The (New South Wales) NSW Waratahs are a team in flux. Neither performing well, or not under performing. To their followers, they could be doing a little bit better whereas commentators are looking at the team and asking ‘when are they going to really perform?’
Several teams in the 2018 Super Rugby competition are in similar positions. The Sharks in the South African conference, the Blues in the New Zealand conference, the ACT Brumbies and the NSW Waratahs from the Australian conference.
Some victories, mixed with losses – all pointing to a season not yet in full swing, affected by injuries and with a mark of ‘must do better’. For one, if not all teams, this weekend will be more than just about chocolates and religious holidays.
NSW Waratahs – a side that needs to show Proof of Performance
This weekend, all four sides will meet in two critical matches that will act as measure-points. A step toward redemption; both from their critics and supporters, if the sides win. As well, key stages in the motivation for those winning sides ambitions in 2018.
Looking primarily at the NSW Waratahs, the Daryl Gibson coached side currently sits in third place within the Aussie conference. Two victories from four matches.
Looking at sides like the @NSWWaratahs @BrumbiesRugby it really is an important stage for both.
Can the #Tahs get a jump above the #Reds ? that would make Daryl Gibson feel a little more comfortable.
Although the #Brumbies need those points too #BRUvWR be an interesting match pic.twitter.com/3aXa4KiJT5
— scott hornell (@scotthornell73) March 29, 2018
A season not yet reaching full speed for the ‘Tahs, but with certain hurdles ahead that will be a key test for the coach and for his players.
Week 7 v Brumbies; Week 8 v Sunwolves; Week 9 v Reds
All these local derby matches can demonstrate whether the 2018 version is performing to their ideals. The Waratahs are captained by Michael Hooper; who is the current skipper of the Australian Wallabies. A player in his sixth season of Super Rugby, a short career that has seen the Sydney-born flanker play for both the Brumbies and the ‘Tahs.
This means that a local derby game against the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) neighbours has true meaning for Hooper. In terms of relevance for the captain, as much as for the conference ambitions of each team.
Key fact: The Brumbies have won their last three games against the Waratahs, so a reversal in fortune will be desired by the traveling side.
Rebels and Reds in ‘unfamiliar territory’ – leading
Who would have foretold that the Rebels and Reds might be leading the conference? Some might think the table is ‘inverted’ because those two sides looked least likely to be leaders. So for the NSW Waratahs and ACT Brumbies alike, it is a crucial stage to correct those standings.
Performance has been something that the Melbourne team have displayed. They have achieved more than the expectations of most, and the Brumbies v Waratahs match on Saturday evening will be season defining–in terms of who can challenge for the conference lead.
More so in terms of competition points: if the Brumbies hold-off the visitors, then they can look to sit equal with the Reds [who have a bye round]. A bonus point win is the goal, yet their 2018 performances have not shown anything near ‘champion form’. So any type of victory might be greeted with joy in Canberra.
But it is the New South Wales team that will be the most hungry for a win. In essence, they can ‘make the most of the victory’ by leaping clear of the mid-pack. A win would elevate them into clear second place, but a key figure is the points differential.
Currently 56 points back from the leading Rebels, so a good score on the board Saturday can bring them closer to their rivals. The conference system favours the highest scoring team, and while the Rebels have put proved a high scoring side, the NSW Waratahs recent victory over them was an improved performance; 51-27.
If the ‘Tahs can get anywhere near to the late-scoring win of last weekend, then it will demonstrate the sides potential. And satisfy both supporters, and any doubters.
Follow the game-day action through our live match centre: https://t.co/15omS07TbU
— NSW Waratahs (@NSWWaratahs) March 29, 2018
One key factor sourced from the Super Rugby media release, which is not in the visitors favour though: the Waratahs will be searching for back-to-back wins for the first time since Rounds 14-15, 2016.
ACT Brumbies v NSW Waratahs – Saturday March 31, 7:45pm (ACT time)
Blues must give their fans ‘joy’ over the Sharks
While the Sharks are endeavoring to return home from their offshore trip, with at least one victory, it will be up to the Blues to stop that thought. Seen as a team in trouble, the Auckland side are beatable [to be brutally honest]. So this weekend at home, they must give their fans some joy at Eden Park.
In the match proceeding the later BRUvWAR fixture, it too holds the same meaning. Both sides competing, are becoming desperate for a win. A win, to stay alive in 2018.
Only seven weeks into the season [six weeks for the Blues], it is not a ‘do or die situation’. If one side were to lose, they are not cast out of the running – but it becomes even more difficult to overcome the leading sides.
While looking at the Aus conference, you have to look at all three. Obviously the #LIOvCRU match is the most interesting, I'm attending #BLUvSHA hoping that one team shows their credentials. Should be @Rugby_Blues but ……the #Sharks have won in Auckland before ?? pic.twitter.com/GPYz0jDHVX
— scott hornell (@scotthornell73) March 29, 2018
Super Rugby 2018 season at a strategic point for Blues and Sharks
Home fans will assume that the home team should win. That is not a guarantee though. Respecting the opposition, many will be aware that the Sharks have good form in Auckland.
The Sharks have won four of their last five away games against the Blues, though each of those five fixtures has been decided by a margin of no greater than seven points. That could be seen as form, but so far in 2018 that team has not shown consistency. Losing three matches, with a draw that was a game that they should have taken.
The 24-24 draw at home to the Waratahs, was a disappointment. A missed opportunity, so now the traveling side has to come away from their four-week journey to Australasia with some reward. And while Auckland-based supporters will cheer them on, some observers still view this stage of the campaign as pivotal to every South African conference side.
Only that conference, has to endure sustained periods of travel. Whether by choice, or in strategic bargaining by New Zealand and Australia, that chore is difficult. So this match; with a strong history of wins, must be seen as the Sharks key result. An away win that might give the Durban side more hope.
Auckland team must overcome injury and indifference; BLUvSHA
A win for the home side, is just as valuable. Probably more so for the Blues, as they sit back in fifth place of the most competitive of conferences. The constant local derby battles often defer points from the three-time champions cause–their poor recent form has always hindered their chances overall.
In 2018, with the conference finals qualifying rules altered, it may now suit the fourth placed New Zealand team. If the Blues wish to finish either fourth, third or second best of that group, then the Sharks are their immediate target.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 29, 2018
Enforced changes make this weekend even more difficult
With seven changes to the teams lineup, some see this as their biggest hurdle. Adjusting the lineup, with changes to the important 9-10-12 combination, will upset the rhythm [naturally]. And having to accommodate an enforced ‘All Blacks rest week’ has taken two of their best players. Matt Duffie is a game changer, and when missing Ofa Tu’ungafasi too; as well as the injured Sonny Bill Williams and Augustine Pulu, it makes for a tough fixture.
Tana Umaga must stay positive, but with only a single win in 2018, the critical stage is fast approaching. Win, and his fans and stakeholders will retain their belief. But, the same goes for the Sharks.
Auckland Blues v Cell C Sharks – Saturday March 31, 7:35pm (NZT)
Each side has as much to gain, and as much to lose. That fact alone means that Saturday nights matches, are very important for all four competing teams.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images