Blues vs Waratahs
The Blues have lost their 5 away games this season (and 7 away matches last year) so again they are relying on their home form to keep them in with a chance of making the finals. They’ve beaten Crusaders by 11 points, Cheetahs by 10 and Highlanders by 18 so far there and have won 8/9 home matches against the Tahs by an average score of 32-21.
After the loss against the Hurricanes, coach Kirwan highlighted in NZ Stuff the team’s fly-half problem, saying “”It [first-five] has been [an issue] since I’ve been here and nothing has changed really. In Simon we’ve got a guy we need to make sure we look after. He could be a solution for us.”
Last week Noakes was selected because it was believed he has the better game management and tactical kicking. His injury in the 1st half meant that Benji Marshall was required to direct the team for 43 minutes and it would seem his performance was enough to convince the Blues coaches that a spell in the development side was necessary. Instead Marshall has now been released, with the player stating that though it hadn’t worked out he will leave as a better person and coach praising his courage. For the hosts it means Hickey back at 10 and West on the bench.
They have reached the dreaded ‘must win’ part of the season and Weepu told Newstalk ZB – “We have probably played about 20 minutes in total this year of good footy.. Boys have to look at themselves and figure out whether they want to be in this team or not….They are in cruise mode. There is no excitement. If you think back to last year we were playing some exciting footy. Now it feels we are just going through the motions”. Those words and his quick return from a minor stroke and heart surgery may inspire the side, while his experience will be needed with both fly-halves being young.
The decision to bench Luatua and go with P Saili was based upon upping the physicality to match the Tahs pack but it will mean a decent lineout option has been lost. Much like Read, Luatua is also probably best used out wide rather than the tight exchanges and that hasn’t occurred too often this campaign.
The Tahs have won 1 of their 4 away games this season and 5/25 trips over a longer period. They have also lost their previous 7 visits to NZ teams.
They kicked from hand 25 times in their win over the Bulls, compared to just 9 in the loss at the Sharks which shows a willingness to adapt to the opposition, having learnt their usual style may not be as effective. They have now completed a block of 4 games against SA opposition and the defensively minded Force, so will likely switch tactics to take on the Blues and Hurricanes. The Force punished their turnovers in round 7 and they will be aware that the Blues can do similar but there is a sense that the open style they favour may suit the Tahs.
In the Daily Telegraph,Tahs backs coach Daryl Gibson said “It will be a high-scoring encounter purely because both teams will take the risks”. The Blues matches this season average 56 total points, with 59, 70 and 42 at home. Last season their home games averaged 45 points which is probably a bit lower than would have been expected. Their last 7 home matches against this opposition average 43 total points. The line is 47.5 points.
Home teams have a 75% win rate this season with Chris Pollock in charge and NZ teams have won 8 of the last 11 home games against AUS / SA sides with him.
Am expecting the Tahs to be a popular bet this weekend but am going with the Blues +2. Whilst they have been poor away, they have scored at least 30 points in the 3 home wins and there is some continuity with Hickey starting all 3. The visitors only have the 1 win in NZ since end of 2009 and have lost 18/21 games outside of Australia so despite their improvement this season, am going to oppose them on the road.
F Saili is 5.0 anytime scorer
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Steven Luatua, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Pita Ahki
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Pat McCutcheon, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Matt Carraro, 24Stephen Hoiles.
Brumbies vs Chiefs
Both these sides lead their conferences with 25 points and they have similar tries scored (22 for Brumbies, 23 Chiefs) and conceded (15 for Brumbies, 14 for Chiefs).
The hosts have won 6 of their 8 matches by an average score of 25-20 and like last season have been strong 1st half, with HT leads in the last 7 games. Chiefs have only won 1 of the last 5 games but an ability to collect bonus points has meant they have stayed in contention.
This is a rematch of last year’s final which will give extra motivation for the Brumbies and it is noticeable that the last couple of meetings have seen similar scores of 27-22 and 29-22 to the Chiefs. The Chiefs scoring patterns are also quite similar in those games with 9 points in 1st half, 20 points 2nd half in March 2012 and 9 points 1st half, 18 points 2nd half last August.
Chiefs have won 2 of their last 8 away games outside of NZ, while the Brumbies have won 7/10 home matches against this opposition by an average score of 34-24.
The hosts have the best lineout competition (94.8% success rate) while the Chiefs are bottom (74%) – that is quite similar to last season when the Brumbies had 87% and visitors 79%.
With Cruden out there is pressure on Anscombe and have been looking to take on the Chiefs when Latimer is missing from the side. Despite their 3 point lead at top of the NZ conference, the Chiefs haven’t been at their best and injuries are disrupting their title defence. They rallied in the final against this opposition with 15 points in 8 minutes but don’t have the same powerful bench this time.
Am going to back the Brumbies HT / FT at 2.25 - that has landed in 10/13 Brumbies home matches, their last 2 home games against the Chiefs and 6/8 games at all venues this season.
Lealiifano scored 4 tries last season, including 1 against the Chiefs in the final and the Brumbies have been scoring a few tries from centre this season. He is 6.5 anytime scorer
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Dwayne Sweeney, 23 James Lowe.
Sharks vs Highlanders
The Sharks have a 12 point lead at the top of the SA conference, with a game in hand over the Bulls in 2nd place. They’ve won 7/8 matches by an average score of 28-15 and those victories have all been by 11 points or more. In their last 2 matches they have gone into halftime drawing with their opposition, but have outscored them 2nd half by 11 and 13 points.
The visitors are off a bye week and have only won 1 of their last 12 away games. They’ve been outscored 2nd half by 10 and 11 points on the road this season and in 5/7 matches overall.
Sharks have won 6/7 home games against the Highlanders by an average score of 33-21 or 26-18 if the high-scoring 75-43 game is ignored.
There have been 7/7 home wins with Jaco Peyper in charge this season and the Sharks have won the last at 8 home with him as referee. Highlanders have lost 3 of the previous 4 games with Peyper.
He has shown a card in every match this year, with 2 or more cards in 4/7 games.
Think the angle might be Sharks -6 on 2nd half handicap here. The hosts backline has been disrupted by injury but bar Swiel this looks more more settled than the version with van Tonder and Chavhanga on wings last week. Highlanders were outscored 2nd half by 10 points at Blues and 11 at Chiefs.
Both sides have benefited from having plenty of home games at the start of the season – Highlanders had 5/8 and this is the 7th for the Sharks. Do think there is a slight caution that the Sharks have been winning without playing particularly well and that may catch up on them (as it did the Chiefs). On the other hand, not sure the Highlanders can be trusted away at moment, given their record.
B Smith and Fekitoa are both 5.0 anytime scorer
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 S’bura Sithole, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 John Hardie.
Hurricanes vs Reds
Canes won 10 of 13 games between round 10 of the 2012 season and round 6 of the 2013 campaign and then had 11 losses from the next 13 up to round 3 this year.
They are currently on a streak of 4 wins from 5 matches and with the side looking confident could well be set for another good run. They top the competition stats for tries, metres carried, clean breaks and defenders beaten while Taylor back at 15 and playing well is reminiscent of that 2012 side.
Reds had the bye last week which was probably needed after losing consecutive home games for the first time since 2009. A combination of lack of penetration in attack, high error and penalty counts have caused problems all season.
They have lost their last 7 trips to Wellington by an average score of 31-20 and their last 5 away games outside of Australia by 29-15.
1st half has been highest scoring in the last 11 Reds games and all 4 home games for the Canes. That is 2.2 to occur again.
Will back the hosts -6 and Leiua anytime scorer at 3.0
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga’a, 23 Rod Davies.