Our Super Rugby stats guru offers his tips for the weekend’s games.
Another 6/8 week in Round 10. The Reds ruined the Oracle’s week by losing to the Tahs and the Jaguares rubbing it in by slipping up against the Sharks. That season record is now at 59/79, still 75%. Here’s what the Round 11 tea leaves foretell.
Hurricanes vs Stormers (Wellington)
This match won’t be fun for the Hurricanes players and coaches to prepare for because everyone expects them to turn up and win by 50. The Stormers have been wiped off the map by the two South Island sides and four of their key players are winging their way home this week, so how can you like them against the Hurricanes? The short answer from where I’m sitting is you can’t. The Hurricanes have been clinically undressing teams all year with a variety of tricks and moments of creative genius, and I doubt the Stormers can muster a convincing reply. If the home side doesn’t win this handsomely there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Cheetahs vs Highlanders (Bloemfontein)
These games are becoming potential banana skins. Not because anyone would think the Cheetahs can stop the Highlanders if they perform the way they have been for the last month, but because that hoary old chestnut the ‘Law of Averages’ keeps rearing its ugly head every time a New Zealand side plays one from overseas. Actually, the Law of Averages says all the New Zealand teams are miles better than the outfits they’re playing and therefore should win by plenty. Given we’re into high-veldt winter with its fine days and settled weather, the visitors should strike conditions they’re comfortable with and put the home side away without too many problems.
Rebels vs Lions (Melbourne)
Anyone with eyes could pick only one possible result in this match – a big Lions victory. That sort of expectation never sits well with a team, but the Lions are too clever to start believing that such an outcome will fall into their laps. They’ll have to put the work in but, if they do, that big win should be achieved without too much bother. The Lions were poor in Perth but they are strong across the park, while the Rebels are in all sorts of bad places at the moment and I for one cannot see how they’ll keep it below 40 points unless the weather goes to the dogs.
Chiefs vs Reds (New Plymouth)
The Chiefs will be hoping for one thing above all others this weekend – a referee they can get on track with and whose rulings show some consistency. Two weeks ago at Perth they had all kinds of trouble at scrums, where Nic Berry overlooked the fact they had a massively stronger pack, and last week at Hamilton the Sunwolves were allowed to get away with far too much fiddling around and fringing play in the rucks. Will Houston hardly inspired confidence and, given the Chiefs are currently having handling troubles, they’ll want to get the ref out of their heads early this week. If they can, the Reds are just the sort of team they’ll want to play – prone to making mistakes and falling off tackles. The home side should win and do it well, but I bear in mind the fact the Chiefs have historically had a lot of problems with these Reds for no apparent reason.
Waratahs vs Blues (Sydney)
This is a matchup that has historically been overwhelmingly in favour of the home team.If that proves to be the case this week I suspect Tana Umaga, his assistants and a few others will be falling from the plane back across the Tasman without the benefit of parachutes.The Waratahs might have won last week but they were very ordinary, and only got up thanks to persistent infringing by the Reds. Bernard Foley served notice that he can win matches off the tee given the chance; if the Blues play as they did at Canberra he won’t get those chances unless his range suddenly zooms out to 75m. The Blues didn’t finish much against the Brumbies and missed too many easy goal attempts, but they did a lot right too. They hardly made a stupid error all game and looked after the ball for long periods. Do that again and put some zing into the attack, and they could take this one by a bit – but ‘a bit’ at Allianz may only be 10-15 points.
Sharks vs Force (Durban)
This has the potential to be a truly awful game. Both sides can get caught grinding and trying very little; you only have to think back two weeks to the Sharks vs Rebels clash, and the Force vs Chiefs game the same weekend. Imagine mating those two games and getting the worst of both worlds. Let’s hope the Sharks’ display at Buenos Aires is a better pointer. I thought they played well for long patches and shut the Jaguares out of the match in fine style. Add Curwin Bosch’s form off the tee, and the score could tick up in lots of three until suddenly it’s 21-0 or thereabouts and the Sharks will be off to the Durban races. The Force will try hard, but their backline offers virtually no threat to an organised defence (which the Sharks certainly have). Unless they get a few kind bounces and the home side is rubbish, the Force will be on the thin end of this one.
Bulls vs Crusaders (Pretoria)
Normally this matchup goes in favour of the home side. The Crusaders haven’t won in Pretoria since 2008 and the Bulls’ record in New Zealand is diabolical. This time, however, the visitors are expected to win easily – the Crusaders are 9-0 and the Bulls have been underwhelming despite trying to play a brighter game. Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock mare both out through injury and suspension respectively, but Pete Samu and Luke Romano are hardly sub-par replacements. No matter how you dress this one up the Crusaders should run their winning streak out to ten games, and take the bonus point for good measure.
Jaguares vs Sunwolves (Buenos Aires)
The Sunwolves have had to suck up a tough tour of New Zealand and a long west-east journey for this game, only to meet a snarly, niggly Jaguares side who will be smarting about dumping their perfect home record. The Sharks outplayed the Jaguares up front last week and made smart decisions when it mattered. The Sunwolves tried hard in Hamilton but I suspect that if they hadn’t been allowed to make such a mess of the breakdowns they might have gone under by a bit. That said, they took whatever they could get and made it pay. They’ll miss Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, who had been one of their best backs this season – he copped a suspension for a dumb shoulder charge late in last week’s game. I’m trying to find ways to pick ‘Visitors 1-12’, but they don’t exist for me. I only see a hefty Jaguares win here.
In brief: Hurricanes / Highlanders / Lions / Chiefs / Blues / Sharks / Crusaders / Jaguares
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