Super Rugby Week 1.5
So after the washed down, two match, all Aussie, poor excuse of a Super Rugby opening weekend that we all watched and tried our hardest to enjoy last week, the real spectacle has arrived!
The opening game of the round should be rather brutal in Dunedin while the Cheetahs-Sharks clash should excite, but the highlight is most certainly in Pretoria where a Bulls team lacking in X-factor will try reclaim the mental edge over the Storm. Still two all Aussie games this weekend however so lets not blow our Rugby load just yet!
Highlanders vs Chiefs - Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin - 8:35 am
It's incredible what a difference a few months and a few player movements can make. The Landers have taken two steps forward since last season with very intelligent player acquisitions and a squad with a solid season under their belt, where as through the loss of SBW, Toumololo, Robbie Robinson and Rich Kahui to transfers or long term injury, Much like the Reds of last year, the Chiefs have lost their Champion gloss. They may have lost the all action Adam Thompson to what seems to be a bit of 'Personal Time' but the Landers look a good unit this season and most importantly-know how to grind out wins at their indoor home.
My Call: Landers to strong arm it by 3
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (captain), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Rebels vs Brumbies - AAMI Stadium, Melbourne - 10:40 am
O'Bieber and his fellow one direction band members from Melbourne didn't have it all their own way against a very new look Force team last week, but they did show that as a team they've upped their game. The Brumbies have made their Golden Arch clad home in Canberra a very hard place to go, but they struggled on their travels last year. Jake White's boys have the quality to run away with this one but they will struggle for momentum in their first away fixture of the season allowing the Rebels to keep them in sight.
My Call: Brumbies by 9
Rebels: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Alex Rokobaro, 22 Tom English.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 David Pocock, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.
Bulls vs Stormers - Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - 19:10
The first real Super clash of the season so lets hope it's able to produce the quality we are all craving. That being said however, first round fixtures seldom deliver and with the Storm having the better team on paper, but less continuity from last season, this game is very likely to stutter. The Bulls don't have the depth of past seasons so I don't think they'll keep up in the conference race, but their 15 this week is experienced and well gelled. They are lacking in star quality but are very well balanced. The Storm will push the Sharks for top spot in SA this year. Fact. However, week one in Pretoria is not week six Melbourne. This Storm team is bursting with champion quality, but with their Lions imports and a Fly Half that hasn't played preseason, they will undoubtedly start slowly and have to use their impeccable defensive capabilities to get them through this one.
My Call: Stormers by 4
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Gerhard van den Heever, 22 Joe Pietersen.
Saturday, February 23
Hurricanes vs Blues
Tony Woodcock, Daniel Braid, Chris Lowry, Brad Mika, Jerome Kaino, Alby Mathewson, Gareth Anscombe, Michael Hobbs, Ma'aa Nonu, Benson Stanley, Isia Toeava, Hadleigh Parkes, Lachie Munro, Rudi Wolf, Sherwin Stowers, David Raikuna
Above Gentleman and non-males, is the list of outgoing players from the Blues for this season. They packed less punch last season than a Hugh Heffner hard on, but an all out clear-out of playing stocks coupled with only one or two new signings means this inexperienced team is in for another LONG season in their first year of the rebuilding program. The Canes have lost All Black Cory Jane for the season to injury but their backline is still up there with the most exciting in the competition. Mark Hammett did a wonder job for the franchise last year and if they are able to keep up the momentum of last season then they should stroll past the Blues in their first outing.
My Call: Canes by 13
Hurricanes: 15: Andre Taylor 14: Alapati Leiua 13: Conrad Smith 12: Tim Bateman 11: Julian Savea 10: Beauden Barrett 9: TJ Perenara 8: Brad Shields 7: Karl Lowe 6: Victor Vito 5: Jason Eaton 4: Jeremy Thrush 3: Ben May 2: Dane Coles 1: Ben Franks
Replacements:16: Ash Dixon 17: Reggie Goodes 18: Mark Reddish 19: Faifili Levave 20: Chris Smylie 21: James Marshall 22: Reynold Lee-Lo
Blues: 15: Charles Piutau 14: Frank Halai 13: Rene Ranger 12: Francis Saili 11: George Moala 10: Chris Noakes 9: Piri Weepu 8: Peter Saili 7: Luke Braid 6: Steven Luatua 5: Ali Williams 4: Culum Retallick 3: Charlie Faumuina 2: James Parsons 1: Tom McCartney
Replacements: 16: Quentin MacDonald 17: Angus Ta’avao 18: Liaki Moli 19: Brendon O’Connor 20: Bryn Hall 21: Baden Kerr 22: Jackson Willison
Reds vs Warratahs
My Call: Tahs by 4
Reds: 15: Mike Harris 14: Dom Shipperley 13: Chris Feauai-Sautia 12: Ben Tapuai 11: Digby Ioane 10: Quade Cooper 9: Ben Lucas 8: Jake Schatz 7: Liam Gill 6: Eddie Quirk 5: Rob Simmons 4: Ed O’Donoghue 3: James Slipper 2: Saia Faingaa 1: Greg Holmes
Replacements: 16: James Hanson 17: Albert Anae 18: Adam Wallace-Harrison 19: Jarrad Butler 20: Nick Frisby 21: Jono Lance 22: Luke Morahan
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Tom Kingston, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Jeremy Tilse.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Ben Volavola.
Cheetahs vs Sharks
My Call: Sharks by 8
Cheetahs: 15: Hennie Daniller 14: Willie le Roux 13: Johann Sadie 12: Robert Ebersohn 11: Raymond Rhule 10: Johan Goosen 9: Piet van Zyl 8: Philip van der Walt 7: Lappies Labuschagne 6: Frans Viljoen 5: Francois Uys 4: Lood de Jager 3: Lourens Adriaanse 2: Adriaan Strauss 1: Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16: Ryno Barnes 17: Coenie Oosthuizen 18: Waltie Vermeulen 19: Boom Prinsloo 20: Sarel Pretorius 21: Elgar Watts 22: Ryno Benjamin
Sharks: 15: Louis Ludik 14: JP Pietersen 13: Paul Jordaan 12: Frans Steyn 11: Lwazi Mvovo 10: Patrick Lambie 9: Cobus Reinach 8: Ryan Kankowski 7: Marcell Coetzee 6: Jacques Botes 5: Franco van der Merwe 4: Anton Bresler 3: Jannie du Plessis 2: Craig Burden 1: Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16: Kyle Cooper 17: Wiehahn Herbst 18: Pieter-Steph du Toit 19: Jean Deysel 20: Charl McLeod 21: Meyer Bosman 22: Odwa Ndungane
Kings vs Force
These two should prove to be the weakest teams in the tournament this year so this match is vital to both as they attempt to get points on the board early in the competition. While the Force-being in the powder puff conference-will likely be able to pull off a win or two against other Aussie sides, This may just be the Kings only shot at a win this season. In Watson, Sykes, Strauss and Maku there is a sprinkling of reasonable quality in the Kings squad, but a good kicker, a solid leader and a few journeyman a Super rugby team maketh does not. I personally believe the Kings project could do alot of good for SA Rugby going forward if managed correctly, so I would love to see them use the huge crowd to their advantage and do what most believe is beyond them, but the Force showed last week that they are not completely bereft of ability and should use their experience to get over here.
My Call: Sadly, Force by 7
Kings: 15: SP Marais 14: Sergeal Petersen 13: Ronnie Cooke 12: Andries Strauss 11: Marcello Sampson 10: Demetri Catrakilis 9: Shaun Venter 8: Luke Watson 7: Wimpie van der Walt 6: Cornel du Preez 5: Steven Sykes 4: David Bulbring 3: Kevin Buys 2: Bandise Maku 1: Schalk Ferreira
Replacements: 16: Edgar Marutlulle 17: Jaco Engels 18: Daniel Adongo 19: Jacques Engelbrecht 20: Johan Herbst 21: George Whitehead 22: Hadleigh Parkes
Force: N/A at writing
With the Battle Royale of below-par closing out the round lets hope the two SA derbies give us the fix we need before Super Rugby debuts in PE. Each match has draw cards for different reasons if some may just be one player or the soap opera that is the Kings. May Superbru be kind and your beer of choice be cold..and ggod luck with the first major remote battle of the year!