At the time of asking the guys for their tips and even at the time of writing these intro paragraphs the two matches scheduled for the final round to complete Super Rugby Aotearoa were and are still going ahead.
Whether four games on either side of the ditch remains the case by the weekend, or even when The Crowd’s tips are revealed late on Friday afternoon, is anyone’s guess.
The situation in New Zealand is going to be fluid, and I expect we will know for sure some time Friday.
But certainly the wording about sport within the context of New Zealand’s quickly reintroduced restrictions for the Auckland area has to put the Blues-Crusaders game for Sunday afternoon in extreme doubt. And with the Crusaders wrapping up the title last weekend, there’s a not unreasonable train of thought that perhaps it might just be easier – and the right thing to do – to just call this weekend’s games off. We’ll soon see.
Whatever the decision, there are nothing but best wishes from us on the panel to all of you over the Tasman. Please keep yourselves and your families safe.
Geoff 3, most of the rest of us and The Crowd 2, Dan 1.
Harry and Brett 23; Digger and The Crowd 22; Nobes and Geoff 21, Dan 20.
Force, Hurricanes, Rebels, Crusaders
Lots of COVID curveballs this week. At very best, what was supposed to be a showpiece match in Auckland will proceed without a crowd, as is the situation in Dunedin. Given that the on-field excellence has been matched by the atmosphere from fans flocking to the stadiums, it feels like part of the soul of this weekend has been torn out even before we get there.
The Force and Waratahs will definitely go ahead, and with almost everybody claiming that the Force would win at least one match in the competition, that moment has arrived. The bye came at a good time, plus they get captain Ian Prior back, so let’s take a punt on the Waratahs getting ahead of themselves after last weekend and go for the upset.
I’ve loved watching the Highlanders play, but the Canes have enough aggression in their pack and steel in their defence to get the job done.
The Rebels face a heck of a trip, bussing it from Terrigal, flying to Brisbane and return, all on the same day, to face a Reds team that will be a different beast this week. Expect Matt Philip to contest every line out and get the Rebels home in another tight one.
Not knowing who the Crusaders will field on Sunday makes it a real stab in the dark, but assuming the match proceeds, let’s go with the Crusaders to finish the comp off properly.
Australian Super Rugby franchises are well used to operating with no money. COVID-19? Yeah, whatever. But the Blues, with 43,000 tickets sold for Sunday? Hopefully someone helps CEO Andrew Hore up from the foetal position so he can at least watch the game.
Waratahs, Hurricanes, Reds, Blues
The mighty flower has bloomed and has become an explosive squad. The Force are also hardening up. A fine little tussle is brewing, like an IPA with jalapeno infusion and serrano hops. Grievances galore and provincial rivalries abound.
I’ll go with the more established club at this end of the season. Similarly, I think the Canes have more in the tank than the Landers, who keep impressing until the pointy end of matches. Also, the Tahs and the Canes have learnt more learned learnings than their foes have (their opponents merely absorbed lessons).
The sunburnt Reds face the anti-constitutionalist Rebels. It seems the Reds have more beef and also more cake.
Finally, to the humdinger of dead rubbers. Ninety-nine per cent of the rugby establishment must be backing the little Blues to swing their slingshot true and fell the Saders. I’ll jump on that bandwagon and back the Blues, the plucky, funny Blues. Not by plenty.
Real left hooks and knees to the plexus in the first Aussie derby. No holds barred.
Waratahs, Hurricanes, Rebels, Blues
Harry and my deadlock will be broken this weekend, but more on that in a minute.
You all know that saying I trot out from time to time: a team is only as good as its next game, and that’s exactly where the Waratahs find themselves this weekend. Simply put, as great as it would be if this was the weekend in which the Western Force break the drought, the Tahs just can’t throw all of last week’s hard work away by not following up with a win. They just can’t.
At the start of Aotearoa I kind of felt like the Hurricanes were going to battle, but they’ve certainly found a groove that should make them too good for the Highlanders under the roof. The battle of the nines will be worth the price of – well, your subscription viewing platform of choice, probably.
Harry very excitedly sent me a message within seconds of emailing his tips through this week, exclaiming joyously, “Brett, I picked the Blues!” thinking it would force me to the take the Crusaders. Little did he know I’d already pencilled the Rebels in, who I think have also found a groove of game management that is going to set their season up over the next few weeks.
And so I sent Harry a message back, exclaiming joyously, “Harry, I picked the Blues!” before explaining that the deadlock will still be broken. I can only imagine his shock when he realises I didn’t take the Force. But I am taking the Blues on the off-chance the game can be somehow played. There was a bit of mail floating around earlier in the week that the Crusaders were going to rest some battered bodies, and given the way the brand-new Aotearoa trophy emerged from their championship celebrations, I think that’s a sensible decision.
Harry has forgotten there’s still three more rounds of Super Rugby AU to be played, plus play-offs. Why else would he be worried about breaking a deadlock five weeks out?
Force, Hurricanes, Rebels, Blues
The truth is that the results in the games played in Australia last week surprised me. The Brumbies could lose and Reds could lose but not in the way they did, especially the latter. The Waratahs hadn’t shown anything so far to win for such a margin.
In New Zealand everything was predictable and the Crusaders rose to a new title and the Chiefs were the Chiefs of the entire tournament.
For this next round I will have to take some risks to see if I get close to the top or fall definitely to last place.
In New Zealand the Blues and Crusaders game seems very attractive as a record of tickets are sold. Will the Crusaders rest any players? Will they have the incentive to go for the win knowing that they are already champions? Can Blues chill and save for what’s next? I never bet against the Crusaders, but in this case I have to take risks and I will.
In the other game the Hurricanes seem unstoppable, thought the Highlanders will give them a good game. Canes it is.
In Australia things are a bit more confusing. As demonstrated last week, the Rebels should take care of the Reds. One comes from a great victory and the other from a hard defeat. But, hey, without knowing the availability of players, the game naturally should be for the Rebels in my opinion.
I am going to take a risk and go with Force against Waratahs despite what was shown by the Sydney team in the last game. It is time and moment for Force to win.
After 150 days of lockdown my mind is playing games with me.
Brett’s note: My goodness! Puts only being able to get takeaway coffee in perspective! Stay strong, Nobes!
Waratahs, Hurricanes, Rebels, Blues
Didn’t the Waratahs look good last weekend! Out of the box or perhaps time for my consistency? The Force will be rested after their bye and I would expect them to front, but I will pick the Waratahs to continue with their new-found form.
Rebels and Reds? Yes, you would think the Reds will be dead keen to put their last performance right, but I suspect the Rebels have found a quality groove, so I will back them for another win.
Assuming we can go ahead, Canes by plenty to finish their shortened season and in the highly anticipated clash, I think the Blues might just be ready to finally snatch one over their staunch rivals.
The Super Rugby Aotearoa trophy will be fixed by Saturday. Probably.
Waratahs, Hurricanes, Reds, Blues
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get a tip wrong as when the Tahs towelled up the Reds last Saturday. The bye will have done the Force some good, but complacency will likely be the only thing standing in the Waratahs’ way this week.
The Highlanders will be hard-pressed backing up from that immense effort against the Crusaders on a six-day turnaround, while the Hurricanes will be better rested for their final game of the season. Pencil the Canes in for this one.
Reds-Rebels is a real pickle. Nothing separated them last time around, and while the Rebels were so, so impressive against the Brumbies, Queensland have the incentive of needing to bounce back from Saturday’s embarrassment and staying close to the top three. Toss a coin: it’s landed Red-side up.
It’d be peak 2020 if we’re denied a season-ending clash between the Blues and Crusaders – well, maybe not peak 2020, but you know what I mean. Reintroduced COVID-19 restrictions in Auckland have the match in serious doubt, but if it does go ahead, I’ll take the Blues. They’ll be fresh off the bye, while the Crusaders will be in the unusual position of having to play again after winning the title.
Tempted as I was to tip the Chiefs this week again, the end of their season can only bode well for me.
|FOR v WAR||WAR||WAR||WAR||FOR||FOR||WAR||WAR|
|HIG v HUR||HUR||HUR||HUR||HUR||HUR||HUR||HUR|
|RED v REB||RED||REB||REB||REB||REB||RED||RED|
|BLU v CRU||BLU||BLU||BLU||CRU||BLU||BLU||BLU|
Get your votes in now – The Crowd’s tips will be revealed Friday afternoon AEST.