Super Rugby 2019
Weekend Preview & Predictions
The Kiwi derby in Dunedin between the Highlanders and Blues is vital for both teams Finals hopes and will be refereed by Paul Williams. Australian Conference leaders Rebels host second placed Waratahs who need a win to stay in touch with the leaders in top spot. Damon Murphy will have the whistle for this match.
The weekend finishes in Cape Town where the Stormers take on the Brumbies in a match controlled by Nick Briant.
Highlanders v Blues
|Venue||Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin|
|Date||Saturday 20 April|
|Kick-off||19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA time.|
There are more than just log points and bragging rights up for grabs in this New Zealand derby. There is also a trophy on the line, the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy will belong to the winners when the Blues and Highlanders take the field in Dunedin.
The trophy is awarded in memory of Gordon Hunter, who had been head coach of both teams prior to his death in 2002.
The Blues currently lead in overall trophy-match wins with eight victories to the Highlanders seven. But those 8 wins were all achieved a very long time ago. The last time they held the trophy was back in 2011.
Prior to 2013, the trophy was contested every time the two teams met, but with the introduction of the Super Rugby conference system with two derbies in every regular season, it was decided that the trophy would only be contested in matches hosted by the holders.
The Highlanders have retained the trophy since 2012.
The Blues will want the trophy to move to Auckland, and the 2019 Super Rugby season is certainly the best chance they have had in many a long year.
The two teams have had contrasting fortunes in 2019, with the Highlanders languishing at the bottom of the New Zealand log, with 14 points and just 2 wins in 8 starts. They do have the points awarded for the technical draw after their fixture with the Crusaders was cancelled. Those points are critical, if it were not for the extras they earned that horrible weekend, they would be languishing right down at the bottom of the overall log alongside the Sunwolves, and few in Dunedin would be able to stomach the ignominy!
The Blues are in the middle of their best season in many a long year. Mid-New Zealand table, with 20 points and 4 wins in 8 starts. They will be eyeing the end-of-season playoffs with a beady eye.
This game could go a long way towards earning that playoff slot for the Blues, or resurrecting the Highlanders season, which is currently heading for the grave!
The Highlanders have made just two changes to their starting line-up for the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy match against the Blues in Dunedin on Saturday.
All Black Jackson Hemopo returns at lock to partner Tom Franklin and Patelesio Tomkinson takes the place of Rob Thompson, who is unavailable for family reasons this week.
However, the return of Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock gives the reserves a very strong look. Smith who injured his ankle in the Round Six game, ironically against the Blues, was originally scheduled to be out for four to six weeks but has missed just two games during his speedy recovery.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Patelesio Tomkinson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Luke Whitelock (cc), 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen
Leon MacDonald has named a strong starting XV for the derby with the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.
Hooker James Parsons is set to become just the sixth Blues player to earn 100 caps for the Auckland-based franchise.
Parsons, 32, has been named to start in what will be his 100th cap for the club and 98th in Super Rugby, having played against the touring French and British and Irish Lions.
The side has a settled look with the back-line unchanged and only one swap in the forwards from the side that narrowly lost to the Chiefs last weekend, with Sione Mafileo and Ofa Tuungafasi exchanging roles in the front-row.
The other change is in the reserves where Leni Apisai comes in on to the bench for just the second time this year.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie
These two teams have had such contrasting fortunes in 2019, with the Blues returning to the winning trail for the first time in many a year, while the Highlanders simply have not been able to put a consistent and focussed game plan together yet.
Despite their differing fortunes, it is actually quite difficult to draw a line between the two teams and suggest which team is superior to the other.
The Blues are targeting their second win over the Highlanders this season after their thriller at Eden Park last month, but this time they are playing away from home, under the roof of the Forsyth Barr Stadium where a dry ball and a quicker surface may just suit the Blues’ running style.
Last week’s loss to the Chiefs will add motivation to the Blues as they focus on continuing the progress they have made as a team and as individuals in 2019. If last week’s loss can be left behind them and they can kick on against a Highlanders outfit that seems to be ripe for the plucking, then their 2019 turnaround will be even bigger than many imagine. It will show that they can move on mentally, from a loss, rather than imploding as they have done so many times in the past.
They are up against a Highlanders outfit that has had more than its fair share of bad luck in 2019, with injuries to the likes of Waisake Naholo, Tivita Nabura, Luke Whitelock, Marty Banks, Liam Squire, Richard Buckman and Aaron Smith robbing them of critical members of the overall squad at crucial times.
This week fortune smiles, albeit enigmatically, as they have both Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock back in the matchday 23. Both will start off the bench if needed.
The Highlanders are short on experienced players in some crucial positions, especially at flyhalf where the injury to Marty Banks has left them very thin on the ground.
This game may well be played at a fast pace, on a surface that the Highlanders are used to, but which will also suit some of the runners in the Blues lineup, with the likes of Melani Nanai, Caleb Clarke, TJ Faiane, Ma’a Nonu, and the try-scoring machine that is Rieko Ioane likely to enjoy the conditions.
The real crunch will be up front, where it seems the Blues have the edge, especially with the likes of Leni Apisai, Alex Hodgman, Ofa Tuungafasi, Josh Goodhue, and Jed Brown set to be unleashed later in the piece.
The loose trio clash will be interesting with Elliot Dixon, James Lentjes, and Shannon Frizell a useful combination, but facing the in-form Akira Ioane, who is playing the best rugby of his career, with the up-and-coming Dalton Papalii combining with Tom Robinson as flankers.
This game will revolve around the Blues mental resilience after last week’s loss, and the Highlanders desperate need to get their season going somehow. It could get frantic!
I am going with 2019 form, and thus for the Blues to take the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy home for the first time since 2012.
The Blues, by 6.
Waratahs v Rebels
|Venue||Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney|
|Date||Saturday 20 April|
|Kick-off||19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time|
The Waratahs are coming off a bye that did not provide them with the kind of rest, recuoeration, and preparation they would have preferred as the Israel Folau fiasco exploded in their faces during the last week and a bit. Whether this distraction has damaged their focus and mindset remains to be seen, but it cannot have helped much.
It is certainly not the ideal way to prepare for a rugby match!
The Rebels coming into the match off their recent loss to the Stormers, a game they might have thought was theirs for the taking. They still sit at the top of the Aussie conference, but their lead is still only 7 points after they missed the opportunity to stretch that lead last weekend.
The Rebels are sitting on 23 points with 5 wins in 8 starts, while the second placed Waratahs are on 3 wins from 7 starts, with 16 points.
In another non-Super Rugby trophy contest, the teams will be playing for the Weary Dunlop Shield, named in honour of Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, who represented Australia and Victoria in rugby union and served as a medical officer in World War II.
Saturday night’s game will also pay tribute to the current and former service men and women with a special ANZAC ceremony.
Daryl Gibson has made four alterations to his run-on side that will take on the Rebels in Sydney on Saturday.
In the back-line, Kurtley Beale comes into the starting line-up at full-back for Israel Folau, who has been stood down for the Waratahs following his controversial social media posts.
The only other change in the backs sees Jake Gordon replacing Nick Phipps at scrum-half.
In the forwards, captain and openside flanker Michael Hooper will run out for his 100th Waratahs match. Hooper sat out the Waratahs previous match against the Blues in Round Eight and returns to action in place of Will Miller.
The final change is in the second-row where Jed Holloway takes over from Ned Hanigan.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Will Miller, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Curtis Rona
Melbourne Rebels stand-in captain Angus Cottrell has been ruled out of Friday’s Australian Conference derby against the Waratahs with concussion.
However, the Rebels do welcome back three star players and have made six changes to the starting XV.
Hooker Anaru Rangi, wing Jack Maddocks, and lock Matt Philip have all been named to return to the starting side. All have overcome injuries, which kept them sidelined during last week’s loss to the Stormers.
Rounding out the changes to the starting lineup up is another trio of players, with Richard Hardwick, Matt Gibbon and Jermaine Ainsley, replacing Angus Cottrell, Tetera Faulkner and Sam Talakai respectively.
Sione Tuipulotu has also been recalled onto the replacements bench, in what potentially looms as his first match for the team since Round Seven’s win over the Reds.
Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English (captain), 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 Sione Tuipulotu.
So much of this game revolves around the mental preparation of the two teams. The Waratahs have not fired on all cylinders in 2019, with their supposedly stellar back division often resembling a lower league club outfit.
They simply have not hit their straps at all.
Now they have the added distraction of the Folau Follies just to create even more distraction. He has been the one ‘Tah back-liner who has shown glimpses of form in 2019, and now they have to play without him.
Despite the big names and reputations, the Waratah back line has been unsettled and seem unable to click together as a unit. However, they have some undoubted talent in their lineup……….
On the Rebels’ side they have a back division that has been solid all season, playing off the new-found respectability and focus of one Quade Cooper, well managed by his half-back partner Will Genia. They are a well settled back division, and will be looking to make amends for their lapses against the Stormers.
The 2019 ‘Tah midfield defence is better for the arrival of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Karmichael Hunt, but they are struggling to defend out wide, and Kurtley Beale, deployed at fullback to replace Israel Folau, is not known for his defence.
The Rebel midfield defends well, but they do have a weak link on the inside, where Quade Cooper is something of a turnstile. The Rebels do factor this issue into their planning and often send him out onto the wing when defending in their 22, with Reece Hodge stepping into the flyhalf channel as a far more muscular and braver tackling option.
The two packs of forwards look, on paper, to be fairly evenly matched, with the Rebels having the slimmest of edges in the tight fives.
The Waratah loose forwards have not been able to impose themselves on the game anytime yet in 2019. They have not been playing as a combination, with each of the loosies playing their own somewhat loose-cannon game. Michael Hooper is perhaps the best and worst of these. He will chase everything all afternoon, and will pop up everywhere, but often seems to be on a mission all of his own, especially when he favours the wider channels. His nuisance value is undoubted, but the team may need a more cohesive approach from their loose combination?
The Rebel loose trio has been less disjointed, but sometimes appear a little lightweight in the really tough stuff.
I guess this game will degenerate into another of the typically Aussie derbies where fear of losing overrides the need to play open mobile rugby. A dour arm-wrestle is the usual result.
The distractions in the Waratah camp will not have helped. They have already looked a seriously disjointed outfit in 2019, and now they have some other things to think about too.
The Rebels, by 12.
Stormers v Brumbies
|Venue||Newlands, Cape Town|
|Date||Saturday 20 April|
|Kick-off||15:05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT; 23h05 Canberra Time|
So? Will the South African Pendulum swing again?
The Stormers won last week so, if the Pendulum Theory holds true, they will lose this week?
The Stormers are back at home after an exhausting six weeks and four away games on tour in the Antipodes. This was a tour that saw them run the Blues and Hurricanes very close, games they lost through their own ineptitude rather than the good rugby played by their opponents. They lost a terrible game of rugby against the Reds, and then produced their best game of 2019 to run the Rebels ragged in a spectacular second half after a technically superb first half where they simply absorbed everything the Rebels could do, and then struck in the second half as their hosts seemed to run out of ideas and steam in equal proportions.
That win over the Rebels was a very important result for the Stormers. Less so for their log position and their playoff hopes, and more so for the banishing of a very particular and heavy monkey that has grown fat on their shoulders of late. The Stormers have won a game outside South Africa, something which very few of the media reports and commentators made any reference to in their match reports.
That win, finally playing the kind of rugby everyone has been waiting for the Stormers to produce, may well be the key to their season!
The will take to the field at Newlands with the confidence that comes from that very important win!
The Brumbies are in a less fortunate position – they arrive without an away win of any sort in 2019. They have three wins in Canberra, but none away from the ACT headquarters. They do have the confidence of a good win over the struggling Lions last week.
There are three changes and a positional switch in the Stormers starting line-up to face the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday.
There are two changes to the backline and one in the forward pack for the Super Rugby encounter.
Joshua Stander will be at flyhalf with Dan Kriel at inside centre in place of Jean-Luc du Plessis and Damian de Allende who are both being rested for this match.
Pieter-Steph du Toit returns to take his place at blindside flank, with Kobus van Dyk moving to No.8 in place of the injured Jaco Coetzee.
Tighthead prop Neethling Fouche, loose forward Siya Kolisi and utility back JJ Engelbrecht will be among the replacements in the only other changes to the matchday 23 that featured in the win against the Rebels in Melbourne last week.
Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Joshua Stander, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Kobus van Dyk, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Cobus Wiese, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Johan du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 JJ Engelbrecht, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
The Brumbies have made only one change to their starting XV to take on the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
Flank Jahrome Brown will make his first start for the Brumbies, while Wallabies stalwart David Pocock remains sidelined by his calf injury.
Murray Douglas and Wharenui Hawera have been included on the bench.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Tom Wright, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Tom Cusack, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’A, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Murray Douglas, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andy Muirhead.
As I said in my opening remarks, the Stormers return to Newlands having rid themselves of that oft-debilitating monkey of a lack of away wins overseas in two years. Just that fact will give them confidence as they head into this game against the Brumbies.
Robbie Fleck has chosen to make as few changes to that victorious team as possible. The injury to Jaco Coetzee allows Pieter-Steph du Toit back into the starting XV, in his preferred blindside flanker role, while Damian de Allende is rested in terms of the Springbok management agreement. This gives Dan Kriel a starting role at 12 for the first time this year.
The only non-essential change is the selection of Josh Stander at flyhalf, replacing an out-of-form Jean-Luc du Plessis who must be in need of some time off to find his game.
It’s the first start of the season for Stander, who has been in some impressive form in recent weeks. It will be interesting to see if he will bring some direction to a back line that has often seemed to be at a loss, both tactically and technically, in 2019.
They will have the opportunity to run at a defence that has struggled in 2019.
The Brumbies’ defence that has been woeful this season, with an 83,3% tackle success rate that tells of 32 tries conceded, the third worst in the competition, ahead of just the Chiefs and the Sunwolves.
The Stormers are also likely to be in a more relaxed frame of mind knowing that they are back at home, and have a sequence of home games to look forward to. The frantic focus of trying to win away from home is banished and can be replaced with the quiet confidence of a good win before returning to Newlands, where they are unbeaten in 2019.
The Brumbies do have some superb runners in their back division, but they are up against a Stormers defence that has only conceded 22 tries in 2019, the second least in the competition.
However, it is very likely that this game will be decided up front where the Stormers have been one of the better teams in the competition, playing some uncompromisingly physical rugby to soften up their opponents, before letting the ball go to the backs.
It has been at the back, with a lack of finishing, where they have struggled, rather than up front.
The two front rows will offer an interesting sub-plot – as an all-Springbok three of Kitshoff, Mbonambi and Louw front up against an all-Wallaby front-row of Allan Alaalatoa, Scott Sio and Folau Fainga’a. The relative strengths of the two countries resources will be measured here!
At lock the Brumbies also field two Wallabies, Sam Carter and Rory Arnold, facing off against the relative youth of the two Stormers Cobus Wiese and Salmaan Moerat. Make no mistake, the two Stormers youngsters certainly stepped up to the mark last week, when they faced the Rebels second row of Adam Coleman and Ross Haylett-Petty,also an all-Wallaby combination!
The Brumbies have a mobile and physical loose trio, comprising Pete Samu, Jahrome Brown, and Tom Cusack, but may lack cohesiveness as Samu plays at 8, when he is more usually considered a flank. They will miss the technical nous and experience of David Pocock against a Stormers trio of Kobus van Dyk, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Ernst van Rhyn, with Siya Kolisi itching to get back into the game off the bench.
I am looking forward to this game with interest.
It will provide a measure of the Stormers’ psychological development after last week’s win in Australia, although travel fatigue may have a negative influence later in the game.
The Stormers, back home at Newlands, are a different prospect to the Stormers playing anywhere else.
The confidence that comes with a good win cannot be underestimated.
The Stormers, by 10.