The run home – part 1: the June window

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    It may not actually have been the first time this year, but Round 14 felt like the first time this season where all seven games have been really interesting contests – and in which the result was far from certain well into the second half of each game.

    I made the point last week that the mid-table log-jam is going to make for a really exciting run home, and that was borne out across the board over the weekend.

    This now has us casting our minds forward to the playoffs, which in theory are only five games away, but in actually fact are still two months away, once we take this increasingly frustrating break for the June International Test window.

    So yes, last week, I said that was going to lay down some predictions about the playoffs, and who will and won’t reach them, but in reality, the biggest goal for teams is definitely be in contention as we break for the June Tests.

    Teams certainly can’t make the playoffs by June, but they can absolutely drop out of the race by then.

    We already know and have known for some time that the bottom four – the Reds, Blues, Brumbies, and Sunwolves – definitely can’t make it. A now six-point gap between the Stormers in 11th and the Reds in 12th only further underlines that these teams are playing for 2019 development and 2018 nuisance value now.

    Let’s have a look ahead, to try and work out where teams will be heading into the break.

    CRUSADERS – currently first overall: 46 points, 10 wins. Next two weeks: Hurricanes (home), Chiefs (away)
    Having now lost Owen Franks to suspension, and with Joe Moody still suspended for another week, the Crusaders actually look a bit vulnerable this week. There’s always an expectation about Crusaders-Hurricanes contests, and after the Crusaders didn’t exactly put the Blues away in the second half on Saturday, this now looms as even more of a danger game than it already was.

    My suspicion is the Crusaders drop one to the Hurricanes, but then regain some composure – and a few players – and take down the Chiefs the following week. They’ll take a minimum 50 points into the break, but this will drop them to fourth overall.

    LIONS – second: 36 points, 7 wins. Next two weeks: Stormers (a), South African conference bye
    The Lions are a curious beast, and are playing now almost nothing like they were at the start of the season. They were no certainty to beat the Brumbies with twenty minutes to go, but regained the lead through their maul against a card-weakened Brumbies pack, and found two more tries late to blow the scoreline out.

    They don’t appear to have the same aura about them at the moment, and they’re conceding twice as many tries per game as they did in 2017.

    But it still should be enough to take care of the Stormers, who look even more a shadow of the side than what started the season. At least 40 points will still be enough to hold second overall, but two byes to come will bring the Lions back to the chasing pack.

    WARATAHS – third: 31 points, 6 wins. Next two weeks: Chiefs (a), Reds (a)
    The team with the most to benefit from the Lions’ plateauing is definitely the Waratahs, who finally learned from their mistakes when holding a lead to not just hold the Highlanders off, but properly put them away on Saturday night. The Tahs have showed patches through the season, and have played reasonable rugby over the last few weeks since their bye, but this was the closest they’ve come to a full 80-minute performance.

    And it sets them up well. They’re definitely good enough to beat a Chiefs side returning from South Africa, even with their All Blacks contingent rested and waiting, and they’re definitely good enough to take care of the Reds the following week. That would give them 39 points minimum, and they’ll be on the Lions’ tail for a home semi after the break.

    Israel Folau celebrates

    Waratahs’ Israel Folau (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    HURRICANES – fourth: 45 points, 10 wins. Next two weeks: Crusaders (a), Highlanders (a)
    I don’t think there’s a team playing better than the Hurricanes right now, and I don’t think they fear any other team in the competition. They were methodical against the Reds, and even if scoreline suggested that was a close win for the Hurricanes, but I never felt they were any danger of losing.

    They might be the only team who can beat the Crusaders in Christchurch, and I think they will this weekend. After that, beating the Highlanders in Dunedin will be a doddle by comparison. A minimum 53 points will see them take the clubhouse lead into the June Tests.

    CHIEFS – fifth: 32 points, 7 wins. Next two weeks: Waratahs (h), Crusaders (h)
    A bonus point from their loss to the Sharks was enough to draw level with the Highlanders, with their superior points differential pushing them ahead. But they’ve been unconvincing in South Africa and lost to the Jaguares in Hamilton before they left. I think they’re vulnerable, really vulnerable over the next two weeks, and losing bonus points might be the best they can salvage.

    32 points would still be enough to hold the final wildcard spot into the break; after that, they play their last games looking over their shoulder.

    HIGHLANDERS – sixth: 32 points, 7 wins. Next two weeks: Reds (a), Hurricanes (h)
    The South African conference bye next weekend can really help ‘the Clan’. I think they’ll battle to get past the Hurricanes next week, but I also think the genuine fear of being the first New Zealand team in several years to drop two games on the trot to Australian sides will be enough to get them home against the Reds this weekend.

    That would get them to at least 36 points, which would be enough to regain fifth overall heading into the break.

    Highlanders

    Ash Dixon of the Highlanders (Photo by Rob Jefferies/Getty Images)

    JAGUARES – seventh: 29 points, 7 wins. Next two weeks: Sharks (h), conference bye
    Undoubtedly the big improvers over the last six weeks, and probably the feel-good story of 2018. Finally, the Jaguares are becoming the team we hoped that would be on admission to Super Rugby. They’ll consolidate their top eight existence over the last month with a win over the Sharks, and if they get a roll on, they could run up a similar score as what they did the Bulls.

    33 points at least would push them up to sixth, and if they go on from there, who would be prepared to say they couldn’t cause damage in the playoffs?

    SHARKS – eighth: 28 points, 5 wins. Next two weeks: Jaguares (a), conference bye
    The Sharks are pretty obviously the next best side in the South African conference after the Lions and Jaguares, but they’ll be no less vulnerable to a thumping in Buenos Aires than anyone right now. They did enough to get on top of the Chiefs, but consistency has been their biggest issue.

    The 28 points they have now might be it, and they’d slip out of the eight by the June break, but they’ve been in and out of the eight for the last month anyway.

    REBELS – ninth: 25 points, 5 wins. Next two weeks: Sunwolves (h), Blues (a)
    Fresh off a bye, the Rebels have a real opportunity to make a move before the break. They weren’t perfect against the Brumbies ten days ago, but they were patient and they were accurate when it mattered most. A Sunwolves side weakened by June Test preparations looms this week, followed by a Blues team yet to win Eden Park, and both games are very winnable for the Rebels.

    Do that, and they’ll be on 33 points at least, which would have them seventh.

    Will Genia

    BULLS – 10th: 24 points, 5 wins. Next two weeks: Brumbies (h), conference bye
    The Bulls were disappointing in Argentina on Sunday morning, but you would think they would have enough to reset and topple the Brumbies back at Loftus. And they have to think that, too, because a loss would leave them in real danger of dropping out of the race, with danger games to follow after the break. A win this week pushes them to 28 points, which would keep them in touch. Just.

    STORMERS – 11th: 24 points, 5 wins. Next two weeks: Lions (h), conference bye
    With a conference bye the week after they host the Lions at Newlands, and another bye after the break, this week will be the week we wish the Stormers all the best for their 2019 preparations. Because I can’t see them beating the Lions this weekend, and even if they won both games after the break (on of them being the Jaguares in Buenos Aires), seven wins won’t be enough.

    I’ll be interested to see how close these play out. In the meantime, here’s the overall predictions for the next few weeks, as well as the remaining games for all teams.

    And I’ll revisit these coming out of the June International window, where Part 2 will try and establish the final eight.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

    New South Wales have won the 2018 State of Origin series with an 18-14 win in an absolutely outstanding Game 2 at ANZ Stadium. See how the action unfolded with our NSW vs QLD Origin 2 scores, highlights and blog.

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 6:28am
      Kane said | May 22nd 2018 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      I think 5th & 8th place is a position no Kiwi team wants to be in. It all but guarantees you’ll be playing away to the Crusaders or Hurricanes in week one of the playoffs.

      So it comes down to 6th & 7th, do you want to travel to Sydney or Joburg?

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 6:55am
      i miss the force said | May 22nd 2018 @ 6:55am | ! Report

      is there any plan to get rid of this 4 week break in the season?

      • May 22nd 2018 @ 7:50am
        Ed said | May 22nd 2018 @ 7:50am | ! Report

        This is the last year of it.
        Next year there are no northern hemisphere tours south. It will be Super Rugby,, RC, then RWC.
        In 2020 SR will not have a break, followed by the domestic tests against northern hemisphere sides in July, then RC.

        • Roar Guru

          May 22nd 2018 @ 8:02am
          Simon Levingston said | May 22nd 2018 @ 8:02am | ! Report

          Thanks ED for the update. I say good riddance to the break. This break has really killed off any momentum in Super Rugby and been one of the many causes of its demise.

        • May 22nd 2018 @ 10:24am
          i miss the force said | May 22nd 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          thank you sir

        • Columnist

          May 22nd 2018 @ 11:00am
          Brett McKay said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:00am | ! Report

          Thanks for clarifying, Ed. Once upon a time, I used to quite enjoy the June break, but not so much any more.

          I’d like to say I’ll miss it, but….

          • May 22nd 2018 @ 3:26pm
            Perthstayer said | May 22nd 2018 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

            Have results and opposition quality lowered the attraction?

            Fiji and Italy last year didn’t help. And 3-0 drubbing by England the year before.

            • Roar Guru

              May 22nd 2018 @ 3:30pm
              Train Without A Station said | May 22nd 2018 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

              I’d say the dire 2016 probably has hit it the most.

              The low quality opposition wasn’t great. But that happens every 4th and 8th year in a 12 year cycle without too much impact.

            • May 22nd 2018 @ 4:32pm
              Taylorman said | May 22nd 2018 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

              Well overall theyve all sent down poor teams bar Eddies stunning effort, always moan about the clubfinals and injuries and only England have won one of the three test series. Now they think theyre too good to bother.

              Can them i say.

          • May 22nd 2018 @ 6:56pm
            Ed said | May 22nd 2018 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

            I agree. It stops the momentum of the comp, and teams can go a while without a home match. As an example, the Tahs next home match is seven weeks after the previous match.

            It will be interesting as does it mean the NH sides have a break before the visit south or will their comps be adjusted for it?

        • May 22nd 2018 @ 3:45pm
          cuw said | May 22nd 2018 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

          @ Ed

          next year is a special case – but am curios of 2020.

          how does it work with the NH countries whose leagues will probably end by the start of June ?

          at the moment countries like England Wales etc tour as soon as their local league ends and even not Heineken cup ends.

          France is the odd one as thier league continues with the extra teams , even into June.

          also i wonder how it will pan out if Pro 14 expands to 16 ? again more matches.

          but continuing super rugger to an end and then playing tests is much better. the different intensity and tactics affects some teams more than others.

          • May 22nd 2018 @ 7:37pm
            Ed said | May 22nd 2018 @ 7:37pm | ! Report

            G’day cuw,

            Here is an article from Rugby World magazine that explains it better than me.
            http://www.rugbyworld.com/news/blogs/is-the-new-global-rugby-calendar-as-good-as-it-sounds-77555

            The comment below sticks out for me where Rugby World’s priorities are:

            “It’s good that the impact of a World Cup on players has been recognised with the reduction of the subsequent tours reduced from three Tests to two, although removing them from the calendar altogether might have been better, and it’s right that the club competitions were involved in these discussions and that the new schedule is looking to support their growth – but has player welfare really been the top priority?

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 8:38am
      cantab said | May 22nd 2018 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Big game for the Crusaders this week, we need an 8 point win as I don’t back ourselves to beat the hurricanes on bonus points in the remaining rounds. Even with Franks and Moody out our forwards are substantially better, so as per last year that’s where we will look to win the game.

      Despite their stumbles the lions should take home the Saffa conference, if they can produce 2 wins from their remaining 3 games, then either the Sharks or Jags will need to go 4/4 to beat them and I can’t see that happening since they play each other twice.

    • Roar Guru

      May 22nd 2018 @ 8:39am
      Charging Rhino said | May 22nd 2018 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      Guys just a reminder that the Jags have never beaten the Sharks before. Whom they’ve played twice a year for the past couple seasons. One of the few teams the Jags haven’t beaten despite the regular matches.

      That could easily change this weekend however.

      Will be an interesting match up as both the Sharks and Jags have been better or at least matched the Nee Zealand teams head to head this year.
      Similar game plans??

      They still have to play each other twice too.

      • May 22nd 2018 @ 8:47am
        cantab said | May 22nd 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        I really think with the Jags v Sharks that the home team will win both games, which will hand the conference to the lions.

      • May 22nd 2018 @ 9:12am
        Pinetree said | May 22nd 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        CR – Yeah, the Sharks have beaten three out of four NZ teams, and only lost to the ‘Canes by one point, Hard to say if the Sharks will make the playoffs, as they seem to lose games they just shouldn’t, but if they do make the playoffs, they will make any opposition team very nervous. They certainly gave the Lions a scare in the QF last year.

        • May 22nd 2018 @ 10:02am
          BBA said | May 22nd 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

          Agree sharks have history on their side and they travel well. But too much travel may make it hard for them to win the overall title but they are certainly capable of an upset. Its really been their poor form against the other teams in the SA conference that has held them back, so that they will have to win it the hard way.

        • May 22nd 2018 @ 10:03am
          Ed said | May 22nd 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          The Shorks have the best record against NZ teams of the overseas sides. They have a 48.6% success rate against NZ sides, with the Brumbies is the best of us Aussies with 46.2% winning rate against their NZ rivals.

        • Columnist

          May 22nd 2018 @ 11:01am
          Brett McKay said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:01am | ! Report

          Agree with that Piners. Like plenty of teams, inconsistency has been the Sharks biggest hurdle this season, but there is definite nuisance value in them over the last five rounds, for sure..

          • Roar Guru

            May 22nd 2018 @ 11:46am
            Charging Rhino said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:46am | ! Report

            No Brett it’s the other way round!! 😄 The only nuisance teams are the ones the Sharks “should” comfortably beat if they play to their potential, but end up losing or drawing to!! 😄😄

            • Columnist

              May 22nd 2018 @ 11:49am
              Brett McKay said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:49am | ! Report

              It’s all about where you sit, Rhino!

            • May 22nd 2018 @ 4:33pm
              Taylorman said | May 22nd 2018 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

              They choke a bit in the playoffs too.

              • May 22nd 2018 @ 5:32pm
                Pinetree said | May 22nd 2018 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

                Don’t think it is fair to say that the sharks choke at playoffs Tman, as from memory, the sharks have only lost one home playoff in 2007 against the bulls, with a late try to Habana. The sharks do have one of the best records of winning away from home in the playoffs however.

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 8:41am
      Ed said | May 22nd 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      Brett,

      I think you are being a wee generous to the Rebels. They are fortunate to have a weakened Sunwolves this weekend.
      And tipping them against the Blues in NZ. If Genia is not back for that match, they are absolutely no chance.
      The Rebels that started the competition is not the side that has played for since the end of March.

      • Columnist

        May 22nd 2018 @ 11:05am
        Brett McKay said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:05am | ! Report

        Yeah, I’ll admit that was the game I waivered on the most Ed, and Genia no doubt looms as hugely important for the Rebels. In the end, I came down on the fact that the Rebels in the position they are just have to be beating a side like the Blues, who are prone to dropping in and out of games like most Australian sides, and even like the Sharks-Bulls-Stormers. These are games the Rebels should be winning, so we’ll see…

        • Roar Guru

          May 22nd 2018 @ 11:34am
          PeterK said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          I don’t see rebels beating blues away with or without Genia

          • Roar Guru

            May 22nd 2018 @ 11:50am
            Train Without A Station said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:50am | ! Report

            I don’t believe the Blues have won a single game at home.

            • Roar Guru

              May 22nd 2018 @ 12:26pm
              PeterK said | May 22nd 2018 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

              they haven’t lost to any oz sides in an even longer time

              • May 22nd 2018 @ 4:42pm
                Ed said | May 22nd 2018 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

                Last Oz team to beat the Blues was the Rebels in 2015.

          • May 22nd 2018 @ 1:47pm
            Akari said | May 22nd 2018 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

            That’s how I see it too, PK

    • Roar Guru

      May 22nd 2018 @ 9:03am
      Machooka said | May 22nd 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett… it’s all building nicely for the finals and who gets in, and who doesn’t!

      I’m particularly interested to see how the Jaguares finish up as they’re a real chance to make it… and wouldn’t they be a boogie team for any of the other contenders, as they can travel.

      Likewise, I agree about your thoughts on the Canes… they are pretty much head and shoulders above the rest. Hence, this w’end’s clash against the Saders in ChCh will be of great interest 😉

      Bring it on!

      • Columnist

        May 22nd 2018 @ 11:06am
        Brett McKay said | May 22nd 2018 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        The Jags will make for very interesting viewing over the next five rounds, Chookman. Sam T’s points elsewhere today about the Jags looming as a dark horse are bang on…

      • May 22nd 2018 @ 3:24pm
        cuw said | May 22nd 2018 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

        Hurricanes have been very lucky with injuries – but i hear that Aso maybe out for some time.

        continued selection of more or less same players has ensure the game plan works regularly.

        it was evident when TJP got injured and missed – their game also dropped.

        he comes back and the normal service resumes.

        crusaders will be hoping noone else goes crazy – coz they just got these props back from injury.

        mataele is a concern and crotty – always a concern …..

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