GAME OF THE WEEK
CHIEFS v HURRICANES
When: Saturday April 28, 7.35pm
Where: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Hurricanes 10, Chiefs 7, Drawn 1
In Hamilton: Played 8, Chiefs 4, Hurricanes 3, Drawn 1
Last match: Round 17, June 10, 2011: Chiefs drew 18-18 with Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
WHERE TO start…?
The Chiefs are promising to take things easy on the training pitch this week – until Thursday, that is – after their gruelling, unbeaten romp through Western Australia and South Africa.
Fair enough too. There were bumps and bruises aplenty after the thrilling 18-10 win over the Sharks in Durban, with Lelia Masaga and Richard Kahui both suffering head wounds.
It was clear that many of the Chiefs players were feeling the heat after a tough few weeks on the road, though the sweltering Durban conditions also contributed there.
The Hurricanes would have been spitting tacks after being rolled 42-14 by the Crusaders at home. Coach Mark Hammett will be hoping that Cory Jane and Julian Savea are both available after their late withdrawals last week, not to mention looking for some smarter game play – particularly on the tactical kicking front – from two of his regular backline stars, Andre Taylor and Beauden Barrett.
Although they fought back in the second half, the ’Canes were back to their bad old tricks last week, slumping to 7-32 at halftime after the likes of Kieran Read and Robbie Fruean started running amok.
Hammett will be stressing the importance of defence in the build-up to this match, so he might look to take a leaf from the Chiefs’ book in this regard. The Hamilton-based side was distinctly Stormer-esque in its defensive approach last week, backing its solid defensive patterns from go to whoa.
There are massive match-ups across the park, particularly the No 9/10 battle between the Chiefs’ Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden and TJ Perenara (providing his ankle is okay) and Barrett of the ’Canes. Cruden, of course, was on the other side of the fence when these teams last met at the same ground in June 2011.
Our prediction: Chiefs 1-12
BLUES v REDS
When: Friday April 27, 7.35pm
Where: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 17, Blues 8, Reds 8, Drawn 1
In Auckland: Played 3, Blues 3, Reds 0
Last match: Semifinal, July 2, 2011: Reds beat Blues 30-13 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
GIVEN THAT the only team the Blues have defeated this year has been the three-time champion Bulls, it makes sense that they will get up against the defending champs at home this week, right?
Wrong. Nothing makes sense with the Blues in 2012.
Still, the Auckland-based side has a flawless record against the Reds in the City of Sails (not that the teams have played there much), winning all three of the previous games at Eden Park, and the Reds are suffering one of the worst injury crises in the franchise’s entire history.
Coach Ewen McKenzie can now add Ben Tapuai (broken collarbone) and Sam Lane (knee) to his growing list of casualties.
On the good news front, though, Digby Ioane will be looking to make up for lost time after completing his five-week suspension for a dangerous tackle.
Our prediction: Blues 1-12
LIONS v BRUMBIES
When: Friday April 27, 7.10pm (5.10am NZT, April 28)
Where: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 17, Brumbies 12, Lions 5
In Johannesburg: Played 7, Lions 4, Brumbies 3
Last match: Round 13, May 14, 2011: Lions beat Brumbies 29-20 at Canberra Stadium, Canberra
THE LIONS shocked the Super Rugby world in 2011 by beating the Brumbies in Canberra for the first time, but the likelihood of the South Africans repeating the dosage this week appears slim at best.
With coach John Mitchell already openly criticising his players for not following his game plans, not to mention the fact they are only ahead of the lowly Blues on the ladder, all does not appear to be well in the Lions camp.
They do, however, have a fairly decent defensive record, though they don’t appear to know how to score tries anymore.
The Brumbies will still be lamenting their narrow loss to the Bulls in Pretoria. Suffice to say referee Marius Jonker is unlikely to receive any Christmas cards from Canberra after his howler last week.
The Lions might end up on the receiving end here.
Our prediction: Brumbies 1-12
FORCE v STORMERS
When: Saturday April 28, 5.40pm (9.40pm NZT)
Where: nib Stadium, Perth
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 6, Stormers 4, Force 2
In Perth: Played 3, Stormers 2, Force 1
Last match: Round 6, March 26, 2011: Stormers beat Force 51-16 at Newlands, Cape Town
TWO WORDS spring to mind here: damage control.
The Force sacked coach Richard Graham during their bye week after news broke that he would be returning to Queensland in 2013.
This means the remaining coaches and senior players Nathan Sharpe and David Pocock will coach the team for the rest of the season. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to us.
The Stormers, meanwhile, got back to their winning ways against the Reds last week after suffering their first loss of the season to the Crusaders in the previous round.
They should have far too much firepower for the embattled Force, particularly out wide, where the likes of Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon and Bryan Habana will look to cut plenty of merry capers. Look, too, for No 10 Peter Grant to continue his rich vein of recent form.
Our prediction: Stormers 13+
CHEETAHS v HIGHLANDERS
When: Saturday April 28, 5.05pm (3.05am NZT, April 29)
Where: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 7, Highlanders 6, Cheetahs 1
In Bloemfontein: Played 3, Highlanders 3, Cheetahs 0
Last match: Round 8, April 8, 2011: Highlanders beat Cheetahs 24-21 at Carisbrook, Dunedin
THIS GAME ran a close second in the battle for ‘Game of the Week’ honours.
Yes, the Cheetahs are only 11th on the table with a poor 3-5 winning record, but they are a force to be reckoned with in Bloemfontein, even if the Highlanders have won all of the previous clashes between the teams there.
Johan Goosen will be back at pivot for the home side, while Springbok fetcher Heinrich Brüssow will sense an opportunity to cause real havoc at the breakdown (what’s new, right?) if he is matched against Englishman James Haskell.
The ’Landers were good for their 30-27 win over the hapless Blues in Dunedin last week, with new No 10 Mike Delany scoring a vital 20-point haul and showing some very nice touches on attack, particularly with his no-look inside pass to in-form wing Hosea Gear.
Our prediction: Highlanders 1-12
WARATAHS v CRUSADERS
When: Sunday April 29, 4.10pm (6.10pm NZT)
Where: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Crusaders 14, Waratahs 4
In Sydney: Played 7, Crusaders 4, Waratahs 3
Last match: Round 3, March 4, 2011: Crusaders beat Waratahs 33-18 at Trafalgar Park, Nelson
THE WARATAHS tend to rise to the occasion when the Crusaders visit Sydney, which is more than what can be said about some of the previous efforts in Christchurch, but they will have their work cut out for them in this encounter.
The Crusaders were nothing short of ruthless in their 42-14 demolition of the Hurricanes last week, with All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read playing like a man possessed.
While the ’Tahs did enough to get home against the Rebels in Sydney (which isn’t saying that much) in round nine, they will have to raise the bar considerably to even compete with the Crusaders here.
The visitors would have noted that the New South Welshmen went to sleep in the final 10 minutes against the Rebels. That’s usually when the red and blacks are at their most dangerous.
Our prediction: Crusaders 1-12
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.