Our rugby scribe takes a look at Friday's three Super Rugby fixtures.
I still cannot believe how quickly this Super Rugby season has flown by. It seems like only a few days ago we were watching the Brumbies dismantle the Hurricanes in the opening round. Things have changed drastically since that then, especially for the Australian Conference sides.
While the Brumbies still lead the Australian Conference log, it’s more down to the weak nature of the conference rather than their own competence.
Australian frailties could well be exposed again early this Friday with the Waratahs – who are still in with a slim chance of usurping the Brumbies to the top of the Australian Conference pops – taking on a Blues side who ran the Brumbies rampant at Eden Park in last Friday's opening clash.
This Friday’s second fixture is an all Australian affair with the Reds taking on the Rebels. Both sides are coming off the back of huge defeats and are really struggling for form.
The final Friday fixture sees the Sunwolves close out their debut campaign in Durban against the Sharks. While it’s been a rather steep learning curve for the ‘Wolves, you have to commend them for the way in which they’ve approached the season; They've always had smiles on their faces and they’ve never stopped trying to run the ball.
Blues v Waratahs | Friday 15 July | Eden Park | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Blues 8/10 | Draw 22/1 | Waratahs 1/1
Blues (-1.5) 9/10 | Waratahs (+1.5) 9/10
Eden Park witnessed the full potential of this Blues squad last Friday as Tana Umaga’s men tore a much fancied Brumbies side apart. While that sort of performance had been brewing for a couple weeks – they were great value against the Hurricanes in round 15 and the Crusaders in round 14 – I really didn’t foresee them beating the Brumbies by a 25 point margin.
Tana Umaga’s side will now be looking to heap more misery on Australian rugby by giving the Waratahs the same treatment as they did the Brumbies. And after last weekend’s showing from the Waratahs, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Blues manage to inflict another large defeat upon Australian opposition.
The Waratahs were absolutely abysmal against the Hurricanes last week. Having been given a huge boost from the Blues victory – oh the irony – over the Brumbies the day prior, you would have expected the men from New South Wales to have approached the game with an infinite amount of vim and vigour. Instead, the Tahs looked like a bunch of shell-shocked under 11’s who had just been told that they will be taking on their school's under 13A side.
The only man who can come out of last week’s 11 point defeat with any real pride is Wallaby Michael Hooper. The flanker was the epitome of a one-man team, making tackle after tackle, clearing ruck after ruck, and making support run after support run. His efforts were in vain, however, as his compatriots decided they’d just have a half-hearted jog around the park and let their skipper do all the hard graft.
Last week’s loss basically drew the curtain down on a miserable season for the Waratahs. The only way they can make it through to the knockout phase is if the Brumbies somehow lose to the Western Force and the they manage a win at Eden Park.
There’s not much team news coming out of either camp as it’s still rather early in the week but it looks as if the Blues will be without prop Charlie Faumuina who seems to have been frozen out since announcing his move to French Top 14 outfit, Toulouse.
In terms of the stats, the Blues have won three of the last five contests between the sides with all of these victories coming in Auckland. These games tend to see total score lines in between 35 and 50 points with only one of the last six fixtures going past the 50 mark.
Verdict: Blues 8/10
The Blues are one of the real form sides in the tournament currently, while the ‘Tahs seem to have lost their way over the last month or so. Back the hosts to oust another Australian side at 8/10.
Reds v Rebels | Friday 15 July | Suncorp Stadium | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Reds 7/10 | Draw 25/1 | Rebels 11/10
Reds (-2.5) 9/10 | Rebels (+2.5) 9/10
This may turn out to be one of those exceedingly low-quality games that sees a huge amount of reset scrums and plethora of knock-ons.
The Reds come into this one off the back of two consecutive large defeats; going down to the Brumbies by 19 points in round 15 and then going down by 45 points to the Chiefs last Friday. The Rebels have also endured some shocking results over the past two rounds being beaten 57-31 in round 15 and then getting hammered 85-26 by the Crusaders last Saturday.
There’s really not much to play for in this one, especially as Australian derbies seem to lack the same prestige as those in South Africa or New Zealand.
Verdict: Reds 7/10
My advice for this one is to avoid it like the plague – don’t even watch the game as it’s likely to be an hour and 20 minutes of your life you will have wasted. If you must have a punt, back the hosts on the straight win.
Sharks v Sunwolves | Friday 15 July | Growthpoint Kings Park | 19:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 1/100 | Draw 33/1 | Sunwolves 18/1
Sharks (-35.5) 9/10 | Sunwolves (+35.5) 9/10
Our final Friday fixture will see the Sunwolves make their first visit to Durban to take on a misfiring Sharks side. The visitors come into this one off the back of a 50-3 defeat at the hands of the Bulls while the hosts managed a rather unconvincing 26-10 victory over the Cheetahs.
The Sharks will come into this one without two of their Springbok backs as Cheetahs import, Willie le Roux, is yet to overcome a shoulder injury and Sharks skipper, Patrick Lambie, is yet to fully recover from the concussion he picked up on international duty last month. Lambie may actually be included in the matchday 23 as players are required to be a part of four matchday squads in order to play in the playoffs. The pivot is unlikely to get any game time, however.
The Natalians will also be without Beast Mtawarira and fit again centre Paul Jordaan. Mtawarira's spot is taken by young utility prop Thomas du Toit while JP Pietersen, who will captain the side, starts at 13.
Gary Gold has taken a bit of a risk leaving the Beast and Jordaan out as a slip up here could see the Bulls sneak into the quarter-finals at the expense of the Sharks. While the Sunwolves have only managed a solitary victory this season, they are capable of making life difficult for this inexperienced Natal squad.
The Sharks will have to ensure their territorial kicking game is a lot more clinical as it almost cost them last week and it was one of the main reasons for their poor showing against the Lions back in round 15. Gary Gold will also need a much-improved showing from his new look tight five as their predecessors were pummeled by the Cheetahs at scrum time last Saturday.
Verdict: Sunwolves (+35.5) 9/10
My money would be on the Natalians clearing the -35.5 if they had a more experienced squad running out on Friday evening. They don't though, and I think this youthful side may struggle to run the Sunwolves rampant. Back the Wolves to lose by less than the +35.5 handicap at 9/10.