Blues vs Crusaders
The Crusaders failed to make the most of 66% possession / 71% territory against a Chiefs side that had plenty of injuries in round 1. The back 3 conceded 10 turnovers and they landed just 2/9 kicks at goal, so changes were expected.
Taylor for Bleyendaal was the swap made at halftime last week, while Dagg, McNicholl have been replaced by Slade and Thompson. Read returns to skipper the side, which means Luke Whitelock drops out the squad.
They have won 1 of their last 6 away games against NZ opposition and 3/9 away matches last season.
The Blues have also changed their fly-half, with Hickey given the start and Noakes out the squad. Hickey started 10 games for Auckland in the ITM Cup, including a 39-19 home win over Canterbury. The hosts started Marshall at 10 in their warm up games and then gave Noakes the nod in round 1, so there hasn’t been much continuity in what is a crucial position.
Tu’ungafasi was asked to play out of position at loosehead last week and has been replaced by Prattley, while an injury to Francis Saili sees Moala move to the centre and Tevita Li put on the wing. Both those players were in decent form preseason while Tuipulotu for Moli is a reward for the former’s 2nd half performance.
Blues have won 7/12 home matches with Crusaders by an average score of 23-20. In their home matches against NZ sides last season, they beat the Crusaders by 19, Highlanders by 11, Hurricanes by 22 and lost to the Chiefs by 10.
In the last 7 games, Blues have trailed at halftime by an average of 13 points. 5 of those matches were away so it will be interesting to see if the trend continues at home this season too. Looking at their last 9 NZ derbies (back to start of last season), they averaged a score of 10-15 at HT and 14-7 in the 2nd half. They outscored the Crusaders by 11 after the break in this fixture last season.
Based on their round 1 games, both teams haven’t fixed the problems that effected them last season – the Crusaders are still going to side to side without really threatening a defence, while the Blues seem to need the halftime grilling from the coach before playing. However, Blues +6 would have covered in their last 5 home games against this opposition (and 8 of last 9) and if Braid starts will be looking to back that.
Mike Fraser’s matches last season had 43,48,51,53 and 93 total points last season.
Moala and Read are both 4.5 for anytime scorer.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (c)/Brendon O’Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 O’Connor/Jordan Manihera, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Benji Marshall, 23 Pita Ahki.
Crusaders: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Rob Thompson, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Adam Whitelock, 23 Israel Dagg.
Rebels vs Cheetahs
The Rebels started last season poorly, with 5 losses from 6 games and being outscored heavily 2nd half (by at least 13 points each time, bar the Force game). After that nightmare tour to South Africa, their results improved with 4 wins from 10 games – at an average score of 28-31. It was noticeable that they scored more than opponents 2nd half in 7 of those 10 matches, which was a reversal of their early season form.
They won 4/8 games at home last season by an average score of 26-28 and over a longer period it is 7/16 wins by 26-29.
If the Australian derbies are ignored, it would be 4/8 home wins by an average score of 31-30 over the past 2 seasons and their last 16 games against SA, NZ opposition home and away average 63 points, with just 2/16 going under 50 points (both 47 points). The 3 previous games with the Cheetahs have seen 62, 59 and 50 points. On that basis, the points line of 47.5 may be worth a look.
The hosts conceded 515 points last season and 30 or more points in 11/16 games. Improving the defence and breakdown has been a focus of new coach Tony McGahan and they did win their pre-season games. There is perhaps a similarity with what the Cheetahs did last season – a naturally attack minded side looking to add steel to their defence.
Cheetahs won 5/9 away games last season by an average score of 22-19. They have beaten the Rebels before, by 41-21 and 34-16 at home and 26-33 in Melbourne. This is their 3rd game, while the Rebels had a bye last week.
Against the Lions, the Cheetahs backline conceded 14 turnovers while wet weather in the Bulls game saw them living off penalties and long range drop goal attempts. Their defence has looked solid with Venter making 26 tackles so far, Labuschagne 32 and van der Walt 36.
Like the Cheetahs, the Rebels have a mobile back 5 in the pack. Pyle scored 5 tries last season while Jones made plenty of carries at the end of last season. There is a bit of a surprise with McMahon at 6, but it does also mean the visitors won’t know much about him. Toby Smith could prove to be their most significant signing, he started in the final for the Chiefs last season and will be needed against a strong Cheetahs front row.
Will have a look at Cheetahs -2 for this one, based on them having played a couple of games and bringing stability from last season’s side. Do like the Rebels recruitment this season, but prefer to wait a bit and see if they gel before trusting them with a smallish handicap.
Higginbotham has been a regular try scorer in recent seasons, with 6 in 2013, 5 in 2012 and 6 in 2011. He is 4.5 anytime scorer while le Roux is 3.3.
The 1st half has been highest scoring in 14 of the last 16 Rebels home games.
There were cards shown in 6/7 games reffed by Angus Gardner last season
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Angus Roberts, 23 Tom Kingston.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagné, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Rynard Landman, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Stormers vs Hurricanes
The Stormers 24 point loss at the Lions was their biggest since round 13 of the 2007 season ( 92 games) and their first against that opposition.
Their tough set of fixtures this season has been highlighted for a while and they travel to Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds in rounds 3-6. An opening loss to what was supposed to be the weakest side in the conference (if not the competition) means they are going to need to pick up away wins just to stay in contention.
There have been comments in the SA media that the Stormers coaching staff have taken the team as far as they can go. After the 2013 season, the WP president stated they wouldn’t be fired and mentioned that the contracts ran until the end of 2015. There is a contrast then with how the Sharks have gone about rebuilding their organisation.
Coetzee is giving most of the team a second chance and has provided the example of how Wales responded after the Ireland loss to beat France. He has brought in Taute, which means Aplon has shifted to the wing and de Allende replaces van der Spuy at centre. There were injury concerns over Carizza, Burger and Kolisi but all have been named.
They have won 5 of the last 6 matches with the Canes and 6/9 at home by an average score of 32-23.
The visitors lost 6/8 away games last season and going back to 2009, they have lost 8/12 matches in South Africa, with the wins coming against the Lions / Cheetahs.
The view before they left for this tour was that the pack may struggle but the backline was capable of causing damage. They lost 3/7 scrums against the Sharks and 6 of their 7 backs carried for 40m or more so that does seem to back that up. There have been changes in the pack, with Schwalger for Toomaga-Allen and Reddish for Thrush.
Both sides have mentioned a desperation to win this week, but it should be a worry for the Stormers that they are talking about ‘worst individual performances’ and ‘disgusting’ efforts in round 1. The visitors have less worries and despite the Sharks superiority up front, did stay in contention until the final quarter. Will take the Canes +8
There was at least 1 card in 8/12 matches with Walsh in charge last season. Canes have won 2/7 matches with him as ref – both of those were high scoring matches (over 50), while the other 5 games had an average of 32 total points. Stormers won 5/6 games with Walsh as ref, including away to Hurricanes last season. Those games had an average of 34 total points.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Ryno Eksteen.
Hurricanes: 15 Marty Banks, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 John Schwalger, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Chris Eves Jeffery, 18 Toomaga-Allen, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 James Marshall.
Chiefs vs Highlanders
The Chiefs averaged 13.53 mins in possession a game last season according to Opta (lowest in competition) and the Highlanders 17.24 mins (highest).
The hosts lived off scraps again last week, with 34% possession, 29% territory, 54% lineout and plenty of injuries. They were assisted by some poor goal kicking from the Crusaders but that ability to take their chances when available and back their defence has been a trait since 2012.
The coaches have mentioned this week that they were a little disappointed that a couple more scoring opportunities weren’t taken and that also they don’t want to be making that many tackles every game (especially with a big injury list).
In NZ Stuff, forwards coach Tom Coventry said to improving possession and field position was being looked at and that the key was:
“Winning the ball at the set-piece, looking after it when you’re going through your phases, kicking well into space where you’re going to put pressure on and get the ball back in the right parts of the field and just using good strategies and good attacking mindsets when you get it”
Chiefs have won 13 of the previous 16 matches with Highlanders and 7 of 9 at home by an average score of 26-17. They have won 15/19 matches against NZ teams since 2012 and 8/10 at home by an average score of 25-18.
Highlanders won 1 away game last season, at the Canes. They have been outscored 2nd half in 10 of the last 12 NZ derbies, by an average of 9 points and in their last 5 games against all teams by an average of 18 points.
Thorn and Osborne are out for the visitors, which means Wheeler starts at lock and Stanley at centre, with Fekitoa shifting to the wing. Christie made 21 tackles against the Blues, but is on the bench as Hardie has returned.
The Chiefs are the same from 15-10 but elsewhere only Tameifuna and Fitzgerald start in the same positions as last week. Kerr-Barlow starts at 9 for Pulu, while in the backrow Messam moves to number 8, Latimer returns at 7 and Crosswell is at 6. That head clash between Retallick and Afeaki means Symons is at lock while Schwalger and Manu replace Marshall and Mackinstosh.
Referee Rohan Hoffman’s last 6 games have either been high scoring – 75, 64, 57, 56 total points, or low scoring – 22,36. Those last 2 were Force home games.
Had thought the handicap would be 9 points, so on that basis really should be looking at the Highlanders +12. However, instead am going to back the visitors’ 2nd half woes to continue and take Chiefs -6 2nd half handicap.
Ben Smith at 4.5 and Aaron Smith at 6.5 anytime look a little big even allowing for quality of opposition and fact they are away.
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahroni Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Tevita Koloamatangi, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Brad Webber, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 James Lowe.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Malakai Fekitoa, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Craig Millar, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Waratahs vs Reds
The Tahs 22 points win over the Force was their biggest at home since the end of the 2011 season, when they won 7/8 home games and 5 games by 17 points or more. It was also comfortably their biggest home victory over the Force, with the previous being by 5 points, (also in 2011).
After that round 2 result, the Reds have now won 3 of their last 4 trips to the Brumbies, having lost the 9 games before that by an average of 20 points. They’ve also won 6/10 away games against the Tahs by an average score of 20-19.
Since 2011, they have won 18 and drawn 2 of their 25 games against Australian opposition with 9 wins, 1 draw from 13 away games at an average score of 20-20.
The hosts continued in the same style as last year, with just 12 kicks from hand and 142 carries. In contrast, the Reds kicked 30 times and made 74 runs against the Brumbies. When the teams met in July, the Tahs kicked 19 times, passed 256 and made 168 runs for 652m. The Reds had 28 kicks from hand, with 162 passes and 142 carries for 406m.
Reds had hoped to name the same side as last week but an ankle injury means Harris is replaced by Fainga’a. For the Tahs, Cheika has rotated his enforcers with Potgieter in for Skelton and an injury to Dennis means Hoiles make his first Super Rugby start since May 2010.
The visitors have won the last 5 games against this opposition and would have covered +6 in 7/10 away games in the fixture and 7/8 home and away since 2009. Am expecting the Tahs to be well backed this season, but it is a derby game and the variety that the Reds offer in attack means I’d rather take the points.
Foley at 8.0, Palu at 8.5 and Toua at 5.0 were the anytime tryscorer picks.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements (from): 16 Tola Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Rob Horne, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 Jonno Lance.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Lucas, 23 Chris Feauai-Sautia.
Force vs Brumbies
The Brumbies haven’t lost consecutive games against Australian opposition in a season since mid-2011. They’ve won 3/6 trips to the Force, by an average score of 18-21 and 5 of their 10 away games last season by 21-24.
Their back 3 of Mogg, Speight and Tomane carried for 60m, 72m and 86m respectively against the Reds. They also made 8 turnovers and with White conceding 5, the Brumbies failed to score the required points in the 2nd half, despite having the majority of ball. A late fumble leading to a Feauai-Sautia try then denied them a losing bonus point.
Kuridrani is in for Smith at centre, while the versatile Coleman starts on the wing in place of Tomane. The Brumbies lost this fixture last season, trailed 14-3 at halftime and conceding 26 turnovers. That did change their playoff run and will probably be used as motivation in the build-up.
The Force conceded 6 tries against the Tahs and 43 points and with their opponents also making 22 turnovers and 15 penalties, it could have been worse. They have brought in McMeniman for Steenkamp and Alcock for Cottrell this round and having relied on a tight enough defence last season, will be looking to show that last week was a blip.
Will back Brumbies 1-12 winning margin at 2.62
Mogg is 3.4 anytime scorer, Mowen is 8.0, while Cummins is 4.0 for the hosts.
Western Force: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (C), 6 Chris Alcock, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Sias Ebersohn, 23 Jayden Hayward.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements:16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Leon Power, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Lionel Cronje
Bulls vs Lions
Bulls have won the last 9 games with Lions by an average score of 33-16. They’ve won 21/25 home matches against SA opposition by an average score of 32-20 and going back to 2009 – 35/41 home matches by 34-22.
That they are only 6 or 7 point favourites at home to the Lions in this match is evidence of both their poor start and the impressive way the Lions have begun their campaign.
A season of rebuilding was expected at the Bulls, but even allowing for that, Hougaard and Fouche have struggled to execute that familiar kicking game accurately. It isn’t a surprise that the latter has been dropped, but rather than go for Pollard, the experience of Potgieter has been preferred. The hosts backline conceded 12 turnovers against Sharks and 14 against Cheetahs.
In the pack, they are on their third number 8 option already with Hattingh, while Matfield replaces him in the 2nd row. Kirsten is in for Kruger at tighthead too. That does mean there are 4 players whose usual position is lock in the pack and despite the coach suggesting it will bring energy to the team, it does a look a conservative option.
With Minnie injured, the Lions have gone for Tecklenburg at 7 and have Britz to make some carries in the 2nd half. In contrast to the hosts, they are playing with confidence and do think the +7 is worth a go.
1st half has been highest scoring in last 6 Bulls games.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe (c), 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Courtnall Skosan, 23 Coenie van Wyk.