6 Bold Predictions for Super Rugby Round 5
The Super XV reaches its fifth round with most teams searching for enough consistency to stay in touch with the pace-setting Sharks.
The weekend promises plenty of domestic dust-ups and trans-Tasman tussles, as well as some long losing runs that will have to come to an end.
Except for the Chiefs, the New Zealand franchises continue to blow hot and cold. There is to be a stern test for the new boy at the Auckland Blues, Benji Marshall, who starts in South Africa against the Lions for the first time in his rugby union career.
Marshall’s debut is one of a number of intriguing sub–plots this week. Here are the pick of the predictions.
1. Lions to Rip the Blues Apart
In rugby, as soon as the game went professional, logos and motifs started appearing all over shirts and shorts of clubs looking to cash in on the growing exposure the sport was attracting.
Teams with no sponsors on their jerseys are few and far between these days.
Though Barcelona only signed their first corporate shirt deal last year and West Ham also went sponsorless in 2008—after the collapse of the company paying for their name on the shirt—it is something of a throwback to see the Lions of South Africa go about their Super Rugby business with naught but a blank, red expanse on their players’ chests.
Of course, it often means a club is having trouble attracting sponsors. The Golden Lions Rugby Union, the body represented by the men in red in the competition, saw its deal with its main sponsor end in December 2013, and no new name has yet been announced.
Nevertheless, it hasn’t stopped Johan Ackermann’s men from winning two of their first three games. They lost last week against the highly rated Sharks, but they will bounce back this weekend against the Blues of Auckland.
Sir John Kirwan’s boys were beaten by the Bulls in the first game of their South African tour and suffered a blow with the loss of All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu to a calf injury.
Benji Marshall gets his first start, but they will get another beating from the Johannesburg outfit in round 5, to make it just one win in four.
2. Brumbies to Foil Folau and Co.
The Brumbies, fresh from a win on the road in Wellington over the Hurricanes, host the unbeaten Waratahs with the high-scoring Israel Folau looking to add to his five tries in two games so far.
But there is more at stake in this game beyond the usual domestic bragging rights.
For some extra spice this weekend, rumours have been circulating, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's Chris Dutton, that Brumbies captain Ben Mowen was the player who lifted the lid on the infamous drinking session undertaken by a group of Wallaby players in the build-up to their autumn test match with Ireland.
"I'm very disappointed that my character has been questioned publicly when I think over a long period of time I've proven what type of bloke I am. It doesn't sit well with me at all,” said Mowen in the Herald.
Rumours and rivalry aside, the Waratahs are stacked with far more internationals on their side than the Brumbies, and their form suggests they should win.
But the underdog Brumbies will be buoyed by the attack on their captain—and their win in New Zealand last week—and will stop the men from Sydney in their tracks.
3. Nadolo Will Make His Name in Melbourne
The faltering Crusaders finally put a win on the board with a one-point victory over the Stormers, and they now travel to Melbourne to take on the Rebels.
Tony McGahan’s side was thumped out of sight by the Western Force last week, so this is a clash between two sides with fragile confidence.
But coach Todd Blackadder may be ready to roll out his new secret weapon in the shape of Nemani Nadolo.
The Fijian winger is tipped to take a place on the bench for the clash, which may need reinforcements with the Islander tipping the scales at a touch over 19 stone and standing over 6’4”.
Those are Jonah Lomu proportions. This column is tipping the big man to rise from the pine and plunder a try on debut.
4. Highlanders Will End Force Hoodoo
The Highlanders of New Zealand have lost their last five encounters with the Western Force in Super Rugby, but they will bring that rotten run to an end at home this week.
The Force came out of the shed like men possessed last week to wipe the floor with the Brumbies in a frantic first 30 minutes. They posted four tries on the board to romp to a 32-7 win, but they will find life considerably tougher under the roof in Dunedin.
The stats gurus at Super XV have chosen to ignore the evidence this week and plump for a Highlanders win:
There is nothing really in the stats that suggest the Highlanders will win this week but we think the Rebels made the Force look better than they really are last week.
The last time the Force had back to back victories was in April 2011 and the Highlanders have been getting closer in recent clashes.
We were very impressed with the Highlanders in their home victory over the Blues and we expect a similar performance this week.
5. Hurricanes to Stop the Rot
The Hurricanes have lost their last eight Super Rugby fixtures, and there will be no better time to end that unwanted streak than when they host Cheetahs, who have lost two on the spin themselves.
It would also be a fitting way to mark the 100th Super Rugby appearance of the great Conrad Smith for the Hurricanes. At the other end of the spectrum, Ardie Savea earns his first cap for the franchise on the openside flank.
The Cheetahs won the last clash between these two in Wellington 47-38, so we can expect a big score, but the Hurricanes will come out on top.
6. Stormers Will Beat the Champs
Perhaps the boldest prediction of the week from this column. Jean de Villiers and his men came close to a win on New Zealand soil last week, in a one-point defeat to the Crusaders.
And de Villiers has wasted no time in pinpointing the area of the game that he feels cost his side the win. The New Zealand Herald (h/t SuperSport) picked up on the Stormers skipper’s quotes, which promised to make a point to referee Craig Joubert about his players being held in at ruck time by their opponents when they face the champion Chiefs this week.
"I will be in referee Craig Joubert's ear before the game in Hamilton, you can be sure about that, and if it happens like it did in Christchurch I will be on his case during the game as well," De Villiers told SuperSport in South Africa.
"I disagree with the suggestion that there might be a little bit of holding on in Hamilton on Friday. There will be a heck of a lot of holding on."
With de Villiers already doing the groundwork to ensure the official is looking out for his side, he is attempting to level the playing field before kick-off. His side is good enough to capitalize and pull off a shock.