Super Rugby 2019

Weekend Preview & Predictions

Round Seven

This 7th weekend of the 2019 Super Rugby Season kicksoff with a big New Zealand Conference derby in Wellington where the Hurricanes host the Crusaders. Later on Friday the Waratahs face the Sunwolves at the McDonald Jones Stadium.

Saturday action kicks-off in Auckland with the Blues versus Stormers match. This is followed over in Brisbane by the Aussie derby between the Reds and Rebels. Next up is the crunch South African derby between the Sharks and Bulls in Durban.

The weekend’s Super Rugby ends in Buenos Aires with the Jaguares hosting Chiefs.

Three teams enjoy a bye weekend: The Lions, Brumbies, and Highlanders.

Sanzaar & The Refs

Another  quick comment about the referees for this weekend. With six games scheduled, Sanzaar have managed to get things right for a change. Well, almost…..

Just one game features a hometown referee, with Nick Briant of New Zealand carrying the whistle when the Stormers visit the Blues in Auckland. 

All the other games feature neutral referees.

Maybe one day we will see neutral referees in all the games?

Saturday’s Games

Blues v Stormers

Venue Eden Park, Auckland
Date Saturday 30 March
Kick-off 19h35 local; 06h35 GMT; 08h35 SA Time
Referee Nick Briant
AR1 Glen Jackson
AR2 Federico Anselmi
TMO Ben Skeen

The Stormers will arrive in Auckland knowing that they are facing a resurgent Blues outfit that have finally found their way to winning games that they previously lost because of their own psychological infirmities.

In more modern parlance, a Blues outfit that has found its mojo!

During the last two weeks they have started to play closer to the expectations created by the names on their team sheet.

The Stormers, likewise, have not been anywhere near the team that they should be on paper.

They have played a game based on the old Jake White principles of kicking deep, playing for territory, and then mauling, scrumming and rucking to milk penalties. It has been all forward-oriented crash and bash, with the focus being on playing off-the-nine for most of a game. Their backline, studded with potential stars, has been relegated to the role of tacklers and photographers for most of the time on the field.  Their backline attack has misfired badly, mostly due to the coach’s weird persistence with an obviously off-form flyhalf, while keeping one of the most exciting young talents in the game gathering splinters on the bench.

The JakeBall game worked well enough against the likes of the Sharks, the Lions and the Jaguares, and nearly worked last weekend against the Hurricanes. Against the Hurricanes the poor tactical decisions by the misfiring flyhalf, Jean-Luc du Plessis, together with some defensive lapses out wide, particularly by SP Marais, resulted in a win for the ‘Canes, in a game that the Stormers should have won.

In essence, the Stormers have been all-brawn and not so much brain in 2019.

Their fans will be hoping for some brain, added to the usual dose of brawn, this weekend.

Of course, they still have a host of monkeys riding on their collective backs, not least of which is their ongoing inability to win games outside South Africa.

The Blues have been one of the more enigmatic teams in the entire competition. They do so many things really well, but have usually seemed just a little short of self-belief, almost plagued by the demons inside their collective heads, when a game was theirs for the taking. In the last two weeks they have shown signs that they have managed to contain those demons, if not quite banishing them completely.

In essence, this game offers up a confrontation between two teams that are struggling with more than just playing form. They are both dealing with issues of the mind.

Whichever team manages to put aside those demons, those monkeys, will be the one that wins the match.

Team News:

The Blues:

A powerful display off the bench last week has earned All Black Patrick Tuipulotu a start for the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday.

Tuipulotu is one of only two changes to the Blues team that beat the Highlanders at home last week.

In the backs, Otere Black will start with Harry Plummer to come off the bench.

The in-form props Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo will start together for the third time which means All Blacks Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi will again look to make a significant impact off the bench in the second half.

The loose forward combination of Blake Gibson, who shares the captaincy with Tuipulotu, Tom Robinson and Akira Ioane combine for the third time in the starting line-up, with All Black Dalton Papalii, who this week has re-signed for a further three years, will add impetus off the bench.

The midfield duo of Ma’a Nonu and TJ Faiane are paired again, with Sonny Bill Williams, back after a week off, on the reserves’ bench.

Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.

The Stormers:

The Stormers, in a bid to get those backs into the game, have made six changes to their starting line-up for their encounter with the Blues.

There are three changes to the backline and three in the forward pack for the clash at Eden Park.

Damian Willemse comes in at fullback, with Dillyn Leyds shifting to the left wing and Dan du Plessis back at outside centre. Flyhalf Joshua Stander comes onto the replacements bench.

There are two rotational switches up front, with Jaco Coetzee at No.8 and Wilco Louw at tighthead prop, while a fit-again Eben Etzebeth comes into the second row in place of the injured JD Schickerling. As a result utility forward Cobus Wiese will be among the replacements.

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

Thoughts:

Inexplicably, coach Robbie Fleck has persisted with the misfiring Jean-Luc du Plessis at flyhalf, preferring to give the multi-talented Damian Willemse a run at fullback, when it is common knowledge that Willemse prefers the flyhalf position where many see him as a future Springbok first choice. Although there are those that suggest fullback should be his natural position for the foreseeable future.

The selection of J-L du Plessis is at odds with the talk about “getting the backs involved in the game” and “being unpredictable”………………

With an 11-game losing streak in New Zealand, the Stormers have a real challenge to get themselves properly psyched up and focussed for this game. They have to banish their demons, and monkeys, and focus purely on the fact that they actually had the winning of the game against the Hurricanes. That must be the focal point of their preparations. 

They have to find a fix for the defensive frailties they revealed out wide last week. This week they face a Rieko Ioane who has been in devastating form during the last two outings and will be looking to rip the Stormers defences to ribbons. Better defensive outfits have learned that you give Ioane room on the outside at your peril. Shifting Dillyn Leyds onto the wing may help address this problem, he is replacing SP Marais who was guilty of more than a couple of the slip-ups out wide against the ’Canes.

The Stormers will also need to up their game in the collisions. This was an area they dominated against the Sharks, the Lions, and the Jaguares, but where they seemed listless and slow last week against the Hurricanes. Last week they lost the battle at the gain line, and they cannot afford to do that against this Blues outfit that have been very good at taking the ball over that gain line, using the bulk, power and pace of the other Ioane, Akira, as their primary battering ram and ball carrier.

The Stormers have the talent, they have the forwards, and they have plenty of back line potential. Do they have the mental strength?

It won’t be easy, given the number of individual stars in the Blues lineup.

The aforementioned Rieko Ioane is in top form. A rejuvenated Ma’a Nonu is looking hungry, and is putting in some massive physical hits on the opposition. Melani Nanai and TJ Faiane have been full of running.

Up front, the Blues have been workmanlike, with their starting pack being the soldier-in-the-trenches type players, with the heavy hitters of the likes of Karl Tu’inukuafe, and Ofa Tuungafasi coming on later in the game. This late game impact strategy has worked for them so far, but the Stormers do have some heavyweights of their own on the bench.

Amongst the Blues reserve backs both Augustine Pulu and Sonny Bill Williams will also be looking to make an impact from the bench.

Some are suggesting that this game will see a clash of styles, with the Blues a ball-in-hand and carrying-passing outfit, against the JakeBall kicking game of the Stormers.

I do think that the Stormers have been playing safety-first rugby because of their fear of losing and the opprobrium that was heaped on their collective shoulders after that first game loss to the Bulls, which has subdued their more natural game. If they do decide that this game against the Blues is a nothing-to-lose situation, we may see them switching to a more open running game. I, for one, hope they do.

The Blues might have the most carries in the competition, but it has not always been with the kind of purpose and focus that wins matches. Their forwards have not been particularly dominant in the hard stuff. 

Both forwards and backs have sometimes looked to lack cohesion and focus for long stretches of a game. They were especially poor in their first half outing against the Sharks in Durban.

However, when they have been able to up the tempo of their game and play off the ball on the ground, they have looked very good.

Neither side has been in great finishing and try scoring form, although Rieko Ioane might disagree with that sentiment.

The Stormers can win this game if they impose themselves on the Blues in the set-pieces and the collisions. They simply have to tie in the Blue’s loosies and slow them at the breakdown. Subdue the forwards, and deprive the Blues back division of front-foot ball.

However, the Stormers will need a lot more than just powerful scrums and driving mauls to try and stamp their authority on the game. They need a back division that plays with cohesive purpose, with clinical execution of their tactical kicking game.

And they simply have to fix that wide defence………………………….

Prediction:

I get the feeling, and I am not sure why I get that feeling, that this Stormers outfit is looking for a way to break the shackles of their current game plan. They have too many ball-carriers and runners in that backline to simply be a defensive unit that watches the forwards rumbling around all day. I think this may well be the game where they start to get it all together.

The Stormers, an outsiders bet, to win by 6.

Reds v Rebels

Venue Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Date Saturday 30 March
Kick-off 18h45 local; 08h45 GMT; 10h45 SA Time
Referee AJ Jacobs
AR1 Nic Berry
AR2 Marius van der Westhuizen
TMO James Leckie

The Reds vs the Rebels?

A homecoming of a sorts for Quade Cooper?

Another Aussie derby? A wrestling match, again?

The Rebels arrive in Brisbane on the final leg of an away-from-home series of three games that has not produced the away win they wanted in South Africa. They would dearly like to bank a win over the Reds before they return home to face the Sunwolves in a week’s time.

Oddly, there are just five log points separating the top four sides in the Australian conference. The Waratahs are top, with 14 points, followed by the Rebels with 13. Both teams have played 5, and won 3. The points difference is found in the bonus points, with the ‘Tahs earning 2 losing bonus points and the Rebels just 1.  Neither have banked a try-scoring bonus point yet.

The Brumbies sit in the third spot, with 2 wins from their 6 starts, and 11 points. Their lofty position is secured by 2 losing bonus points and 1 try-scoring bonus point.

Fourth we find the Reds. Also with the 2 wins that the Brumbies sport, but from just 5 starts. Their 10 log points include 1 losing and 1 try scoring bonus point.

The Sunwolves are not bothering anyone down in fifth, with their 1 win and 2 losing bonus points for 6 log points in all.

Whilst the Rebels have been the media favourites for 2019, with all manner of suggestions that they would be rewriting the Aussie Conference records, this has not really happened yet. They face a Reds outfit that was written off by most of their own media, yet have just come back into the reckoning with that  bonus-point win over the Brumbies last weekend.

The Rebels arrive on the back of two losses, while the Reds have the win over the Brumbies to boost their flagging confidences. 

Adding a little spice to the whole mix is the homecoming of Quade Cooper and Will Genia. 

Cooper was spectacularly discarded by Reds coach Brad Thorn at the beginning of 2018. Although still under contract, Thorn announced that Cooper was no longer part of his plans for the Reds and should look for employment elsewhere. The street-smarts kicked in and Cooper quickly worked out that the Reds were obliged to pay him his salary if he did not sign a contract elsewhere in the rugby world, so he hung around Brisbane playing local club rugby, playing the dog in the manger, while drawing his considerable salary from the Reds contract that still had a couple of years to run.

In 2019 the Rebels stepped up and offered to take over part of the Reds contract, and Cooper. It is our understanding that the Reds are still contributing to his salary package – the Rebels were apparently clever enough to negotiate to take him off their hands, if they helped pay for the privilege!  

He must be looking forward to running out onto Suncorp with an opportunity to rub Thorn and the Reds’ faces in some of the smelly stuff.

When asked about Cooper’s return, Thorn said nothing but Reds assistant coach Peter Ryan said that he “couldn’t give a rats”……..

As an impartial observer, that is perhaps the only real interest I can find for watching this particular game.

Team News:

The Reds:

The Reds have made two changes to their starting XV for Saturday’s clash with the Rebels.

South African twin brothers, JP and Ruan Smith will both start in the front row this weekend, with Taniela Tupou on the bench and Feao Fotuaika ruled out after fracturing his thumb against the Brumbies.

Tate McDermott has retained his starting spot at No.9 alongside flyhalf Bryce Hegarty in an unchanged Reds backline.

Tupou is only the difference to the reserves, as the Reds look to make it three straight wins this season with victory on Saturday.

Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 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 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Ruan Smith,  2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas

The Rebels:

The Rebels welcome back a host of key players for their match against the Reds on Saturday.

Wing Marika Koroibete, lock Adam Coleman, centre Isi Naisarani and scrumhalf Will Genia have all been named to return to the starting XV after spending a week on the sidelines resting under the Wallabies’ rotation policy.

Sione Tuipulotu will return to the bench after starting against the Sharks last week, while Ross Haylett-Petty, Richard Hardwick and Pone Fa’amausili have been omitted from the side.

One other change to the starting side sees Tetera Faulkner returning to prop, in place of front rower Matt Gibbon.

Young lock Esei Ha’angana and prop Jermaine Ainsley have been brought into the replacements at the expense of the injured Brad Wilkin and debutant flyhalf Stu Dunbar.

Positional changes see a reshuffle to the backline with Reece Hodge switch to the wing and Jack Maddocks to fullback.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Angus Cottrell (captain), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Esei Ha’angana, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 Sione Tuipulotu.

Thoughts:

I guess it all revolves around motivation and fatigue. The Rebels have just returned from their two game trip to South Africa, yet are still not at home and are forced to live out of a suitcase for another game. Travel fatigue will play a part in this game.

There is no need for additional motivation for Quade Cooper, along with Will Genia and a couple of others who have a personal point or two to prove to the Reds and their management team. This will add spice to a fixture that usually provides for dour Aussie Derby style rugby.

On paper, the Rebels have by far the most powerful of the two teams, but we will have to wait and see whether this translates onto the rugby field itself.

Prediction:

The Rebels just seem to be better equipped in every department.

The Rebels, tiring after three weeks on the road, will win it, but not by a huge margin. Say 7 points?

Sharks v Bulls

Venue Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Date Saturday 30 March
Kick-off 15:05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT.
Referee Mike Fraser
AR1 Rasta Rasivhenge
AR2 Brendon Pickerill
TMO Christie du Preez

The local media has had a field day, suggesting that this game is “payback” time and “revenge” time for the Sharks! They will be looking to right the wrongs of five long years  when they face the Bulls at Kings Park on Saturday.

The last time the Sharks managed a win in this fixture was in 2014.

The 16 – 16 draw in 2016 is the best they have been able to produce against the Bulls since that date. 

A couple of weeks ago the Bulls’ pack took on and beat the heavyweight Sharks pack, laying the foundation for a 37 – 14 victory in Pretoria with standout performances from Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits and Hanro Liebenberg.

The Sharks did not like being bullied, for that is what happened on that day in Pretoria, and spoke about their dislike for that treatment.

Now, we are told, it is pay-back time.

Last weekend the Sharks had a comfortable 28 – 14 win over the Rebels, based on a game plan that focussed on forward oriented subdue-and-penetrate rugby. It was all about forwards playing off the scrumhalf, with the only variation being when Andre Esterhuizen was asked to bash the ball up.

There were some entertaining moments though, when they decided to let the ball go wide, which suggested that they have more in the tank that they are actually showing at the moment.

The Bulls are coming off an embarrassing 20-56  loss to the Chiefs, but the rest of their season has been far better than that scoreline suggests. They too have used forward muscle to gain ascendancy on the field and at the gain-line, but have been far more willing to take the ball wide and have a go around the edges.  

Will we see a massive forward oriented clash, or will both or either side show that they are prepared to play it fast and loose?

It could be fun, or it could be dour.

Team News:

The Sharks:

Craig Burden will finally make his return to Super Rugby…………..

On No, he wont!

After having left the Sharks in 2013, Burden was scheduled to make his comeback against the Rebels last week but got injured at practice in the week. Once again he was named to play this week, only to injure himself at practice, again!

He place on the bench for Saturday’s showdown with the Bulls at Kings Park.

Coach Robert du Preez has made just two changes to the starting line-up this week.

Luke Stringer replaces Phepsi Buthelezi at flank and Lwazi Mvovo comes onto the wing in place of Sibusiso Nkosi.

There is also a first call-up for Philip van der Walt – who returned from Japan with an injury, but is now fit and ready again, and will join Burden in making an impact off the bench.

Stalwart prop Tendai Mtawarira stands on the cusp of making history. He will equal retired Adriaan Strauss’s record for being the most capped South African Super Rugby player.

After this match, the pair would have both featured in 156 appearances in the competition.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Curwin Bosch.

The Bulls:

Bulls coach Pote Human made a number of changes to his team ahead of their trip to Durban and a Round Seven Super Rugby crunch match against the Sharks.

There is only one change to the backline – Embrose Papier starting at scrumhalf ahead of Ivan van Zyl, who drops down to the replacement bench.

The other significant change is in the second row – where specialist lock Eli Snyman starts alongside Jason Jenkins – with Hanro Liebenberg moving from lock to flank in place of Jannes Kirsten, who in turn drops down to the replacement bench.

There is one additional change among the replacements – Conraad van Vuuren coming onto the bench in place of Dayan van der Westhuizen.

Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard (captain), 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Johnny Kotze.

Thoughts:

I am not reading too much into the Bull’s loss to the Chiefs. They are a very young side and such results are almost inevitable when youngsters are learning their trade.

This is still a Bull’s outfit that has played a brand of rugby not seen at Loftus in many decades, with excitement and enterprise backed up by good disciplines and some serious intent. They offer a new brand of running rugby, with plenty of passes, offloads, and backs that are prepared to step and swerve. They have embraced the future, and now they are going to school and learning about the modern game.

They will lose some, they will win some, but they are heading in the right direction. Rome was not built in a day.

The Sharks remain a team that promises much, but so often fails to deliver at crunch time.

They have the talent, with plenty of runners out wide, including some very clever rugby players, the likes of Lukhanyo Am, and Aphelele Fassi, and Curwin Bisch, the have-a-go instincts of Makazole Mapimpi and Lwazi Mvovu. They have a flyhalf who is capable of dictating a game if he is on song, Robert du Preez.

Sadly, they tend to focus on playing their archaic forward oriented crash-bash rugby rather than embracing the running-passing game that would unleash those exciting backs.

Which makes them very predictable.

And beatable by any team that can achieve parity in the forward exchanges. The Bulls have done that already. The Stormers did it too!

It would be pleasing to see the Sharks shake off the shackles and play with a bit of freedom. A whole lot more freedom!

Then this would be exciting game of rugby to look forward to.

As it stands, this could deteriorate into two packs of forwards bashing away at each other, with the backs living off scraps.

If that happens, then it will all revolve around who makes the least mistakes, and where the penalties are conceded. Both Pollard and Du Preez have been in sniper-like form with their goal-kicking.

Of course, there is also every chance of the game opening up, especially if the Bulls have the say. With Handré Pollard conducting the orchestra and the forwards fronted by Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits, the Sharks will have to be right on top of their game to prevent the control from slipping out of their grasp. If the Bulls start to build the same kind of scoreboard pressure that they brought to bear on the Sharks last time out, the local team might struggle to stay disciplined. They showed their disciplinary frailty when the Stormers took a choke-hold on the game a couple of weeks ago.

If the Sharks want to win, they will need to achieve parity or even dominance at the set-pieces, and then focus on their game at the breakdowns and over the ball. Last time these two teams met, the Sharks were well beaten at the breakdown, in the collisions, and behind the gain line. They somehow conceded a massive 20 turnovers in that game.

Both the Bulls and Sharks have a game in hand over the Lions, so the teams will know just how important Saturday’s game is in the context of the local standings. There are some serious bragging rights at stake, and the conference lead!

Prediction:

I have some doubts about the Sharks ability to control a game in the latter stages of a match. That is where the rubber meets the road, and that is where they have been found wanting on a couple of occasions.

Despite the home-ground advantage being with the Sharks, I have the Bulls winning by 7.

Jaguares v Chiefs

Venue Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Date Saturday 30 March
Kick-off 18h40 local; 21h40 GMT; 23h40 SA Time.
Referee Angus Gardner
AR1 Damon Murphy
AR2 TBC
TMO Santiago Borsani

I guess the Chiefs would like to hammer home the point they made last weekend when they completely demolished a poor Bulls outfit at Loftus. They want to yell out to the Super Rugby world, “We Are Back!” and they know that the best way to do that is to do another demolition job this week, with the Jaguares as their victims.

There is one small problems with that desire. The Jaguares won their last two games at home, and are a formidable opponent at home in Argentina. 

The Jaguares are also coming off a bye, well rested and rejuvenated, while the Chiefs have circled more than half way around the globe to get to this game, with just that stop-over in Pretoria to break the journey. 

Hamilton to Pretoria is all of 12 152km, and from Pretoria to Buenos Aires is another 8 124km. That’s is fully 20 276km that the Chiefs travelled to play this game of rugby. (If they were to fly directly home from Buenos Aires to Hamilton that would be another 10 238km, which would complete a sub-equatorial circumnavigation of the earth that totals 30 514 kilometres. They must be thankful that they do not live on the equator where the circumnavigation would entail 40 075km of travelling!

Yet, it is still 30 514km to play two games of rugby, such is the stupidity of the Sanzaar fixture list! 

Surely it could be organised that a team like the Chiefs can play in South Africa on one trip, and then make a completely separate trip to South America, rather than three ultra-long hops in succession?

The very long trip out from Hamilton to Buenos Aires gives the Jaguares a massive home-ground advantage that has nothing to do with their rugby ability or skills.

That being said, these are two of the most unpredictable teams in the entire competition, currently sitting in 13th and 14th position on the overall log, they have the ability to blow the entire competition wide open if and when the mood takes them. 

The Jaguares will fancy their chances at home, and many tipsters agree, but this is another of those games that could blow the tipsters and bookies predictions to smithereens.

Team News:

The Jaguares:

It has become something of a tradition as the Jaguares are always the last team to release their selection for a weekend fixture. At the time of writing we have no idea who will be in the Jaguares squad.

The Chiefs:

Michael Allardice will take over the captaincy in the absence of locking partner Brodie Retallick when the Chiefs face the Jaguares.

Only four changes have been made to the starting fifteen.

Hooker Nathan Harris will play his 50th game for the Chiefs., joined in the front row by loosehead Aidan Ross and tighthead Nepo Laulala, who gets the nod ahead of Angus Ta’avao who will start off the bench,

Allardice will combine with Mitchell Brown at lock in the only other change to the forward pack.

In the backline, only two changes have been made.

Flyhalf Marty McKenzie will start at No.10, with injury ruling Jack Debreczeni out of contention.

Anton Lienert-Brown returns to start at inside centre in his 60th appearance for the Chiefs, moving Alex Nankivell to the bench.

Completing the changes to the matchday 23, Taleni Seu earns his spot in jersey No.20 and is joined by Etene Nanai-Seturo who will don jersey number 23.

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

Thoughts:

The Chiefs, with Damian McKenzie running from the back are a totally different proposition to the Chiefs with Damian McKenzie at flyhalf. At flyhalf the youngster is inhibited and forced to play with a discipline that is totally at odds with his instincts. At fullback he is given carte blanche to roam and do his destructive best (or worst if you are an opponent) – the try he scored against the Stormers two years back still lingers in the memory as one of the great ones of all time.

Much as the Jaguares love to play a somewhat chaotic broken play game, they will need to be aware of the danger that looms amongst the back division of the Chiefs. If a Jaguares attack breaks down, they may find themselves chasing back 50 or 60 meters as the Chiefs counter-attack instantaneously. If a kick is imprecise and drifts infield and into McKenzie’s hands……

Up front the Chiefs seem to have just a modicum more to offer than do the Jaguares, even if Brodie Retallick is sitting this one out as part of the All Black game management process. However, forward domination is not always evident with teams that have done the long double hop to South Africa and then on to South America. The big men take a while getting over the cramped quarters in a long-haul aircraft.

With Marty McKenzie back at flyhalf after Jack Debreczeni was ruled out, the Chiefs still have a steady flyhalf with the ability to both kick and run. He is perhaps a better defender than the ex-Rebel Debreczeni. 

The Chiefs back division has plenty of strike power, especially with the return of Anton Lienert-Brown, who has been impressive all season, even when the rest of his team was going backwards.

The Jaguares will need to be on top of their defensive game if they want to keep the Chiefs backs under control.

Without the Jaguares team sheet at our disposal, there is no way we can do any kind of man-on-man analysis, so we will just have to go with gut feel.

Prediction:

Me, I think the resurgent Chiefs will win this one. They have the bit between their teeth now, and will run all day!

The Chiefs, by 12.