Super Rugby Trans Tasman gets underway this week. Will the New Zealand franchises all cruise to victory, or will some of the Aussie sides hold their own?
Super Rugby Trans-Tasman will get underway this Friday and it looks like it will be an uphill battle for the Australian sides if the bookmakers’ odds are anything to go by.
While most fixtures have a David versus Goliath feel to them, the one game that could actually prove to be rather tightly contested is the opener between the Highlanders and Reds. The Crusaders tie against the Brumbies could also be decent fare as these sides have a lot of history.
Highlanders v Reds
Friday 14 May
To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders (-9.5) 9/10
Reds (+9.5) 9/10
We kick things off in Otago where the Highlanders will take on Super Rugby AU champions, the Queensland Reds. The Highlanders were nowhere near as successful in their domestic Super Rugby campaign as they finished fourth of the Aotearoa standings with three wins from their eight fixtures. They did show they were capable of turning it on at times, with their big win over the Crusaders a standout during their campaign.
The Reds will come into this one high on confidence following their excellent Super Rugby AU Grand Final victory against the Brumbies. Less than a week on after James O’Connor’s winning try, the Reds face their toughest test this season.
The Highlanders will be without their All Black utility back Josh Ioane who has been ruled out through injury, while Shannon Frizell has been dropped amid assault allegations that emerged over the weekend.
The Reds – following their bruising final win last week – will be without a number of stars. Tate McDermott is rested while Harry Wilson (concussion), Jordan Petaia (leg) and Alex Mafi (concussion) are all out. In addition to this, the likes of Fraser McReight, Taniela Tupou and Lukha Salakia-Loto are relegated to the bench.
Highlanders: Ayden Johnstone, Ash Dixon, Siate Tokolahi, Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Hugh Renton, Billy Harmon, Kazuki Himeno, Aaron Smith, Mitch Hunt, Jona Nareki, Scott Gregory, Michael Collins, Sio Tomkinson, Sam Gilbert
Bench: Liam Coltman, Ethan De Groot, Josh Hohneck, Bryn Evans, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tim O’Malley, Ngatugnane Punivai
Reds: Dane Zander, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika, Ryan Smith, Angus Blyth, Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright, Seru Uru, Kalani Thomas, James O’Connor, Jock Campbell, Hamish Stewart, Josh Flook, Filipo Daugunu, Bryce Hegarty
Reserves: Josh Nasser, Harry Hoopert, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Fraser McReight, Moses Sorovi, Isaac Henry, Suliasi Vunivalu
Verdict: Highlanders (-9.5) 9/10
I was leaning toward the Reds on the plus before the Teams were announced. As for now, with all of their missing stars, the Queensland outfit should be ripe for the taking. Back the Highlanders here.
Waratahs v Hurricanes
Friday 14 May
To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs (+24.5) 9/10
Hurricanes (-24.5) 9/10
We pop across the Tasman for our next fixture the ‘Tahs take on the ‘Canes – two sides who were disappointing in their domestic campaigns.
The hosts for this encounter were by far and away the whipping boys of Super Rugby AU as they lost all their fixtures and ended up with a points differential of -154. They did show some encouraging signs near the tail end of that competition, however, as they gave the Brumbies and Western Force a run for their money.
The ‘Canes were slightly more impressive in Super Rugby Aotearoa as they registered two wins from their eight games and took the Crusaders to extra time in another. They’ll be determined to produce a much better showing in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
The ‘Tahs will keep Ben Donaldson at fly-half as Will Harrison returns from injury to a place on the bench.
In the Hurricanes’ camp, Ngani Laumape – who is off to France to join Stade Francais at the start of July – is replaced by Peter Umaga-Hensen.
Waratahs: Angus Bell, David Porecki, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Hugh Sinclair, Max Douglas, Lachie Swinton, Charlie Gamble, Will Harris, Jake Gordon, Ben Donaldson, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Alex Newsome, Jack Maddocks
Bench: Joe Cotton, Tetera Faulkner, Darcy Breen, Jeremy Williams, Carlo Tizzano, Jack Grant, Will Harrison, Tepai Moeroa
Hurricanes: Xavier Numia, Dane Coles, Alex Fidow, James Blackwell, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Reed Prinsep, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Devan Flanders, Luke Campbell, Ruben Love, Salesi Rayasi, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Billy Proctor, Julian Savea, Jordie Barrett
Bench: Asafo Aumua, Tevita Mafileo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Mitchell, Brayden Iose, Jonathan Taumateine, Orbyn Leger, Pepesana Patafilo
Verdict: Hurricanes (-24.5) 9/10
I know this ‘cap is big but I have a feeling the ‘Canes will clear it. They’re a solid attacking unit and the Waratahs are horrendous on defence.
Crusaders v Brumbies
Saturday 15 May
To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders (-18.5) 9/10
Brumbies (+18.5) 9/10
Next up it’s the Crusaders taking on the Brumbies. Clashes between these sides used to be one of the standout fixtures in Super Rugby, but this one is unlikely to be as tight as encounters in the past were.
The hosts had a fantastic domestic season as they retained their Super Rugby Aotearoa crown with their solid brand of rugby. Their forward pack is likely to give the Brumbies a lot of problems this weekend.
The Brumbies had a decent enough time of it in Super Rugby AU and were pipped at the post to the crown as an injury-time try from the Reds in last week’s Grand Final. Safe to say this week’s tie won’t be nearly as close as the AU Final.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both sides have opted to rest a number of players a week on from their respective finals.
For the Crusaders, Will Jordan and Mitch Drummond are rested altogether while Sevu Reece and Scott Barrett drop to the bench. Coday Taylor will take the captaincy on his 100th game for the franchise.
The Canberra outfit will be without a number of key players through injury. Nic White, Caderyn Neville and Andy Muirhead are all out. In some good news for Dan McKellar’s side, Folau Fainga’a returns to the run-on XV.
Crusaders: George Bower, Cody Taylor, Michael Alaalatoa, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Sanders, Cullen Grace, Bryn Hall, Richie Mo’unga, Leciester Fainga’anuku, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Manasa Mataele George Bridge
Bench: Brodie McAlister, Tamati Williams, Oliver Jager, Scott Barrett, Brendon O’Connor, Ereatara Enari, Fergus Blake, Seve Reece
Brumbies: Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Nick Frost, Henry Stowers, Rory Scott, Rob Valetini, Ryan Lonergan, Noah Lolesio, Tom Wright, Irae Simone, Len Ikitau, Solomone Kata, Tom Banks
Bench: Lachlan Lonergan, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Tom Hooper*, Luke Reimer, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Reesjan Pasitoa, Mack Hansen
Verdict: Brumbies (+18.5) 9/10
For me, this has been the hardest game to call. There’s a big handicap here and I don’t think the Crusaders will clear it as they’ll be pretty sapped from last week’s game against the Chiefs. Had this game come two weeks later, however, I’d have been all over the ‘Saders clearing the ‘cap.
Rebels v Blues
Saturday 15 May
To Win (80 Mins)
Rebels (+16.5) 9/10
Blues (-16.5) 9/10
Next up we have the Blues taking on the Rebels in Melbourne. The two sides had mediocre domestic Super Rugby campaigns with the Rebels finishing fourth in Super Rugby AU with three wins from their eight fixtures and the Blues finishing third in Super Rugby Aotearoa with four wins from eight games.
The Blues are likely to play a more expansive game here than they did during Super Rugby Aotearoa, as they’ll be hunting points in a bid to make the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final.
There are two big bits of team news for this fixture, although neither will likely have much effect on what should be a comfortable Blues victory.
For the Rebels, Lachie Anderson is fit enough to return to the bench following an injury picked up in round four of the Aussie competition. Both Isi Naisarani and Pone Faamausili are both still suspended after picking up red cards in the latter stages of Super Rugby AU.
For the Blues, Caleb Clarke will join up with the New Zealand Sevens team are preparing for the Olympics
Rebels: Cameron Orr, Jordan Uelese, Cabous Eloff, Rob Leota, Ross Haylett-Petty, Josh Kemeny, Richard Hardwick, Michael Wells, Joe Powell, Matt To’omua, Marika Koroibete, Campbell Magnay, Stacey Ili, Frank Lomani, Tom Pincus
Bench: James Hanson, Matt Gibbon, Lucio Sordoni, Steve Cummins, Michael Icely, James Tuttle, Carter Gordon, Lachie Anderson
Blues: Karl Tu’inukuafe, Kurt Eklund, Marcel Renata, Gerard Cowley-Tuoti, Josh Goodhue, Tom Robinson, Adran Choat, Hoskins Sotutu, Finlay Christie, Otere Black, AJ Lam, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Bryce Heem, Zarn Sullivan
Bench: Soane Vikena, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Jacob Pierce, Akira Ioane, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Mark Telea
Verdict: Blues (-16.5)
I reckon the Aucklanders will run riot here. I have not been impressed by the Rebels this year and I reckon they’ll struggle against this Blues backline.
Western Force v Chiefs
Saturday 15 May
To Win (80 Mins)
Force (+16.5) 9/10
Chiefs (-16.5) 9/10
The round will come to a close in Perth where thy Force will play host to the Chiefs. The Force will be ecstatic to be playing against a New Zealand team for the first time since they were dumped out of Super Rugby proper a few years back.
Both teams had fantastic domestic campaigns and somewhat overachieved as the Chiefs – after a slow start to the season – made the Super Rugby Aotearoa final, while the Force managed to finish third on the Super Rugby AU standings.
The Force will be chuffed to welcome back Rob Kearney while Domingo Miotti drops to the bench as Jack McIntyre starts in the number 10 jumper.
Damian McKenzie reverts back to flyhalf for the Chiefs. This necessitated a backline shuffle with Bryn Gatland dropping to the bench and Chase Tiatia starting at 15.
Force: Tom Robertson, Feleti Kaitu’u, Santiago Medrano, Jeremy Thrush, Fergus Lee-Warner, Tim Anstee, Kane Koteka, Brynard Stander, Tomas Cubelli, Jake McIntyre, Jordan Olowofela, Henry Taefu, Kyle Godwin, Richard Kahui, Rob Kearney
Bench: Andrew Ready, Angus Warner, Greg Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Ollie Callan, Ian Prior, Domingo Miotti, Jake Strachan
Chiefs: Aiden Ross, Nathan Harris, Angus Ta’avao, Josh Lord, Tupou Vaa’i, Pita Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Jonah Lowe, Alex Nankivell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Shaun Stevenson, Chase Tiatia
Bench: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ollie Norris, Joe Apikotoa, Zane Kapeli, Liam Messam, Xavier Roe, Bryn Gatland, Bailyn Sullivan
Verdict: Chiefs (-16.5) 9/10
This one could really go either way in terms of the cap, which is really well set. As such, I won’t be having a strike on this one. If forced to, I’d be backing the Chiefs on the minus.