Super Rugby round three saw more fine action across all four conferences. There was good, bad and rain! Sides used to the hard, dry conditions had to adapt, however the Chiefs v Hurricanes match still a fine encounter. It all leads to more rugby this weekend, so enjoy your Super Rugby Round Four ‘forecast’.

The coming Autumn showed it’s hand, and pretty soon the evening games will lose the lasting sunshine. In Australia, a wonderful sunset led the teams onto Suncorp Stadium but as the cooler evenings get closer, so will the dew. It will affect the New Zealand conference most–yet another difficulty for touring sides.

Round Three results: Chiefs 26 Hurricanes 18 | ACT Brumbies 25 Western Force 17 | Blues 12 Highlanders 16 | Reds 20 Crusaders 22 | Southern Kings 10 Stormers 41 | Cheetahs 38 Sunwolves 31 | Sharks 37 Waratahs 14 | Jaguares 36 Lions 24

Gladly, the results this weekend were not affected [yet], so a brief review before we make a forecast of the upcoming round.

The below image of Mitch Hunt being swamped by his team mates, is becoming a common site for Crusaders fans. While they ‘leak points’ early, it is the thrilling comeback that is giving supporters cause for heartache. The thrill; or concern, for coach Scott Robertson will be ‘how to get his team to start stronger?’. They ruined the Reds weekend–yet again–not beating their NZ opposition for six games in a row.

Super Rugby – Challenging All Sides, All Players

In Auckland, some would say it was a dour match, messy and ultimately, a scrappy affair. What was of interest were some individual clashes; Augustine Pulu v Aaron Smith (see main picture) and other head-to-head encounters. Pulu had some good, but too much bad while Smith just seems rusty. His punt through the uprights would have earned him more points in an Aussie Rules match! He needs to refocus on the team–especially after Lima Sopoaga left with a hamstring injury.

So good clashes on opposite sides of the Tasman, but the action was centred on the two African conferences. Ryan Jordan made a note that “a few interesting results as well as a touch of refereeing controversy. The interesting note might have included a reflection on a good quantity of points scored. Four matches, 231 points scored; 121 for home and 110 away. The average score of African conference matches was 30-27, shading the NZ/Aus conference results, so attack was high on teams lists in those clashes.

Defense may not have been though, as first the Kings allowed the Stormers to score 41 points. The Cape Town team comfortably lead others, but the Cheetahs will feel they should have done better. Sunwolves fans will be wondering how they came so close. And that is a feeling that Lions fans will have too–the second year in a row, the Johannesburg team have ‘passed’ when it came to a Buenos Aires away trip.

Who Did Well? #1 – Sharks

For the second week, the Durban side have impressed. Even while they will feel sad that Patrick Lambie received an injury, his replacement Curwin Bosch belied his youth to step up to the plate. Gladly, they withstood the threat of Israel Folau. Even his two tries, did little to bolster the ‘Tahs chances.

They also steal the top place in Africa Two conference from the Lions (see below).

Who Did Well? #2 – Jaguares

Even though they did not collect an invaluable three tries or more bonus point, it was the best result for South American rugby. Having to travel first, management will be extremely pleased to repeat 2016’s result over the Lions. Nicolas Sanchez did provide plenty, but he was also cited–Law 10.4(g) Dangerous charging–and consequently suspended.

Still, it was a fine performance and a big party afterwards….or so I’ve been told!

Standings: NZ Conference – Chiefs | Australian conf – Brumbies | Africa One – Stormers | Africa Two – Sharks

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News: Tawera Kerr-Barlow signs with La Rochelle.

In a surprise announcement [and during the season] the Chiefs starting halfback chose to end his time in Hamilton. A two-time Championship winner, and 25 cap All Black is the third player to decide to leave the franchise. He joins Aaron Cruden and James Lowe and coach Dave Rennie, in taking up foreign offers.

His will not be the last name lost to French rugby, but fans are now asking “why can’t these announcements be made later?” Rather a distraction, but LWOR believe Kerr-Barlow will play with his usual heart, as he has done over his career. Kia Kaha.

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Looking at the Forecast Ahead

If sides are now more settled; after three completed rounds, then it will be other factors that influence results now. Better coaching, more team strategies, individuals reaching their potential. The pressure is yet to be fully applied, but one topic this week is injuries.

New Zealand teams seem to be finding it particularly difficult. Their ‘injury ward’ is filling: Israel Dagg, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo the latest admittance. They join Lambie, Jean-Luc du Plessis and Bernard Foley.

Occurring so early, many will look on those missing men as evidence that some teams fortunes change. But as Hunt proved at the Crusaders when replacing Richie Mo’unga, the men who can step up, show the depth of squads. And over the first quarter of the season, that will be critical.

Super Rugby Round Four fixtures

Friday March 17 –  Crusaders v Blues, Christchurch | Rebels v Chiefs, Melbourne | Bulls v Sunwolves, Pretoria

A good old ‘North v South’ clash occurs Friday. According to OPTA Stats, the Crusaders have won their last five games against the Blues, the longest winning streak of either side in the history of this fixture. Pride might be battered from Tana Umaga, so can he ask men to believe one more time? He told media;

“We are looking for a much more competitive effort at set piece, and with more accuracy in core skills.”

Good matches on either side of ‘the ditch’ mean that the focus is still on local battles. Teams are yet to make long haul flights, so the Chiefs will hope to leap over to AAMI Stadium, and (importantly) return in good health.

McKenzie at first five will be of interest to many kiwi rugby fans.

Saturday March 18 – Hurricanes v Highlanders, Wellington | Waratahs v Brumbies, Sydney | Lions v Reds, Johannesburg | Sharks v Kings, Durban | Jaguares v Cheetahs, Buenos Aires.

Five matches greet us for this ‘Super Saturday’ and the return to their home should repair the Lions battered pride. The Sharks will not feel much trouble from the Kings in all honesty, although you should always look to improve. That always to referee standards too.

To open the day, if the most combative fixture #HURvHIG If the battered sides come out with no injuries, it will be a miracle. The test-match like ferocity of local derby games in NZ is somewhat of a barrier to long-term success. Any team who loses more star players will suffer over the competition–did the organizers plan it this way?

Over in Buenos Aires, this will also be one hell of a match. If they make less mistakes than they did against the Sunwolves, then they may claw-out a bonus point win…that is three tries clear of the opposition, so defense is going to be a key factor here.

Forecasted ‘Match of the Round’

While the Hurricanes v Highlanders match is highly anticipated, it is only one of many ‘local derby’ games. These are the benchmark now, as often traveling teams disappoint. So heading down country, or inter-state, can bring huge match-ups.

In Australia, we find a very interesting fixture: Waratahs v Brumbies. It has all the makings of a ‘top of the table’ clash–if only the ‘Tahs had won away from home. Returning with their pride dented, how Daryl Gibson motivates his side will be a test of his ability, the teams chances and on a higher level.

Talk is of one Australian team being dropped in any revised Super Rugby competition. It even included the two-time champions ACT Brumbies. Hard to believe, but their small market means that Stephen Larkham will want to make a ‘big statement’.

Going Forward ‘Who to Watch?’

Many individuals are quite rightly being highlighted. And the forecast is that young men Out of Africa [pun] are showing real promise. The two men pictured below are fine examples.

Teboho ‘Oupa’ Mohoje is a big, powerful flanker/lock who has earned 15 caps for the Springboks. Three tries in two matches have bolstered his confidence, so when the Cheetahs travel to Buenos Aires, the ‘cat fight’ may see this weapon unleashed on the hosts.

Curwin Bosch was given a test, in the clash against the Waratahs. Lambie was cruelly taken from the game, so up-stepped the 19 year old. The above statistics are proof that he was comfortable, confident, and relaxed. Like Mitch Hunt, qualities that will help him reinforce his place, going into Super Rugby round four.

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This Week In Rugby History

1974
Twickenham’s first streaker – and the first at a major sporting event. Michael O’Brien, an Australian trainee accountant, performed the ‘streak’ half-time during the England-Wales match (sorry, no pictures)

1957
England beat Scotland 16-3 at Twickenham and for the first time the phrase “Grand Slam” was used by the press to describe a full set of wins in the Five Nations Championship

1998
On their way to the Premiership Championship title Newcastle were tripped up for the first time. In their 13th league match of the season they fell 30-17 to Richmond.

The ‘Week in Rugby History’ is sourced from the ESPN UK ‘on this day’ webpage.

“Main photo credit”

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