There’s never a dull moment when it comes to Super Rugby, is there! Last Friday saw two intriguing contests go down. While the first game between the Highlanders and the Sharks was on the low scoring side of things, it did have some real quality moments for such a tightly contested affair.
The second game of the day was in complete contrast, with the Melbourne Rebels and Free State Cheetahs running the ball from all parts in a high-scoring clash.
Hopefully, this Friday’s two fixtures can live up to the lofty standards set by its predecessor.
Chiefs v Sharks | Friday 29 April | Yarrow Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Chiefs 1/6 | Draw 33/1 | Sharks 37/10
Chiefs (-13.5) 9/10 | Sharks (+13.5) 9/10
Cometh, the moment, cometh the man – the Garth April story. While the young pivot is still in the fledgling stages of his rugby playing career, he may want to think about saving that title for any future autobiography. The Sharks youngster – who got his first start of the campaign - put in a solid showing against a 14 man Highlander’s outfit last week to ensure his side claimed a much-needed victory.
The Natalians had come into this one as rank outsiders, with most pundits (myself included) predicting that the Highlanders would canter to victory in front of an expectant Forsyth Barr crowd.
The opening 16 or so minutes of the game seemed to justify these views with the Highlanders dominating both the possession and territory stakes. The game was to have a massive twist, however, when Jason Emery’s challenge on an airborne Willie le Roux saw the Highlanders centre given his marching orders. The 'faux paux' by Emery gave the Sharks a huge advantage which was gratefully accepted by the South Africans who managed to eek out a narrow one-point victory.
While the Sharks still struggled to convert gilt-edged try-scoring opportunities, Gary Gold, and his charges will have taken a lot of heart from that one point triumph down in Dunedin. Especially considering that the result put an end to their three-match losing streak.
The victory itself isn’t the only positive Gary Gold can draw from last Friday. Veterans Jean Deysel and Keegan Daniel put in solid shifts, with the former really impressing on his return to the senior squad. As mentioned earlier, Garth April put in a mature display that will have gone some way to resolving the flyhalf crisis that was plaguing the Sharks campaign.
There are a few grey clouds forming on what has been a rather pleasant few days for the Natalians however, the most ominous of which is a Waikato Chiefs juggernaut.
Dave Rennie’s men have set this year’s tournament alight with their thrilling brand of rugby. They’ve been well rewarded for their attacking endeavours, winning seven of their eight fixtures thus far. This impressive run of form sees them top every single conference they are involved in.
The men from Waikato will be reluctant to take their foot off the gas either, especially with domestic rivals, the Crusaders, now starting to find their groove. While the Chiefs narrow away victory over the Hurricanes last Saturday has enhanced their chances of securing a home final – should they make it through the first two playoff rounds – they will still be wary of the threat posed by the Crusaders.
In terms of team news for this one, the Sharks will be without energetic scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and hardworking loosie Philip van der Walt. The former has been ruled out of the remainder of the tour of New Zealand with a knee injury while the latter joined him on the plane back to Durban due to a neck injury. Their starting berths are likely to be taken by Michael Claasens and Jean Deysel while Stefan Ungerer and Giant Mtyanda have been called in as backup.
On the Chiefs side of things, it looks like Charlie Nagati has recovered from his shoulder injury so he’ll come back into the centres which is bad news for the Sharks as the big bruiser has been in sensational try scoring form this term.
Verdict: Chiefs (-13.5) 9/10
Unless there are three red cards in this game I cannot see the Sharks going down by anything less than twenty points. Back the hosts to clear the margin with confidence.
Force v Bulls | Friday 29 April | nib Stadium | 13:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Force 17/10 | Draw 28/1 | Bulls 4/10
Force | Bulls
This fixture could either turn out to be an entertaining free-scoring affair or a complete waste of 80-minutes of your life. Both sides are more than capable of playing with an element of panache but they’re also capable of producing a style of play straight out of the Heynecke Meyer textbook of “moer en skop”.
The Bulls may have shown moments of attacking brilliance under Nollis Marais this term but that old habit of gifting the ball away, through an aimless kick, seems to rear its ugly head far too often.
I don’t blame Marais for this, I think it’s more to do with the regime some of the elder Bulls statesmen were under before the former University of Pretoria head coach was handed the reigns. To be brutally honest, I think he’s probably more annoyed than anyone else when he sees Francois Brummer or Tian “The Real Slim Shady” Schoeman kick the ball onto an opposing fullback.
It will be interesting to see which of the aforementioned pivots Marais selects for this weekend’s clash with the Force. Brummer has cracked the nod in recent times but Schoeman seems to have a bit more zip to his passing game than his teammate. And with the likes of Jessie Kriel,
While the Bulls are facing somewhat of an existential crises this year, it seems the Force have found a game plan that suits their playing personnel to a tee. While they were put to the sword by the ‘Tahs last weekend, they’ve still been a lot more competitive this year than in seasons gone past.
The Western Australians have adopted a brand of play that wouldn’t look out of place in the Currie Cup. They keep things simple, by using their forwards to truck it up through a few phases and then only look to get their outside backs involved in the game once they reached the fifth or six phase of possession. The reason they’re able to hold on to possession for numerous phases at a time is their diligent loose forward trio lead by the dogged Matt Hodgson.
Verdict: Bulls 4/10
With Hodgson, Ben McCalman, and Angus Cotrell set to link up again this week, the Bulls forwards are in for a real battle at the breakdown. If they can see off the threat posed by the devastating trio, and keep Force flyhalf Peter Grant quiet, then they should be able to pick up four vital log points.
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