Round 2 of the Super 15 action last weekend was replete with upsets and it has been suggested to me by some that I should hang up my tipping spurs after only picking three of the winning teams last week. That is Super Rugby though and one of the reasons we all love it: it is unpredictable and, generally, the teams are fairly evenly matched.
A game I wrote off as being the worst match of the round proved interested and saw the Kings open their Super Rugby account with a win whilst the whipping boys of the New Zealand conference got the John Kirwan era off to a flying start at home. In Australia the Brumbies continued their impressive start to the season whilst the grudge match between Queensland and New South Wales was a game low in skill in patches but high on intensity.
This is another round of matches filled with conference derbies that should lead to some exciting rugby now doubt more upsets!
Blues v Crusaders, Auckland
Keeping to the usual schedule, week 3 gets underway in Auckland with the Blues hosting the Crusaders. The Crusaders, off the back of a bye last week make their first foray into Super Rugby this week. Many Crusaders fans will be using this game as the start of their countdown till the return of Richie McCaw however even without him Todd Blackadder’s men still look like a quality line-up. Indeed, any side with Dan Carter in it and Kieran Read at the helm ought be dismissed lightly only be fools.
The Blues produced the first upset of Super Rugby 2013 last week and this week will be looking to continue on their winning ways against their long time foes from the South Island. Piri Weepu was impressive last week and controlled the game for the Blues. His influence will be vital to the play the Blues and ultimately the outcome of this fixture.
The Blues pulled of an upset last week but I do not think they will best the Crusaders who will be primed for their first match of the season.
Prediction: Crusaders by 12
Waratahs v Rebels, Sydney
The Rebels travel up to Sydney for their third fixture in 2013 to face the Waratahs in this all Australian clash. The Waratahs were valiant in defeat against the Reds at Lang Park last week and threatened to steal an upset of their own when the score read 17-17 with less than 10 minutes to play. They have basically an all Wallaby forward pack and if that forward pack can lay a solid foundation the mix of youth and experience in the backline could score a few points here. They do need to sort out their goal kicking which was terrible last week.
James O’Connor takes on the captaincy of the Rebels this week and by the look of the Rebels lineup the result of this fixture may largely rest on his and Kurtly Beale’s shoulders. The Rebels showed very good form against the Australian benchmark in the Brumbies before being outclassed in the second half and they will be similarly dealt with by the Waratahs if they can not play out the full 80 minutes here.
The pressure of the goal kicking duties and captaincy may well prove too much for O’Connor and if he does not grapple well with his extra responsibilities then this looms as a danger game for the Rebels. If he is on song however this may be a danger game for their opposition! I think this might be a closer game than many expect with less than a try between the teams. The Waratahs get the nod from me only because of home field advantage.
Prediction: Waratahs by 6
Reds v Hurricanes, Brisbane
An unusually late start has been mandated by SANZAR for this fixture which is a shame because this game has the potential to be one of the matches of the round. The Hurricanes were lacklustre at best last week against the Blues and certainly have the player list to improve on that performance. They will be heartened by the news that Conrad Smith has crossed the Tasman for this game having passed a fitness test following his concussion last round.
The Reds continue their season again without the names Horwill and Genia on the team sheet but showed last week the combination of grit and flair in patches that saw them win the competition in 2011. Ed Quirk has replaced some bloke called Higginbotham so well that Reds fans have hardly noticed his absence and Quade Cooper showed last week that he has the ability to direct this team around the park.
The Reds are at home and they seem to continue to find ways to win at Lang Park and I do not expect this fixture to be any different. The Reds will not blow the Hurricanes off the park but will do enough to win here.
Prediction: Reds by 8
Chiefs v Cheetahs, Hamilton
The first Saturday fixture of Round 3 sees the Cheetahs make the long trek to Hamilton in the North Island to take on last season’s champions, the Chiefs. The Cheetahs made a horror start to their 2013 campaign and saw themselves on the loosing side of a 26-5 scoreline at one point against the Sharks. They remain one of the enigmas of this competition because on their day they have the look of a team that can defeat any opposition whilst at other times they look worse that the Force.
The Chiefs were in fine form last week to defeat the Highlanders in what was the match of the round albeit they will be concerned that they had so many points scored against them. This is a quality line up that plays an attacking and expansive style of game whilst also looking to dominate in the set pieces. If they get on top of the Cheetahs at the break down and in the set pieces and Aaron Cruden gets quality ball they could put a big score on the men from Bloemfontein
I think the Cheetahs might succeed in keeping this game close in the first half but will fade in the second as the trip over and the Chiefs forwards take their toll.
Prediction: Chiefs by 19
Bulls v Force, Pretoria
The travelling Force move to Pretoria with their metaphorical tails between their legs after a, lets not sugar coat it, woeful display against the competition new boys, the Kings, in Port Elizabeth last week. The conundrum with the Force is that on the face of their lineup and given the number of players with international experience in their ranks you would expect them to travel better as team. Last week’s capitulation again proved otherwise however.
The Bulls have injury woes arising from their victory last week against the Stormers in what was a game when they, much like they did for the bulk of last year, won off the back of the boot of Morne Steyn and bone crushing defence. Steyn’s metronomic boot will again be a key to victory to the Bulls whose game plan revolves around strangling teams out of the game. If the Force are in any way ill disciplined in this fixture one can rest assured they will be punished on the score board.
After last week’s performance there is no way I can see the Force winning this fixture and the only reason I am tipping as narrow a margin as I am is because that is just the way the Bulls play.
Prediction: Bulls by 14
Sharks v Stormers, Durban
The last match of the round and only Sunday fixture sees the Sharks host the Stormers in Durban. The Stormers were very disappointing last week against the Bulls: they themselves have admitted as much. They have chosen not to rush Peter Grant back into their line up despite some pretty poor goal kicking last week from Elton Jantjies who again presents as a key to victory for the Stormers in this fixture.
In a performance the polar opposite to that of Jantjies for the Stormers, Patrick Lambie was on song with the boot for the Sharks last week landing 7 from 7 and the battle between these two young men will not only be one of the highlights of this game but also of this round. The Sharks ran out of gas it seemed last week when they had a substantial lead and they will know that doing the same against the Stormers will see them, in all likelihood defeated.
I see this fixture as a real toss of the coin between a team smarting from a first up loss and a home side looking for improvement. It has the look of a game that might come down to who kicks the best here and I only leaning the way of the Sharks because of their home crowd support here but there will be the barest of margins in it.
Prediction: Sharks by 1