Here we go then, adding Super Rugby Aotearoa to the mix to produce a socially distant version of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman!
The Kiwis have added some law variations of their own in 2021, namely one captain’s challenge per team and the goal line dropout as employed in Australia this season and last. The red card replacement allowance and the golden point extra time introduced last season in New Zealand carry over.
The captain’s challenge will be the one everyone pays attention to, particularly when the challenge use broadens from being available for infringements in the lead up to tries, to being available for any refereeing decision made outside of the scrum and lineout in the last five minutes of games.
There are concerns about what two challenges from captains on any decision they don’t agree with and which require TMO interjection will do for the flow of those last five minutes of games. Especially if the TMO also has to rule on a try and foul play in that same five-minute period.
But none of that matters to the panel, only which team is in front when the final whistle goes.
Let’s see what they’ve come up with.
LAST WEEK and OVERALL: Brett, Dan, and The Crowd 2; Harry, Geoff and Digger 1
TIPS: CRUSADERS, REDS, HURRICANES, BRUMBIES
I fear my perfect record in 2021 is going to be short-lived, and at the risk of being unpopular, I blame you Kiwis. Why do you have to start the season with two flip-of the coin matches?!?
Anyway, there’s a bit of love for the Highlanders this year, and I do have a lot of time for the plucky southerners, but there’s just one problem in picking the Highlanders first up this season: they’re playing the Crusaders.
The Reds won’t have too much trouble with the Melbourne Rebels, and I’m actually a bit worried about the Rebels this season.
I reckon they need to win two of their first three games, otherwise the heads will drop, and their season will be shot. And that means if they don’t beat the Reds in Brisbane this week, they have to beat the Brumbies in Canberra next week. Yikes.
I’ve taken the Hurricanes, I’m heading into Digger territory to do it, and I’m not particularly confident about it. I still have concerns about their playmaking and the halves, but then I look at the Blues, and I have similar concerns about their playmaking and their halves as well. And they have to go to the Cake Tin.
But it’s also the Blues, so am I bovvered? Damn right I am.
Thankfully, I’m not particularly worried about the Brumbies.
SURE THING: Chris Whitaker will be sighted on the training paddock next week if the Waratahs injury crisis goes any deeper. Probably Morgan Turinui as well. Oh, and the Blues burning me, obviously.
TIPS: CRUSADERS, REDS, BLUES, BRUMBIES
The return of New Zealand’s Friday evening game has a real nature-is-healing feeling to it. The Highlanders might not be so glad to be starting their campaign against the four-time defending champs though. Home-ground advantage could help, and they look to be a stronger squad than the 2020 version, but the Crusaders will be too strong.
Canes-Blues could be a tight one, with questions over how each side will deal with the departure of key playmakers: TJ Perenara for the hosts and Beauden Barrett for Auckland.
Jordie Barrett is entirely capable of winning it on his own for the Hurricanes, but with a slightly more settled halves combo and a better looking forward group, I’ll take the visitors.
Looking closer to home, and there’s no tipping against the Reds after their demolition of the Tahs last week, although the Rebels will offer more resistance.
Speaking of New South Wales, their injury-laden loss was just about the worst way possible to start the year. Without Jake Gordon – and Joey Walton and Izaia Perese – the Brumbies will cruise home.
SURE THING: The Ponies will rack up a cricket score against the beleaguered Tahs.
TIPS: CRUSADERS, REDS, HURRICANES, BRUMBIES.
The Force betrayed me. I won’t tip them again. The Crusaders start slow, but even their slow is good. The Reds look red-arsed angry and really good. Every red rose has its Thorn.
The Blues are at a different level than the rest of NZ.
The Waratahs don’t seem ready for war. So, I will call them the Chooks.
Here are my tips:
Crusaders in a knuckler over the Jacobites. A red card. A punch.
Queensland by 23 over Victoria.
The Canes quarantine the Blues.
The Chooks fail to score; Brumbies canter.
SURE THING: The Reds start to dream.
TIPS: HIGHLANDERS, REDS, HURRICANES, BRUMBIES
I really like the look of the Highlanders this season and I am looking forward to watching them this season and how they evolve under Tony but am I ready to pick them over the Crusaders?
Yes, yes, I am under the roof and over in Thorn country I cannot see how the Rebels beat the Reds, unless there is a major brain snap which seems quite achievable. No, Reds it is.
Blues look really good and likely to be a team to beat this year in NZ, the forwards in particular appear quite imposing, but it would feel quite dirty picking them so ‘Canes by plenty please.
And the Brumbies at home appeal as a must pick option.
SURE THING: Inevitable, silly and pointless comparisons will be made about the quality of the two separate Super comps after the weekend and blah blah blah. Hopefully, we can all remember to enjoy it ALL!!
TIPS: HIGHLANDERS, REDS, BLUES, BRUMBIES
How great was it to have rugby back on again last week? The only way to beat that is to have twice as many games this week!
I believe in Tony Brown and I believe in the Highlanders. One for the early arriving scarfies.
Speaking of arriving, that’s what the Rebels will do in Brisbane, just before their match against the Reds, then take off again straight afterwards.
It’s a shame it’s come to this again this year – did you know that the Rebels have had only one training session at their home base in 2021, and not a single weights session?
If that sounds like I’m laying the foundation for a losing tip, then you’re right – the Reds have too many things in their favour.
It will be all Blue in Wellington, and then very blue in Canberra for the Waratahs, who will be feeling the pain of a solid thumping.
SURE THING: The captain’s challenge in NZ is a disaster-in-waiting. Will we get through two matches without a major FUBAR? I fear not.
|HIG v CRU||CRU||CRU||CRU||HIG||HIG||CRU|
|RED v REB||RED||RED||RED||RED||RED||RED|
|HUR v BLU||HUR||HUR||BLU||HUR||BLU||BLU|
|BRU v WAR||BRU||BRU||BRU||BRU||BRU||BRU|
Get your votes in now – The Crowd’s tips will be revealed Friday afternoon AEDT.