Where to Now? The question for all teams & fans that needs to be considered, as they have reached Super Rugby Week 10.
This is officially over half way; in fact further for the South African teams, who started a week early. They will then hibernate after Week 15 (to prepare for the England test series) while the others battle it out. And it has been a battle so far – injuries, the toughest derby matches imaginable, and sides looking to complete their away games early and secure valuable points. Right now, all sides must make critical, mid-calendar decisions that will assist them to reach those sides goals.
The standings have; in a way’ been sort of predictable. A few more Kiwi sides than the others although with no unbeaten teams, there is no actual runaway leader (as fans have seen in years past).
Considering that we have passed the halfway point, what should fans look ahead for? Besides more #awesome rugby, more trans-Tasman clashes, the Lions 4-week trip, with All Blacks camps and International players wishing to peak by June 9 #rugbychat pic.twitter.com/6PQGgSPIpS
— #RugbyNewZealand (@RugbyNZ_) April 19, 2018
So ‘Where to Now?’ in Super Rugby Week 10
Expect more thoroughly engaging matches, is what most fans will desire. And the competition organizers would have been pleased with recent results. Both the Jaguares – defeating the Melbourne Rebels – and the Sunwolves – who played a great 40 minutes, in their loss to the Auckland Blues – have confirmed their retention was justified.
From Super Rugby Week 10 on, the level of competition is most likely to rise even further. Sides now see over the hill a little more, looking across to their match schedule during Super Rugby Week 10, as much as planning for opposition clashes and coping with injuries and form.
So who is looking towards playing whom? and where are sides focusing their sights on?
Across the 15 squads, they will have learned much over the opening seven or eight games. Those could have exceeded expectations. Or, they will be reeling from lost opportunity, and hoping to deliver on promises.
Those answers need to be decided internally but, from the outside it appears that the cards are falling in place for some.
League Leading: Hurricanes, Lions, Waratahs
Each of these sides have hit the ‘head of the queue’. Some by effort – the Hurricanes having won the most matches (6) and with praise from many quarters. Others have been in front for quite a while now – the Lions, who seem to be eternally leading the other South African conference sides by a far way.
The third side have shown grit and determination, to climb back up to the top. The Waratahs were not endorsed by many to begin with, but after the draw against the Sharks, they have won back-to-back local derbies to establish a dominant position….for now.
Road Ahead – Hurricanes rest in wait
High-flying Hurricanes are due for their final bye this weekend. In a way, it is like the predator resting up, before it hunts for a new prey. Natural sciences aside, it is the naturally extrapolated rugby-style of the ‘Canes that head coach Chris Boyd has nurtured over his term, that makes this side the league leader.
They rest, before inviting the Sunwolves into their lair. A win is most likely, followed by much more fearsome Lions. A match which should be campaign defining – especially if the Hurricanes want to retain a unbeaten streak that is over 300 days (and counting).
How the side progresses over the next six weeks, is almost bound to determine whether 2018 matches their successful path in 2016.
Crunch matches – vs Crusaders (away) May 25; vs Highlanders (away) June 1
On Tour – Lions must travel well
Up to this point, it has been a satisfactory season for the Lions. Hindered too often by losses in 2018; especially the loss to the Jaguares. Failing to maximize their (possible) points take, it has severely impeded the sides chances of making a break on the rest.
It hasn’t lessened the Lions attacking threat though. Any side with Madosh Tambwe, is certainly a team with a threat out wide. They also have the most threatening hooker in the game, in Malcolm Marx (see below). But throughout, the Lions have carried on the gains made by Johan Ackerman, to still be the key protagonist out of the republic.
What lies in their path though, is one of the toughest ‘roadtrips’ in rugby. Travel through Australia; via the Waratahs, Reds, and then they enter New Zealand. Boy, that is tough.
At worst – they return home with no points. At best – a maximum of 20 points; that would put them onto [possibly] 45 competition points. Well enough you would assume, to secure their conference home quarter-final place.
Crunch matches – vs Waratahs (away) April 20; vs Brumbies (home) May 19
Aussie Pride – ‘Tahs hope to restore confidence
Should anyone recall the difficulties of the Australian conference, they might be admiring of the Waratahs placing. All due credit, they are the featured team, but it is a return to the position that the ‘Blues’ held for many years. In the term when Michael Cheika was in charge.
Is the franchise back to those heady days? That is still to be decided, as they must prove that the opposition is from sides outside of Australia – that they can both receive visitors from New Zealand, and ….. win across the Tasman. The most difficult task in rugby, and for the Australian and South African conferences, from Super Rugby Week 10 onward, they need to prove a point. Can they secure victories?
Crunch matches – vs Crusaders (away) May 13; vs Highlanders (home) May 19
The Australian conference is just as tightly contested as the New Zealand one. All it would take is one result falling the way of the Melbourne Rebels, for them to hold hopes of leading that conference again.
How can teams ‘climb the ladder’?
Every side within the top 10, is in with a chance. The competition is not so deep into the season, that a team like the Sharks, Stormers or Brumbies could not recover lost places. But only so much.
In rugby, many probables need to go your way. From the planning, to practice, to the process on the field. Get much of that right, and the results will come. For a team like the Stormers, they enjoy three games at home, before a flight to Hong Kong for the first ever Super Rugby game at the Mecca of Sevens.
If they return home with five points, they could bank at least 15 points leading up to the mid-season break. That leaves them on 28 points. Not competition leading by any means. But, if they dream big, in Week 15 they face the Lions. How important would a gain of five points; restricting the Lions, be to the Stormers – as much as other sides?
That is where every side can receive a boost, by other results. ‘Collateral points’ gains you might call it. Take that Week 15 result – it would benefit the second placed side in the South African conference as much. If that were the Bulls, then their corresponding home match against the Brumbies would become that much more important.
And then there is the Crusaders. Any side coming up against them, needs to be at 110% or….their ambitions could fall flat. The 2017 champions will contest for the conference lead, or that all important fourth place/home quarter-final.
In reality though, there are few things that mean as much in rugby, than the score on the board. No matter what fringe benefits you receive in the draw, performance on the field is critical.
Joining the dots in Super Rugby
Casting the crystal ball aside, to join all the dots, it takes just one thing. Winning. No reliance on other results – those are seen as fringe benefits. Win games, you earn points. Simple game; catch and pass.
A team like the Highlanders or the Chiefs seem to be in the position of working hard, yet they still need to ‘join all the dots’ to be in a position to succeed. Injuries to the Chiefs, and the Highlanders needing good squad depth are two extremes. Where one wants more fit players, and the latter wants to retain fresh players as they head to South Africa. So managing your squad becomes a third important factor.
The league leaders are in ‘prime position’ now. After Super Rugby Week 10, will that be the same. Some will rise, some will fall. And that is why any fan of rugby, but also one’s interested in the captivating ramifications of the schedule.
This week will certainly be interesting. And the next. And the next, as the weeks countdown to the June break. Riveting stuff.
“Main photo credit”
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