Waratahs won't fumble this time around
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
February 27, 2014
The theme of blockbuster derbies continues this week with some games likely to give an indication of the conference champions at the end of the year. Sure to be the biggest game of the weekend, the Reds will take on the Waratahs in Sydney where sparks are sure to fly with both sides battling for the top spot in the Australian conference.
Here's how the weekend's looking.
Friday, February 28
Head to head: Played 23; Blues 10, Crusaders 13
In Auckland: Played 12; Blues 7, Crusaders 5
Last clash: Round 14, 2013- Crusaders 23, Blues 3 at AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Preview: The Blues are yet to taste success in 2014, losing all three trial matches and falling short against the Highlanders in their Super Rugby-opener, and may find themselves facing an uphill battle taking on the Crusaders. The Blues will be wary of another slow start when facing the Crusaders, after last week holding much of the possession without producing a single point in the first half. Although the side made a strong comeback, through the help of reserve Benji Marshall, the Blues are unlikely to hold back a rampaging Crusaders side once they've got the ball rolling.
Packed with All Blacks stars and welcoming back captain Kieran Read, the Crusaders will be after redemption after struggling to turn possession into points while turning the ball over 20 times in their loss to the Chiefs. With one of the strongest forward packs in Super Rugby, as well as two world-class flankers, the Crusaders will be sure to put pressure on at scrum time and at the ruck. With pace to burn in the backline, they will be sure to send the ball wide at any opportunity. Cruelled by horror kicking, last week, the Crusaders will be certain not to make a repeat.
Greg Growden's verdict: Wow what's new. The Blues struggle straight away, but even more disconcerting was how the Crusaders blew it against the Chiefs. Poor kicking cruelled the Crusaders. It won't happen two weeks in a row.
Tips - Greg Growden: Crusaders by 6. Brittany Mitchell: Crusaders by 7
Head to head: Played 3; Rebels 0, Cheetahs 3
In Melbourne: Played 1; Rebels 0, Cheetahs 1
Last clash: Round 7, 2013 - Cheetahs 34, Rebels 16 at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Preview: The Rebels may find themselves at a disadvantage making their first start of the season proper against a Cheetahs side playing their third match of the season. But they will take the field ready for a physical competition with fresh legs and confidence after a successful pre-season. With three pre-season wins and a stronger team culture, the side will look to captain Scott Higgenbotham to lead from the front and bring positivity to the side. With several young stars in the backline, the side will be sure to use proven stars Lachlan Mitchell and Tom English to push the ball wide and cross the line.
Relying on the boot last week, the Cheetahs will be hoping for better conditions to run the ball. The struggled to gain possession against the Bulls, giving away too many penalties (12), and they will need to watch their discipline while fighting for possession if they are to stay in the contest. Although they have history behind them, the Cheetahs may stumble when they come up against a more confident Rebels side.
Greg Growden's verdict: The Rebels have great potential, and with new coach Tony McGahan, who is a hard task master, they will overcome their team morale problems, which shackled them last year. The mischief makers have left the Rebels.
Tips - Greg Growden: Rebels by 4. Brittany Mitchell: Rebels by 5
Head to head: Played 16; Stormers 10, Hurricanes 6
In Cape Town: Played 8; Stormers 5, Hurricanes 3
Last clash: Round 1, 2013 - Hurricanes 16, Stormers 18 at FMG Stadium, Palmerston North
Preview: After a shock loss last week, the Stormers will be entering this week ready to redeem themselves. Dominating in both possession and territory last week, the Stormers turnovers (19) and penalties (9) cost the side the match and captain Jean de Villiers will be sure the side's performance is nowhere near the same as last weeks "pretty disgusting" display. With the home ground advantage, the Stormers will be sure to dominate a weary Hurricanes side.
The Hurricanes floundered last week, their scrum was wheeled all around the park and the side gained little possession or territory, and gave away too many penalties. Taking on a full strength Stormers side, the Hurricanes will need to hope their change in the tight five gives the scrum a new look while their discipline and tackling will need to be up to par if they hope to come away with a win.
Greg Growden writes: Home ground advantage. Nothing else.
Greg Growden Tip: Stormers by 7 Brittany Mitchell Tip: Stormers by 5
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick give their tips for Super Rugby round three
Saturday, March 1
Head to head: Played 22; Chiefs 10, Highlanders 11, Drawn 1
In Hamilton: Played 7; Chiefs 5, Highlanders 2
Last clash: Round 6, 2013 - Chiefs 19, Highlanders 7 at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Preview: With little possession last week, both sides managed to pull through the round with a win; they'll each be hoping to continue the trend. Keeping the Blues pointless in the first half, the Highlanders will be happy with their ability to shut the opposition down, but they will be wary of their discipline after conceding 12 penalties and missing 28 tackles throughout the match. Looking good during their win, the Highlanders backed themselves in attack with several new players demonstrating their strength around the park.
The Chiefs demonstrated what made their side the strongest last week, keeping the Crusaders pointless in the first half. But poor discipline saw the Chiefs concede 15 penalties as well as a yellow card. The Chiefs were unlucky to lose several players through injury, but they displayed strength in defence and flair in attack,; so the losses will hardly slow the side down. Aaron Cruden will be sure to light the backline up, and Robbie Fruean will look to dominate again.
Greg Growden's verdict: The most impressive performance last week was that of the Chiefs in Christchurch, where they somehow won with about 2% possession. They look good, and will beat a team on the rise.
Tips - Greg Growden: Chiefs by 6 Brittany Mitchell: Chiefs by 7
Head to head: Played 21; Waratahs 7, Reds 13, Drawn 1
In Sydney: Played 10; Waratahs 4, Reds 6
Last clash: Round 20, 2013 - Waratahs 12 - Reds 14, at ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Preview: Both sides opened their Super Rugby account with wins last week, and this match could go a long way in determining the Australian conference leader. Naming a largely unchanged side, the Waratahs will be hoping to have the same success in attack as last week. Unleashing their new backline, the Tahs were too good, scoring six tries - three by star Israel Folau. With a large pack, they will also be sure to run the ball hard from the front before spreading the ball wide to the pace out back. Although the side made several handling errors and conceded 15 penalties, the Tahs will be sure to watch their discipline and retain their attacking structure.
In another display of offensive prowess, the Reds were able to convert their little possession into points with Will Genia and Quade Copper displaying their strength in attack. Leading the backline around the park, Cooper put two of his teammates over the line with pin-point passes. But lack of discipline also hindered the Reds game, conceding 14 penalties and a yellow card. With the same 23-man squad, the Reds will be looking to be more fluid throughout the match. They will hope to use their backline ammunition, but will they find themselves out-muscled up front?
Greg Growden's vedict: The Brumbies lost it, rather than the Reds won it last week. And the Waratahs scored six tries, even though their 9/10/12 didn't do much.
Tips - Greg Growden: Waratahs by 9 Brittany Mitchell: Waratahs by 5
Head to head: Played 9; Force 4, Brumbies 4 Drawn 1
In Perth: Played 6; Force 2, Brumbies 3, Drawn 1
Last clash: Round 20, 2013 - Force 21, Brumbies 15 at nib Stadium, Perth
Preview: Playing with little possession last week, the Force were unable to make much of an attacking display; indeed, they were stuck defending for most of the match against the Waratahs. They were unable to produce much flair in the backline and they were stung several times through poor handling, conceding 13 turnovers. Likely to rely on Nick Cummins and Kyle Godwin to light up the backline, the Force may struggle to break through a strong Brumbies defence.
The Brumbies' game was riddled with errors as they fell short against the Reds, conceding 22 turnovers and 11 penalties as well as suffering several hapless moments in defence. But if the side is able to get the backline firing, Matt Toomua, Jesse Mogg and Tevita Kuridrani can make quick work of the Force defence. David Pocock made a strong return last week, and he will only get better; he is be sure to make havoc at the ruck.
Greg Growden's verdict: Under Michael Foley, the Force are going to bore everyone to death. The Brumbies, despite being a rabble last week, will get over the Continental Divide to win their first one of the year.
Tips - Greg Growden: Brumbies by 12 Brittany Mitchell: Brumbies by 9
Head to head: Played 19; Bulls 13, Lions 5, Drawn 1
In Pretoria: Played 9; Bulls 6, Lions 3,
Last clash: Round 18, 2012 - Bulls 37, Lions 20 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Preview: The Lions have shocked most rugby fans with wins in their opening two matches, but their winning streak must come to an end sometime. Mustn't it? The Bulls have struggled in their opening matches, but a return to their home ground may bring about a win. Relying heavily on Marnitz Boshoff's kicking radar, the Lions have kept their heads above water,; but if starved of kicking opportunities, they may find their attacking side lacking. They conceded 11 turnovers and struggled to gain possession last week, the Lions will need to fight hard to make it three from three.
The Bulls have had a poor start to their season with two losses, and they have been voted the likely wooden-spooners by South African fans, but they made a vast improvement in defence last week - with only nine missed tackles. They will hope to improve again this week and shut down the Lions attack. Conceding seven penalties last week, the Bulls will be wary of giving Boshoff the chance to kick for goal. With some stronger work in attack, the Bulls may find the try line this weekend. Greg Growden's verdict: When will the Lions' fairy tale end? The Bulls aren't much, but being back at home should get them back on track- for one round at least.
Tips - Greg Growden: Bulls by 5 Brittany Mitchell: Bulls by 5
The top ESPNfootytips Super Rugby tipster at the end of the home and away season wins $A2000, with the runner-up claiming $A1000. We also have a pair of Gold Class movie tickets for each weekly winner.
Best of all you and a mate could be heading off to Game II of the Bledisloe Cup series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Auckland. The prize includes flight, accommodation, transfers and match tickets. Simply enter your tips WEEKLY to make another entry in the competition.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
"I had a couple of injuries before but this was different." Tom Hamilton talks to Scott Williams about the O'Driscoll tackle, Wales and Scarlets
"To be the best it's not about the flash stuff, it's actually about everything done at a very high level." Tom Hamilton on the England squad
Huw Richards rewinds to 1864 to mark the birth of Welsh rugby's first authentic star - Arthur Gould
Michael Cheika has succeeded in becoming the Wallabies coach under his own terms, writes Greg Growden