And it just keeps on getting better, and with Super Rugby Round Nine soon to take off, fans will be ready and waiting for the action to begin. In reaching the halfway point of the season, all sides will know they must perform–or be overwhelmed.
The points ladder now shows where the best teams stand. The Crusaders are still undefeated, with the Stormers and Chiefs only a step back, so every game from now on is another step towards a possible semi final stage….though you cannot get too far ahead of yourselves, leading into round nine.
And this next ANZAC round begins on Friday night with a match here in Napier, New Zealand. The forecast looks good, so Last Word On Rugby is heading into the epicenter of the Hurricane, to cover the match live–thus, this is a shortened version of the Forecast.
As you can see above, the results were mostly foretold. Apart from the Melbourne Rebels emphatic answer for Super Rugby bosses in Australia, the only other surprize may have been as the Bulls withstood a Jaguares hunt. That, and the opening 30 minutes of the Cheetahs match with the Chiefs, most will have called these results.
So as fans reflect on the standings, that is not the only factor worth considering. As results can be re-examined, commentators would identify with the result in Melbourne. Under the extreme pressure of knowing the future layout of Super Rugby, but without the final decision from the Australian union, the Rebels took matters into their own hands.
Who Did Well? #1 – Rebels
Yes, it was a brilliant response, but for the home side, they will have felt like ‘the stars aligned’. And as Nic Stirzaker (see main picture) and his team mates proved a point over the establishment, the stress and strain of external events are more likely to be headed to court, than to the top of the table.
On the Brumbies front, they will felt dumbstruck how they lost to a side who gave up three yellow cards. They will discuss how to get themselves up after that ignominy, but for one night in Melbourne, the talking was done on the field: 19-17.
Who Did Well? #2 – Lions
Halting the run of the Stormers was crucial to the Lions aspirations. They are on opposite sides of the Africa Group, but know that with only two home semi finals placings, that any opportunity to better their closest opponents is better than having to fight it out for the remains of a third wildcard position.
Another factor which they built on, was they attacking flavour of their game. It was fast, it was all on the line and the Lions were sharper than the Cape Town side. That will count later down the road, so full credit to Warren Whitely.
As well, the Crusaders carried on as the only unbeaten side, and introduced Kieran Read (see below image) back into service. They lead the way, with the ‘get out of jail’ Chiefs close behind. The Reds claimed a win, as did the Hurricanes and inter-conference matches have thrown up some huge match-ups and rivalries last week, and continuing into Super Rugby Round Nine.
Standings: NZ Conference – Crusaders | Australian conf – Brumbies | Africa One – Stormers | Africa Two – Lions
No changes at the top, but the NZ Conference is still as tight as ever. With three teams sitting above the rest, it might be the remaining local derby games that will sort out those Kiwi teams who travel. And in Africa, the tops sides are clearly known, with only the Jaguares able to pounce into a wildcard spot now. The Brumbies are fortunate to still be in contention, concern will be mounting in Canberra.
Now, to look forward to Round Nine. The official match packs from SANZAAR shows that eight games will be enjoyed across all conferences (BYE: Blues, Reds) And then, once these matches are completed, every team will have had their first bye round.
Super Rugby Round Nine Forecast
Friday, April 21
The likelihood is that the Hurricanes v Brumbies match in Napier will be a gangbuster. If not for the mindset of the Brumbies–coming off a loss, and with matters reaching a head in Canberra–but for the celebrations of the ANZAC spirit. The two nations will stand side-by-side in commemoration before the game kicks off, in recognition of ANZAC Day, April 25.
With honouring the ANZAC sacrifice, this more local recognition reflects how the ‘Canes are wanting to take the game to the provinces. Their region stretches from the East Coast down to the capital, so involving all their fans makes this championship team one of the more popular. Holding a match in Napier is a benefit. Plus, they always perform better in front of their adoring fans.
Chris Boyd was happy with the belief his team felt last week, so with each game they are improving. With Blade Thompson returning, Ben Lam included on the bench, Brad Shields is asked to lead them while TJ Perenara takes a backseat to Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
Blade Thomson's worked hard to come back after a serious shoulder injury in week 1. He talks about his rehab here https://t.co/oip9nYV2Rg
In the other two matches Friday, the Waratahs look to ‘dine out’ on the Southern Kings. A good performance is required, to ensure Daryl Gibson has the backing of the fanbase and his men are confident for inter-state match next week in Brisbane.
Emirates Stadium will be Filled with Lions Fans
The top ranked Lions team will host the Jaguares, and this should be the most popular fixture in South Africa. Lions fans know their teams attitude to attack, so anything is possible. And while Johan Ackerman will have his team primed, it is how they cope with the abrasive Jaguares that will be interesting.
Discipline is still the issue for the South Americans. Their passion goes a step too far, so if the Raúl Pérez coached side need to be more controlled. And while they maybe upset over the loss to the Bulls, the best revenge is to play a precise game–whether the Lions allow them any space or time is another matter.
But one thing is sure, the crowd will be on hand to watch this match.
Saturday, April 22
Down at Rugby Park, Invercargill, they like their rugby ‘straight up’. Less glitz and glamour, more mud and blood, so if the Highlanders take in that no nonsense mentality, most will believe the Sunwolves will be victims of a high scoring game.
Waisake Naholo rejoins the team, after injury lay-off so how well he goes will be watched by many, but the ‘Landers will be watching one man closely. Wolves captain Ed Quirk is a menace, so he and Fumi Tanaka will be targets for the home side.
But the focus will be on five points, to put them over the line.
‘Match of the Round’
In a way, it should be the top-of-the-table clash that fans have been waiting for. The Crusaders have dealt with the Force, the Blues and the Sunwolves, but the Stormers are a different story. More attacking for one, and with the coaching group of Robbie Fleck and ex-Blues assistant Paul Feeney, they have an attitude change which is bringing rewards.
“Every week we start from scratch, that is what we have been good at this year.”
That philosophy will take the Stormers farther in 2017, than it did last year. And facing tougher opposition is a benefit. Whereas the Lions chose to rest players, the strongest Stormers team is more likely to challenge the Crusaders than other tourists. It will be a pulsating match of the round.
Again, pre-match, NZ Rugby will salute Tiny Hill, the oldest All Blacks war veteran. He will pass the match ball to a junior player, in a symbolic gesture of respect for the Unknown Soldier, the sacrifice and rugbyunited values.
Super Saturday Provides Five Quality Matches
In other matches, the troubled Force will host the traveling Chiefs. Head coach Dave Rennie will be alarmed how his team leaked 24 points in as many minutes, so will demand a complete reversal. One can only imagine how they will treat the Australians.
The action then heads back to the republic, where the Bulls v Cheetahs match could likely go either way [neither are in the hunt realistically]. Across in Durban, the Sharks should not be troubled by the Rebels. They must collect handfuls of points now, to earn the right to be in the later stages.
With fans attention stretched right across Super Rugby Round Nine, who comes out on-top will show their hand in the long run heading to the June International window break [June 3].
This Week In Rugby History
Scotland, the team of the season, scored six tries to overwhelm England 27-0 in the “Victory” international at Murrayfield.
The first women’s Rugby World Cup final was played in Cardiff, with the United States beating England 19-6. Twelve countries were divided into four groups of three for the unofficial tournament – the International Rugby Board did not endorse the women’s Rugby World Cup until the 1998 event.
A then world record attendance for a club game – 79,842 – saw Clermont beat arch rivals Stade Francais 21-19 in the Top 14.
SA Rugby announced the successful applicants for franchises in the expanded Super 14, with the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs eventually taking part in the inaugural season.
The ‘Week in Rugby History’ is sourced from the ESPN UK ‘on this day’ webpage.
“Main photo credit”