Super Rugby 2019

Weekend Preview & Predictions

Week Five

This fifth weekend of the 2019 Super Rugby Season features six games, three of Friday the 15thMarch and then three on Saturday the 16thMarch.

I apologise to one and all for the lack of post-game reviews and comments after last week’s Round Four. Very welcome visitors from up-country, unseasonal rain, stuff like fetching passports from Home Affairs, sending my wife off to Namibia to visit her parents and celebrate my Mother-in-Law’s 80th, and the arrival of a couple of unwelcome letters from the taxman that required immediate attention, all conspired to take my attention away from the really important stuff:- Rugby.

Happily, I can report that my wife arrived safely in Windhoek, my Mother-in-Law is now 80, the taxman’s queries have been answered, and the world is returning to normal.

Herewith the preview to this Friday’s games:

Chiefs vs Hurricanes

Venue FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Date Friday 15 March
Kick-off 19h35 local; 06h35 GMT; 08h35 SA Time.
Referee Mike Fraser
AR1 Brendon Pickerill
AR2 Nick Hogan
TMO Shane McDermott

I wish I could offer Chiefs fans some measure of hope for this one, but I cannot really find anything to suggest that they will turn around a disastrous start to 2019 by knocking over the Hurricanes. Just a week ago the Hurricanes ground out a three-tries-apiece-last-minute-kick win against the feisty Highlanders, while the Chiefs took yet another thumping, this time at the hands of the Crusaders.

The Hurricanes have not had the best start to 2019, although their 3 wins from 4 starts suggests that they are doing well, with just the one loss, in the second round to the Crusaders, giving them second place on the New Zealand log. When we look at their tries for and against stats, we do see something of a danger sign – they have scored 15 tries, but have conceded 12, which is at odds with their 2018 record for being one of the best defending sides in the game.

The Chiefs have been, I am not sure how to put this without offending those dyed in the wool Chiefs’ supporters, horrendous. While scoring 12 tries, they have conceded a whopping 23, the most in the entire competition. 

Sadly, I do not think the issues in the Chiefs game plans and in their collective heads will be sorted out in just one week.

Team News:

Chiefs:

Colin Cooper has named Damian McKenzie to start at full-back for Friday’s encounter against the Hurricanes in Hamilton.

Cooper has made six changes to the starting line-up after last week’s defeat against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

McKenzie shifts to full-back, after playing at fly-half in the Chiefs’ past three games, and his brother, Marty McKenzie, who returns from injury, will wear the number 10 jersey.

Michael Allardice returns to combine with Brodie Retallick in the 2ndrow. The return of Allardice moves Tyler Ardron back into number eight with Taleni Seu providing cover on the bench in jersey number 19. Mitchell Karpik, the other change in the pack, will start with Lachlan Boshier ruled out with injury.

In the backline, Japanese international Ataata Moeakiola secures his first start of the season on the left wing ahead of Etene Nanai-Seturo who will play off the bench in jersey 23.

Amongst the replacements, Tasman loosehead prop Ryan Coxon is in line to make his Super Rugby debut. Luke Jacobson joins Coxon to earn his place in the twenty three for the first time this season.

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Ataata Moeakiola, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick (c), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Etene Nanai-Seturo

Hurricanes:

In-form centre Ngani Laumape will start his 50th match for the Hurricanes on Friday night. He will again partner with Matt Proctor in the midfield in a back-line that features just one change to that which faced the Highlanders last weekend.

Wes Goosen comes in on the left wing in place of Ben Lam who has been rested following a heavy early season work load.

Up front there are three changes in the pack with experienced props Toby Smith and Ben May named to start, the former making his first appearance in 2019.

The other change comes on the side of the scrum where Reed Prinsep is recalled on the blindside flank with Vaea Fifita moving into lock.

The bench features two potential Hurricanes debutants with wing Salesi Rayasi and loose forward Heiden Bedwell-Curtis.

Hurricanes: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Jordie Barrett, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Liam Mitchell, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Salesi Rayasi

Thoughts:

The Chiefs, so often one of the most threatening sides in the competition,  are still looking for their first win this season, while the Hurricanes will be aiming for another game of the level they produced in their 43 – 13 walloping of the Brumbies in Round Three. Last week they were back to their somewhat unconvincing form of the first two rounds of the season. 

I am looking forward to watching Damian McKenzie back in the fullback position, a position where he thrilled and excited us all prior to his conversion to the flyhalf position in 2017. If he gets the freedom to run and do the unexpected, he can tear any defence in the world to ribbons. His brother Marty is perhaps less unpredictable, but a very steady flyhalf and may just be the right choice to steady the wobbly Chiefs at this time.

There is one very big question mark hanging over this game. Can the Chiefs forwards stop the Hurricane forwards, especially the loosies? 

The ‘Canes have been dangerous when they’ve received quick, front-foot ball with momentum, and this has been provided by their  very quick loose trio, backed by the resurgent form of Dane Coles.  

Ngani Laumape also been is sparkling form for the ‘Canes, laying down a marker for All Black selection later in the year. The Chiefs will have to work very hard to stop him, and their defence has been as leaky as a rusty tin roof..

Prediction:

I would love to say that I can see the Chiefs turning things around with this home game. Sadly, I cannot suggest anything of the sort. 

The Hurricanes, by 12.

Brumbies vs Waratahs

Venue GIO Stadium, Canberra
Date Friday 15 March
Kick-off 19h45 local; 08h45 GMT; 10h45 SA Time.
Referee Glen Jackson
AR1 Jordan way
AR2 Amy Perrett
TMO James Leckie

The Brumbies have had one big win in 2019, against the Chiefs. This win briefly suggested that the team from Canberra was perhaps turning a corner after an abysmal couple of years and that 2019 might just see a resurgence of the Brumbies of years past.

I am not so sure.

That one win against the Chiefs bears a remarkable resemblance to a swallow – just that one swallow, and we know that a single swallow does not mean summer has arrived.

That solitary win is all the Brumbies have to show for 2019, and that does not suggest that they have made any progress at all.

The Waratahs have not been at their best either, blowing hot and cold so far in the season, playing 3, winning 2, but struggling to score tries, with just 9 on their tally, but having conceded 8. The star-studded backline has often seemed to be going through the motions rather than playing to their considerable potential.

Contrast this with the 18 tries the Brumbies have scored, the second most in the entire competition. However, they have also conceded 17 tries, also the second most in the competition, jointly with the Sunwolves.

On paper, perhaps, the Brumbies will be favourites.

Team News:

Brumbies:

The Brumbies will have to make do without the services of David Pocock for the second time this season. He picked up a calf injury and, alongside Australia prop Allan Alaalatoa (wrist), will miss the game on Friday.

Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin and Lausii Taliauli will make their first Super Rugby starts of the season. Leuluaialii-Makin slots into the front-row in place of the injured Alaalatoa, having played all four games this season from the replacements bench.

Scott Sio and hooker Folau Fainga’a join Leuluaialii-Makin in the front-row, while Rory Arnold and Sam Carter continue in the engine room, with Lachlan McCaffrey restored to the back-row alongside Tom Cusack and Rob Valetini.

There’s also an opportunity for two local academy products to make their Brumbies debut, with the duo of Tom Ross and Mack Hansen named in the match-day 23 for the first time.

Behind the pack, Joe Powell and Christian Lealiifano form the halfback partnership once more with Taliauli on the left wing forming an attacking trident alongside right wing Henry Speight and the hard-running fullback Tom Banks.

With Irae Simone, returning from a rib injury, and Tevita Kuridrani in the middle, the Brumbies will be looking to continue their try-scoring form.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Jordan Jackson-hope, 23 Mack Hansen

The Waratahs:

The ‘Tahs have been forced into a late change and reshuffle as Karmichael Hunt has been ruled out with a hamstring strain, forcing coach Gibson into a backline reshuffle as Kurtley Beale reverts to the midfield to partner Adam Ashley- Cooper and Israel Folau returns to fullback from the wing position.

Curtis Rona was to have been rested this week, in terms of the Wallaby World Cup preparation agreement, but the enforced changes has seen him return to start on the right wing that Folau was to have occupied.

Another piece of bad news for the Waratahs is that Ned Hanigan picked up an eye injury at practice on Tuesday, and may also be forced to sit this one out. There has been no news on a possible replacement at this stage.

The rest of the Match-Day 23 looks pretty much unchanged.

Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Curtis Rona, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Lachlan Swinton, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Cam Clark.

Thoughts:

Many of the tipsters and pundits are suggesting that the Brumbies will beat the Waratahs this Friday. Their scrums and lineouts have worked well in the first four rounds of 2019. 

Their back division, under the guidance of the in-form Christian Lealiifano, has been prepared to run from anywhere on the field, and this has resulted in some great tries.

However, their defence has been abysmal as they focus on attack and throw everyone into the fray. This has frequently left the backdoor open, allowing opponents to counterattack into space. 

The Brumby forwards will need to contain, and then dominate, if they want to deprive the Waratah backs of front-foot running ball. If the ‘Tahs start running, there may be plenty of trouble awaiting the Brumbies.

The Brumbies will have to do without David Pocock yet again, the great man’s career as a top-level player must surely be coming to an end as he picks up injury after injury.

For me, that Waratah back division has to start firing, sometime, and this might well be the weekend where they find their game. If they do, this will be a relatively easy game.

Prediction:

I predict: The Brumbies to leak plenty of tries, and the Waratah backs finally finding their game.

The ‘Tahs, by 12.

Stormers vs Jaguares

Venue DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Date Friday 15 March
Kick-off 19h10 local (SA Time); 17h10 GMT
Referee Jaco Peyper
AR1 Marius van der Westhuizen
AR2 Rasta Rasivhenge
TMO Christe du Preez

Last week the Jaguares fielded their second stringers, an obvious ploy to give their heavy artillery an opportunity to rest and recuperate before taking on the Stormers. They will have figured that the Lions, at altitude, is a more difficult nut to crack than the Stormers down at sea-level, especially as the Stormers have not been at their best in 2019. 

If you are going to bank a couple of away wins, then you have to marshal your forces and attack the weakest links.

The Jaguares obviously consider the Stormers game as one to target, and they have made the expected changes to their match-day 23 that reflect their intentions.

The Stormers suffered a really heavy 40-3 defeat to the Bulls in round one, and looked to be at the lowest ebb possible as rumours of unhappiness in the camp and rugby-political issues abounded. These issues have not gone away, despite all manner of assurances by the very people at the root of the problems!

Somehow the Stormers have bounced back from that Bulls game by winning two games on the trot, beating the Lions and the Sharks in succession.

These wins were built on the back of some disciplined focussed rugby, unexciting and unspectacular, simply solid. Their defensive efforts have been far better than their attacking play, but it was good enough to unpick an over-confident, almost arrogant Lions and an undisciplined Sharks.

The Stormers have also had a week to rest and recuperate, with their first bye weekend last week. They will be targeting the Jaguares game as one that they should win at home.

Team News:

The Stormers:

There are four changes to the Stormers starting line-up to face the Jaguares.

Forwards Steven Kitshoff, Scarra Ntubeni and Juarno Augustus will all make their first starts of the season, while the only change to the backline sees Dillyn Leyds come in at fullback for the encounter.

Utility forward Cobus Wiese also makes his return on the replacements bench.

Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Ruhan Nel, 23 Damian Willemse.

The Jaguares:

The Jaguares have made several changes to their side for Friday’s clash against the Stormers at Newlands.

After picking a largely second-string team in last Saturday’s loss against the Lions, a number of experienced players now filter back into the starting lineup.

Bautista Delguy, Ramiro Moyano and Tomas Cubelli will boost the backline particularly, while Pablo Matera and Tomas Lavanini add firepower up front.

Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet (c), 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements:16 Gaspar Baldunciel, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19  Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Juan Cruz Mallia, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.

Thoughts:

In 2018 the Jaguares surprised many with their form on the road, especially with their wins in the Antipodes. They will be looking at picking up at least one win in South Africa in 2019, before banking a couple over in Australia too as they set about building a season. 

This game against the Stormers is the one they will surely be targeting for their SA win.

This is a Jaguares side that doesn’t usually fare well on South African soil, and they will want to change that.

Last week the Lions completely dominated the game against the Jaguares, with the final score flattering the visitors as they scored two quick tries after the result was beyond doubt. They struggled in the forward collisions, and came off second best in the backs too.

But this was a second string Jaguares. The performance against the Lions reflects their lack of depth rather than a team struggling with form.

The return of some of their heavier artillery into the starting pack will bolster the forward effort, but they will be facing a Stormers pack that also welcomes back some pretty powerful guns, especially Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff as starting props. The replacements look ominous too, with Bongi Mbonambi, and Wilco Louw both of Springbok quality. The return of Cobus Wiese to play off the bench adds firepower to the looseforwards.

At the back the Stormers look settled, and they have some serious striking power waiting on the bench as both Damian Willemse and Ruhan Nel will look to make an impact later in the game.

Both sides will be desperate to make a statement at Newlands this Friday, which suggests that it will be a game worth watching.

The Stormers are likely to look for dominance up front before trying to do anything expansive with the ball in hand, the focus must be on disciplines first and foremost, as they know that the Jaguares like to play out of broken-field conditions.

The Argentinians are very likely to target the Stormers lineout, although the home side knows that they have Eben Etzebeth as their banker when they need to secure the ball.

It could be an interesting Friday evening.

Prediction:

The Stormers just seem to have far too many heavies in their pack of forwards, and that gives them a decided edge. They will play it simply, ugly even, but they will win.

The Stormers, by 10.