Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
My SuperBru account, as well as my wallet, took a bit of a hammering last weekend, and while I stand by some of my picks – I really thought the Bulls would have put in a better shift against their southern rivals - I do have to admit, that a few of them have left me with at least two large proverbial eggs shattered on my face. The 'Canes made me look like an absolute mug while the Blues - who I had said would enjoy a brilliant tournament in my New Zealand Conference preview – produced a shock result by defeating the defending champions.
Anyway, let’s look ahead to the future rather than dwell on the past, and round two certainly offers a shot at redemption for yours truly. While this week’s fixtures list is a bit of a tough one to navigate, I’m positive that I’ve found a few profitable tips. Let’s get to it then.
Canterbury Crusaders v Auckland Blues | Friday 4 March | AMI Stadium | 08:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 7/10 | Draw 22/1 | Blues 11/10
Crusaders (-2.5) 9/10 | Blues (+2.5) 9/10
There are a couple of games this weekend that are going to be tighter than a duck's backside and this is definitely one of them. The Saders were decent against the Chiefs last weekend despite ultimately going down by six points, while the Blues put in a marvelous display against the defending champions in the tournament opener.
The Crusaders' blueprint for the season was exhibited for all the world to see last Saturday. It looks to be rather simple and more Blue Bulls circa-2003 than vintage Canterbury rugby. You can’t really fault Todd Blackadder for adopting a forward orientated game, however. He has a brilliant pack at his disposal and his backline is rather inexperienced. That’s not to say that his backline players are talentless kids who are unable to produce the goods. No, far from it, as a few of the 'Saders young guns displays last week bear testament to.
21-year-old pivot Richie Mo’unga was brilliant on debut last week; scoring a try and kicking superbly out of hand. With the Crusaders likely to implement the same strategy as they did last week for this weekend’s clash, Mo’unga’s kicking game could prove to be the difference between the two sides.
While the Crusaders have opted for a conservative game plan for their 2016 campaign, the Blues seem to have gone for a far more open approach. They exhibited this last week by spreading the ball at every given opportunity and were rewarded with three brilliantly crafted tries.
Like their opponents for this weekend, the Blues will look to their pivot to give them the upper hand in this one. Blues ten Ihia West had an absolute blinder last weekend. His kicking out of hand was near faultless, and I’m still salivating over the delicate cross kick that set up Melani Nanai’s first half try. He was also on song with his kicking for goal; nailing some vital shots from some challenging angles. Strangely though, Tana Umaga has opted to drop West to the bench for this one. While it does seem a rather perplexing decision, it may turn out to be a master stroke as West is likely to come on for the last 20 minutes of the game and possibly run a tiring 'Saders outfit ragged.
In terms of team news for this one, Todd Blackadder has made just a single change to his matchday 23, with Pete Samu taking Reed Prinsep’s place on the bench. While Blues mentor Tana Umaga has opted to make more wholesale changes for this one. The biggest of which sees skipper Jerome Kaino return to the side having served his one-match suspension. Fellow veteran Rene Ranger comes into the outside centre berth for Male Sa’u, who reverts to the bench. There’s also a new starting halfback pairing for the Auckland-based franchise with Billy Guyton and Matt McGahan coming in for Bryn Hall and Ehia West respectively.
Verdict: Blues 11/10
I’m honestly feeling another upset victory for the Blues, Tana Umaga is proving somewhat of tactical genius with his decision to bring on Akira Ioane and Rene Ranger in the second stanza helping the Blues keep their intensity levels up for the full 80. If Ihia West can make the same sort of impact off the bench that Ioane and Ranger did , then I think the Blues may come out on top at the AMI.
Brumbies v New South Wales Waratahs | Friday 4 March | GIO Stadium | 10:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Brumbies 4/10 | Draw 28/1 | Waratahs 17/10
Brumbies -5.5 (9/10) | Waratahs +5.5 (9/10)
Before I even get into these sides previous performances, or statistical analysis, I just want to say one thing; make sure you don’t miss this game. The quality that will be on display at the GIO Stadium on Friday morning is absolutely staggering and the individual battles that are set to take place are titanic.
There’s something for all rugby fans in this one, regardless of your orientation. For those who enjoy the niggle and grit associated with the breakdown and contact situation, you’ll see the Wallaby loose trio - or the “Fardy Poopers” as they’re known ‘down under’ – go head to head. While for the rugby fan who's more mesmerized by backline flair, there’s going to be a bit of a, for lack of a better term, dance off between the hot-stepping Isreal Folau and Brumbies' wingers Henry Speight and Joe Tomane to look forward to.
Okay so we’ve established that there are going to be some almighty clashes between the two sets of backs and the loosies but what about the tight fives. Well, this could possibly be where the game is won or lost. The Brumbies driving maul was unstoppable last week. The way they decimated the Hurricanes attempts to shut down the drive will have left opposition Super Rugby coaches with a lot of food for thought. The 'Tahs were also decent at lineout time winning most of their own throws and nicking a few of the Reds feeds.
Both packs also showed their scrummaging prowess last week. And with two Wallabies packing down in the front row for the Brumbies and the experienced Paddy Ryan anchoring the Waratahs scrum; we’re in for a cracking contest at scrum time this Friday.
The sides met twice in last year’s tournament with the 'Tahs winning in Sydney and Canberra. The first game was a rather low scoring affair with the 'Tahs sneaking the win by 13 points to 10 while the second game saw a grand total of four tries run in with the men from New South Wales crossing the whitewash on three occasions. The Waratahs have won five out of the last seven Super Rugby meeting between the two sides with the Brumbies last tasting victory over their opponents back in 2014.
Verdict: Brumbies (-5.5) 9/10
The stats may indicate a Waratahs victory but as we all know, history counts for little when it comes to this tournament. My money is on the Brumbies driving maul leading them to a margin clearing victory.
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