Archive for the ‘Super Rugby 2018’ Category

Super Rugby comes to a close, as we eagerly await the start of the Rugby Championship in just over two weeks. New Zealand teams, and the Crusaders in particular, have once again dominated the competition, but its latter stages also showed that this year’s Rugby Championship should be a much more open contest than in previous years. There have been some very strong showings from South African teams, and with the Springbok renaissance that took place recently against England, we’re hoping for a competitive Championship this year. This year’s Super Rugby final should give us a tantalizing look at what we might expect to see when the Springboks and All Blacks clash heads next month.

This year’s final is a repeat of last year’s with the only difference being that the Lions are racking up the air miles en route to New Zealand, whereas last year it was the Crusaders making the long trek to Johannesburg. Given the travel factor and the small matter of the Crusaders essentially being an All Black undercover squad, it is hard to imagine the Lions upsetting the odds tomorrow in Christchurch. We are hoping for plenty of thrills and the South Africans have some real game breakers amongst their ranks. Malcolm Marx, Kwagga Smith, Marnus Schoeman and Aphiwe Dyantyi are all players who can in a heartbeat turn a match on its head. However, as we saw last weekend in the Crusaders semi-final clash with the Hurricanes, the Christchurch outfit can create opportunities and capitalise on them from anywhere on the park, and their counterattacking ability from deep is rather alarming to say the least.

Despite this match perhaps ending up as a bit of an anticlimax after two thrilling semi-finals last weekend, we are still looking forward to it. As mentioned above, we’re more than just a little curious if for no other reason than it being an exciting teaser for the Southern Hemisphere heavyweight showdown starting in a fortnight’s time.

Crusaders vs Lions
Saturday, August 4th
Christchurch

We haven’t had much time to chat about this one so, as a slight departure from our usual form, here’s a brief summary of our talking points leading up to the match.

The Lions rolling maul. Once it picks up speed it seems to have a life of its own that other teams struggle to contain. The Crusaders have a formidable forward pack, but provided the Lions are match fit and not overly jet lagged, the New Zealanders will find managing this weapon in the Lions arsenal exhausting.

Defensive liabilities of the Lions especially in the backs. The Lions have too many missed tackles going against their names in this competition for our liking. When you consider the quality of the Crusaders backs, especially what we saw from them last weekend, brilliantly orchestrated by fly half Richie Mo’unga then this could in the first quarter be the death of the Lions tomorrow. Given that the Lions seem to put themselves in a position of having to play catch up rugby, this could well be their undoing.

Elton Jantjies. Fly half Jantjies has failed dismally in this role at Test level, and let’s face it for all intents and purposes tomorrow is a dress rehearsal for the Springboks upcoming Tests in the Rugby Championship. While he performed well at home last weekend, we fear that his tendency to kick perfectly good ball away under pressure will be the Achilles Heel for the Lions as it is so often for the Springboks when Jantjies is wearing the number 10 jersey. He is a class player at Super Rugby level, and we hate to appear negative, but like many have serious concerns about his ability in matches like these especially a long way from home. He simply is no match for the Crusaders Richie Mo’unga, and we fear that the Lions could really lose the plot here tomorrow and struggle to exert any kind of control over the match.

Is he fit enough to do this again?

There is no question that winger Aphiwe Dyantyi scored the try of the weekend in Johannesburg last Saturday, and possibly of the tournament. However, the cost was a hamstring tweak that may still be giving him grief. Nevertheless, if he can bring this kind of impact off the bench in the final quarter, and the Lions are in it with less than a score separating the two sides, then bring on the fireworks!

Richie Mo’unga and the All Blacks. We feel that this match will be Mo’unga’s calling card to wrestle a starting slot at number ten for the All Blacks away from incumbent Beauden Barrett in the coming weeks in one or two of New Zealand’s Rugby Championship encounters. No pressure Richie and we’re sure your primary focus will be on the job at hand.

Our prediction. We’re really hoping that this ends up being one of those finals for the ages. However, looking at the up and down form of the Lions this season and the clinical efficiency of the Crusaders barring one or two blips, it’s fairly clear that the South African squad have more on their plate to deal with than the home side. Is an upset in the making? We’d love to see it for the history books, but reality sets in and leaves us with the conviction that the Lions will bring plenty of heart and spirit, but the home town heroes are going to wrap this up comfortably and thus the Crusaders to bring the trophy home by 12 points!

Endnote

If you follow us on Facebook, they’ve made it harder to link this to our resident scribe’s profile so we have created a Facebook page for the Lineout, so please feel free to check it out: https://www.facebook.com/pg/therugbylineout/posts/

We’re even toying with the idea of YouTube come October…………….watch this space!

Last weekend’s Super Rugby quarter-finals certainly did not disappoint in terms of thrills and spills. The Hurricanes were lucky to hang on to a narrow one point victory against the Chiefs, with the latter setting the final three minutes of the match alight and giving Hurricanes supporters serious blood pressure problems. There were few if any surprises in Christchurch as the dominant team of the competition, New Zealand’s Crusaders cruised past South Africa’s Sharks.

Meanwhile in Sydney the Waratahs looked done and dusted by the end of the first half as the Highlanders had run rings around them. In the second half we were treated to the comeback performance of the tournament, as the Waratahs would rebound from a 23-6 deficit, and put 24 unanswered points past the Kiwi outfit to win the match 30-23. Finally in Johannesburg, it was clearly a bridge too far at altitude for the underdog team of the tournament, Argentina’s Jaguares. Despite an exceptionally strong showing in the second half of the tournament which saw the South Americans clinch their first ever spot in a Super Rugby playoff round, taking on the Lions on their own ground was always going to be a big ask. The Lions, as they have done for the last few years, really seem to come into their own at this stage of the tournament and last weekend was no exception, with a superb all round performance comfortably securing them a spot in this weekend’s semi-finals, and a home game to boot.

So let’s have a look at the two mouth-watering fixtures we are being treated to this weekend in closer detail.

Crusaders vs Hurricanes
Saturday, July 28th
Christchurch

The question really comes down to can anyone stop this season’s top form team the Crusaders? If any team is likely to do it then the Hurricanes probably stand the best chance. They’ll be upset about their defensive lapses in the final quarter last weekend against the Chiefs which almost saw them lose their semi-final spot. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes possess some of New Zealand’s best rugby talent in their ranks and as a result despite the seeming invincibility of the Crusaders, they will be more than up for the challenge.

What we are in store for this weekend is a battle royale between two exceptional sides. The Crusaders are back to the type of form that saw them mop up the competition year after year, and as Super Rugby’s most successful franchise they clearly have a solid track record on which to build. The Hurricanes have been the one side that has consistently snapped at their heels over the years, and as a result the rivalry on show this Saturday will be well worth the price of admission.

The Crusaders forward pack boasts a wealth of experience and talent that the Hurricanes will be hard pressed to beat, and in the front and second rows, we are fairly certain that it is going to be the Crusaders who will be dictating proceedings. The Crusaders front row is for all intents and purposes an All Black platform, and the familiarity of these three with each other under pressure will be a formidable asset. With Kieran Read back in the mix for the Crusaders, and seemingly back to his best from the moment he walked onto the pitch earlier this month, it will be difficult for the Hurricanes forward contingent to match up to the experience that the Crusaders will possess under the leadership of Read in the forward battles.

Despite the Crusaders likely dominance up front, once it comes to the question of who is pulling the strings behind the scrum and at half back, the Hurricanes suddenly come into their own. The Hurricanes half back pairing is absolutely world-class in the shape of scrum half TJ Perenara and fly half Beauden Barrett, even if the latter has lost some of his customary flair this season both in a Hurricanes and All Black jersey. We think that TJ Perenara based on form may well pip regular All Black stalwart Aaron Smith for the starting 9 jersey in next month’s Rugby Championship, such is the form of the feisty scrum half. The Crusaders offering is perhaps less well-known but has proved this season that they will be names to watch in the future. Richie Mo’unga in particular is likely to figure in All Black Coach Steve Hansen’s plans for both the upcoming Rugby Championship and the World Cup, especially as depth at fly half has been a problem for New Zealand.

In the backs, the two sides will be much more evenly matched, and this is where the most sparks are likely to fly on Saturday. In a very tight contest we are tipping our hats in favor of the Hurricanes here by the slightest of margins. Winger Julian Savea, aka “the Bus”, seems to be back to his barnstorming best in his final season in New Zealand before the lure of the Euro next year in France takes him away. Meanwhile his partner out wide Ben Lam has the potential to shred the best of defences. With Jordi Barrett and the exceptional Ngani Laumape at centre and speedster Nehe Milner-Skudder at fullback, this is an exciting set of options in the backs. Much as one would see the Crusaders forward pack being a starting All Black contingent, one could say the same of the Hurricanes offering from 9-15. The Crusaders also have some exciting talent on offer, but the sheer pedigree and class of the Hurricanes in this part of the park will really take some beating.

In short, hard to call but we think that home advantage and the consistency of form for the Crusaders will see them take a tight and exciting contest. Despite the Hurricanes prowess in the backs, we expect to see the Crusaders forward pack slam the door on the kind of possession that the Hurricanes would need to unleash their strike weapons at the back. Furthermore, as we saw last weekend, the Crusaders ability to create turnovers under pressure and then turn them into counter attacks from deep is extraordinary. The Hurricanes will be up for the challenge and should make this a spectacle well worth watching, but ultimately the Crusaders to take it by a converted try and thus seven points!

Lions vs Waratahs
Saturday, July 28th
Johannesburg

The Waratahs comeback last weekend against the Highlanders was without question one of the highlights of this year’s Super Rugby season. We had to confess that at half time we had written the Australians off, as it seemed to mirror the poor form of Australian sides in the competition in the last few years. However, we perhaps forgot to factor in the utterly remarkable ability that three Waratahs players have to completely turn a game on its head. Fly half Bernard Foley, centre Kurtley Beale and fullback Israel Folau are extraordinary players, and Beale in particular has consistently been front and centre of our pick for a World XV in the last two years. Beale’s ability to create opportunities in the blink of an eye is exceptional and he is just as good at doing it for the Waratahs as he is for the Wallabies. In short the man is a magician. The Lions will be desperately trying to figure out how to contain him for a full eighty minutes, especially with Folau and Foley set to be some of the rabbits he is likely to pull out of his hat.

That being said however, the Lions have their own secret weapon in the shape of Hooker Malcolm Marx. Much as Beale is to our World XV in the backs, Marx has a similar role in the forwards. A truly exceptional player who can also create opportunities out of thin air, coupled to an ability to generate turnovers at will. If you need further evidence, just flip over to our TV listings page where we have video highlights of the Lions/Jaguares match last weekend.

Up front, at home and with the altitude we are putting our money wholeheartedly on the Lions. Even Ruan Dreyer who was the weak link in the Lions and Springbok front row last season seems to have finally got his technique right, making the Lions a significant threat at the coal face of the scrum. The Waratahs also look solid but the Lions with Malcolm Marx front and centre should easily get the best of the contest here, ably supported in the second row by Franco Mostert whose work rate last weekend was exceptional. The Lions dominance should also continue in the back row, with Captain Warren Whiteley back to his best form after a lengthy spell out with injury, and Kwagga Smith possessing more X-factor than most defenses know what to do with, despite a rather quiet showing from him last weekend. The Waratahs will be competitive here, make no mistake, but the Lions should have the upper hand by a comfortable margin.

Much like the Crusaders/Hurricanes match up though things start to even out, once you start looking at the back and half back pairings. Bernard Foley at number ten for the Waratahs has had an outstanding season and was superb last weekend against the Highlanders. While his opposite number for the Lions Elton Jantjies also had an excellent outing last weekend, we still feel he is a liability under pressure. His weaknesses in a Springbok jersey despite his obvious talent are well documented, especially if he starts kicking away possession and putting high balls up for Israel Folau to run riot with.

The sheer genius of Kurtley Beale at centre and fullback Israel Folau will be what the Waratahs will be counting on at Ellis Park to get them out of jail. Taqele Naiyaravoro is also likely to cause all kinds of problems for the Lions defences, as will Beale’s centre partner Curtis Rona. However, Ruan Combrinck on the wing for the Lions and Harold Vorster at centre were outstanding last weekend and will provide plenty of challenge of their own for the Waratahs defences. Winger Aphiwe Dyantyi caught our eye in South Africa’s recent demolition of England in June, and Andries Coetzee looked very good against the Jaguares last weekend, despite blowing somewhat hot and cold this season.

Once again, another fascinating contest awaits, and the battle of the halfbacks on Saturday will be key. However, even if Jantjies has a wobble we still feel that the Lions at home will be a bridge too far for a Waratahs side that has built some remarkable momentum this season. There will be plenty of sparks and moments of genius from both sides, but our money is firmly on the Lions to set up a repeat of last year’s final with the Crusaders. The Lions to grind out a win over a classy Waratahs side by four points!

Endnote

We’ll end this with a shout out to Gareth Mason and his YouTube channel. If you want passion and enthusiasm about the game, then give the G-Man a bit of your time every week. We thoroughly enjoy his enthusiastic musings on our great game, and his output is remarkable. So give his preview of the weekend’s action a thumbs up!

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
Wellington

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
Christchurch

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
Sydney

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
Johannesburg

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!