After a slight mixed bag in Round 1, here are my SuperBru predictions for Round 2.
Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh Rugby
Cardiff’s hard-fought victory in the wind and rain of Connacht was just the start Phil Davies’ team was hoping for. The scenes at the end of the game reflected the hard work of pre-season and that it had begun to pay dividends. The team is clearly united, determined and much better organised than last season; this coupled with the team’s emotional return to their spiritual home of the Cardiff Arms Park will give them the momentum to take on and eventually subdue a brave Edinburgh side.
The Scots will come well prepared and with the two Cardiff old boys, Richie Rees and John Yapp, in their ranks fired up for the contest. Tim Visser will not care who he plays against of the Blues’ international wingers – after last week’s hat trick he will be buzzing, and determined not to end up on the losing side once again. Edinburgh, with Laidlaw to the fore, will bring a clever game and some hard-hitting forwards and this will make them worthy opponents, but the Blues have a well organised defence, a dogged back row and some real pace out wide. With the bulk of their internationals slated to return for this game this will bolster the team and enable them to deal comfortably with whatever Edinburgh can bring to the party; after a close game for an hour, the Cardiff Blues roared on by what is certain to be a large crowd, will win.
Prediction: Cardiff Blues by 10 points
Munster v Benetton Treviso
Munster showed by their victory over Edinburgh that they mean business this season. The “Big Red Machine” has rediscovered its mojo. Howlett as skipper and the centre partnership of Laulala and Downey, have added real steel and guile to the Munster midfield and make them a much less predictable team. Playing at Thomond Park always gives the Munster team a boost and often succeeds in intimidating the opposition.
Treviso will be no mugs and they showed last week against the Ospreys that they have the pack to stand up to most teams, but the physicality this Munster team will bring on Friday will be simply too much for them. The Treviso centres are not the most astute of defenders and they will be in for a torrid time without the benefit of conditions to hide behind. The pace and power of Munster will be too much for them; Munster will remember their surprise defeat at the Stadio Monigo last season and will be looking to avenge it.
Prediction: Munster by 15 points
Glasgow Warriors v Llanelli Scarlets
This could well be the match of the weekend. Glasgow is a formidable team and this will be their first competitive game at the Scotstoun stadium and after the combative defeat to Ulster last week they will be eager to get their season started. They will be in no mood to give the Scarlets easy points. Indiscipline cost them dearly and the senior players like Cusiter and Kellock will have drummed into the Warriors that they simply cannot do that on Friday or the Scarlets could cut them to pieces. Sean Lamont, an ex-scarlet will do his best to warn his new team mates of the formidable threats the Scarlets backs can pose. The Scarlets’ hammering of a weak Leinster side will have done them no favours for the trip to Glasgow and Townsend will ensure that his team is fired up for the game.
But, the Scarlets will travel with confidence and real belief in their ability, and at times they can be irresistible. George North, Tavis Knoyle, Liam Williams et al bring a combination of pace, power and precision that can leave opponents grasping at thin air. They appear to be able to score tries at will. The Scarlets pack has been considerably strengthened on paper and this is the sort of game that can confirm or deny the reality of that assertion. There can be no doubt that if Glasgow denies the Scarlets a platform they will probably have enough to win a close game. But, there is an edge about the Scarlets, Simon Easterby has quickly emerged as a claver coach and they will travel to Scotland with realistic aspirations.
Prediction: A very close call, Glasgow Warriors by 3 points
Zebre v Connacht
Zebre will be desperate to make a statement following the heavy defeat to Newport Gwent Dragons last week. They want to show that they are made of sterner stuff than the Aironi team they replaced. The Italian RFU has laudably indicated that they want the Zebre team to be made up of Italian rugby players and not foreign imports. But, as can be seen by the fortunes of the national side it is not easy to set up a winning team. The harsh lessons of Rodney Parade can be used as a spur for this game but it will not be sufficient. Connacht will come to Italy smarting from their defeat to the Blues, well aware that they were the architects of their own demise and will see this match as a chance of redemption.
There can be no doubt that Zebre will give their all in front of what promises to be good crowd in Parma but, Connacht will just have enough to beat them, if they can eradicate the errors that so marred their performance last Saturday. If they do not, then Zebre could just snatch it.
Prediction: Connacht by 5 points
Leinster v Newport Gwent Dragons
Joe Schmidt is a wily campaigner and knows that the League will be a marathon not a sprint – it might well not be his priority, but the heavy comprehensive defeat by the Scarlets will have hurt, and the Leinster players will have worked hard in training this week. As Jonno Gibbes, the Assistant coach put it, “We have to react.” His general demeanour though was disappointment at the supine display of the Leinster forwards, and he was impressed by the Dragons against the Zebre. There is a good chance Isaac Boss will not be available as well as the mercurial Donnacha Ryan – put that alongside the unavailability of the province’s international contingent and Gibbes is probably right to be worried.
The Dragons have gone about their business professionally and quietly enjoying the best pre-season of the Welsh regions and will not be overawed by the prospect of playing Leinster at the RDS; Darren Edwards will see this as a very good time to be playing the European champions. They will want to maintain their momentum from last week and will look to bully and suppress the Leinster pack, which will be bolstered by the return of Cullen but will be sadly lacking in terms of nous and dog. If the Dragons can replicate their form of the first half against the Zebre they will win.
Prediction: Newport Gwent Dragons by 3
Ospreys v Ulster
Ospreys know that they can play better than they did against Treviso, and they will want to get that disastrous game out of their system against Ulster on Saturday night. Ulster themselves will be looking for a more complete performance than they delivered against Glasgow, and this could be a cracker of a game. If Ospreys can play their smart pacey offloading game they will have too much for Ulster. But they will need to be much more accurate and dynamic up front and their scrum will be tested by the exceptional Ulster front row.
Ulster will be confident that they will be able to control possession for large tracts of time, their issue will be whether they are adept enough to use it and break down the well organised defensive patterns that the Ospreys use.
Prediction: Ospreys by 10