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Super Rugby 2017: Round 2 Preview (Saturday)
We take look at Saturday’s six Super Rugby games, including the clash between the Cheetahs and Bulls.
Another tantalising weekend of Super Rugby is about to be served up. This would have rung true a year ago, but thanks to Sanzar’s obsession with the dollar bill, the reality is that the entrée will have already been served and devoured by the time you lay your eyes on this piece. The following courses look a whole lot better than Thursday’s offering of the Force versus Reds, however, with Saturday’s seven-course meal sure to leave punters asking for seconds.
Anyway, let’s check out Saturday’s menu which serves up some local cuisine with a clash between the Cheetahs and Bulls as well as an exotic dish with the Highlanders taking on the Crusaders in what’s sure to be a tough old affair.
Hurricanes v Rebels | Saturday 4 March | Westpac Stadium | 06:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 1/50 | Draw 28/1 | Rebels 11/1
Hurricanes (-26.5) 9/10 | Rebels (+26.5) 9/10
The Hurricanes made light work of the Sunwolves in their opener with the defending champions running in 13 tries on their way to an 83-17 victory. The win was made all the more impressive by the limited amount of time All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles spent on the field, with youngsters Otere Black and Ricky Riccitelli filling in for the two stalwarts magnificently. Speaking of the young guns, Barrett the younger, or Jordie Barrett as his drivers license testifies to, impressed on his Super Rugby debut, launching some magnificent counters which ultimately led to tries.
While Chris Boyd showed a whole heap of faith in his youngsters last week, the veteran Hurricanes mentor has opted to bring back the big guns for Saturday’s opener with Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder all making returns to the starting XV.
While the Hurricanes were dishing out a hiding, the Rebels were catching one from a Rieko Ioane-inspired Blues outfit. The men from Melbourne shipped seven tries on their way to a 56-18 defeat and will need to sort out their defence if they are to have any chance of upsetting the Hurricanes.
The Rebels have received some good news on the injury front with experienced campaigners James Hanson and Mitch Inman returning to the run-on side. The most exciting change to the Rebels, though, is the debut handed out to Wallaby tourist and former Rugby League star, Marika Koroibete. The big man has loads of gas and the Rebels will hope their recent recruit can cause the ‘Canes wingers problems.
Verdict: Hurricanes (-26.5) 9/10
I can’t see the Rebels sorting their defensive issues out in just eight days, which leads me to believe that the ‘Canes backs are in for a field day. Get on the hosts to clear the -26.5 cap at 9/10.
Highlanders v Crusaders | Saturday 4 March | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 08:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders 57/100 | Draw 22/1 | Crusaders 27/20
Highlanders (-3.5) 9/10 | Crusaders (+3.5) 9/10
The Highlanders were pick-pocketed by the Chiefs last week with the men from Waikato grabbing two intercept tries to seal a 24-15 opening round victory. The home loss would have hurt the 2015 Champions, who were nowhere near their best.
The Crusaders also looked a bit off-colour last week as they left a few tries out on the field during their 17-13 victory over the Brumbies. The ‘Saders are notoriously poor starters, however, which must be a bit of a worry for newly installed coach Scott Robertson, as the Highlanders did show some encouraging moments with ball in hand last week.
In terms of team news, the Crusaders will be without young pivot Richie Mo’unga who misses out due to a hand injury. His place in the side is taken by Mitchell Hunt. Other changes to the Crusaders back division see Israel Dagg shift to the right wing with Seta Tamanivalu moving to the left wing and David Havili taking Dagg’s vacant fullback berth. Whilst the Highlanders will be without All Black Ben Smith, who is ruled out with a serious concussion. Richard Buckman will take Smith’s place at fullback.
Verdict: Highlanders (-3.5) 9/10
I got my hands burnt punting the Crusaders on the minus against the Brumbies last week. Their display bordered on the stereotypical, as they look well off the pace. I can see them doing a repeat of it this week, which will gift the game to the Highlanders.
Brumbies v Sharks | Saturday 5 March | Gio Stadium | 10:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Brumbies 5/10 | Draw 25/1 |Sharks 15/10
Brumbies (-5.5) 9/10 | Sharks (+5.5) 9/10
I have to admit the Brumbies were a lot better than I thought they'd be against the Crusaders. Yes, the New Zealanders were off the boil, but the manner in which new skipper Sam Carter and his fellow forwards – particularly Scott Fardy – fronted up to the Crusaders pack was commendable. If they can continue in that vein this week, then they may trouble a heavyweight yet susceptible Sharks pack.
The Sharks will be kicking themselves after they let the Reds back into the game. The Natalians have struggled to keep leads in the past but losing a game in which you led for 70 minutes out of the 80 really shows a lack of composure. The Sharks attacking limitations were also exposed, although, they did play in humid conditions and coach Robert du Preez has reiterated his commitment to implementing an attacking brand of rugby. It may be another few weeks before we see the Sharks attempt to cut loose, however, as both rain and a 73% humidity index are being predicted for Canberra this Saturday.
Verdict: Brumbies (-5.5) 9/10
I know the Sharks tend to go alright in the rain but they really looked sloppy at times last week. The Brumbies will also provide stauncher maul defence than the Reds which will nullify the Natalians most dangerous weapon. My money is on the Brumbies frustrating the Sharks into mistakes and taking full advantage of them.
Sunwolves v Kings | Saturday 5 March | National Stadium | 12:55
To Win (80 Mins)
Sunwolves 5/4 | Draw 22/1 | Kings 6/10
The undoubted highlight of the round sees the mighty Kings travel to Asia to take on the all-conquering Sunwolves. Jokes aside, this game may hold some relevance with Sanzaar set to see reason and cut a few teams from next year’s tournament. While the Sunwolves aren’t likely to be told to go and ply their trade elsewhere, the Kings are a huge runner with Sanzaar looking at getting rid of a South African franchise as well as an Australian team.
The Sunwolves were absolutely dire on defence against the ’Canes last week shipping 13 tries. And it could have been more had the Hurricanes not gone to sleep during the final 15 minutes of the game. There was some encouragement for the Japanese franchise as they managed to put 17 points on the board - small victories are what these boys are all about. The Kings also looked rather ragged on defence during their 39-26 defeat to the Jaguares and could have shipped more than 39 points had it not been for some rudimentary handling errors from their opponents.
Verdict: Sunwolves 5/4
This is likely to be a rather dour affair especially if the local weather bureau’s forecast for thunderstorms does come to fruition. It’s a game I wouldn't go after but a R30 strike on the hosts may reap a decent return.
Lions v Waratahs | Saturday 5 March | Emirates Airline Park | 15:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 1/3 | Draw 25/1 | Waratahs 22/10
Lions (-8.5) 9/10 | Waratahs (+8.5) 9/10
Both of these sides come into this one off the back of narrow defeats with the Lions edging past the Cheetahs by a 28-25 score line and the Waratahs beating the Force 19-13.
The biggest concern to come out of last week’s game for Johan Ackermann was the performance Elton Janjties put in. The talismanic fly-half was far from best but it may be a case of ring rust rather than a psychological issue caused by his performances with the ‘Boks.
Speaking of the pivots, the Waratahs will once again be without Wallaby fullback, Bernard Foley. Bryce Hegarty will continue in the absence of Foley with coach Daryl Gibson naming an unchanged team.
Verdict Waratahs (+8.5) 9/10
Historically, the ‘Tahs have been rather poor on the Highveld picking up most of their points down in Cape Town or Durban. However, I think the Lions may be ripe for the picking. They looked rather jaded last week and the continued absence of Ruan Combrink has forced Johan Ackermann to shuffle his backline and unintentionally ruin last year’s structure. ‘Tahs on the plus is my tip for this one.
Stormers v Jaguares | Saturday 5 March | DHL Newlands | 17:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Stormers 2/9 | Draw 28/1 | Jaguares 28/10
Stormers (-10.5) 9/10| Jaguares (+10.5) 9/10
The penultimate Round 2 game sees the impressive Stormers play host to the ill-disciplined Jags’. The hosts were a joy to watch last week as they tore the Bulls apart, running out 37-24 victors - much to the joy of the Newlands faithful. The Jaguares also got their campaign off to a winning start as they vanquished most of the ghosts that were hanging over their heads from last year’s appalling showing at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. There were elements to last week’s victory that will worry coach, Paul Perez. The most blatant of which being the Jaguares inability to avoid the wrath of the referee. If they lose two players to the bin this weekend, then the Stormers are likely to run them ragged.
The men from Cape Town have been handed a massive injury blow last week with ‘Bok Damien de Allende picking up a serious knee injury. His inside-centre berth will be filled by new signing Dan Kriel, who is the twin brother of 'Bok Jesse Kriel.
Verdict: Stormers (-10.5) 9/10
They were unexpectedly good last week and it seems that skills coach Paul Feeney is already making a mark. My money is on the hosts taking full advantage of their opponents discipline issues by putting a huge score on the board.
Cheetahs v Bulls | Saturday 5 March | Toyota Stadium | 19:30
To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 1/1 | Draw 22/1 | Bulls 8/10
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Verdict: Bulls 8/10
Pollard and his men will put one over the Free Staters this weekend. The Cheetahs forwards will struggle to dominate the collisions and so will have their hands full dealing with the likes of Ulengo and company, who should cause mayhem in the backs.