With only hours left until Super Rugby kicks off for 2011 (yay excited much!!), I have put together my predictions for the first round. Please feel free to argue if you disagree with what I am saying, I do look forward to some good banter!
Hurricanes v Highlanders - Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Clashes between these two teams have historically been a fiercely fought affair with usually only a point or two separating them. This year with the Highlanders losing crucial playmakers in Tom Donnelly and Colin Slade sidelined with a broken jaw, it does not put them in good stead for a win in the first round. Add to that, the Hurricanes have a very slick looking backline with Ma’a Nonu, Cory Jane and Hosea Gear named in the starting line-up.
Rebels v Waratahs - AAMI Park, Melbourne
This is one of the most anticipated games of the first round and I for one can’t wait to see how the Rebels go in their first game of Super rugby. Welcome to the best game in the world Melbourne, we hope you enjoy it.
The Rebels have impressed so far in their pre-season workouts against Tonga and Fiji but had a minor hiccup against the Crusaders. Regardless, the Rebels backline has looked cohesive and the forwards seem to pack a bit of punch. The home crowd will most definitely be a factor at AAMI Park and I expect the Rebel Army will be out in fine form. Despite all these factors, the Waratahs have an named an amazing star studded line-up including the likes of Beale, Turner, Mitchell, Barnes, Robinson and Tatafu Polota-Nau to just name a few. The Waratahs have been one of the stand out teams in the past few years so I expect them to start the season and most bookies have them expected to top the Australian Conference.
Brumbies v Chiefs – Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Matt Giteau assumes captaincy duties and the no 10 jersey for this home match for the Brumbies. Add to that an impressive backline consisting of Pat McCabe, Matt Toomua and Adam Ashley-Copper (see player of the week pic), I expect to see some free flowing rugby. The Chiefs have lost a lot of their stars to minor injuries for this match but I don’t see that hampering the team’s effort and expect to see a lot of running rugby from them too. With home ground advantage on the Brumbies side, they should get up.
Blues v Crusaders – Eden Park, Auckland
The Crusaders come into this game minus superstar Richie McCaw due to the stress fracture he received a few weeks ago, and with Sonny Bill-Williams and Zac Guildford out of action this round I expect to see a very tight score line against the Blues. The Blues need some consistency in their play to maintain their competitive edge. The Blues boast some amazing world class talent including Tony Woodcock, Ali Williams and Joe Rokocoko but unless they settle the ship and stop their run of hot and cold, I can’t see them toppling the mighty Crusaders.
Sharks v Cheetahs - Shark Tank, Durban
I must admit that I haven’t really kept on top of these two teams during the pre-season this year (sorry my bad). The Cheetahs are without their Captain Juan Smith so the Sharks will have a distinct advantage going into this match. The fearsome front row pack including brothers Jannie and Bismarck Du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira will also make it difficult for the Cheetahs get up for a win this round.
Lions v Bulls – Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Unlike most of the other matches, the Lions will need a miracle if they are to compete with the might of the back to back champions. The Lions failed to win a single match last year so I expect the Bulls to absolutely crush them.
Reds v Force – Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Ah now to my favourite match of this round. The Reds were most definitely the biggest surprise packet of last year’s season. Going from finishing 13th in 2009 to 5th last year was arguably an exciting turn of events for fans of the Queensland franchise. The Red’s exciting style of rugby and the now long list of class playmakers including Cooper, Genia, and Ioane surely make them favourite to win the match. In saying that, I don’t expect the Force to be a walk over and can see them taking it to the Reds the whole eighty minutes. Despite the crushing blow of today’s announcement that star recruit Willie Ripia has been ruled out of Sunday’s match, stalwart Captain Nathan Sharpe, superstar David Pocock and young gun James O’Conner should bring some energy to the side. The Force have still yet to name their side for Sunday’s game.