Beauden Barrett’s move from Wellington to Auckland was always going to turn the Blues into a more competitive Super Rugby outfit.
Truth be told, they couldn’t really have been any less of one – at least by New Zealand standards.
Even so, two factors stick out about the side’s leap into title contention this year. The first is that it’s happened considerably quicker than expected, and without a pitstop in the mire of mid-table mediocrity.
The second is that Barrett hasn’t been the driving force behind the Blues’ two wins in Super Rugby Aotearoa. That’s not to say he’s been playing badly, only that he’s not overplaying his hand and dominating play for the Auckland side even though, as a Super Rugby champion and two-time World Rugby Player of the Year walking into a side which has only made the finals twice since 2004, he would have been well within his rights to.
No, instead of mercurial play from their star signing, it’s been the forwards who’ve driven these two wins. Of particular note are captain Patrick Tuipulotu and barnstorming number 8 Hoskins Sotutu, who’ve put in the most eye-catching performances up front as the Blues pack got the better of their Hurricanes and Chiefs counterparts in the last fortnight.
It’s true those two opposing units had key players impacted by injuries – Ardie Savea starting for the Canes from the bench after a long layoff, and Sam Cane and a few others missing entirely from the Chiefs lineup – but the Blues had injured absentees last week and were able to replace them with a pair of All Blacks.
That speaks to impressive forward depth and, coupled with a backline including Barrett, a Reiko Ioane clearly enjoying his time at 13 and an impressive Otere Black, it puts the Blues right in the title mix this year.
With all that said, it’s no surprise I’m a little sheepish about having tipped against Auckland last week to cede even more ground to our tipping leader. The same goes for Digger, I’m sure, who at least doesn’t have to worry about the tipping conundrum a Hurricanes game poses, with the Wellington side having the bye this week.
Aside from Digger’s second doughnut and my 1/2, it was perfect scores all around for Geoff, Harry, Nobes, The Crowd and Brett, who now surely has no idea what to do with himself after going more than three months (although admittedly only four games) without an incorrect tip.
We had better get him to lead us off again…
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The weeks that look obvious are the weeks that will bite you, and bite you hard. Like the Kings beating the Waratahs in Sydney hard. Trying to work which game is less obvious becomes the tricky bit. If there’s a pick that seems unlikely, which is the one most likely to get up?
The problem here is neither the Highlanders or Chiefs look likely at all. The Highlanders will be without Josh Ioane, and it’s just hard to see enough points in them to stay within reach of the Blues. And the Chiefs aren’t exactly doing much wrong, but they’re not doing enough right either. And that’s before you put them in Christchurch to play the Crusaders.
So how do you find an upset?
You don’t. You’ve got a lead to hold onto.
Sure thing: The Blues letting me – and everyone, now – down is such a sure thing that it hardly needs saying. I’m dreading Saturday evening already.
After only two weeks, is it too early to call the Blues and Crusaders the Aotearoa heavyweights and sit back and wait for them to meet? If not, then these two tips should be a doddle – the Blues to have too much strike-power for the Highlanders, and the Crusaders to wipe the floor with the untidy Chiefs.
I suspect that there won’t actually be much in the margins, but still, it’s hard to find an upset.
Sure thing: Brett will spend another week in the unfamiliar position of ladder leader, but never fear, with hopes that the Sunwolves might still be a late addition to Super Rugby AU and Brett unable to resist tipping them, normal order should be restored very soon.
Yes, it is true. The Roar Guru formerly known as Rugby Tragic has a new moniker. He is now dubbed Rugby Utopian. His team has the top two playmakers in the 21st century. He has three hot nurses; two are twins. He uses yen in the toilet. He is tragic no more.
Crusaders have the most best players.
Sure thing: Brett will continue his improbable lead until the Aussies enter.
It seems the two teams that will settle into the top of the ladder in New Zealand are Blues and Crusaders and I look forward to seeing them facing each other, although the Crusaders seem to have a better bench. Both teams seem not to care about the penalties they receive as, while their opponents score three points cross the try-line line for either five or seven.
For Round 3 I continue to see these two winning as their opponents have shown weaknesses in various areas. The Chiefs, in particular, have not been able to improve their lineout. In matches with so many penalties and touch-finders, it is necessary to get proper, quality service to establish territorial dominance and force the opposition to stop committing penalties.
Sure thing: We’ll see a different Brett typing from now on unless the top of ladder causes altitude sickness. We have to remember these are uncharted waters for him.
It is tempting to continue to utilise my current ‘kamikaze’ tipping strategy to ensure Brett’s current joy continues after many years of bitter despair but even for this worthy cause, I simply cannot deviate from the strong form of this week’s home sides, the Blues and Crusaders.
The Blues’ second-half performances have been particularly impressive, playing with control and composure in shutting their opponents down.
The Crusaders, with a few stutters here and there, will only improve. Playing at home for the first time in donkeys, they will be well up for the challenge and I cannot see where either the Highlanders or Chiefs can genuinely challenge them across the full 80.
Sure thing: Picking both the twin towers of evil this week is quite depressing, however, to cheer things up, Brett, I am genuinely happy for you.
There, I said it.
Not much more need be said about these two games. The Highlanders looked good in their Round 1 win, but not beat-this-Blues-team-away-from-home-good.
Tipping anyone but the Crusaders to win in Christchurch is always dangerous. The Chiefs might have defeated them in Round 2 of the 15-team comp, but that was in friendlier territory. At any rate, they haven’t shown enough since the restart to suggest they’d beat the defending champs home or away.
Sure thing: With everyone going with the same tips, there’s bound to be an upset. I just don’t know where it will come.
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