Week 1.5 saw me get off to a slower start in 2013 than the Hurricanes, but the first round is always a bit of a lottery with nothing more than preseason matches and gut feel to work on. Said gut lead me to over rate the Landers defence, not account for the speed of Nanai-Williams and seriously sell the new look Blues short! Lets just hope we get to see many more matches over the course of the season that can erect Rugby 'Tim Henman's' the way that Landers - Chiefs match did. Week 3 presents us with crackers to open and end the round with just one Aussie derby to have to deal with!
Friday 01 March
Blues vs Crusaders - Eden Park, Auckland - 08:30
To simply say the Blues surprised most people last week would not do justice to the level the squad performed at and the cohesiveness with which they played. The Blues have found the squad unison that was lacking under Pat Lam and in one game were able to do what the squad last season couldn't-play as a team. The Saders are the only team yet to feature this year and this coupled with their propensity to starting seasons slow makes this a very hard game to call. The boys from the South have lost Sean Maitland to Scotland and will have to do without Zac Guildford and Captain Richie Mccaw for the foreseeable future as one fights his own demons while the other enjoys a Rugby sabbatical.
The Blues have momentum and home ground advantage but I just feel their inexperienced squad might struggle to find space against a team much more compact than the Canes.
My Call: Crusaders by 3
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 (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Bench: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Brendon O’Connor, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Crusaders: Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.
Bench: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Marshall.
Waratahs vs Rebels - Allianz Stadium, Sydney - 10:20
The only all powder-puff match (thank the Gods). The Tahs just didn't fire last week and would probably have been beaten by most teams in the competition on the day. That said, I still feel they will grow into conference contenders as the weeks go by so they will know how important this clash is to those aspirations (a home conference match..having already lost ground). The boy band members from Melbourne seem to get homesick in minutes, continuously not showing up in away games. Shouldn't be much of a specticle but one can always hope. Tahs will be good enough at home.
My Call: Tahs by 7
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Tom Kingston, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Carter, Drew Mitchell, Bernard Foley, Brendan McKibbin, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis (capt), Kane Douglas, Mitchell Chapman, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson.
Bench: John Ulugia, Jeremy Tilse, Paddy Ryan, Sitaleki Timani, Lopeti Timani, Matt Lucas, Ben Volavola.
Rebels: James O’Connor (c), Lachlan Mitchell, Mitch Inman, Rory Sidey, Richard Kingi, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Scott Higginbotham, Scott Fuglistaller, Luke Jones, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, Ged Robinson, Nic Henderson.
Bench: Shota Horie, Paul Alo-Emile, Jordy Reid, Jarrod Saffy, Nic Stirzaker, Angus Roberts, Tom English.
Reds vs Hurricanes - Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - 12:20
This match has the potential to out do the display put on in Dunedin last week with both teams known for exceptional attacking play. The Reds decision to select flyer Aiden Toua ahead of their goal kicker Mike Harris signals their intent to attack the Canes out wide. The Canes were electric on attack at times last week but were thoroughly outplayed by the Blues in most departments. The Canes seem to have lost a lot of the momentum they picked up last year and will need to work hard to get back up to that level. I am always VERY adverse to calling an Aussie team to pull off a win against any of the kiwi sides, but the Reds have built good momentum in the past two weeks and are always incredibly hard to beat at home-having won around 90% of their matches there in the last two seasons. I expect this one to be error ridden but high on excitement with the Canes slow start to continue.
My Call: Reds by 5
Reds: Aiden Toua, Dom Shipperley, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Ben Tapuai, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Ben Lucas, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Eddie Quirk, Ed O’Donoghue, Rob Simmons, James Slipper (captain), Saia Faingaa, Greg Holmes.
Bench: James Hanson, Albert Anae, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Radike Samo, Nick Frisby, Mike Harris, Luke Morahan.
Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith, Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields, Victor Vito, Karl Lowe, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks.
Bench: Motu Matu’u, Reg Goodes, James Broadhurst, Faifili Levave, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Reynold Lee-Lo.
Saturday 02 March
Chiefs vs Cheetahs, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton - 08:35
For all the hype post match, the Chiefs weren't particularly impressive last week. Two exceptional-yet opportunistic-tries from Tim Nanai-Williams and some seriously bread defending from the Landers were major contributors to them winning the match. Their defence was nearly as poor as the Landers at times and if not corrected could give Goosen and his backline the chance to get themselves into the contest. I was elated that the Kings proved me wrong in PE last week and I would love the Cheetahs to do the same here. However, although one can expect the boys from Bloem to fight for the full 80-and they will likely have to in search of a 4 try bonus point-they just don't have it in them to get one over the the defending champs in their Cowbell ringing back yard.
My prediction: Chiefs by 12
Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Asaeli, Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Augustine Pulu, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Liam Messam (c), Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu
Bench: Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, Craig Clarke, Tanerau Latimer, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Charlie Ngatai, Patrick Osborne
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Bench: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Riaan Smith, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Bulls vs Force - Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - 17:05
While the Bulls beat their conference favourites who sported a Springbok laden backline, the Force were out played and beaten by the completely written off Kings, allowing the PE team to become the first new franchise to win their opening match in Super Rugby. It doesnt take much Rugby intuition to realise that the Bulls will dominate every aspect of this clash and send the Force back to Aus without a point from their tour. This is the type of match Pierre Spies has built his career on so expect him to run in at least one 50m try. Dont waste your time counting his tackles though..
My Call: Bulls by 20
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Bench: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouchè , 22 Jan Serfontein.
Force: N/A at writing
Sharks vs Stormers - Kings Park, Durban - 19:10
What a way to end the round! A lot has been mentioned about this being a rematch of the Currie Cup final, but a lot has been ignored about the key differences in the dynamics of each team. The Sharks fell apart in the CC final as their line out frailties and lack of presence at the breakdown let WP continually stifle their attacking game. The Storm's key to attacking the Sharks set piece ball that day were the very impressive No.2 jumping skills of Eben Etzebeth-who was all over Craig Burden and played a big role in his throwing implosion. While the Storm will line up sans Etzebeth, the Sharks have Ryan Kankowski back to lead their line out. This along with the addition of a specialist jumper in Franco van der Merwe should give them an edge in this department. The Storm really didn't offer much last week and should struggle for fluidity again as they try and cope without Etzebeth and Jantjies fight to find form. The Sharks, in their selections, have made it clear they want to dominate the collision points as this has been the key deciding factor in clashes between these two heavy weights in recent seasons. It should be an arm wrestle as most SA derbies are but the Sharks should come out top in the set pieces giving them the platform to win it.
My Call: Sharks by 6
Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Francois Steyn (captain), 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Bench: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Meyer Bosman, 22. Odwa Ndungane
Stormers: 15. Joe Pietersen, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen (vice-captain), 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Bench: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Don Armand, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Peter Grant, 22. Gerhard van den Heever
Gentleman and non-ladies we should be in for one entertaining Rugby weekend. May you do better than me last week on Superbru and whether you're at a braai, wedding, the in laws or even the HoliOne colour festival you will make sure you are in front of a TV come 7pm Saturday. Just Kicking It have spoken!