Super Rugby: Round 2 (Saturday)

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

Another Saturday of mouth-watering rugby is in store this weekend and while it’s going to have a lot to live up to after last weekend’s epic clashes, I think it may well have surpassed its predecessor when the final whistle goes at Kings' Park on Saturday evening.

The first game on Saturday pits the much improved Lions up against competition favorites, the Waikato Chiefs. That fixture is followed by a repeat of last year’s final with the Highlanders hosting the Hurricanes. We then jump across the Tasman for an all Australian affair between the Force and the Reds.

It’s then over to the republic where the Bulls take on the Rebels and the Cheetahs host the Stormers. The round closes out with the Sharks taking on the Jaguares at Kings Park.

Chiefs v Lions | Saturday 5 March | FMG Stadium Waikato | 06:15

To Win (80 Mins)
Chiefs 1/8 | Draw 30/1 | Lions 5/1
Chiefs (-14.5) 9/10 | Lions (+14.5) 9/10
We kick Saturday’s action off with what should prove to be an exhibition of running rugby. The Chiefs come into this one off the back of a 21-27 victory over the Crusaders which saw them run in 4 tries, while the Lions also managed four tries in their 26-13 victory over the Sunwolves.

Not only did both sides demonstrate their ability to attack from deep, they also exhibited their mastery of the driving maul. Sam Cane’s try, late in the second stanza, was a brilliant example of how the new mauling rules can be manipulated. In the past, that ball would have been shuffled to the man at the back of the pack. Instead, the Chiefs simply got numbers in behind their flanker and worked their way over the line from five meters out. Robbie Coetzee try for the Lions was similar in nature although from much further out.

So we know both teams have an attacking mindset and a have the ability to keep it tight when the game necessitates it. So the question that now remains is where this one will be won or lost? I think it may come down to the battle of tens. Aaron Cruden made a solid comeback last week. He distributed the ball well and was accurate with the boot. While Lions pivot Elton Jantjies got his backline going with some silky passing, his goal kicking was horrific. He missed two sitters in the first stanza, and if he leaves points out there this week, then the Lions will have no chance of winning this one.

In terms of team news, Chiefs mentor Dave Rennie has made two changes to his starting XV. Maama Vaipulu comes into the eighth man berth with Tom Sanders shifting to the side of the scrum. The other change is in the backline where Latu Vaeno in on the right wing for the injured Shaun Stevenson.

Johan Ackerman is yet to announce his side at the time of writing, but I reckon we will see a very similar starting XV to the one that ran out in Japan  

Verdict: Chiefs (-14.5) 9/10
The Chiefs tend to do well on their own patch and while the Lions are playing some good rugga, I can’t see them competing with the Chiefs this Saturday. Back the host to clear the -14.5 margin.

Highlanders v Hurricanes | Saturday 5 March | Forsyth Barr Stadium

To Win (80Mins)
Highlanders 11/20 | Draw 20/1 | Hurricanes 15/10 
Highlanders (-4.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (+4.5) 9/10
We’ve got an absolute classic in store here with last year’s finalists locking horns at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. Both sides are committed to playing an attacking brand of rugby so we could well be in for a high-scoring thriller here.

The Highlanders weren’t at their best last week but they did show glimpses of what they can produce when their phase play clicks – which was evident during the build up to Ben Smith’s late try. One point of concern for the Jamie Joseph’s men will be some of the stupid penalties that they conceded. If memory serves, the Highlanders conceded at least three kickable penalties by not rolling away from the tackle. You simply can’t concede those sorts of penalties that frequently and expect to win a Super Rugby game.

While the Highlanders were nowhere near their best, their opponents for this weekend's clash were absolutely dire. The Hurricanes looked a shadow of the all-conquering side that took to the field in last year’s tournament. Their pack was non-existent, and their backline struggled to put more than two passes together.

Both teams should be a lot better this weekend having shaken off the pre-season cobwebs. The Hurricanes have apparently been working hard on the defensive side of their game this week, with a lot of focus going towards defending the driving maul.

In terms of team news, the Highlanders will be without one of their most potent attacking weapons, Waisake Naholo due to the big winger fracturing his leg in last week’s defeat. Naholo’s spot on the wing will be taken by new signing Matt Faddes. Other changes to the starting XV see Luke Whitelock come into the eigthman berth in place of Liam Squires, while Brendon Edmonds comes in for Daniel Lienert-Brown on the loosehead.

While Jamie Joseph’s has opted to tweak his side a bit, his counterpart has decided to stick with the same starting XV that got hammered by the Brumbies.

Verdict: Highlanders (-4.5) 9/10
The Canes midfield defense was horrendous last week and with the battering ram that is Malakai Fekitoa set to line up at outside centre for the Highlanders, I can see the Canes midfield getting exposed once again. Back the Highlanders to repeat their 2015 final performance and down the Hurricanes. 

Reds v Force | Saturday 5 March | Suncorp Stadium | 10:45

To Win (80 Mins)
Reds 9/20 | Draw 20/1 | Force 18/10
Reds (-6.5) 9/10 | Force (+6.5) 9/10

Aussie derbies are often rather boring affairs that see the ball played between the two opposition twenty twos rather than the red zone. And I fully expect this game to play to a similar script. The Reds were decent against the Tahs last week but didn’t spend much time in the opposition twenty-two. While the Force also put in an alright performance against a Rebels team who are on for a fantastic season, they were culpable of simply going through the phases and not really attacking the gain line with any vigour.

Both teams will be looking to bounce back from opening day defeats but it may be the hosts who have the edge in this one. Their young side looked rather good in the second stanza last weekend and although they went down by 20 points they did prove that they are able to scrap – which isn’t something you traditionally associate with Queensland rugby.

While the Reds were scrapping it out with the Waratahs, the Force were being outplayed by the Rebels. The 30 plus degree conditions that the game was played in made handling the ball an absolute nightmare. The Force struggled to string more than three phases together without coughing up the ball and while you have to take the mitigating factors into consideration – it was the first competitive game of the season for the Force – you have to take the ball through the phases if you’re going to end a game with a decent points tally on the scoreboard.

The Force will have to cut those handling errors out of their game if they are to beat this young Reds side. The Queenslanders love playing on the counter and any turnover ball is likely to be exploited by their pacy outside backs.

The team news coming out of the Force camp is that Ben McCalman will make his return to the matchday squad. The big number eight will play off the bench while Semisi Masirewa comes in for Marcel Brache on the left wing. On the Reds' side of things, Japanese sensation Ayumu Goromaru will get his first start for the Queensland franchise while Karmichael Hunt will shift to inside centre with Henry Teafu injured.

Verdict: Reds (-6.5) 9/10
The Force’s decision to keep Peter Grant on the bench is absolutely perplexing. Their backline lacked guidance until the former Stormers man came onto the field last week. I think the side from the West Coast of Australia have missed a trick here and are going to pay for their decision to Jono Lance at ten.  

Bulls v Rebels | Saturday 5 March | Loftus Versfeld | 15:00

To Win (80 Mins)
Bulls 7/20 | Draw 22/1 | Rebels 22/10
Bulls (-7.5) 9/10 | Rebels (+7.5) 9/10

The Bulls will still be wondering what the hell went on at Newlands and I think I may have the answer. For all the talk of an attacking brand of rugby coming from Nollis Marais, his side’s decision to revert back to kicking game was the reason they suffered such a heavy defeat. I honestly sat there wondering why they kept kicking the ball into the Cape Town sky when the Stormers pack were dominating them at lineout time. I mean it’s one thing to play the territory game when your lineout is functioning well, but to try and implement a tactical kicking game when the opposition are dominating the step piece is ludicrous.

The Rebels coaching staff will have identified this weakness and are likely to try an exploit it this weekend. The Melbourne franchise’s line out functioned quite well last weekend with Luke Jones and Lopeti Timpani secure on their own ball and disruptive on the opposition throw. Their tight five as a whole functioned quite well - dominating the Force at scrum time and around the fringes of the ruck. Their backrow were probably the best performers, however.

Sean McMahon, Jordy Reid, and Adam Thompson were devastating at the breakdown. They also got around the park and made countless tackles. Their physicality and breakdown prowess could well see the Rebels to victory at Loftus.

The Bulls are in for a tough one especially with their talismanic youngster Jesse Kriel ruled out due to a concussion sustained in practice this week. The youngster’s absence will see Jan Serfontein shift to outside centre with Burger Odendaal set to don the number 12 jumper. The Rebels have also been forced to make a few changes. Mike Harris has been ruled out for up to 12 weeks with a quad tear while Colby Fainga is out for a month with an elbow injury.

Verdict: Rebels (+ 7.5)
Kriel was set to be the focal point of this attacking brand of Bulls rugby. His absence is a massive blow for the Bulls who are likely to struggle on attack without him. I highly recommend backing the Rebels on the plus here as the Bulls looked extremely toothless on attack last weekend and are likely to be even more tame with Kriel out.

Cheetahs v Stormers | Saturday 5 March | Toyota Stadium | 17:10

To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 18/10 | Draw 25/1 | Stormers 4/10
Cheetahs (+6.5) 9/10| Stormers (-6.5) 9/10 

Franco Smith was left to rue his team’s inability to control a game after last week’s defeat to the Jaguares. Having taken a 21 point lead in the opening quarter of the game, everyone was expecting the Cheetahs to hand the Jaguares an opening day defeat. This was not the case however as the Cheetahs addiction to playing a helter skelter brand of rugby allowed the Jaguares back into the game despite the Argentines' indiscipline.

Smith berated his charges after the game, and I would have done the same. To lose a game you were so firmly in charge of is simply not good enough. While I’m all for playing an expansive brand of rugby, there comes a time where you just have to kick for the corner and try and keep the opposition pinned in their own half. And until the Cheetahs learn this, they are going to be on a hiding to nothing.

While the Cheetahs performance was straight out of the "how not to control a game of rugby" textbook, the Stormers dismantling of the Bulls was straight out of the "how to" collection. They kept the ball close when necessary and only spread the ball when there was space for their outside backs to exploit. A lot of the plaudits for this exhibition in game management must go to young Daniel du Preez. The young pivot had a blinder. His kicking out of hand was sublime as was his goal kicking. He also distributed the ball well and ran at the Bulls defensive line with a lot of intent. The young gun is likely to play a vital role for the Cape based side this coming Saturday.

Neither coach has announced his match day squad at the time of writing, but I can’t foresee too many changes to the starting XV’s or the benches.

Verdict: Stormers 4/10
The Stormers were immaculate last week and I can see them putting on a similar display at the Free State Stadium this time around. The Cheetahs lust for an open game is likely to come back and bite them again. Back the Stormers to get the job done at the Free State Stadium this Saturday.

Sharks v Jaguares | Saturday 5 March | Growthpoint Kings Park

To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 11/20 | Draw 28/1 | Jaguares 14/10
Sharks (-4.5) 9/10 | Jaguares (+4.5) 9/10

Our final game of the weekend sees two sides who live on the borderline of the rules go head to head at Kings Park. The hosts for Saturday, ran the Kings ragged in the second stanza last weekend. Gary Gold may be worried about his charges first half showing, though. The boys from Natal struggled to really exert their dominance over a Kings side that are likely to be the whipping boys of the competition. Handling errors and ill-discipline saw the Sharks go into the half time break only seven points up.

They were a lot more disciplined and clinical in the second stanza and were rewarded with a bonus point win. The Jags' also made up for a poor first half showing with a classy second-half display which perfectly illustrated their never say die attitude.

This weekend’s game is likely to be a much more low scoring affair than the games that the two sides were involved in last week. The set piece is likely to be where this game is won or lost. Both teams have brilliant sets of forwards who will be relishing the prospect of an almighty set piece battle.

The team news coming out of the Sharks camp is rather positive. Willie le Roux is set to make his home day debut despite leaving him the field with a stiff back last weekend. Joe Pietersen is likely to continue at flyhalf, while Marcel Coetzee and the du Preez twins should continue their fledgling partnership at the back of the Sharks scrum.

Like the Sharks, the Jags are yet to announce their side at the time of writing, but I fully expect Raul Perez to announce a very similar starting XV to the one that took to the Free State Stadium pitch last Friday.

Verdict: Jaguares (+ 4.5) 9/10
The Argentines really impressed me last week. You don’t come back from a large deficit like they did without there being a fantastic team spirit running through the squad. Back the Jags to stay within the +4.5 at 9/10.  

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