Our rugby writer takes a look at Friday's three Round 16 Super Rugby fixtures taking place on the eighth of July.
Super Rugby is edging ever closer to its business end and we’ve certainly got some pivotal clashes taking place this Friday. The first fixture of the day see’s Tana Umaga’s Blues – who are out of the running for a quarter-final berth – take on Steven Larkham’s Brumbies at Eden Park.
We then head across to Australia for a contest between the Queensland Reds and a Waikato Chiefs side who are desperate to secure top spot on the New Zealand Conference and the home quarter-final berth that goes with it.
The day closes out with a contest – I’m being extremely liberal with use of the word "contest" here – between the Overall Conference topping Lions and the hapless Kings.
Blues v Brumbies | Friday 8 July | Eden Park | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Blues 12/10 | Draw 20/1| Brumbies 7/10
Blues (+2.5) 9/10 | Brumbies (-2.5) 9/10
This is not going to be a simple case of rocking up and securing a five-point haul for the Brumbies. Their opponents illustrated just how dangerous they are with ball in hand during last Saturday’s loss to the Hurricanes.
The Blues really gave it their all out in Wellington and were extremely unlucky not to have at least garnered a bonus point from the game. Having taken a 10 point lead into the break, the Blues looked on to cause one of the upsets of the round until the Hurricanes roared back into the contest through wrecking ball of a utility forward, Vaea Fifita. The Hurricanes bruiser managed to cross the whitewash twice shortly after the half-time break. His double and Beauden Barrett’s flawless kicking display – better get that All Black number 10 jersey down to the dry cleaners Aaron Cruden as it looks like you may have to relinquish it rather soon – ensured that the Blues would go down 37-27.
While the Blues were illustrating their attacking prowess out in Wellington, the Brumbies huffed and puffed for a good sixty minutes against the Reds but eventually brought the Queenslanders' house down with a Tomas Cubelli inspired twenty-minute blitzkrieg. The nuggety Argentine was an absolute live wire from the moment his feet touched the playing surface sixty minutes into the game. His sniping runs and quick thinking transformed the Brumbies from a lumbering tractor into a high-performance sports car in no time.
This weekend’s clash is rather interesting in that it pits one side who have it all to play for against a side who have virtually nothing, bar pride, on the line. While many would go with the side who have everything on the line, it must be remembered that this Blues team can be an attacking beast when given license to play. And with a nothing left to lose attitude sure to be taken into this one, the Blues may well upset the old apple cart.
Verdict: Blues 12/10
It’s a bit of a risk and I certainly wouldn’t stake the rent money on it, but the Blues on the straight win at 12/10 offers a nice little pay day for the more adventurous rugby punters out there.
Reds v Chiefs | Friday 8 July | Suncorp Stadium | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Reds 47/10 | Draw 33/1 | Chiefs 1/8
Reds (+14.5) 9/10 | Chiefs (-14.5) 9/10
Australia’s answer to the Free State Cheetahs will take on one of the tournament’s most prolific attacking sides in what is sure to be a high-scoring Friday affair.
The Reds - much like Cheetahs - once again displayed their penchant for falling to pieces in the final twenty minutes of a game. Having managed to keep in touch with the Brumbies – they were only five points down with 60 minutes on the board – for the majority of the second stanza, the Reds fell apart during the final quarter, eventually going down by 43-24.
That poor showing in the last 20 minutes should make the Reds extremely nervous heading into this one as the Chiefs are notorious for turning it on in the closing stages of a game. While they didn’t manage to produce the fireworks during the final 20 minutes of last Friday’s 23-13 victory over the Crusaders, they did look the stronger of the two sides.
In terms of team news for this clash, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has announced a rather strong matchday squad with All Black incumbent ten, Aaron Cruden, making a return to the starting XV. The All Black pivot is joined by Tawera Kerr-Barlow in the halfback pairing. There’s also a return from Sevens limbo for New Zealand flanker Liam Messam who takes up a spot on the bench.
On the Reds’ side of things, youngster Duncan Paia’aua gets his first run-on start for the Queenslanders. The 21-year-old comes in for fellow young gun, Jake McIntyre, who sustained an ankle injury last week. The other change to the starting XV sees Wallaby lock Kane Douglas – who has recently overcome a collarbone injury he sustained at last year’s World Cup – make his first start for the Reds.
Verdict: Chiefs (-14.5) 9/10
While Douglas will make the Reds a lot more potent at lineout time, he won’t be able to change their shoddy defensive structure. Back the Chiefs to clear the -14.5 handicap with confidence.
Lions v Kings | Friday 8 July | Emirates Airline Park | 19:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 1/100 | Draw 50/1 | Kings 20/1
Lions (-39.5) 9/10 | Kings (+39.5) 9/10
The Lions will be looking to strengthen their grip on top spot of the Overall Conference
standings this Friday while the Kings, well I’m actually not too sure what the Kings plans are for this Friday evening are.
The men from South Africa’s Eastern Cape have become a bit of a running joke with their colourful jersey’s being the only thing that they’ve received plaudits for. They were routinely hammered 48-14 by the Highlanders last week - that was the seventh time that they lost by more than a thirty point margin this season. One of these large defeats came at the hands of the Lions back in April.
Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh on Deon Davids’ men. They have actually put some decent showings in during the first quarter of their matches but their lack of fitness, as well as bench depth, has led to them capitulate like a bad Ponzi scheme.
The Kings penchant to tire come the kickoff of the second stanza does not bode well for them this weekend as the Lions have routinely torn sides apart during the second halves of their games. Factor in Johan Ackermann’s decision to field a full strength side, and you’ve got a recipe for a wholesale regicide at Emirates Airline Park this Friday.
Verdict: Lions (-39.5) 9/10
Generally, a handicap this size would scare the living daylights out of me but the Lions are in such great form that I reckon they will clear it with a few points to spare.