Super Rugby preview: Round 16
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
May 29, 2014
Greg Growden and Russ Barwick preview Super Rugby round 16
Friday, May 23
19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST
Head to Head: Played 8; Crusaders 4, Force 2, Draw 2
In Christchurch: Played 3; Crusaders 2, Force 1
Last Played: Round 9, 2013 -Force 16-14 Crusaders, nib Stadium, Perth
Preview: The Crusaders snuck into top spot in the New Zealand conference after a tight finish last week, and they will be determined to cement that position. They started strongly against the Highlanders last week, but then took their foot off the gas and allowed their opponents a chance to steal the match. The Crusaders were destructive with the ball, holding most of the possession and crashing over for four tries, before their loss of concentration almost cost them dearly. The Crusaders surprisingly have only two wins at home this season, after they were undone by the Sharks only two weeks ago, but the return of their captain, Kieran Read, has buoyed them to take on the confident Force side.
The Force head to New Zealand brimming with confidence after their history-making eighth win of the season, and they are ready to take on the New Zealand conference leaders. The Force dominated possession against the Lions last week (67%), but they struggled to execute many of their plays; they cannot afford similar profligacy this week as they are most unlike to claim a similar possession advantage against the Crusaders. Known for their tight defence, the Force will need to hold firm on their line and take advantage of loose play as has become their wont. And after last week's disastrous clearing-kick attempt, don't expect Nick Cummins to be given the duty again.
Greg Growden's verdict: Kieran Read is back for the Crusaders and that should be enough to stall the Force. The Force are brilliant in defending on their own line, and relying on opposition mistakes to get home. So, too, are the Crusaders - and they have far more talent.
Tips: Greg Growden: Crusaders by 15 Brittany Mitchell: Crusaders by 7 Brett McKay: Crusaders by 10.
19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST
Head to Head: Played 18; Reds 9, Highlanders 9
In Brisbane: Played 9; Reds 7, Highlanders 2
Last Played: Round 7, 2013 -Highlanders 33-34 Reds, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Preview: The Reds should be refreshed in mind and body after sitting out last week's round through a bye, and they need to be if they are to move up the from the bottom of the ladder. Facing the wooden spoon, the Reds will take to the field searching for their fourth win of the season to celebrate Will Genia's 100th cap - and they are sure to find some strength in the return through the bench of Liam Gill. With the backline struggling to find any form or momentum, however, the loss of Quade Cooper could prove too much for the wayward side.
The Highlanders fell agonisingly short last weekend, when they were undone by a slow start to each half. They bounced back but ill-discipline put them on the backfoot and ultimately cost them the match. They head to Brisbane eager at least to maintain sixth place on the standings heading into the June break, and they will be aiming for a try-scoring blitz with the attacking talent of Malaki Fekitoa continuing to shine.
Greg Growden's verdict: The Highlanders are among the most entertaining teams to watch, and they will be outright favourites. But this is the type of game where the old Reds' mentality should at last return. Everything is against them, and the Reds are renowned for using the "us versus the world" philosophy to great effect.
Tips: Greg Growden: Reds by 2 Brittany Mitchell: Highlanders by 5 Brett McKay:Highlanders by 10.
Saturday, May 24
16:35 local, 04:35 GMT, 14:35 EST, 14:05 CST, 12:35 WST
Head to Head: Played 18; Chiefs 7, Waratahs 11
In New Plymouth: No previous meetings at this venue
In Waikato: Played 9; Chiefs 5, Waratahs 4
Last Played: Round 10, 2013 -Waratahs 25-20 Chiefs, Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Preview: The Chiefs were embarrassed last week, when they were outplayed and overrun by the Hurricanes in a six-tries-to-one shellacking. They hit the scoreboard early, but struggled thereafter to turn possession into points and they were blanked in the second half while they struggled to hold back the rampaging Hurricanes backline. That loss saw them slip out of the top six for the first time this season, and they the Chiefs will need to fight hard to regain a berth in the play-offs. But will the confident Waratahs be too much at their new home stadium in New Plymouth?
The Waratahs dominated the Rebels in Melbourne last week, and they were rewarded with top spot in the Australian conference and second place on the Super Rugby standings. Hammering the Rebels in possession (74%), territory (79%) and points in their six-tries-to-one win, the Waratahs were dominant in every facet of the game. They have otherwise struggled on the road, and they must improve their goal-kicking in order to secure their first win in New Zealand since 2010.
Greg Growden's verdict: The Chiefs are suddenly looking wonky, while the Waratahs are bounding with confidence. Michael Cheika's torture treatment of the players before the start of the season is working because they are at last fit. They are primed for the Chiefs.
Tips: Greg Growden:Waratahs by 3 Brittany Mitchell: Waratahs by 3 Brett McKay: Waratahs by 3.
19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST
Head to Head: Played 22; Blues 13, Hurricanes 8, Drawn 1
In Auckland: Played 11; Blues 7, Hurricanes 4
Last Played: Round 10, 2013 -Hurricanes 39-20 Blues, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Preview: The Hurricanes purely outclassed the Chiefs last week, running in six tries as they moved into fifth place on the table. They let the Chiefs in early but dominated the game thereafter, building momentum and converting their minimal possession into points. As the Hurricanes' backline continues to their rhythm, they are proving they are a hard side to slow. Eden Park is always a troubling task for the Hurricanes, but the Blues suffered their first home defeat of the season - by the ladder-leading Sharks - last week.
The Blues couldn't resist the Sharks last week, when the confident South African side took any chance to score points while the Blues struggled to turn possession into points. The Blues came out firing in the second half, and hit back early, but they couldn't turn their dominant possession (82%) into a lead. The Blues were previously unbeaten at home this season, and they will be primed to for this tight derby.
Greg Growden's verdict: The Hurricanes often turn into a feeble breeze when they head to Auckland. Old rivalries can distract, and the Blues will use home-ground advantage to great effect.
Tips: Greg Growden: Blues by 6 Brittany Mitchell: Hurricanes by 5 Brett McKay:Hurricanes by 7.
19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST
Head to Head: Played 7; Brumbies 5, Rebels 2
In Canberra: Played 3; Brumbies 3, Rebels 0
Last Played: Round 7, 2014 -Rebels 32-24 Brumbies, AAMI Park, Melbourne
Preview: The Brumbies return home from a horror South African tour, which saw them lose their two clashes and slip from top of the Australian conference and second on the all-round ladder to third in Australia and seventh on the table. The Brumbies struggled against the Bulls last week, with poor defence and a lack of penetration in attack, particularly in the first half, but they were undone primarily by silly errors and poor execution. They have dominated in Canberra so far this season, however, so will be aiming to head into the June break with a win that moves them up the ladder.
The Rebels fought hard but were simply outclassed by the Waratahs in their six-tries-to-one loss last week. They struggled to gain possession (26%) and territory (21%), and hence were on the defence throughout; no wonder they were unable to contain the rampaging Waratahs side. They stuck close early in the first half, punishing the Waratahs for ill-discipline, but were unable to cross the whitewash until the 59th minute. They will remember keenly their win over the Brumbies in Melbourne earlier this season, and they will hope to test their hosts with a strong scrum, but they may struggle to contain the Brumbies' backline.
Greg Growden's verdict: The Brumbies discovered during a scatty road tour of South Africa both their limitations and that some of their forwards aren't as good as they think they are. As well, their obsession with kicking everything out of their own quarter doesn't always work. Plan B is required. It's likely to appear against the energetic but floundering Rebels.
Tips: Greg Growden: Brumbies by 12 Brittany Mitchell: Brumbies by 10 Brett McKay: Brumbies by 10.
17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 01:05 EST +1d, 00:35 CST +1d, 23:05 WST
Head to Head: Played 20; Lions 5, Bulls 14, Drawn 1
In Johannesburg: Played 8, Lions 2, Bulls 6
Last Played: Round 3, 2014 - Bulls 25-17 Lions, Pretoria
Preview: The Lions have returned home from a poor Australasian tour that saw them lose five matches on the trot, struggling to find momentum and unable to play a full 80 minutes. They produced arguably their best performance on tour against Western Force in Perth last week, but they were unable to resist their hosts with only 33% possession. They will be glad to have returned home, but facing the charging Bulls could be too much and result in a sixth straight loss.
The Bulls have turned their season around with three consecutive wins to stand only a few points shy of the top six. They dominated the Brumbies last week, claiming momentum early with an effort praised by their coach as a "clinical performance, especially in attack". The short trip down the road to Johannesburg will do little to faze the side, even with Victor Matfield finally rested.
Greg Growden's verdict: No wonder the South African media is pushing for the grand old man of Springboks football - Victor Matfield - to lead them in Tests this season. He is again firing, and giving the Bulls a late season surge. It should continue in Johannesburg, even without Matfield.
Tips: Greg Growden: Bulls by 10 Brittany Mitchell: Bulls by 15 Brett McKay: Bulls by 14.
19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 03:10 EST +1d, 02:40 CST +1d, 01:10 WST +1d
Head to Head: Played 21; Sharks 11, Stormers 10
In Durban: Played 10; Sharks 6, Stormers 4
Last Played: Round 9, 2013 -Stormers 22-15 Sharks, Newlands, Cape Town
Preview: The Sharks returned home with two wins in New Zealand and one in Australia. The only South African team to win across the Indian Ocean, the Sharks proved that they have the ability to win at any venue with only 14-men on the park. With little possession against the Blues last week, the Sharks made sure to turn any ball into points, and were quick to put pressure on in the first half, but several lapses in concentration cost them. They will look to continue their winning ways as they head into the June break.
The Stormers blanked the Cheetahs last week in recording the season's first shutout, completely outplaying their opponents with a strong counter attack and dominating defence. The Stormers will be hoping to enter the June break with a win, after their previous woes and injuries, but the highflying Sharks side will be a tough ask.
Greg Growden's verdict: The Stormers have been the flops of the South African conference, and the Sharks now look major finals threats. At home, this should be a breeze.
Tips: Greg Growden: Sharks by 15 Brittany Mitchell: Sharks by 12 Brett McKay: Sharks by 10.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape
Move over, Castro - from falling off a chair to stepping off the team bus, Scrum Sevens recounts some of the strangest rugby injuries ever
Martin Gillingham on the latest from France and why the national side can learn a thing or two from Top 14 side Bordeaux Begles