Yes we apologise to our Southern Hemisphere friends. We haven’t forgotten you and are VERY much aware that there has been a rather exciting tournament going on over the last six months, despite our focus on the Six Nations and the June Internationals. The new slimmer Super Rugby format with just fifteen teams as opposed to the botched and cumbersome 18 team arrangement of last year, has provided a much better competition.
While New Zealand continue to dominate the tournament, there has been some real heart and enterprise from South African sides, and the recent long-awaited promise of Argentina’s Jaguares has finally started to emerge. Australian sides have even managed to pick up on some of the energy displayed by the Wallabies in the last 12 months. In short, it’s been a much more competitive and exciting tournament this year. This weekend’s semifinals should provide some great contests and we can’t wait, especially as the next three weekends will give us a fascinating insight into what we can expect for the forthcoming Rugby Championship in August. We haven’t had much of a chance to catch this season’s action but have every intention of committing to the remainder of what should be a great tournament.
Hurricanes vs Chiefs
Friday, July 20th
Two of the competition’s most exciting sides of the last few years go head to head in what should be an absolute cracker of a match – with even the notorious Wellington weather set to co-operate. It may be a New Zealand derby, but there should be sparks aplenty between these two North Island rivals.
For the Hurricanes, the players we are really looking forward to seeing are the centre pairing of Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, especially as we have traditionally only seen Barrett in the fullback role. Also will this be winger Julian Savea’s swan song in New Zealand before he heads to Toulon and France. Lastly we always enjoy seeing the exceptional Nehe Milner-Skudder who takes the fullback role on Friday night, and sincerely hope he can remain injury free for the Rugby Championship.
For the Chiefs, we are looking for thrills and spills aplenty from fly half Damian McKenzie and centre Anton-Lienert Brown. We’re also looking forward to seeing lock Brodie Retallick back in action after his absence for the All Blacks during the June Internationals.
An exciting match in prospect but one which we think the Hurricanes will just sneak, especially given the threats present in their backs. It will be close but the Hurricanes to edge it by four!
Crusaders vs Sharks
Saturday, July 20th
With their place in the knockout stages sealed early on, it would seem that the Crusaders took their foot off the gas in the final pool stages of the competition. However, expect them to ramp it up once more come Saturday. It will be a very hard task for South Africa’s Sharks to overcome the Kiwi Super Rugby juggernaut at home in Christchurch, but they certainly have some speedsters in the backs as we saw in the recent exploits of the Springboks against England, and a gritty front row looks set to pack down against the Crusaders front three.
We are excited to see Keiran Read back in action for the Crusaders, as like Brodie Retallick he was not present during the All Black series against France. However, what we are really looking forward to seeing is Crusaders centre Jack Goodhue in action, as we have heard nothing but good things about the youngster and are curious to see if his performances will merit an All Black call up for the Rugby Championship. Lukhanyo Am really made the headlines at centre for the Springboks this June, so expect the Sharks to look to him for some magic on Saturday along with Lwazi Mvovo on the wing. The battle of the two front rows, should also be one of the best contests of the match as both teams have proven match winners here.
Nevertheless it’s hard not to see the Crusaders coming away with a convincing win, given it’s home ground and their form for the majority of the season. The Sharks will put up a brave fight but ultimately it will be the Crusaders day by 16 points!
Waratahs vs Highlanders
Saturday, July 20th
Australian teams have had a bit of a resurgence in the latter stages of the competition and the Waratahs in particular. However, New Zealand’s Highlanders are always difficult to beat especially in high stakes matches like this one.
To be honest we haven’t seen too much of these two teams to really judge other than what we know of their international players. On that note though, despite it being in the Waratahs backyard we feel that the Highlanders have the slight advantage given the calibre of Internationals in their ranks. Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Liam Squire pack some serious pedigree. Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau do the same for the Waratahs, but the Highlanders still seem to have the bigger numbers in terms of star internationals. Consequently we’re handing this one to the Highlanders by six points!
Lions vs Jaguares
Saturday, July 20th
For us this could be the most fascinating contest of the weekend. The Jaguares have surprised everyone in the last half of the competition, while the Lions have gone off the boil somewhat.
On paper we actually, perhaps to the surprise of some, feel that the Jaguares have the better team, despite the presence of Lions superstars like Hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Franco Mostert, flanker Kwagga Smith, and wingers Aphiwe Dyantyi and Ruan Combrinck.
However, the Jaguares have looked a very balanced and cohesive side of late from 1-15. They have an exceptionally solid front row which appears well-disciplined. We were surprised to see Marcos Kremer shifted from the back row to the second row, where he has been outstanding all season, especially with Matias Alemanno and Tomas Lavanini on the bench as second row replacements. Guido Petti as Kremer’s partner in the second row has been exemplary and was one of the few players who made a name for himself in Argentina’s recent dismal two test series against Wales. However, it’s those Jaguares backs that are likely to be the Lions biggest concerns, especially a gentleman on the wing by the name of Bautista Delguy and Emiliano Boffelli at fullback. We have thoroughly enjoyed watching Delguy in action and expect to see big things from this young man come Argentina’s campaign in the World Cup.
It should be a close and thrilling encounter. However, have the Jaguares got one more game at altitude left in them? Let alone the travel schedule ahead of them if they do go through to the next round. The Lions traditionally turn on the pressure in front of the Ellis Park faithful, and it’s hard to see them let this one slip them by. Furthermore, the Jaguares have not fared well in their last two matches on the road in South Africa and we can’t help feeling that this is likely to be a bridge too far for them. A thrilling game at times with some spectacular running rugby in prospect from both sides, but the Lions to have the upper hand at the final whistle by five points!