Last week, several crucial games went ‘against the grain’. They were disappointing for the teams in a position to influence their campaign, who seemed to get the speed wobbles. The Sharks and Jagauares cancelled each other out….neither winning [although the Sharks were fortunate to retain their Wildcard placing]. Slip-ups like that cannot be afforded, so the forecast this week is for the best teams in Super Rugby Round 13 to show polish and attention to detail.
The highest placed sides are all looking toward tough challenges and to take advantage. Some teams have traveled offshore, some finishing off their trips and others have taken their home game to the Islands, but the home sides each will still be hoping the law of averages plays in their favour.
Although in the best professional rugby competition in the Southern Hemisphere, there are no favours. Win; do well. Lose; and you might suffer in points and position. And the coach might have words with you too….every player’s motivation to perform [“keep Coach happy”] rings true.
Who Did Well? #1 – Kings
Yes, we did acknowledge them two weeks ago. But as pointed out last week, their coach has his group motivated in a deeply stressful time. And in gaining their first ever win over the Sharks, they may have written more history in that franchises short history.
Who Did Well? #2 – Crusaders
What a match. Unbeaten v Reigning Champs! A tumultuous occasion, even if the conditions might have limited the adventurous style of the Hurricanes. But it has shown how for the second time in 2017, a heavily directed set-piece and front-foot game plan can take away from the fleet-footed Beauden Barrett. His opposite Richie Mo’unga benefited from a big effort from his pack and an assured midfield defense. Ryan Crotty a tower of strength yet again.
A worthy note too for the Western Force (see main photo). Turning over the Jaguares was not forecasted, and it shows in Super Rugby Round 13 you cannot take anything for granted.
The Blues were also convincing. While they ended the match against the Cheetahs happy, but still unable to shorten a lead by the Highlanders; thanks to match-winner Malakai Fekitoa’s last minute try. It was not a ‘positional changing’ result though. As mentioned, it was supposed to be moving time last week, and those opportunities are lessening as the season heads toward the final few rounds.
So with all that, take a look at the Super Rugby results and table – courtesy of Fox Sports.
Now, to look at the forecast ahead for Round 13. The official match packs from SANZAAR shows that eight games will be enjoyed across all conferences (BYE: Jaguares, Reds). Those sides are both still in contention for post-season, so will be eyeing results closely.
Super Rugby Round 13 Forecast
Friday May 19
After seeing off the Hurricanes, the Crusaders v Chiefs clash in Fiji is the perfect dessert for fans of intense rugby. That style is quite retro, in that after 20 years of high-paced rugby we still see a high appreciation for that old tough match type. Dave Rennie does not consider this ‘just another game’ either. For his Chiefs team, it could be the upward curve they desire, and taking a home match away from fans must have many more benefits than purely financial.
“They’ll ask a lot more questions of us” was Rennies stern assessment of Friday’s clash. If the Crusaders show the composure and belief missing for some years, they might depart Suva with the spoils. Sam Whitelock returns, absolutely they are still the team to beat and are in a position of envy. Possibly, the Waikato teams affinity for hurtle their forward power at all costs could exhaust all their strength–and even Damian McKenzie can’t use his muscle to push through a stronger Crusader line.
In South Africa, the other Friday night game might be a contender for ‘Most Pivotal Match of the Week’. The Stormers, the team to watch before they left for New Zealand, appeared to br damaged goods on their departure. Robbie Fleck will know that even a visiting Kiwi side is a real threat. The Blues are not the high-flyers of old, but with Sonny Bill Williams recalled, they have real firepower. Yet in SP Marais, so too do the home side.
“The Stormers at Newlands are a formidable challenge for us.”
Tana Umaga is aware of the challenge. That will apply to every side his men face, from here on in.
Saturday May 20
The Hurricanes have named this match ‘At the Zoo’ and while Dunedin students may not mind the connotation, the visiting Cheetahs could think they are being caged. More likely ‘penned in’ for the high-speed game plan of the ‘Canes to encircle them. That method has seen the Wellington side triumph more often than not; discounting last weeks effort. John Plumtree and Chris Boyd know the African style does not suit the flair of players like Julian Savea and TJ Perenara….so why not ‘feed their animal instincts’.
Selecting Otere Black in place of Barrett maybe more about rotation, as much as saying to Black ‘we still want you’ – as he is coveted by the Blues.
The determined Western Force will aim to prove their doubters wrong over the Tasman. Thumbing their noses at officialdom, they will need a little bit more of that underdog spirit in Perth. The Highlanders shouldn’t be taken lightly though. They need to maintain their own winning edge, so are 100% focused on stepping over the traditional banana skin fixture.
Round 13 is a Time to Maintain Fresh Thinking
The ‘Landers also want to stay fresh, so Aaron Smith (see below image) is on the bench. Sitting next to the returning Liam Sopoaga, that is a real threat late in the game and the scoreline should be much safer than it was in Pretoria.
That same fresh thinking may be less applicable for the Sunwolves in Singapore. Entertainment factor more than competition changing, however if the Sharks ‘do a Bulls’ then not only will they leave Asia with egg foo young on their face…and give the Jaguares a slim chance.
Somehow, the Bulls will feel like a pawn in the grand plan of the Lions. As the Johannesburg team aim to complete their two year plan to become Super Rugby champion, the bulls have little chance to upset that goal. For a three-time Champions franchise, it must be hard to think they have few supporters who will believe they can win.
‘Match of the Round’
For the sake of the Australian conference, the Brumbies must retake their lost prestige. The uncommon internal pressure on that side is the complete opposite of how their hosts, the Southern Kings have embraced their own status. It shows how the mental side of football is a key factor in sport. Skill helps too, but Deon Davids is engaging more with his men then Stephen Larkham appears to be.
Result wise: the Brumbies win, they retain their high placing. The Brumbies lose, they can be overtaken by two or three other teams. It is ‘moving time’ in Australia for sure, in fact it is the tightest contest of all. Any one of four sides could land their own home semi-final (even with the lowest points tally in Super Rugby history) the Reds may ghost in and take the spoils.
Sunday May 21
The teams breathing down the neck of the Brumbies, are the Waratahs. While they have not been confident under Daryl Gibson, the opportunity to steal the home semi-final is now motivation enough. And being in a type of ‘knockout’ rugby, who copes best with the pressure.
Their opponent is more used to pressure than they should have to. Industrial relations are now at the forefront, with Melbourne Rebels assistant coach Morgan Turinui (above) calling the what Australian Rugby are doing [in delaying the announcement] a highly stressful. If his men are stressed, then how can they expect to perform? That is the key question raised on Sunday in Sydney.
In the end, you play who is facing you across the pitch. Putting things aside, the ramifications are really interesting–and I hope we see some ‘moving’ this Super Rugby Round 13.
International Watch – NZ Players Observe Lions Early Preparations
As Warren Gatland continues his deep planning to head South in June, the reporting of groups of home nations players speaking of the local conditions will sit well with NZ players. Many in line for an All Blacks call-up will be observant. Even those outside of the squad will be aware of the focus on that series–reported widely.
🗣️"This was not on the radar at all." Te'o privileged and proud to be part of Lions squad #AllForOne
While Super Rugby is affected heavily by International rugby in 2017, the views of overseas players often shows the respect and reverence for the national game. Ben Teo, an ex-pat Kiwi, has been queried by team mates over conditions, style as well as the traditions and culture. A man surprised by his own selection, Gatland wants his players to embrace the country; however his nemesis Steve Hansen will have text all his wider-group of potential All Blacks to remind them all “be ready Boys!”.
This Week In Rugby History
An agreement was reached among the three major southern hemisphere Unions (SANZAR) to launch the annual Tri-Nations International Championship and Super 12, to start in 1996.
A crowd of 95,000 (reported L’Equipe) watched France escape from the August 23rd Stadium in Bucharest with a narrow 18-15 Test victory over Romania.
Rugby’s increased profile was confirmed when Jonny Wilkinson boosted his annual earnings to an estimated £7 million when he signed to be the face of Travelex in a two-year deal.
The Lions suffered their first defeat at the hands of Taranaki in New Zealand, losing out by a try to nil. The first recognised tour by a British touring side was captained by Bob Seddon who tragically drowned during the tour in a sculling accident on August 13.
The ‘Week in Rugby History’ is sourced from the ESPN UK ‘on this day’ webpage.
“Main photo credit”