Super Rugby

Weekend Previews & Predictions

Round Thirteen

The seven-match Round 13 kicks-off in Auckland as the Blues take on the Hurricanes in a match that will be refereed by Nick Briant. The same evening Angus Gardner will have the whistle for the Rebels versus Reds match in Melbourne, while Rasta Rasivhenge will referee an unusual Friday night match in Pretoria when the Bulls host the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld.

On Saturday in Dunedin, the Highlanders will play the Jaguares from Argentina with Ben O’Keeffe the referee for that match, while Nic Berry will be the referee in Hamilton for the Chiefs versus Sharks match.  Egon Seconds will be in charge in Johannesburg where the Lions host the Waratahs. 

The weekend closes in Canberra on Sunday where the Brumbies take on the Sunwolves with Damon Murphy as referee.

One prediction that I am fairly certain I will get correct is that the Stormers cannot lose this weekend. They have a bye. 

Friday 10 May

Blues v Hurricanes

Venue Eden Park, Auckland
Date Friday 10 May
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time
Referee Nick Briant
AR1 Paul Williams
AR2 Brendon Pickerill
TMO Ben Skeen

The Blues are looking to break a streak of indifferent performances that have darkened their mood after a bright start to 2019. Three consecutive losses have dropped them out of third position on the NZ log and they now sit just 3 points ahead of the Chiefs in 5th. A loss against the Hurricanes might just condemn them to yet another season of finishing last in New Zealand.

The Hurricanes will know that this Blues outfit is a much improved unit in 2019 and will take to the field with mayhem in mind. They will know that they have a game on their hands if they want to stay in close touch with the Crusaders at the top end of the log.

The Hurricanes will also be looking for a full 80-minute performance, rather than the on-off type of game they have produced all season. Moments of sheer brilliance, followed by moments of stagnation and mediocrity, a reflection of the pendulum nature of so much of 2019’s Super Rugby.

If both teams pitch up on the day, this could be a good one to watch.

Team News:

The Blues:

James Parsons will play his 100th Super Rugby game as he returns to the starting line-up to face the Hurricanes in Auckland.

He starts alongside All Blacks pair Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi in the front-row.

Co-captain Patrick Tuipulotu starts with Josh Goodhue in the second row, while there’s a mobile look to the back-row with Dalton Papalii starting with co-captain Blake Gibson and the resilient Akira Ioane.

Both Tom Robinson and Alex Hodgman were not considered after not passing their head injury assessments.

Rieko Ioane returns to the left wing, with Tanielu Tele’a back after suspension on the right wing in place of an illness-hit Caleb Clarke.

Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (cc), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (cc), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Matt Duffie

The Hurricanes:

TJ Perenara will return to lead the Hurricanes in Friday’s Super Rugby derby match against the Blues at Eden Park in Auckland.

Perenara missed the Hurricanes’ 29-19 win over the Rebels last Saturday as he had the second of his All Black rest weeks but returns for what will be his 121st appearance for the club.

Wing Ben Lam also returns after a two-week absence because of a calf strain while Toby Smith has been named at loosehead prop in the only other changes to the starting XV.

Lam’s inclusion sees Chase Tiatia move to the bench while Richard Judd, who started at half-back against the Rebels, drops out of the matchday squad after he suffered a minor shoulder injury.

Hurricanes head coach John Plumtree has reverted back to a five-forward, three-back split on the bench with lock Liam Mitchell unavailable after he suffered a hand injury against the Rebels.

Fellow lock Isaia Walker-Leawere retains his place in the run-on side.

Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Chase Tiatia

Thoughts:

Last week I suggested that the Blues would be returning to their basic power game that had served them so well earlier in 2019. I suggested that they have the pack of forwards that could produce a solid 50 or 60 minutes, and then they had a bench that could step in and step up the power for a dominating finish to the game.

I was wrong.

The Brumbies pack had other ideas and they denied the Blue the dominance they desired, resulting in a 26-21 loss for the Blues.

This week they face a Hurricanes pack that has not had the best of 2019. Whilst their scrums have been fairly solid, with a 93% success rate, their lineouts have been woeful, the worst in the entire competition at 80,4%. The Blues have the best scrumming stats of the lot at 96% and their lineouts are a smidgen better than the ‘Canes on 86%.

The stats do not tell the entire story. The Hurricanes have looked wobbly and creaked whenever they have come up against a better pack of forwards, with their 93% scrum success rate being on the back of plenty of scrambled balls at the base of a disintegrating scrum. The savvy and bravery of TJ Perenara has often been the difference between a scrum lost and a scrum won as the scrumhalf has rescued balls that a lesser player would have left alone. When it is not Perenara saving the scrambled ball, it is Ardie Savea. Between the two of them, they have made the ‘Canes scrum look better than it really is.

The Blues have been far more solid in the forward set-piece exchanges, although sometimes a bit staid and one-dimensional in their thinking.

At the back it is a wholly different story.

The ‘Canes have scored 42 tries, the Blues just 28. Clean breaks and carries are fairly close, although in each the ‘Canes are ahead of the Blues. When we look at the amount of ground gained while in possession, the Hurricanes stand head and shoulders above everyone else. And then there is the try-scoring count.

The Hurricanes deploy a back division that contains some really serious firepower, All Blacks Jordie Barrett, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, and TJ Perenara, with Ben Lam perhaps the unluckiest man in New Zealand as he has yet to be called up by the All Blacks and Wes Goosen being touted at the next-best-thing on the right wing for New Zealand.

When that back division fires, very few teams in the world can contain them.

The problem, in 2019, has been that the ‘Canes backs have often fired blanks. They turn on outstanding rugby for stretches of the game, and then seem to relax into cruise mode for even longer stretches.

They face a Blues back division that includes another current All Black, Rieko Ioane, who has made 22 clean breaks this Super season, more than any other player in the competition. The Blues also have the hard running Melani Nanai at full back, the committed TJ Faiane, and the vast experience and nous of Ma’a Nonu, himself an ex-Hurricane!

If the ‘Canes backs kick into gear, and they will at some stage in this game, the Blues will need to produce the best in defence. They are well capable of doing so! Their tackling puts them third on the stats log, just 0,4% behind the leading Crusaders on 86,8%. 

The Hurricanes defence has also been good, just 1% below the Blues on 85,3%.

The Blues will take heart from their home record in 2019, they have won five of their last six Super Rugby games at home, including their last four on the trot. 

Prediction:

Despite their home advantage, it does seem as if this Blues outfit is just one or two big names short when we compare the two team lists. The ‘Canes just seem to have so much more quality, and some of those quality players are finding form!

The Hurricanes, by 12.

Rebels v Reds

Venue AAMI Park, Melbourne
Date Friday 10 May
Kick-off 19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time
Referee Angus Gardner
AR1 Damon Murphy
AR2 Graham Cooper
TMO George Ayoub

An interesting little match-up here!

The Rebels coming into the game on the back of three consecutive losses, a month-long winless streak that included a bye, while the Reds arrive on the wave of a two-match winning streak.

Both these teams have played 10, won 5, and lost 5. The Rebels have two more bonus points, giving them the top of the conference log honours at the moment, but this could change as easily as the wind changes direction.

The Rebels have scored a couple more tries, 38 to 32, and both teams have conceded 33.

There is really very little to choose between the two teams based on their results in 2019. 

This could go to the wire.

However, this is an Australian derby, and thus very likely to deteriorate into a low-risk “mustn’t-lose” arm-wrestling affair as do so many of these all-Aussie affairs, which suggests that it will probably be as boring as watching bread rise on a cold day.

Team News:

Rebels:

Lock Ross Haylett-Petty and centre Billy Meakes have been included in the Rebels’ starting XV to face the Reds at AAMI Park.

Haylett-Petty has been promoted into the No.4 jersey, while Meakes will return to centre.

The Rebels’ backline has suffered a blow following the loss of stalwart Tom English, who has a calf complaint.

Richard Hardwick has also been included after successfully overcoming a foot injury sustained against the Waratahs to regain a spot on the bench.

After starting last week, forward Rob Leota will sit in the reserves enclosure this week, as the Rebels look to combat a strong Reds forward pack with a six-two split on the bench.

Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Pone Fa’amausili, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Campbell Magnay.

Reds:

The Reds have made two changes to their starting XV for Friday’s match against the Rebels at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

JP Smith will start in the front row while Angus Blyth will make his first Super Rugby start at lock.

There are a further four changes to the reserves, as Smith and Blyth’s promotion sees Harry Hoopert and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto on the bench.

Caleb Timu is back in the Reds’ 23 after serving a club rugby suspension, while Isaac Lucas returns following a his campaign with the Junior Wallabies at the Oceania Under-20s Championship.

Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Angus Blyth, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.

Thoughts:

A difficult game to preview as both these sides have been thoroughly inconsistent all year, although the Rebels recent slide is perhaps an indicator of where the game might go.

Some of the Rebels recent slide might be attributable to fitness issues and fatigue? 

During the week Quade Cooper was talking about being “wrecked” by the intensity and physicality of Super Rugby after he had spent 2018 playing club rugby in Brisbane. “I was feeling it — my body was pretty wrecked and mentally I was pretty fried,”Cooper told Fox Sports “Coming off a club footy season into eight straight games — the physicality and the intensity each week was a big step up.”

As the Rebels chief playmaker, a 31-year old flyhalf playing outside a similarly 31-year old Will Genia, age might just be taking its inevitable toll.

The Rebels do have the pack of forwards that can contain the Reds, while they seem, on paper, to have a better back division.

The Reds have built most of their campaign on the power of their scrum, together with the close-in “around the corner” carrying of their big front rowers. Yet the stats tell us that their scrum is not really as powerful as they like to believe, with a poor scrumming record of 86% versus the Rebels on 93%. They may have to rethink their basic game plan?

At the back the Reds game has revolved around just one man, Samu Kerevi has been the centre-pin, the axis, around which the rest of the Reds backs have played. When he has fired, they have looked 100% better than when he has an off-day.

Based simply on Kerevi’s play, the Reds have been able to beat an average of 28 defenders per game in 2019, more than any other team in the competition, but when the two teams total stats are measured against each other they are difficult to separate across the board.

There is really no scientific or logical way of separating these two teams.

Prediction:

I am going with home ground advantage for this one. The Rebels, by 12.

 Bulls v Crusaders

VenueLoftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Date Friday 10 May
Kick-off 19h10 local (SA time); 17h10 GMT
Referee Rasta Rasivhenge
AR1 Jaco Peyper
AR2 Egon Seconds
TMO Willie Vos

If ever home advantage counts for points, it has been when the Bulls have hosted the Crusaders at Loftus Versveld.

The Bulls have won five of their last six matches against the Crusaders played at Loftus Versveld in Pretoria. Although I would suggest that they do not want us to talk about the last time the two teams faced off in Pretoria. On that occasion the Crusaders took a modicum of revenge for the five previous losses by thumping the Bulls 24-62.

There is one other little niggle as we think about this fixture:-  The Bulls have managed one win in their last 12 Super Rugby games against New Zealand opposition!

The Bulls will be looking for the massive morale booster that a win over the Crusaders would hand them on the eve of a month-long tour to Australasia.

Such a win would also give their log position a massive boost, cementing their position at the top of the wholly unpredictable South African conference.

The Crusaders arrive with a simple task facing them. They simply have to continue playing the way they have been playing all season, and they are likely to further cement their position at the very top of the overall log. Theirs is a much easier task than that which faces the Bulls!

Team News:

The Bulls:

Schalk Brits and Jason Jenkins are back in the Bulls pack for their Super Rugby clash against the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.

Brits has served a four-week suspension and will start at hooker, while Jenkins is fit again following injury. Like Brits, he last played for the Bulls in their 19-16 win over the Sharks at the end of March. They replace Jaco Visagie and Jannes Kirsten respectively, with Visagie dropping to the bench and Kirtsen moving into the number seven jersey.

Pote Human has made those two changes in the pack, as well as two in the backline.

In a rotational change Ivan van Zyl drops out of the matchday 23 and will be replaced by André Warner at scrum-half in the starting team, while Warner’s place on the bench is taken by Embrose Papier.

Burger Odendaal, who was a late withdrawal from last weekend’s clash against the Waratahs, has been declared fit and he will start at centre in place of Dylan Sage, who drops out of the matchday squad altogether.

Odendaal and Kotze will start in the midfield. 

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (c), 9 André Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw

The Crusaders:

The Crusaders are boosted by the return of Richie Mo’unga and Ryan Crotty for their Super Rugby clash with the Bulls on Friday. 

Their arrival sees Mitch Hunt and Braydon Ennor move to the replacements bench and Jack Goodhue switch back to outside centre.

The final change is at full-back, where David Havili starts in place of Will Jordan, who didn’t travel to South Africa due to a foot injury.

Scott Robertson has named an unchanged forward pack from the side that took the field in Christchurch against the Sharks, and Matt Todd will again captain the team in the absence of Sam Whitelock.

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor

Thoughts:

A machine arrives to visit Loftus Versveld when the Crusaders come to town. The Crusaders are probably the most clinical and efficient rugby team in all of the world today. Even when British journo Mark Reason tries to stir the pot by calling the game as it is played in New Zealand “glorified basketball” he is really just giving a back-handed compliment! I have no doubt that even the mighty Saracens will struggle to contain the Crusaders in mid-season.

They face a Bulls outfit that has been typically South African, swinging like the proverbial pendulum, winning one, losing another, as the season progresses. A week ago the Bulls were impressively efficient as they dismantled the Waratahs, with their forwards laying a solid foundation as they simply crushed the ‘Tahs challenge in the forward exchanges and at the collision.

The Bulls will be looking for more of the same when they take on the Crusaders.

At the back, the Crusaders are loaded with heavy artillery. Current All Blacks abound, David Havili, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, and Richie Mo’unga have all played for the ABs in the last 12 months. Only scrumhalf Bryn Hall and Fijian Sevu Reece have not yet earned an All Black cap. Reece may be very close to a call-up and will have to choose between Fiji and New Zealand if the call comes.

Even the Crusaders bench features a current All Black in Braydon Ennor, and two NZ U/20 players, the two Mitchells – Drummond and Hunt.

Look closer and you will even see an All Black in the forward replacement contingent, Luke Romano.

Up front it is much the same story, with a list of All Blacks that starts with Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Scott Barrett, Codie Taylor, and Joe Moody. They even field a current Wallaby prop, Michael Alaalatoa. 

This is a very powerful Crusaders outfit.

The Bulls, in contrast, have some current Springboks, and a couple of truly experienced men too, but the bulk of the team consists on youngsters still learning their trade.


The backs may be found to be a little light, with the talented Warrick Gelant still learning about the nuances of fullback play, the old head of Cornal Hendricks on the wing just a half-a-yard slower than in his prime, a re-treaded wing at outside centre, Johnny Kotze, the experienced although oft one dimensional Burger Odendaal at 12, a sevens convert Rosko Specman on the wing, lightning fast but very inexperienced in the 15s game. Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard, and André Warner at 9 complete the back division.

The backs have been disrupted by injuries and the division has not quite gelled as a unit. Much of their success has come from the calm clinical play of their flyhalf.

Up front the Bulls do look to have a unit that can challenge and even stop the Crusaders. The loose trio contains the huge presence of Duane Vermeulen, backed by Jannes Kirsten, and Marco van Staden, while the tight five have the successful Junior ‘Bok second row combination of RG Snyman, and Jason Jenkins reunited again, with Snyman playing some of the best rugby of his life at the moment. The front three of Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits, and Lizo Gqoboka stand back for no one in 2019.

The clash between Kieran Read and Duane Vermeulen is one to watch. They are two wholly different No.8s. Read prefers to play the wider channels, sticking rigorously to the Crusaders 2-3-2 game plan, while Duane Vermeulen prefers the rough and tumble of the physical collisions and carrying the ball up after a kick receipt. Vermeulen also has a remarkable presence over the ball and at the turnovers. A looser, wider player versus a close in grafter. Both have what it takes to turn a game around in a blink.

Much of this game will revolve around discipline, with the Bulls more likely to take any points on offer via the boot of Handré Pollard, while the Crusaders have struggled to stay on the good side of referees all season. Last weekend the Crusaders ended their game against the Sharks with plenty of grumbles about the South African scrummaging tactics, which suggests that they might be a bit wary of the Bulls too!

If the Crusaders forwards can provide their backs with quality ball, it is going to be a long afternoon of defending for the Bulls.

Prediction:

I am flying in the face of every other tipster and punter in the business. I am giving this one to the Bulls, based on their home ground advantage in the thin air of Pretoria, together with a pack of forwards that can make the Crusaders play off the back foot.

The Bulls, but by a close 6.