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Super Rugby: Round 10 (Saturday)
So we’ve arrived at the ten round mark and some hard lessons have been learnt by yours truly. The first bit of knowledge that I’ve garnered from my 'faux pas' attempts in previous rounds, is that the Australian Conference is as weak as they come.
One only needs to look at the points differential accrued by the Aussie' Conference’s leading side, the Melbourne Rebels, to illustrate my point. Tony McGahan’s boys -9 points differential is the best out of all the Australian sides. Shocking reading there for those who love a good old “shrimp on the barbie” and think 'Waltzing Matilda' is the best song ever composed.
While our Australian counterparts will be weeping into their Fosters’ pints at the sight of such a damning stat, South Africans in Pretoria and Cape Town will be confident that there two sides can heap further misery upon the beleaguered Australian franchises.
There are some tricky ties for the other two South African franchises who will grace the rugby field this Saturday however, with the Lions hosting the Hurricanes in what will be a true test of the Johannesburg-based franchises’ title credentials.
The day’s play will close out in sunny Argentina where the Jaguares will be looking to bounce back from their ignominious defeat to the Sunwolves by hammering a Kings side that is notorious for putting in a solid first 40-minutes and then falling apart in the second stanza.
Blues v Rebels | Saturday 30 April | Eden Park | 07:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Blues 7/20 | Draw 28/1 | Rebels 2/1
Blues (-7.5) 9/10 | Rebels (+7.5) 9/10
Is it just me? Or does it fell like the last time the Auckland Blues took to a rugby field was a few months ago? Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve failed to live up to the lofty expectations I set for them with my season preview, or maybe the reason it feels so long ago is that I’ve tried to block out all of the Sharks defeats this season including their loss to the Blues two rounds back.
Tana Umaga’s men will return to the playing field this weekend when they take on an unpredictable Rebels outfit.
The Rebels may top the Australian Conference but that is probably the most hollow of accolades floating about at the minute. Tony McGahan’s men have racked up five victories thus far, but it must be noted that those wins came against the weaker sides in the competition, with their only real conquest being a 21-17 away victory over the Waratahs.
The Rebels do come into this one in good shape, however, having seen off a fired up Cheetahs outfit by 36 points to 14 last Friday.
In terms of team news, the Blues will be without talismanic utility back Rene Ranger whose place in the side is taken once-capped All Black George Moala. The only other change to the blues starting XV will see either Patrick Tuipolotu or Hoani Matenga come into one of the locking berths.
On the Rebels’ side of things, prop Laurie Weeks is out with a hamstring injury. His unavailability leads to a run on appearance for perennial bench warmer Jamie Hagan.
Verdict: Blues 7/20
The last four clashes between the sides have been won by the home team and I reckon history will repeat itself this Saturday. I’d be weary of backing either side on the handicap as these games have seen a mixed bag in terms winning margins. Instead, look elsewhere for value, or if you have to have a punt on this one back the Blues on a straight win – while there’s not much value there it’s still the most likely of results.
Highlanders v Brumbies | Saturday 30 April | Rugby Park | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders 9/20 | Draw 25/1 | Brumbies 31/20
Highlanders (-4.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (+4.5) 9/10
Two sides who are coming off the back of disappointing losses will go head to head at Forsyth Barr in Saturday’s second fixture. The hosts for this one will be ruing an early red card that cost them a vital four points last Friday while the visitors must still be red in the face having suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in the history of the franchise having been manhandled by the Crusaders last Sunday.
Jason Emery’s four-week suspension for a dangerous tackle on Willie le Roux will necessitate a change in the Highlanders' backline. Hard running Rob Thompson will link up with Malekia Fekitoa in an extremely physical centre partnership. Other changes to the Highlander’s run on XV sees Patrick Osbourne return to the left wing with Jack Wilson shifting to the right touchline. In the pack, a foot injury to Liam Coltman has opened the door Ash Dixon to grab hold of the incumbent hooking berth while Alex Ainley will don the number four jumper in place of Joe Wheeler who drops to the bench.
On the Brumbies front, talismen Joe Tomane and Steven Moore have both been ruled due to injuries sustained against the Crusaders last week. The former's place in the starting fifteen is taken by Nigel Ah Wong while the latter’s hooking berth will be filled by Jash Mann-Rea. There’s also a welcome return for breakdown pillager David Pocock, while both Ruan Smith and Allan Alaalatoa come into the front row.
Verdict: Highlanders (-4.5) 9/10
While the Brumbies have been somewhat of a bogey team for the Highlanders over the past few years – Jamie Joseph’s side have only won a single game out of the last six contests – I just don’t think the Brumbies have the fire power to get another one over their New Zealand opponents. Back the hosts to clear the -4.5 margin at 9/10.
Reds v Cheetahs | Saturday 30 April | Suncorp Stadium | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Reds 9/20 | Draw 28/1 | Cheetahs 16/10
Reds (-5.5) 9/10 | Cheetahs (+5.5) 9/10
It may not be the blockbuster fixture of the weekend, but I suspect we are in for a thoroughly entertaining affair at the Suncorp Stadium this Saturday. Both sides love to attack and their defensive systems are two of the most porous in the competition. With that in mind, I reckon we’ll see one of those high-scoring thrillers that has become synonymous with Free State Rugby.
The hosts come into this one off the back of a decent, if somewhat disappointing, display against the Stormers. The Brisbane-based franchise once again had their moments during their 80-minute contest in Cape Town but their old Achilles Heel – their weak defensive structure – came back to bite them.
Despite going down by 20 points last Saturday, the Reds still have a lot of positives to draw from their short tour of South Africa. Centre Samu Kerevei was in all-conquering form while flanker Liam Gill improves with each passing week.
The biggest positive for the Reds however, must be the improvement made by young pivot Jake McIntrye. He may have thrown an intercept pass last week but other than that one blemish, he looked calm cool and collected. He’s going to need to repeat the trick this weekend as the Cheetahs are an absolute nightmare for flyhalves to play against as any wayward kick or missed placed passed will capitalized on by the likes of Clayton Bloometjies.
The Cheetahs also come into this one off the back of a fixture that would have left a bit of a sour taste in their mouth but wouldn’t have been wholly disappointing. Franco Smith’s side once again demonstrated their fantastic attacking skills but, much like the Reds, the Free State-based franchise was found wanting on defense.
The good news for Smith and his charges is they may not need to worry that much about the defensive side of their game this coming Saturday. Yes, they’ll need to make their tackles but a simple slip is unlikely to cost them the game as they’re likely to score a bucket load of tries themselves.
In terms of the team news coming out of the respective camps, the Reds have retained their starting XV for this clash while the Cheetahs will be forced to make a few changes due to injury.
While Franco Smith is yet to announce his squad, were likely to see veteran flanker Willie Britz return to the fold, while impressive young prop Ox Nche could also feature.
Verdict: Cheetahs 16/10
It’s a massive risk but if I were in search of a high reward for a low stake I’d definitely pin my hopes on this one. The Reds had to make a long haul flight back to Australia this week and that could see them fatigue late on in this weekend’s contest.
Lions v Hurricanes | Saturday 30 April | Emirates Airline Park | 17:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 8/10 | Draw 22/1 | Hurricanes 1/1
Lions (-1.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (+1.5) 9/10
Johan Ackermann’s men face arguably their sternest test of their 2016 campaign with the free flowing Hurricanes visiting the Lions’den this Saturday. While the hosts have had some success against the New Zealand franchises this term – they’re the only team to have beaten the Chiefs – this game could well measure how realistic their chances are of winning the tournament.
While most cynics will currently tell you that the Lions have no chance of being crowned 2016 Super Rugby Champions, those opinions may well change if the Johan Ackermann's side manage to overcome this Hurricanes squad. They have enough class to see off their competitors from New Zealand with the likes of Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantijies, and Warren Whitley in their run on XV. They will however, need their centre pairing to be on song as the Hurricanes midfield combination of Vince Aso and Matt Proctor have been in sensational form of the past few weeks.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see who Johan Ackermann elects to partner Lionel Mapoe with. Young inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg is a battering ram who’s capable of tearing through this Hurricane’s midfield with a neat angle and a drop of the shoulder while Howard Mnisi is a dogged defender whose determination often sees him cross the whitewash with three or so defenders hanging off his back.
Another selection quagmire facing the Lions mentor is what to do with his frontrow. While he’s not short on hookers, with Malcolm Marx having returned from injury and Akker van der Merve in scintillating form, he does have a shortage of props with Ruan Dreyer having picked up an injury in their 35-point victory over the Kings last week. This selection headache could be cleared up if Julian Redenglinghuis manages to pass a late fitness test, though.
On the Canes side of things, it looks like it will see a very similar starting XV to the one that went down by a point to the Chiefs last week.
Verdict: Lions (-1.5) 8/10
The Lions have a horrid record against the Canes having lost all six of the previous encounters between the two sides. My money is on that trend coming to an abrupt halt this weekend, however.
Stormers v Waratahs | Saturday 30 April | DHL Newlands | 19:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Stormers 4/10 | Draw 25/1 | Waratahs 18/10
Stormers (-6.5) 9/10 | Waratahs (+6.5) 9/10
If you had asked me to preview this game prior to the Waratahs second half showing against the Force last week I would have had my money firmly in the Stormers' camp. Things have changed since I witnessed the Waratahs finally click, however.
The hosts for this one may have already seen off two Australasian sides at Newlands with consummate ease but I reckon this game is going to be a hell of a lot more challenging. While the jury is still out on the defensive capabilities of the Beale/Folau centre pairing, the attacking threat the duo provide for the Waratahs will have been noted by all and sundry after their displays against the Force.
Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh are going to have to have their wits about them if they are to keep their opposite numbers quiet. While de Jongh was given a rest last week, de Allende looked rather suspect against the Reds. This could be due to rust however, as the incumbent Springbok centre had hardly touched a rugby ball in a competitive setting for three months prior to last weekend’s victory.
In terms of head to head contest between the sides, the Stormers edge the last six meeting stakes having won four of those previous encounters, including a 14 point victory in Sydney last year.
Verdict: Waratahs (+6.5) 9/10
I think the Tahs are about to go on a fantastic run and I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat the Stormers this weekend. My advice though, would be to err on the side of caution and back the Tahs on the plus.
Jaguares v Kings | Saturday 30 April | Estadio Amalfirani | 23:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 1/33 | Draw 35/1 | Kings 9/1
Jaguares (-22.5) 9/10 | Kings (+22.5) 9/10
So, after all the pre-tournament hype surrounding this Jaguares side, they somehow managed to become the Sunwolves first every Super Rugby victims.
Could you imagine being in that Jaguares dressing room with Augustin Creevy after that ignominious defeat, I reckon he was cracking skulls left, right and centre while coach Raul Perez must have resembled Alex Fergusson lashing out at David Beckham with a hairdryer.
These Argentines are a passionate bunch and the harsh words that were said in their changing room after that inglorious defeat will surely be on their minds when they take to the field this Saturday.
While the Jaguares were shocked last weekend, the Kings were handed a mauling by the Lions that everyone and their dog foresaw. Once again, the Nelson Mandela Bay-based franchise put in a solid first half stint but tiring legs saw the Lions put a hell of a lot of gloss on what could have been a much tighter scoreline.
To add salt to the Kings' woods, they also lost diminutive fullback Malcolm Jaer to injury in last weekend’s 10-45 defeat. Jaer’s place in the run on side is likely to be taken by Jaco van Tonder while hooker Edgar Marutlulle and prop Sti Sithole could also feature having overcome their respective injury issues.
Verdict: Jaguares (-22.5) 9/10
I think we’re going to witness a huge backlash from the Argentines this week which sees them clear the -22.5 handicap.