is never an easy task in Bloemfontein. The team that can dominate the set pieces will probably be the team that walk away the victors. The Stormers will not want to kick away possession as they did last week and rather try and get their attack going. The Cheetahs will not look to change much of what they have been doing so far this season.

Prediction: Stormers by less than 7

Cheetahs Team: 15. Hennie Daniller, 14. Willie Le Roux, 13. Johann Sadie, 12. Robert Ebersohn, 11. Raymond Rhule, 10. Burton Francis, 9. Piet van Zyl, 8. Philip Van der Walt, 7. Pieter Labuschagne, 6. Heinrich Brussow, 5. Francois (FS) Uys, 4. Lodewyk de Jager, 3. Lourens Adriaanse, 2. Adriaan Strauss (c), 1. Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: 16. Ryno Barnes, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen, 18. Rynard Landman, 19. Boom Prinsloo, 20. Sarel Pretorius, 21. Francois Brummer, 22. Rayno Benjamin

Stormers Team: 15. Jaco Taute, 14. Joe Pietersen, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers (c), 11. Gio Aplon, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Nick Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Michael Rhodes, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Douw Grobler, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Gary Van Aswegen, 22. Damian de Allende

 

Chiefs win close encounter

The Chiefs out scored the Blues two tries to one as they surged to the top of the New Zealand Conference. It could have been far worse had two first half tries not been disallowed by the TMO.

The first half might seem like it was a dull affair if one looks at the halftime score of 9-6. The Chiefs did however cross the line twice through Gareth Anscombe and Asaeli Tikoirotuma. Jonathan Kaplan had both tries reveiwed with the TMO coming back with reasons not to allow the tries. This meant that three Anscombe penalties played two Chris Noakes penalties.

The second half was filled with action as the Chiefs once again surged over the line twice, this time the tries did stand. Ben Tameifuna burst over the line after sustained pressure from the Chiefs early in the second half. Richard Kahui then charged a kick by Francis Saili. He raced through to grab the ball and scored. This gave the Chiefs a 23-9 lead. The Blues got a consilation try through George Moala late in the game but by then it was a done deal.

The Chiefs are looking more and more like the defending Champions and has send a warning to teams that they can break defenses. The Blues are currently slumping back into a habit of losing close games.

SCORERS
Chiefs 23 – Tries:
Ben Tameifuna, Richard Kahui. Conversions: Gareth Ansombe (2). Penalties: Anscombe (3).
Blues 16 – Try: Frank Halai. Conversion: Baden Kerr. Penalties: Chris Noakes (3).

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