This week of Super Rugby is looking to be the most tantalising yet. Nearly every game has the potential to be exciting. Here are Rugbywits predictions for round four of Super Rugby 2012.
Chiefs v Brumbies
What sides do you not want to play right now, you ask? The Chiefs would be right up there on that list. They have beaten the Blues and Crusaders in the last fortnight. Both sides that would have expected to win based on overpowering the Chiefs pack. That didn’t work out.
Add to that the fact that the Chiefs have a ridiculously good backline. Any player can initiate a try-scoring move from any place on the pitch. Thankfully they aren’t, but they could rely on their backline as much as the Wallabies for victories. The win last week against a powerful and well organised ‘Saders pack shows that they have an ability to get the work done wherever it is needed.
Now we get to the Brumbies, probably lucky to be in the position they are at the moment. They have had a scheduling dream so far. They have played two games in the first three weeks, at home. They’ve managed to take the points against the Force and Cheetahs, and it was only by the fuzzy stuff on the skin of their teeth. So, while everyone has some cause for optimism on the home front at the moment, they should be as cautious as a quietly offered England National Team coaching offer. Oh, wait, no – much more cautious than that.
Travelling away to the red-hot Chiefs is not the same as playing at home to the Force, or a South African team that has only won in this country once. They’ll be right up against it.
Prediction: Chiefs by 14
Stormers v Blues
The undefeated tag belongs only to the Stormers, Brumbies, Reds and Highlanders. The Stormers have the benefit of only defending that mark twice so far though. Their most recent match was a stodgy ol’ thing against the Sharks where they snuck home five penalties to four. Hopefully they bring a little more adventure this week – a performance more like their round one match against the Hurricanes would be good.
On the other hand, the Blues have basically switched roles with the Hurricanes this year. So maybe if they could revert back to type that would help this match as a spectacle. They definitely have the results of a team with high expectations but not the coaching, or mental make-up, to reach them. Season so far: A close loss in round one – a match they had the better of. Smashed off the park by the “now awake giant” the Chiefs in their second match, and finally, brought home the bacon against the Bulls in a must win fight.
So which way will this match go? I don’t fully know what to expect. The Blues might be putting it together now, but maybe last week was a flash in the pan?
Prediction: Stormers by 5
Hurricanes v Highlanders
These two sides are definitely competing for the title of “everyone’s second favourite team” – that is if you aren’t already a fully-fledged fan. They are full of exciting story lines and exciting on-field play.
This year the Hurricanes have kicked off their campaign with a .500 record in the Republic, beaten the Force by scoring with nearly every single possession they obtained during the match, defied all the major critics with their play and proved the old adage that being a champion team is as useful as being a team of champions. On top of that, I think if the Stormers (their first round loss) were to play the Highlanders at the Cake Tin next week I’d probably have to pick the Highlanders to win. It’s been a big three weeks for the Canes.
The Highlanders have only taken the scalps of the Chiefs, Crusaders and Waratahs up to now. That knowledge will be giving the home fans fits of joy as they picture the long lost promised land of the Home Final. The three victories for the Highlanders have all been a close margin – the biggest being the four point victory over the Chiefs in round one – proving that the team has the collective mental strength to perform the basics well under pressure.
The Hurricanes are at home this week, and that would normally be a huge advantage with the sometimes swirly kicking conditions at the Tin. However they will have only been in the city a few days out of the past 30 and the Highlanders have been in New Zealand since sometime late last year, so that just about evens out the home ground advantage thing.
Prediction: Highlanders by 2
Waratahs v Force
The Waratahs are under pressure this week and have a lot more riding on their performance than picking up the win points. The Waratahs are at their real home, the Sydney Football Stadium, for the first time in 2012 after a first round clash at Homebush Stadium.
They are backing up after a tough trip across the ditch to face the re-invigorated Highlanders last week, where they put on a brave performance to go down by the solitary point. But they need to demonstrate they are serious contenders this season by not only winning well over the Force but playing attractively, purposefully and scoring well-constructed tries.
Support from New South Wales rugby public is urgently required, plus some newcomers to re-establish their reputation. If they play well this week they will look towards attracting good crowd attendance next week at home against the Sharks.
Coach Michael Foley should be directing his players to go hard, go wide and go often. Wallaby Berrick Barnes should distribute the ball, support and be advised to kick only at training next week. If Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper and the inspiring young fullback Bernard Foley are not given the opportunity to run the ball from everywhere, then they should walk off the field.
The Force have very little to offer and their backs do more crabbing than a Vietnamese market. Yes the Waratahs have injuries, but as Rugbwits commented months ago, they signed players who were injured, about to be injured or are always injured, so that should not come as any surprise to the Waratah management. It certainly does not surprise their dwindling fan-base, which are also tiring of TV cameras panning across the Waratah bench to reveal that half the players in the suits and ties are injured Waratah stars on the payroll.
The Waratah forwards should easily match it with the Force and the Waratah backs should run riot. Logic says that the Tahs should win by 30 points.
But beware, the Waratahs have a habit of lifting themselves for the tough matches and degenerating into a rabble against the teams they should account for. It remains to be seen if they have broken that habit this year.
The Force will make it messy. They will slow down the ball through their back-row, led by Wallaby David Pocock and disrupt the Waratah lineout as much as possible through Nathan Sharpe and Sam Wykes. The Force haven’t shown anything yet, but they will find some pride after last week’s flogging against the Hurricanes in Perth, and will obviously look for vast improvement. If they don’t find it, things it could get ugly.
It is a local Derby but hopefully the Referee will keep them far enough apart to allow the attacking team to clear the ruck quickly and activate an open and attractive game.
Prediction: Waratahs by 13
Sharks v Reds
Well, the Sharks broke through for a win last week against the Lions and are playing their first home game of the season in Durban. The Reds are undefeated but critics and fans are not falling over themselves with enthusiasm in the manner of which they have won so far.
Away from home and against a team that will run the ball in lieu of playing percentages, the Reds may start to operate in a more cohesive manner.
Scrum half Will Genia is starting to find form and the forwards will have to the set pieces in order. Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has still not settled on a back-row so far this season and will again use plenty of options throughout the two-match campaign in South Africa. They play the Bulls next week.
The Reds backline, particularly Digby Ioane, is yet to function. They are finding space hard to come by without the long, selective passes of Quade Cooper. I, like others, admire their on-field composure in the first three rounds, but have been concerned about their inability to construct tries.
Sharks Coach John Plumtree is under pressure for his team to perform and he again will revolve his game around halves Michalak and Lambie.
Playing at home for the first time this season, the Sharks need an impressive match to get their Durban faithful behind them and kick start the season. That could be the catalyst for an upset.
Prediction: Sharks by 6
Rebels v Cheetahs
This match has the potential to be the most entertaining of the round. The Rebels really gave the Reds a test in their narrow loss last week. Likewise, the Cheetahs were unlucky against the Brumbies – going down on the bell because of a scrum penalty.
The Cheetahs have shown a real liking for the attacking, ball in hand style of Rugby. They should be commended on the way they attempt to create opportunities particularly in their own half. For the sake of Super Rugby, teams blessed with more talent should take note.
The Rebels cannot wait to unleash Cooper Vuna, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale in a match not dominated by defence.
Defence has been an area of vast improvement under the watchful eye and guidance of defence coach John Muggleton and they will enjoy the opportunity at home in Melbourne to play a non-Australian team. This Rebels side is building strength with back-rower Jarrod Saffy back and the return on Sunday of one of their best performing forwards of last year, hooker Ged Robinson.
The game being in daylight on a Sunday afternoon makes this a special event to look forward to.
In a sparkling affair, tip the home team.
Prediction: Rebels by 12