Super Rugby Pacific Round Five preview
Following a slow start to their campaign, the Crusaders lived up to their ‘champions’ moniker with a vintage display against the Blues last weekend.
The title holders silenced their critics with a hard-fought win over the high-flying Blues at Auckland’s Eden Park, as they got their season back on track.
But as the sprots adage goes, you’re only as good as your last performance.
They’ll have to back it up with another vintage display in Round Five when they come up against one of the form teams of the competition.
After knocking off the Blues, the Crusaders have returned home to Christchurch ahead of their highly anticipated clash against the undefeated Brumbies.
Make no mistake, both teams need to win on Friday. Harbouring championship ambitions, the Crusaders and Brumbies can make a statement at Orangetheory Stadium.
The pressure is on.
But that’s only the first of three trans-Tasman derbies in Round Five. The Chiefs have travelled to Sydney to take on the Waratahs, and the Force are set to take on the Blues in Auckland.
Crusaders vs Brumbies
When: Friday, March 24 at 7:05pm NZT
Where: Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
It doesn’t get much bigger than this. For two teams with championship ambitions, this Round Five clash simply means more.
The opening match of the round will put two competition heavyweights against each other in a potential dress rehearsal of this year’s final.
Rugby fans are rarely left disappointed when these fierce rivals go head-to-head – and considering what’s on the line, I doubt that’ll change.
After starting their season with two losses from three starts, the Crusaders reinstated their championship credentials with a tough win over the Blues at Eden Park last weekend.
Playmaker Richie Mo’unga starred for the title holders, as they silenced the home fans in Auckland with an impressive display. The champions won the highly anticipated rematch of last year’s final, but they need to back it up.
Enter the Brumbies.
Australian powerhouse the Brumbies have been sensational to start the season, having won all four of their matches so far – including a tense win over the Blues.
The Brumbies are the real deal, and they’ll be eager to prove that in Christchurch. But the Canberra-based outfit are missing seven Wallabies for this week, including star halfback Nic White.
As for the Crusaders, they’ve only made two changes to their starting XV this week – but one of them is quite big, both in stature and reputation.
All Blacks veteran Sam Whitelock has not been included in the team this week, with Zach Gallagher set to partner Scott Barrett in the second row.
Make no mistake, the Super Rugby champions will be crowed in June, but they’re made during the regular season.
Over to you, Crusaders and Brumbies.
Waratahs vs Chiefs
When: Friday, March 24 at 7:35pm AEDT
Where: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Playmaker Damian McKenzie will play his 100th match in Chiefs colours on Friday night when they take on an understrength Waratahs side in Sydney.
After coming off the bench during last weekends big win over the Rebels in Hamilton, McKenzie has returned to the starting XV.
The 40-Test All Black will start at fullback for the Chiefs, while the in-form Shaun Stevenson has been relegated to the bench.
All Blacks Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Brad Weber are also set to return this week after being rested in Round Four.
The ladder-leaders have been brilliant so far this season, and will want to remain at pole position with another win on Friday.
As for the Waratahs, they’ll desperate for a win at home.
New South Wales have slumped to just one win from four starts this season, and another loss could be catastrophic.
As reported on Wednesday, the Tahs were aiming for a top four finish ahead of this year’s campaign, so a win is simply a non-negotiable in Round Five.
“Every game is important now,” captain Jake Gordons said.
“Every game is always important, really, but definitely playing against a really good team tomorrow night – even last year they were the team that we really struggled with up front, containing their forward pack.
“So what’s important is that we match them physically. We need to do that, and then play some really quick footy.”
An injury crisis has made its way through the Waratahs’ squad though – although they aren’t using this as an excuses. Two debutants could potentially run out in sky blue at Super Rugby level for the first time on Saturday.
Highlanders vs Fijian Drua
When: Saturday, March 25 at 4:35pm NZT
Where: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Fijian Drua: L-W-L-W
Finally, Highlanders fans had a reason to celebrate last Sunday.
Following a disastrous start to their season – which included empathic losses to the Blues and Crusaders – the Landers returned to winning ways against the Force.
It didn’t come easy, but they showed their class in the final quarter en route to their first win of the campaign in Invercargill.
Midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen was impressive, while fullback Sam Gilbert stole the show with his elusive running game and accurate kicking off the tee.
But one win doesn’t gift the Landers a pass mark. They’re still tracking above par to start the season.
On paper, the Highlanders are set for another thriller on Saturday when they return to Forsyth Barr Stadium to take on the Fijian Drua.
The Drua are coming off a tough loss to the Reds in Brisbane, where they almost completed an incredible comeback on a hot Sunday afternoon.
After going down by a big margin, the Drua scored 21-points to the Reds’ three in the final 30 minutes, but fell three points short of the hosts’ score.
But they looked good in both attack and defence, and will take of plenty of confidence into their clash in Dunedin.
Moana Pasifika vs Hurricanes
When: Saturday, March 25 at 7:05pm NZT
Where: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Moana Pasifika: L-L-L-L
The Hurricanes are the real deal. Apart from their loss to the Blues, the Canes have been excellent this season – and will want to push on with another win in Round Five.
But they’ll have to do it without their star player.
Travelling north to Auckland, the Hurricanes are missing All Blacks midfielder Jordie Barrett for their clash against Moana Pasifika.
Barrett has been rested this week, and has used his opportunity to train alongside the Melbourne Storm and Richmond Tigers across the ditch.
But the Canes have named a star-studded line-up, including the in-form halves duo of Cam Roigard and Brett Cameron.
By his own admission, Roigard is coming off his “best performance in a Canes jersey” after crossing for a double against the Tahs last week.
Roigard has emerged as a genuine All Blacks bolter, but will have to push his case once again at Mt Smart Stadium.
“”Thinking back, Nehe Milner-Skudder, he was a bolter as such so you do sort of start to think that maybe it is possible,” Roigard told RugbyPass.
“But I think if you do get caught up in that stuff you probably change the way you play in terms of probably playing a bit selfish.
“I’m just trying to play as well as I can for the Canes and hopefully win our Super Rugby title.”
Former All Blacks prop Owen Franks will return to the starting side for the Canes as Tyrel Lomax and Dane Coles are rested.
Rebels vs Reds
When: Saturday, March 25 at 7:35pm AEDT
Where: AAMI Park, Melbourne
This is another tough game to call. Both teams are eager to win, and have shown plenty of promise throughout a tough four rounds.
The Rebels fought hard against the Chiefs in Hamilton, but were outclassed by a championship-calibre outfit.
Playmaker Carter Gordon continues to star for the Melbourne-based side, and will be hold the keys to the keys to their success again on Saturday.
As for the Reds, they were quite good against the Fijian Drua last Sunday – for about 50 minutes. But rugby is an 80 minute game.
Brad Thorn’s team went to sleep for the last half an hour, and so nearly paid the price against the red-hot Drua.
Without rising star Tom Lynagh, the Reds will be eager to put in an 80 minute shift at AAMI Park.
Blues vs Force
When: Sunday, March 26 at 3:35pm NZT
Where: Eden Park, Auckland
The Blues have made mass changes to their starting XV for their match against the Western Force at Eden Park.
All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Finlay Christie, Caleb Clarke, Rieko Ioane, Nepo Laulala and Dalton Papali’i have all been rested as per the national teams policy.
Midfielder Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is also set to miss “at least a month” due to a hand injury, while prop Alex Hodgman has been ruled out for the rest of the season.
Inside centre Harry Plummer will captain the team this week, as he makes his return to the starting side. Plummer will look to steer the Blues’ ship alongside flyhalf Stephen Perofeta.
As for the Force, they’ll be looking to cause an upset this week against their under-strength opponents.
After falling to the Highlanders in Invercargill, the Force will want to avoid losing two games on the bounce for the first time this season.
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Draft system needed for New Zealand. It works. But the commitment has to be there. Japan team and US based in Hawaii would be good for Super Rugby Pacific, but for all teams to be competitive. Needs far-sighted change and new thinking, otherwise eventually fans will lose interest.Go to comments
Harry hockings!Go to comments