After an upset-packed round two of Super Rugby, here’s our SuperBru preview for the round three fixtures.
Blues v Crusaders
Both sides had plenty of excitement surrounding them pre season, and yet they both fell to disappointing defeats in round two, neither side managing even a losing bonus point. It makes this week very difficult to call, as despite enjoying more possession and territory than their respective opponents last weekend neither team was very clinical. It could all come down to who takes their chances, then, and although they were smashed in this fixture last year, provided the Crusaders’ kickers have been doing plenty of practice this week, they should have enough to win in Auckland. Crusaders by 5.
Rebels v Cheetahs
The Rebels haven’t played yet, making it tough to gauge how they will fare this weekend. What has to be said, however, is that they have lost several of their biggest names, which will not make things easier after a poor season in 2013. The Cheetahs are yet to really hit their stride, but ground out an important win over the Bulls last weekend – confidence would have been immeasurably low had they lost two from two at home. It won’t be a cricket score, but I’d expect the Cheetahs to continue to improve and have too much for the rusty Rebels. Cheetahs by 8.
Stormers v Hurricanes
The Stormers seemed in complete disarray against the Lions, shipping far too many early points that saw them into a position from which they could never feasibly fight back. The Hurricanes, despite possessing several promising All Black names, also disappointed in round two, making this another difficult one to call. It is a case of who will be less awful this time round, and for me that will be the visitors. Hurricanes by 4.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Two of the big upset winners from round two, this should be a cracking contest. There were some great tries in both of these games, and with the Highlanders appearing rejuvenated despite plenty of squad turnover, they will pose the Chiefs more of a challenge than many would have expected pre-season. The hosts, however, showed great backbone to win in one of the most daunting venues in Super Rugby, Christchurch, last weekend, and will take that confidence back to Hamilton with them. Chiefs by 12.
Waratahs v Reds
This should be a brilliant game. Both sides played some great rugby in the last round, and although the Waratahs racked up six tries against the Force they will come up against a much sterner defensive challenge in the form of the Reds, who conceded just one try away at the Brumbies – no mean feat. With the likes of Genia, Cooper, Beale and Folau on the pitch, this is not one to be missed. It could be high-scoring, and I’m backing the brilliance of the hosts to be too much for the Reds. Waratahs by 6.
Force v Brumbies
We may only be one round in, but the Force look like they will struggle this year. Shipping six tries is never positive, and they were blown away by the Waratahs in round two. Last season’s runners-up the Brumbies would have been disappointed to get their season off to a home loss against the Reds, especially given their dominance over them in the past. Are we seeing the Jake White hangover effect? Possibly, although they will doubtless improve, starting this weekend when they are likely to have too much quality for the Force. Brumbies by 10.
Bulls v Lions
Another very tricky one to call. The Bulls have been thoroughly uninspiring so far, while the Lions have been a revelation and sit second on the South African log, unbeaten after two games. Their stand-off, Marnitz Boschoff, has arguably been the player of the season so far, and will ensure that they always score points with that reliable boot of his, and with the news that captain Pierre Spies is out, will the Bulls be the next to fall fowl of the Lions? I’ve a sneaking suspicion that, back at home, the Bulls will up their game and put an end to the Lions’ impressive winning streak. Bulls by 7.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43