On paper, it looks like this could be a rare case of away wins beating out home wins in Round 3 of the Super 14. So with that thought, let’s move onto our predictions…
‘Canes vs Chiefs
Hard to describe the Hurricanes right now because, as always, they seem to blow hot and cold. Losing against the Waratahs and then beating the Reds is not the sign of a champion team, but you feel that if they click into gear and add some consistency, they could be a real threat this year.
The Chiefs are very similar to the Hurricanes in that they seem to be quite inconsistent. My pick as dark horses for this tournament, they ended last season very strongly and were unlucky not to make the semis. Notoriously slow starters, you feel that they might only get going around week 4 or 5. Watch out when they do.
The tightest game to call this weekend. Both sides seem to be starting to find some form, and have dangerous attacking weapons all through their backlines. This is one game where home ground advantage will play a role this weekend, so the ‘Canes to sneak it.
15 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Mils Muliaina, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 David Bason, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Jono Gibbes (captain), 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tom Willis, 1 Simms Davison.
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche, Ben May, Toby Lynn, Faifili Levave, Matt France, Callum Bruce, Sosene Anesi
Lions vs Force
The Lions got smashed by the Blues last week, but they shouldn’t feel too bad because we’re going to be saying that about a lot of teams this season. Eugene Eloff will have a big job restoring the players’ confidence though.
The Force already have a win in South Africa, and will be looking to take another 4 points back to Australia with them. As with the rest of the Australian sides, their ball skills are always good, and that could be the difference on the day.
The Force to sneak it. Whether they get a bonus point as well, depends on Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau starring.
15 Ludik, 14 Noble, 13 Pretorius, 12 la Grange, 11 Benjamin, 10 Strydom, 9 Vermaak, 8 van Niekerk, 7 Joubert (capt), 6 Grobbelaar, 5 Stoltz, 4 Mostert, 3 Geldenhuys, 2 Wepener, 1 H van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Reynecke, 17 G-A van der Merwe, 18 F van der Merwe, 19 Albert, 20 Jonck, 21 Rose, 22 van Schalkwyk
15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Scott Staniforth, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau , 9 James Stannard, 8 Tamaiti Horua, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Scott Fava, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Troy Takiari, 2 Luke Holmes, 1 Gareth Hardy
Replacements: 16 Tai McIsaac, 17 AJ Whalley, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Richard Brown, 20 David Pocock, 21 Scott Daruda, 22 Lachlan MacKay
Stormers vs ‘Saders
There is no doubt that the Stormers have tightened their game up since last year, and they are less prone to taking hidings as often. They also have a tendency to beat the top teams when no one expects them to. This game however, could be one where they might end up on the wrong end of a butt-whipping.
What can you say about the Crusaders that hasn’t been said already? It’s early in the season, but they seem to be mostly on top of the new laws already. The only consolation the other teams have at this point is that the Crusaders, along with the Blues, seem to be peaking a bit too early.
The Crusaders to take this one… they could run away with it in the last 20 minutes because their fitness levels are exceptional.
15. Conrad Jantjes, 14. Tonderai Chavhanga, 13. Gcobani Bobo, 12. Jean de Villiers, 11. Sireli Naqelevuki, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Ricky Januarie, 8. Luke Watson, 7. Francois Louw, 6. Pieter Myburgh, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Adriaan Fondse, 3. Brian Mujati, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. JD Moller
Replacements: Schalk Brits, Brok Harris, Ross Skeate, Robbie Diack, Bolla Conradie, Gio Aplon, Dylan des Fountain
15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Stephen Brett, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis; 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Richard McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Greg Somerville, 18 Reuben Thorne, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i, 21 Tim Bateman, 22 Sean Maitland
Highlanders vs ‘Tahs
The Highlanders are one of three remaining teams still looking for their first win this year. They haven’t played at home yet though, so that will gee them up a bit. Everyone seems to think that they will be one of the whipping boys this year, but that could be proved wrong if they get a string of victories going.
When the Waratahs are having a good season, they seem to start very strongly early on. Despite losing against the Chiefs last week, they remain a team to watch out for. They are dangerous on the counter-attack, and in Lachlan Turner, they have a top-class finisher.
A close game to call, don’t be surprised if the Waratahs pick up a win in New Zealand here.
Brumbies vs Reds
The great thing about Australian rugby is that their academies work so well. Having lost almost all of their backline starters from last year to either retirement or injury, it’s amazing that the Brumbies’ youngsters have been able to step in and keep them competitive. You get the feeling that they’re on the verge of building another team here. Wait and see how these players have developed in a year or two.
It was impossible for the Reds to be as bad this year as they were last season. They came close against the ‘Canes last week, but they need to take the next step at some stage, and learn how to win close games. With Latham and Schifcofske there, they certainly have the game-breakers to do it.
An all-Australian derby, where form usually goes out the window. Truth be told though, there’s not much form to speak of with these two teams right now. A mid-table finish will probably be a realistic target for both of them. The Brumbies to take the win, but only because they’re playing in Canberra.
15. Julian Huxley, 14. Mark Gerrard, 13. Sanualio Afeaki, 12. Tyrone Smith, 11. Francis Fainifo, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 9. Patrick Phibbs; 8. Stephen Hoiles, 7. George Smith (captain), 6. Mitch Chapman, 5. Mark Chisholm, 4. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 3. Guy Shepherdson, 2. Saia Faingaa, 1. Nic Henderson.
Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Salesi Ma’afu, Peter Kimlin, Julian Salvi, Josh Holmes, Peter Playford, Afusipa Taumoepeau
15. Chris Latham, 14. Digby Ioane, 13. Morgan Turinui, 12. Chris Siale, 11. Clinton Schifcofske, 10. Berrick Barnes, 9. Sam Cordingley/Will Genia; 8. Leroy Houston, 7. David Croft, 6. John Roe (captain), 5. James Horwill, 4. Van Humphries, 3. Rodney Blake, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Greg Holmes.
Replacements: Sean Hardman, Dayna Edwards, Ed O’Donoghue, AJ Gilbert, Genia/Ben Lucas, Peter Hynes, Quade Cooper
Cheetahs vs Blues
Two one-point losses in two weeks sounds heartbreaking, but when you concede a silly late penalty in both games, then you deserve to lose like that. The Cheetahs seem to be reasonably well-drilled by Naka Drotske, but a big loss at home in this game could severely dent the confidence of the players.
The Blues, like the Crusaders, look awesome already. With the superb Nick Evans controlling the backline, and runners like Toeava and Rokocoko outside him, they are always going to score plenty of tries. The challenge for them is to maintain this form until the business end of the tournament.
The Cheetahs are running into a Blues side bang-on-form, and they’ll be wishing that they can keep the margin to one point in this one. It won’t happen. The Blues to win… by a lot.
15.Hennie Daniller, 14.Eddie Fredericks, 13.JW Jonker, 12.Meyer Bosman, 11.Gavin Passens; 10.Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9.Falie Oelschig, 8.Duanne Vermeulen, 7.Juan Smith (c), 6.Heinrich Brussow, 5.David de Villiers, 4.Rory Duncan, 3.Kobus Calldo, 2.Adriaan Strauss, 1.Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 17.Richardt Strauss, 18.Bees Roux, 19.Flip van der Merwe, 20.Kabamba Floors, 21.Tewis de Bruyn, 22.Conrad Barnard, Hendrik Meyer
Bulls vs Sharks
The answer to why Frans Ludeke was given the job of coaching the defending Super 14 Champions is one that only himself and the person who hired him will know. The Bulls were on the verge of dominating Super rugby for years to come, and they somehow contrived to mess that up. It’s a real shame, because the Bulls played some Crusader-like rugby at times last season, and that could only have been good for Springbok rugby.
The Sharks have started without much fuss in this tournament, much the same as last year. They seem to be concentrating more on getting the basics right and taking the four points every game, not worrying too much about the bonus point at this stage. Dick Muir is a very smart coach and will be satisfied if his team comes back after their tough away leg still firmly entrenched in the top 4, and ready to strike. Look for them to peak when it really matters this year.
The Bulls will up their game as usual for a local derby, but the Sharks should be too smart for their one-dimensional rugby.
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Akona Ndungane (pending fitness), 13. JP Nel, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Danwel Demas, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Fourie du Preez, 8. Pedrie Wanneburg, 7. Wikus van Heerden, 6. Danie Rossouw, 5. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4. Bakkies Botha (pending fitness), 3. Rayno Gerber, 2. Derick Kuün, 1. Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: James van der Walt, Werner Kruger, Jaco Engels, Deon Stegmann, Heini Adams, Derick Hougaard, John Mametsa