Super Rugby Week 7 Preview

So last week the Chiefs stuttered past the labouring Landers, the Reds hung on against the Bulls in a 'who can play less effective Rugby' contest, the Waratahs proved being consistantly bland can overcome exceptionally inconsistent, while the Force reminded us just how bread they really are. Thank the Rugby Gods for the performances of the Sharks and the Storm! Week 6 won't be a highlight when looking back at this year's season, but the great thing about this ridiculously long version of the worlds premier provincial tournament is that it offers an abundance of weeks for redemption!
So many of the matches this week could either way, so with results in Super Rugby often being determined by single moments of excellence or the smallest of advantages I've found myself leaning to a clean sweep for the home sides this week. (no need for coins, crystal balls or magical future predicting animals thankfully)

Friday 29 March

Highlanders vs Reds - Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - 08:35

It may sound strange to some, considering the current standing of each team, but this is a clash seriously interests me. The Highlanders are a team littered with All Blacks, guided by a good coach, that came into the season with a brilliant platform to launch an assault on the playoff spots after their growth in 2012. The result? 1 point from 4 matches and a Rugby lesson by the Cheetahs. On the other end of the spectrum is the Quade train led boys from Brisbane. This same group of players were sublime in 2011 when they waltzing Matilda'd their way to the trophy, however since then they have been nothing but mediocre, yet they sit 4th on this years overall log with 4 wins. They are not championship contenders but they do possess the ability to win games they really have no right to. Kade Poki has been the Landers best player this year so his absence will most certainly be felt, but with them possessing an exciting replacement and the Reds losing thier most valued ball carrier in Digby, the loss should be less of a factor. I am generally completely adverse to picking Aussie teams in NZ and in this case I am no different. The men from the deeeep South have their backs to the wall with nothing to lose so I'm calling this as the week their forwards finally front up and give their electric backs the platform to attack.
My Call: Highlanders by 5

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoalii, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (c), 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Bench: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma’afu Fia, 18 TJ Ioane, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Phil Burleigh.

Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Bench: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O’Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Aidan Toua, 22 Rod Davies.

Saturday 30 March

Hurricanes vs Kings - Westpac Stadium, Wellington - 05:35
Many have protested over the last week or so that having a team that simply losses with heart rather than competes to win is just not good enough for SA rugby. Do I agree? In many ways yes..but that doesn't mean the Kings don't deserve huge credit for their displays so far. The Crusaders completely outclassed them last week but it wasn't the 60 point demolition some predicted and sadly hoped for. It doesn't get any easier for the Kings though as this match too has the potential to turn into an embarrassment  The Canes have been growing slowy this year and went into their bye on the back of two very important wins. They will be looking to spark even more momentum in this match so I think they will come into it with the intention of causing some serious pain to the Kings egos. The Kings will fight to the death as always but they've got no hope here...

My Call: Canes by 27
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor; 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea; 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara; 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields; 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush; 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Bench: Ash Dixon, Reggie Goodes, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi, Rey Lee-Lo.

Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Devin Oosthuizen, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Bench: 16 Hannes Franklin, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Daniel Adongo, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Hadleigh Parkes

Chiefs vs Blues - Bay Park Stadium, Mt Manganui - 08:35
This match should dish out more than a few rugbygasms as two of the better attacking outfits finally clash! With their reluctance to kick and at times Derrick Hougaard like defence, Kiwi derbies have most definitely made for the best viewing thus far and this encounter will be no different. I didn't think the Chiefs would be able to push on from their hights of last year but they have definitely been the most polished side in the competition this year being the only side with a balance between defence and attack. Although if the Storm continue their current form it will likely be them I'm gusshing about in a few weeks! The Blues embarrassed the Canes and Saders in their opening matches but since then have lost to two matches in which they should have cantered to five pointers. I think looking back John Kirwin will realise that he destroyed their early season momentum by resting so many players against the Bulls. Young players thrive on form and will play two games a week if you let unneccessary call so early in the season which has caused this talented young squad to tread water a bit. Unfortunately for Sir's John and Graeme, I don't think an away match to the defending champs and form team this year will be place they kick their season off once again.

My Call: Chiefs by 8

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith
Bench: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Patrick Osborne

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau; 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moage; 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu; 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua; 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick; 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Bench: Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Anthony Boric, Brendon O’Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Baden Kerr, Jackson Willison

Brumbies vs Bulls - Canberra Stadium, Canberra- 10:40

It baffles me why Ludeke rested player last week in a match they should have won yet brings them back for a clash against one of the form teams where leaving Canberra with more than one point would be a huge success..Daft...The Bulls come into this clash battered and carrying injuries from a long tour so they really are up against it. The Brumbies were humbled in CT a bit but the last minute intercept distorted the scoreline in a match that could really have gone either way. Jake will have let loose on his boys during their trip back so im expecting a reaction. With the electric yet rather unfortunate looking Jesse Mogg returning the Brumbies will be able to take the Bulls on at their own approach of territorial dominance and if George Smith continues his form they should win the breakdowns. In the past the Bulls would have been able to target the Aussie teams less physical forwards, but not this Brumbies team..not on Jakes watch!

My Call: Brumbies by 6

Brumbies: TBA

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Jurgen Visser, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Bench: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter.

Cheetahs vs Rebels - Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - 17:05
It is safe to say that this is most definitely the high point in the history of the Cheetahs franchise thus far. 3 wins on tour and young squad full of talent that can beat anyone on their day. The Rebels were thumped by the Sharks last week then had Cooper Vuna and Kurtley Beale sent home for a brawl on a team bus-RIDICULOUS! The Cheetahs will be drained after their tour and flight home but they will be carrying huge momentum into Bloem. The Rebels simply can not be as limp as they were last week and should put on a better show, but with the Cheetahs living the dream and eager for it to continue, O'Bieber and the boys will have to return to Melbourne winless.
My Call: Cheetahs by 9

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johan Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Bench: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuisen, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Ryno Benjamin.

Rebels: 15 James O’Connor; 14 Richard Kingi, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Jason Woodward; 10 Angus Roberts, 9 Nick Phipps; 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Jordy Reid, 6 Gareth Delve (captain); 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle; 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Bench: Shota Horie, Laurie Weeks, Cadeyrn Neville, Jarrod Saffy, Scott Fuglistaller, Nic Stirzaker, Rory Sidey, Tom English.

Stormers vs Crusaders - Newlands, Cape Town - 19:10
The Storm were simply brilliant in their 5 point dismissal of the a very arrogant Jake and his Brumbies. Having beaten the Chiefs a few weeks back and then the Brumbies, a win this week would have seen them beaten 3 of the 5 main title contenders this year-albeit all at home. Suddenly the despair after the opnening two losses seems a very long time ago! I love watching the Saders juggernaut hit top gear against quality opposition but unfortunately they a far from full strength this week which along with the home ground advantage for the Storm (despite those bloody Cape Crusaders) should see the boys from under the mountain get over the line here. The set pieces will play the major role in determining the winner here and if the Storm are accurate in that department then the game is theirs to lose. With McCaw, Carter and Read missing and Andy Ellis struggling for form it will be a seriously impressive result if the Saders walk away with the points at Newlands. On a side note-I've been amazed by the hype around Bekker this week as one game seems to have changed the minds of many that were happy to see him off to Japan. I'm still not convinced he cuts it in tight games.
My Call: Stormers by 4

Stormers: 15. Joe Pietersen, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Gerhard van den Heever, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 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. Pat Cilliers
Bench: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Brok Harris, 18. Don Armand, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Nic Groom, 21. Damian de Allende, 22. Jaco Taute

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Bench: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Andy Ellis, Adam Whitelock, Zac Guildford.

Sunday 31 March

Waratahs vs Force - Allianz Stadium, Sydney - 7:05

I jumped out of bed early on Sunday morning excited at the possibility of seeing the Blues throw the ball around and have a good laugh at team Tom Carter. Alas, to my dismay and general disbelief they blew a 14 point lead to go down to the team even the poster boy for the franchise Campo struggles to support. So the Tahs win brownie points for beating a kiwi team..BUT...These two are both just so average..So as one does when faced with theses options I thought I'd get creative. As the Tahs are at home and the first team on the fixture sheet I allocated them all odd numbers, and the Force being second were dished the even digits. I then googled machined my way to a random number generator and made the parameters 1-100. A click on the generate button and...47! (Odd for the Standard grade Maths readers out there) The Tahs shall claim victory in the worst way to end a Super Rugby weekend!
My Call: Number 47..(Waratahs by 5)

So Easter weekend has presented us with some serious Rugby porn (Not sure if I should say those two in the same sentence) that will no doubt find you needing to do some serious prioritization of your time. For those running Two Oceans half this weekend the Chiefs v Blues match should take your mind off your aching legs and for the parents out there dont worry about missing any Rugby on easter morning-you know why! By this stage I'm sure most have reverted to tossing coins for their Superbru picks but for those still lucky enough to be in the egg hunt (see what I did there) for pool glory..May the force be with you! (Not the Western one wants that)