More so than in the rounds proceeding, a higher frequency of inter-conference and cross-continent matches is giving fans a fair indication of the real standings. The ‘combat and confrontation’ is both exciting and educational too–fans and commentators now finding out who are the leaders, and who are the followers by Super Rugby Round 11.
The upcoming matches should only be getting better, and they must. Because as the touring New Zealand sides hope to continue their [apparent] dominance. So if any side is looking to break that cycle, it must begin now.
An unbeaten Crusaders team are running hot, but the loss of two main cogs to their engine….could it lead to a breakdown? And across in Australia, the Lions are wanting to rampage through a battered Australian conference.
All these factors lead us to forecast…..it is only going to get better.
— Fox Sports Lab (@FoxSportsLab) April 30, 2017
Visiting Teams ‘Steal the Sweets’ in Round 10
While it may look bad for the home teams, as stated above, the inter-conference matches are establishing the ‘cream of the crop’. The Sharks were fully-focused as they visited Buenos Aires and spoiled the hosts Saturday night party. And a day later, the beleaguered Blues ran hard at the ACT Brumbies, and caused more mayhem on the Canberra team.
That conference leading team are stumbling badly. It is a bad look, and one that the Auckland team took advantage of that [current] weakness. The only salvation for the Stephen Larkin coached team is a Bye….though, only for a week, until they face the Lions on May 12.
Then the International fixtures saw some teams cross-continents and seemingly take away the sweets. The Crusaders found Bloemfontein a ‘tasty treat’ even though losing Kieran Read to injury and Sam Whitelock to suspension left a lingering after taste. How will those issues affect them? Probably little, as Whetu Douglas and Luke Romano are quality replacements.
Who Did Well? #1 – Kings
Yes, you read right. The Southern Kings had a win, but it is actually their fourth successive performance of note. After the high scoring losses to the Stormers and Lions, they made their incredible offshore victory a reality in Sydney.
Not many imagined that after a longhaul flight home, they would fear as well–but a 39 point win was the perfect answer. No discounting that it was the Melbourne Rebels, but at home and with a sense of revival, their ambition has to be applauded.
Who Did Well? #2 – Highlanders
Halting the threat of the Stormers was like a ‘knockout punch’ from Anthony Joshua. The visitors scored first, but the home side used their jab to create space, and then attacked hard. It was a combination-punch that caught the African team off balance. And by the time they noticed, it was too late.
The most entertaining factor of this victory by the ‘Landers was their star-turn by Patrick Osborne. Celebrating his 50th cap, and little did he know he would excel during it. Scoring the opening try, it was the first of two for the Fijian. But his best moment was an offload that Sonny Bill would envy (see video). A great display that earned him ‘Man of the Match’….just a shame he could not convert the final try.
So, with little change to the standings, what can the forecast tell us? One, that the Stormers are lucky that no other team is within touch of their conference status. And two, that the Sharks/Jaguares battle for the third African wildcard position will be a tantalizing battle.
Now, to look forward to Round 11. The official match packs from SANZAAR shows that eight games will be enjoyed across all conferences (BYE: Brumbies, Kings). The Kings deservedly earn their break, while the remaining sides all still have plenty to play for.
Super Rugby Round 11 Forecast
Friday May 5
Club colours will be on shown during this round, and the Hurricanes are a proud club. Not only of their history, but also of the future. This franchise is in the best position it has been in for years. Popular, and the crowds should be out in full Friday.
Sadly, they will not have the full roster, as Dane Coles is yet to recover fully. But even then, Ricky Riccitelli (see below image) has been playing fantastically during his absence.
The Stormers will not be happy though–leaking competition points, and losing confidence on their NZ tour. Recovery is the key, and possibly returning to a more solid style will combat the free-running ‘Canes. Or, as much as they can. Sometimes, the flow cannot be stopped, and Chris Boyd has his men on form.
Over in the Republic, the traveling Highlanders will be determined to not let this one get away. For years, the Cheetahs have upset many sides, though this season the Bloemfontein crowd have not always seen them at their best. Still, defense for the visitors is a crucial factor–a 30-40 point game will exhaust their strength, and they cannot afford to go on to Pretoria with any ailments next week.
Saturday May 6
The local match this round is in Taranaki. The forecast looks like rain for the weekend, but LWOR will be on hand to witness two things. (1) are the Reds a team who can travel? Most will so no, but last week the Chiefs struggled to operate when asked to subdue the Sunwolves. The Reds could undermine them early, and Damian McKenzie cannot always save their skin.
And (2) how is Charlie Ngatai, after returning from concussion. LWOR writer Mike Pulman was elated at the news, and so was all of NZ Rugby. For the person, for his health and for the options he might well bring to the national team. As well as Ngatai, Brodie Retallick is back–the Reds must be committed for a full 80 minutes, if they stand any chance.
The Waratahs v Blues clash should be a great one. Both sides are mid-table, with the Auckland team enjoying a rare overseas victory. It has been a longtime since they strung two of those wins together, so in reality the odds favour for the home side. In a twist, the ‘Tahs have had facilities issues with Allianz Stadium. The forecast looks like the turf will cut-up badly.
LWOR hope that the main sponsor; an Insurance company, don’t receive any medical claims through ankle sprains next week. Players like Matt Duffie (see above image) and Israel Folau, who are outright flyers, should put on extra strapping to be sure they are still running after 80 minutes. of battle
Force Hope to Take Their Fighting Spirit Across to Africa
Everyone will agree, the Western Force, Rebels, Kings and Cheetahs have been under stress since the future layout of Super Rugby was released, none have felt secure. Only in results have any side controlled their own destiny. That will continue for the Force when they meet the Sharks. This maybe close to a ‘Match of the Round’ even though the Australians have a bigger hill to climb.
For the hosts, last week was terrific motivation to secure the Africa Group wildcard and for their teams morale. Losing away from home, these matches are key, so if they cannot win at home, it could put a real dent in their title aspirations.
Up in Pretoria [literally] the Crusaders may want to play a little tighter. The Bulls are no pushover, yet even with the pressure of being unbeaten, the Crusaders are able to play to their needs. Four points primarily, but if they can drill the basics by halftime, they might be able to bring that winning average to better than 34 points.
‘Pass it to George Bridge’ is our forecast, he has scored six tries in two games….WOW!! Just wow!
Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, the Jaguares must seal a bonus point win, nothing else will do. Staying close to the Sharks is their hope of a finals series place. If the outcome favours the Sunwolves it will be a credit to the Filo Tiatia coached side, but a damning indication of the ‘Jags attitude.
This year is their sophomore season. Expect nothing less than a masterclass of Argentine rugby–it might be an indicator of the Rugby Championship form in August too.
International Player Forecast
As much as the Super Rugby competition is in the public eye, talk is on the British and Irish Lions tour. It cannot be ignored, so the forecast is that players are wary of injury and of jeopardizing their place. That may have been the reason for the Chiefs mid-season drop-off. Whoever can motivate and also protect their kiwi stars will do the best out of the NZ conference. That could in fact be the Blues–they have the least to lose.
In regards to injuries: Kieran Read’s thumb takes the front page news, so too does Ardie Savea’s (above image) selection at number eight. A good decision too. Though with Dane Cole still not picked, his health seems to be protected right now, hindered by a calf strain and complaints of concussion symptons. That is concerning, for the ‘Canes and All Blacks–so non-selection is the safe bet.
This Week In Rugby History
The IRB introduces the new Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) and as a result, by the end of this years Super 14 there were more tries, fewer lineouts, fewer penalties kicked, and the ball was in play longer.
The rebel New Zealand Cavaliers team touring South Africa lost for the first time, beaten 24-19 by Transvaal at Ellis Park.
Wales and Scotland were rebuked for their part in the so-called Grannygate scandals that led to ineligible players turning out for them in the Six Nations.
A crowd invasion brought the RFU Cup final at Twickenham to a premature finish. Referee Fred Howard was told to whistle for time three minutes early, leaving Bath winners by 19-12 against Wasps.
The ‘Week in Rugby History’ is sourced from the ESPN UK ‘on this day’ webpage.
New LWOR Poll Question:
“Main photo credit”