Rugby Pass stats guru Paul Neazor weighs up this weekend’s round of Super Rugby matches and reveals his tips.
On the bright side, Super Rugby soothsayer Paul Neazor did correctly foretell the result of Round 9’s toughest game – the Chiefs holding on by a single point over the Hurricanes. Sadly his week had already been ruined by that stage – first by the Sharks upset over the Highlanders in Dunedin before the mighty Sunwolves claimed their first ever Super Rugby win against the Jaguares in Tokyo. A 6/8 week brings his overall record to 53/70 for a percentage of 76%. Let’s look ahead to Round 10, which has a fair few tough-to-pick matches in store.
Chiefs vs Sharks
This match promises to be more interesting than the bare wins and losses might have us believe, as it pits the most formidable attacking force in the competition against the strongest defence. The Chiefs are the stronger team, with better and more dangerous attackers, but the same could have been said of the Highlanders (and was, by me, last week). The Chiefs will need to be organised and prepared to stick to a game plan. If that involves kicking more penalty goals, so be it. Assuming they have enough able bodies, the home side should win and do it quite comfortably.
Pick: Chiefs (13 and over)
Force vs Bulls
While Perth can be a tricky place to play, it shouldn’t bother the Bulls too much. They have been doing exactly what is needed against the Force – playing a simple game plan, not making mistakes, operating in the percentage corridor and always being prepared to regroup and start again from Chapter 1, Verse 1. Teams that have done that tend to draw away in the last quarter; teams that don’t get dragged into the scrappy, unstructured game the Force wants to play. I don’t think the Bulls will fall into the trap, and I think the visitors will get up comfortably.
Pick: Bulls (12 and under)
Blues vs Rebels
I’m not convinced the Rebels are as good as their conference-leading table placing suggests, but that’s no concern of the Blues – their job is to beat what’s in front of them. To do that they need to work up front (the Rebels loose trio certainly will be), work as a unit (ditto) and get a bit physical before playing the wide game. Given half-decent ball George Moala should be able to control the midfield, and his power may well be the telling factor in the game. This is a game the Blues should win; it’s up to them to go out there and do it.
Pick: Blues (12 and under)
Highlanders vs Brumbies
Both these teams need to get back on the winning track, but the Highlanders are probably feeling worse right at the moment. The Brumbies got a hiding from the Crusaders, and were never in the hunt. The Highlanders, on the other hand, have lost back to back one-point games against moderate opposition through their own failings and, like so many before them, died by their own hands. Unable to catch a cold in the last two weeks, the Highlanders – who last season made very few handling errors – have fumbled and bumbled no fewer than 26 times in two matches played in perfect conditions. Sort that out and they’ll go a long way to winning this game. The Brumbies might be starting to get a hang-up about New Zealand teams; after belting the Hurricanes in the opener they’ve taken two 40-point hammerings at home. Once again this is a match the home side should win, but they just have to go and get it done.
Pick: Highlanders (12 and under)
Reds vs Cheetahs
Despite the long haul back from South Africa, the Reds should finally be able to get win number two in the book against the Cheetahs this week. The teams seem to have strengths in the same areas – especially set pieces – so neither should get a huge advantage up front, but the Reds backs are starting to get it right and are a more dangerous unit than their visitors. The Cheetahs have a horrible record at Brisbane (0-4), and I think that will be 0-5 on Saturday night.
Pick: Reds (12 and under)
Lions vs Hurricanes
The match of the round without any doubt, this one pits two good attacking sides against a couple of resolute defences. While the Hurricanes do better if allowed to play a freewheeling style, they won’t go hiding at set pieces or in the tough exchanges, while the Lions are relishing the knowledge that they can hold or better everyone they meet up front. Playing at Johannesburg requires a certain style of game (rather like Dunedin) and kicking from hand will be a big part of it, but that’s nothing scary for the visitors either, as they put the ball on the toe frequently. Speed will be important, and both sides have it. Goal-kicking will also be important, so I’m expecting the Hurricanes to spend a bit of time of the practice greens before the game after a couple of shonky recent outings. But the biggest thing will be attitude – both of the players, and from what should be a good crowd. If there are 20 to 30 thousand in, Ellis Park becomes something of a fortress and the home side probably has a ten point start. I’m really looking forward to this one and, while one could make a strong case for either team, I have a little suspicion that it might be the home side by one score at the end.
Pick: Lions (12 and under)
Stormers vs Waratahs
I think this match may well be closer than the bare wins and losses stats might have us believe. The Stormers continue to churn through fly-halves although Brandon Thomson didn’t look at all bad for the number four, while the Waratahs have looked twice the team since Bernard Foley returned to guide them, kick the goals and allow the Kurtley Beale – Israel Folau partnership to be reunited. The Stormers will have an edge up front, and it could be a big one at set piece, but if the Waratahs can get the ball away from those tight exchanges their chances will go up sharply. That said, the home side should be too strong but this would be the one game of the round where I would hesitate to trust my own predictions.
Pick: Stormers (12 and under)
Jaguares vs Kings
With each side managing to muster only one win from half a season’s work, this is not a game to get the pulses racing. While it may be a home game for the Jaguares, they actually have the much harder travel schedule to get to Buenos Aires (Tokyo – Auckland – Buenos Aires) than the Kings, who have the shorter flight across from Johannesburg. That’s about the only advantage the Kings have though. They constantly leak tries – they’ve given up at least four in every match so far – and Louis Fouche is becoming more miss than hit off the tee, which is not a good look for a side that can’t afford to waste anything. The same could be said for Juan Martin Hernandez, who kicked poorly at Tokyo, but his colleagues also played badly. Ball security, discipline, thought patterns – they all let the Jaguares down. What the home side simply must do (and it’s something most teams manage against the Kings) is to control territory; the Jaguares are 0-6 this season after losing the ground battle. If they get penned in their own end stupid things tend to happen, penalties get given away, points are conceded and the spiral begins again. Not for the first time this week, the prediction is going to be that this is a game the home side should win, so they now just have to get the job done.
Pick: Jaguares (12 and under)
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