Fearless predictions: Round 11 crystal ball

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    Round 11 is here! We are blessed with a full slate of seven games to enjoy this week – the only team on hiatus is the Stormers. The matches are a little bit dicier to pick this week than the last couple.

    Hurricanes v Blues
    This should be an entertaining match. We still wait patiently for the Blues to pull off that mighty upset – it will probably be at least another week. Embattled Blues coach Pat Lam has moved Michael Hobbs to fly-half and Rene Ranger to the wing for this game. The Blues, once again, look impressive on paper across the park. However they are not playing with any confidence, their handling is poor and they simply appear to lack any cohesion.

    The Hurricanes find themselves on the edge as they have suffered losses against the Chiefs and the Crusaders in the past two weeks but on form the Conrad Smith inspired men from Wellington should bounce back to the winners list this week.

    It will be a good clash in the forwards but the Blues still have Tony Woodcock and Kevin Mealamu missing from the front row and the Hurricanes pack with backrower Victor Vito in fine form should have the edge.

    Prediction: Hurricanes by 7

    Rebels v Bulls
    Super Rugby’s newest franchise is in danger of falling apart before our eyes. Why Englishman Danni Cipriani was paid out and farewelled is yet to be revealed. The decision, made in the same week that the Rebels lost back-rower Jarrod Saffy for the season and star Wallaby James O’Connor indefinitely, is borderline insanity to say the least.

    Veteran centre Stirling Mortlock embarks on his first match of the season and the 35-year-old veteran will probably last about 20 minutes before another niggling injury strikes again.

    The Bulls, like the Rebels, had a bye last week and begin their Australasian tour on Friday night before fronting up against the Waratahs, the Highlanders and the Chiefs before heading home to South Africa for the rest of the season. They should not have much trouble opening their tour with a win this week. Their only problem will be complacency.

    Prediction: Bulls by 19

    Chiefs v Lions
    This looks like the greatest mismatch of the season, with the only consolation being that Lions Coach John Mitchell gets to visit friends and family in his native New Zealand. After several seasons with the Force and this his second wretched season at the Lions, the former All Black Assistant Coach has a CV that is in decline. This week will not help the situation.

    The competition leading Chiefs look like they are settling in to the habit of winning, having disposed of arch rivals the Hurricanes last week and the South African Sharks and Cheetahs prior to that. The men from Waikato will have little difficulty overcoming the Lions who have not won a match since round one against the Cheetahs. It will be interesting to see if try scoring machine Chiefs prop forward Sona Taumalolo can add to his seven tries for the season – a total most wingers would be proud of.

    Prediction: Chiefs by 21

    Brumbies v Waratahs
    This is a very difficult one to nail down. The Brumbies have been playing much better rugby than the Waratahs this year, but derbies are always a bit quirky.

    What really swings me is the Waratahs’ overall body of work so far this year: they have won four games so far – Rebels twice, Force and Sharks. The Rebels are a poor team, the Force are a below average team and the Sharks were travelling and caught the Waratahs on one of their best days.

    Their losses are against sides that just appear to be better than them – Reds, Highlanders, Force, Chiefs and Crusaders. The obvious standout of that lot is the Force. They split their games with them and that indicates to me, coupled with their other results, that they are at the Force’s level in this competition. Just middling.

    The Brumbies have had a slightly easier schedule to start the year but they also have a great win over a quality Highlanders side. That was coming off the back of a hard loss to the Chiefs.

    I think this Brumbies side has what it takes to travel back from South Africa this week and make a strong home stand.

    Prediction: Brumbies by 5

    Sharks v Highlanders
    It’s only round 11 but the stakes are starting to rise for some games. This one is an important one for both sides.

    With the Crusaders’ win last week, the Highlanders are now only one point ahead on the table. They have more victories but the Crusaders have been racking up bonus points. They’ll be very eager to keep their noses in front, even if three New Zealand sides could end up being in the finals.

    Trying to change the number of New Zealand teams in the finals are the Sharks. They are one point out of that top six spot now. With the Brumbies (in sixth) being assured of a spot the Sharks really need to gun for fifth spot to try and sneak in.

    So far, the Highlanders have been able to secure victories on the back of very solid all round play. They are great on the counter-attack and have accurate set piece that gives them a chance to organise plays in the backs. They aren’t the best in the competition at anything, but do it all well. That trait seems to help them build momentum for long periods. They don’t give the opposition an easy way out.

    The Sharks seem to be a bit of a “Stormers Lite” side. The Stormers gave the Highlanders all they could handle up front – more than that, really. I don’t see the Sharks being able to sustain the same level of pressure for the whole match. The accuracy of the Highlanders will win out in the end.

    Prediction: Highlanders by 2

    Cheetahs v Force
    I wrote earlier in the week about the sad removal of Johan Goosen from rugby fields this year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Cheetahs still try to play with the same kind of abandon that he has ignited in them this year now that he’s out. They’ll need to try something because we saw his replacement struggle to kick (from hand and tee) with the same kind of accuracy as Goosen. The Cheetahs will need to cover more territory with ball in hand.

    I can almost see the Force winning this one. They have enough forward experience and skill to really shut down the Cheetahs as they adjust their game-plan to the new pivot situation. I could easily believe match reports that describe the Force loose forwards battering the Cheetahs into submission.

    The key will be stopping the Cheetahs ticking over the scoreboard. They’ve only been held under 20 once so far this year. In contrast the Force have only scored above 20 on three occasions. Put it this way: If the game is fun to watch the Force won’t win.

    Prediction: Cheetahs by 2

    Crusaders v Reds
    Here is the biggest match of the round. The men who put together the schedule have saved the best ‘til last. I’m sure a 2pm Sunday kick off in Christchurch will have the stadium full to the brim and rocking with enthusiasm. It’s going to be a tough ask for the Reds.

    Coming off their best performance of the year to date, the Reds will need to grab a few more gears to match the Crusaders here. The Reds have finally settled the Genia deal and can now focus on defending their championship. Beating the Crusaders hasn’t been as hard for the Reds as other sides in recent years.

    However, not having the distraction of Cooper out wide will greatly diminish the space Genia has had to run the show against the ‘Saders on other occasions.

    Last week the Crusaders weren’t at their best but did enough to beat a Waratahs side playing about as well as they could. This week we will find out whether that was a complacent performance or the Crusaders still haven’t quite blown out all the cobwebs. You’d think a back-row of Keiran Read, Matt Todd, George Whitelock and Richie McCaw (in some form) will manage to take most of the sting out of the Reds still developing attack.

    Prediction: Crusaders by 3

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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    The Crowd Says (78)

    • May 4th 2012 @ 1:55am
      Johnno said | May 4th 2012 @ 1:55am | ! Report

      Stormers get a great draw. A bye after a 4 week road trip, while the chiefs, had to back up direct from south africa last week.
      Stormers are in a great position to top the south african conference with plenty of home games to come, .
      While the bulls i think have not yet toured Australia and NZ this year.
      Stomrers will be mighty tough to beat if and I think they do get a home semi.
      If the final is in cape town I can only see the crusaders or the bulls who always lift vs the stormers beating them in cape town.
      Other than that the rest have no chance and that includes the chiefs who i predict will fade come finals time, there pack is not as experienced in big matches as the crusaders, and if there Tongan prop gets injured the wheels will fall off.

    • May 4th 2012 @ 2:01am
      Johnno said | May 4th 2012 @ 2:01am | ! Report

      Andries bekker is crucial too the stormers if he gets injured then I think the stormers may be vulnerable but if Bekker is fit come finals time and in form and stormers get home semis then they are 50% there already with super 15 title wrapped up with, with how the draw is planning out.

    • May 4th 2012 @ 3:40am
      Geoff Brisbane now California said | May 4th 2012 @ 3:40am | ! Report

      Agree Johnno although their draw and also the Brumbies still aren’t as favourable as the Reds draw last season (just saying).

      • May 4th 2012 @ 10:52am
        rl said | May 4th 2012 @ 10:52am | ! Report

        I just checked and… Reds still aren’t giving back last year’s cup buddy – JUST SAYIN’!!!

        • May 4th 2012 @ 12:42pm
          stillmatic1 said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

          we got the better one for once anyway, rl!!

    • May 4th 2012 @ 6:35am
      kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 6:35am | ! Report

      The great news for New Zealand today is that Hansen has indicated SBW will start over old Nonu. Nonu survived last year on reputation and Henry’s worry of taking any risk in the RWC. Hopefully Hansen will show the same good judgement with other passengers in the backline. Hansen gets good marks already for such independent, strong thinking.

      Damien Hill has no idea what he’s doing if he thinks the problems in his team revolve around Cipriani: now he will have to face the fact that it is bad recruiting in the forwards that is the problem, and who’s he going to blame now his scapegoat is gone?

      • Roar Guru

        May 4th 2012 @ 8:47am
        MyGeneration said | May 4th 2012 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Nonu ‘thrived’ last year on ‘form’. Just thought I’d correct that sentence for you, kpm. You seem to be having some lexical difficulties. Or didn’t watch the RWC.

        • May 4th 2012 @ 9:06am
          kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 9:06am | ! Report

          Yes let me think….this thriving on form amounted to a single break against France for the whole of the international season, although there may have been some breaks against the minnows in the group stage but I’m afraid those didn’t count. One break in an entire international season, such great form, although that’s one more than his centre partner…

          • Roar Guru

            May 4th 2012 @ 9:24am
            MyGeneration said | May 4th 2012 @ 9:24am | ! Report

            I guess his try in the semi-final didn’t ‘count’ either. Australia being minnows and all. How was his defence? Is that part of the game these days? How did the All Blacks end up doing at the WC with these two passengers in the centres, btw?

            • May 4th 2012 @ 10:06am
              kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 10:06am | ! Report

              Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I always thought the best team in the world with the most talented should expect their 12 to make more than one break in the entire international season?

              • May 4th 2012 @ 10:29am
                Jerry said | May 4th 2012 @ 10:29am | ! Report

                Never mind – deleted.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 10:31am
                ohtani's jacket said | May 4th 2012 @ 10:31am | ! Report

                Do you have an off button or is it broken?

              • May 4th 2012 @ 11:35am
                Riccardo said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:35am | ! Report

                I want to know Jerry. Go on…

              • May 4th 2012 @ 11:51am
                Thurl said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:51am | ! Report

                …”Yes let me think….this thriving on form amounted to a single break against France for the whole of the international season, although there may have been some breaks against the minnows in the group stage but I’m afraid those didn’t count….”

                You’ve over looked this one.

                Oh that right….minnows didn’t count

              • May 4th 2012 @ 12:47pm
                Bobby_JJV said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

                Didnt he score a mean try against the wallabies in the tri nations decider when he stepped QC hard?

          • May 4th 2012 @ 10:25am
            Jerry said | May 4th 2012 @ 10:25am | ! Report

            Thriving on form amounted to being NZ’s equal second highest try scorer including scoring in all 3 tests vs Australia and being nominated for IRB Player of the Year.

            • May 4th 2012 @ 11:06am
              kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:06am | ! Report

              Jerry that just shows how ineffectual the New Zealand backline was last year. I still didn’t see any more than one break.

              OJ it’s big news if Hansen is about to put SBW above Nonu. I always thought Smith would be the first to go, but clearly he has the advantage of not playing for the Blues.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 11:25am
                ohtani's jacket said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:25am | ! Report

                Hansen picking SBW over Nonu to start the June tests is a pretty obvious selection. Nonu being dropped from The Rugby Championship would be a bolder move especially with Nonu off contract at the end of the year. I think you should wait until the squad is announced to see whether Nonu is named, rested or dropped. But mostly, we all wish you would shut up about Nonu and Smith.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 11:31am
                kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:31am | ! Report

                I can’t determine the news OJ, besides my interest here was SBW being selected rather than Nonu dropped. Mostly in your case, someone might wish you adopted a more objectively critical attitude to AB rugby rather than simply defending every minor action they perform as if they’re under some continuous attack.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 11:42am
                Jerry said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:42am | ! Report

                Then you weren’t watching.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 11:44am
                Riccardo said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:44am | ! Report

                “Jerry that just shows how ineffectual the New Zealand backline was last year. I still didn’t see any more than one break.”

                Sorry KPM, I’m trying to find the words that won’t offend as you obviously didn’t watch much rugby last year.

                BOLLOCKS! There we go.

                With respect mate, there’s really no further debate after Jerry’s post.

                “But mostly, we all wish you would shut up about Nonu and Smith.” Classic OJ!

              • May 4th 2012 @ 11:54am
                kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 11:54am | ! Report

                Riccardo I’m just objective, something that die-hard All Black supporters are not always, and OJ is more like a party propaganda spokesman than anything else.

                In any case I find the subject of SBW far more interesting than Nonu, the reverse of the die-hard position. Indeed, for anyone who cares to look a little deeply into the matter Hansen has just shown himself to be somewhat more radical than Henry, a change worth noting. Or maybe not? Perhaps they’re just clones? It’s the first time he’s really shown his hand.

                The significance of this decision is not to do with Nonu, but with Hansen, as it shows he is willing to be bolder than Henry would. A significance lost on die-hards more concerned with harping on defending Nonu.

                Keep your eye on the ball and you will see where it’s heading.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 12:28pm
                ohtani's jacket said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

                The words “harping on” ought to be purged from your mouth. Physically.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 12:37pm
                kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

                I suppose I expected better than that kind of abuse from you, wrongly it seems. I have noted though that the most die-hard and one-eyed AB supporters don’t actually seem to live in New Zealand. It could be that people feel a keener sense of attachment to and desire to defend somewhere when they’re in a different country, and an idealisation of the place they come from-they can feel isolated and alienated and feel aggressive about defending their identity. Certainly this applies to Australians abroad too, not just New Zealanders, and anyone abroad for long periods. Try thinking about it.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 12:43pm
                ohtani's jacket said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

                And I should know better than to expect you to shut up.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 12:44pm
                Thurl said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

                Isn’t being objective a judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.
                Thats not something I evidenced in anything you’ve said regarding the All Black midfield, or the recent coaches…..Actually, I good many other things as well…

                Objectivity relies on verifable data. Something we seldom see from you but something that is constantly thrown back in your face

              • May 4th 2012 @ 12:50pm
                kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

                OJ you and DS are proof. All the other NZers are more critical. In any case don’t damn well talk to me like that and expect me not to tell you your problems.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 12:56pm
                stillmatic1 said | May 4th 2012 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

                kpm, you cant really assert that you do any more thinking than anyone else!! infact it is you who seems to be stuck on the familiar record and is unable to adapt or change. i suppose you live by the “facts, schmacks” line as you never actually produce any.

                its equally amazing after your scolding by wayne smith that your familiar metronome is still in full force. but hey, its only you who thinks clearly!?

                its amusing that you call your diatribes “objective” simply because your not an AB fan, yet fail to take this into account as you seem to be a fan of SBW/freun/ranger.

                throwing up hypothesis and conjecture doesnt make you “objective” any more than being a life long AB fan makes someone one-eyed. how can you be objective when you dont actually having anything tangible to hang your hat on?

                SBW is playing well and i hope he gets his shot, but he must usurp the incumbents just like anyone else would have to. and this means playing as consistantly well as smith and nonu, in the framework of the broader team. pretty simple.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 1:24pm
                ohtani's jacket said | May 4th 2012 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

                This site clearly needs to introduce word filters. Nonu could be no nookie and Smith corn starch. This would greatly preserve my sanity.

              • May 4th 2012 @ 1:28pm
                Riccardo said | May 4th 2012 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

                OJ,

                I would have thought getting no nookie is only going to make things worse, here as well as at home!

              • May 4th 2012 @ 1:36pm
                ohtani's jacket said | May 4th 2012 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

                Perhaps it would remind people of what happens when you spend too much time on The Roar.

      • May 4th 2012 @ 4:59pm
        STU said | May 4th 2012 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

        KPM,YOU MAKE GOOD POINTS HERE

    • May 4th 2012 @ 6:47am
      Johnno said | May 4th 2012 @ 6:47am | ! Report

      The Rebels problems are pathetic KPM,. They have much more going for them than perth.
      On the east coast , so players are closer to there families, and a huge city like Melbourne. They really should do better.
      Damien Hill had a good roster at Sydney Uni he had it easier than even grahame Henry.
      They sydney uni roster would give most super 15 teams a good workout, at full strength may even beat some.
      The forwards are a joke, they should allow more feeing import quota, and also now allow an Argentina rule. Maybe 5 players from Argentina allowed.

    • May 4th 2012 @ 7:06am
      kingplaymaker said | May 4th 2012 @ 7:06am | ! Report

      Johnno Damien Hill could also have brought anyone last year to improve the forwards. Instead he chooses to blame Cipriani, the easiest of targets. Damien Hill can’t face up to the real problems in the team, so poor old Cipriani takes the rap. But he may have the last laugh. Now it will be clear that is wasn’t Cipriani responsible for the problems, and someone else will need to take responsibility.

      At least on the plus side we may get to see SBW for a few years, I think all this threatening to leave was simply to make sure he was given a fair chance to start instead of being kept behind underperforming players as last year. I agree with your description of Nonu performing for the Blues as like a man carrying out an unpleasant and tedious chore, such as filling in a tax form or ironing shirts. SBW is not only hungrier, but younger and put simply, better.

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