Week one of Super Rugby, and editor Tank Lanning is looking for more abuse as he casts his eye over the weekend’s games, making those perilous predictions …
And it’s the full seven games in weekend one, meaning the begging for pink tickets can be heard all round the land, made even tougher this weekend with the big games taking place on both Friday AND Saturday evening.
Bulls vs Stormers at your favourite post-work watering hole, Canes vs Blues on a gym bike working out those beers, and then holding off the braai for as long as you can so as to remain compos mentis for the Cheetahs vs Sharks game, but then perhaps moving to something stronger to numb the pain of that final game of the weekend …
A closer look at the weekend, then …
Friday 22 Feb:
08:35 Highlanders vs Chiefs, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Massive fan of the Nonu, and cannot wait to see him in action for the Highlanders, but he does seem to be a waning force, and when under the cosh, tends to go alone these days, not managing to offload. Chiefs defending champs with an outstanding half back pairing in Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow make them slight favourites in my book, even away from home.
My prediction: Chiefs by 7
Highlanders: 1. Tony Woodcock 2. Brayden Mitchell 3. Ma’afu Fia 4. Jarrad Hoeata (vc) 5. Josh Bekhuis 6. Joe Wheeler 7. John Hardie 8. Nasi Manu 9. Aaron Smith 10. Lima Sopoaga 11. Hosea Gear (c) 12. Ma’a Nonu 13. Phil Burleigh 14. Kade Poki 15. Ben Smith
Bench: 16. Liam Coltman 17. Bronson Murray 18. Elliot Dixon 19. Tim Boys 20. Fumiaki Tanaka 21. Hayden Parker 22. Buxton Popoalii
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Bench: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Lelia Masaga.
10:40 Rebels vs Brumbies, AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
As with most Aus derbies, mostly unwatchable, but cool to see Clyde Rathbone on the comeback, and always fun to follow Jake White’s charges. I underestimated the Rebels properly last week, and might be doing the same again …
My prediction: Brumbies by 7
Rebels: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Bench: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Alex Rokobaro, 22 Tom English.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joseph Tomane, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 David Pocock, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Bench: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Colby Faingaa, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Robbie Coleman.
19:10 Bulls vs Stormers, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Johan Greeff
It does not come much better than this as an official start to the season. The head to head’s are just magnificent, being lead by Spies vs Vermeulen and Steyn vs Jantjies. Kolisi vs Potgieter could rattle a few cages while Mapoe vs Habana will be more ballet than boxing. With so many new combinations – while all exciting – I tend to agree with John Mitchell in that the Cape side might be slow starters this year. Traditionally very defensive, the half back pairing of Groom and Jantjies is anything but … But will they be allowed to play that game? De Allende is a man to watch – big and fast, with skills, but just so raw. And while Schalk Burger will be missed, it’s Eben Etzebeth who has played a big part for the Stormers in recent times. This while the Bulls are now the settled side with plenty experience, welcoming back a skipper who will be itching to impress.
My prediction: Bulls by 3
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Mornè Mellett
Bench: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouchè, 22 Francois Venter
Stormers: 15. Jaco Taute, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Pat Cilliers, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Bench: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Frans Malherbe, 18. Don Armand, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Dewaldt Duvenage, 21. Gerhard van den Heever, 22. Joe Pietersen
Saturday 23 Feb
08:35 Hurricanes vs Blues, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Ben Franks makes his debut for my favourite Kiwi side – even without Nonu. There can be only one prediction I am afraid. But Taylor, Smith, Savea, Barrett and Perenara give it some credibility. Blues fighting back from one of the darkest season’s in their history.
My prediction: Canes by 14
Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Bench: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Reggie Goodes, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 James Marshall, 22 Reynold Lee-Lo.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Bench: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Brendon O’Connor, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
10:40 Reds vs Waratahs, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Snore. But at least referee Pollock will be wearing the all new “Ref-Cam” and it might give us a few new angles. Israel Folau has sure caused a stir – hope he is as good as the hype. Tahs might be as boring as they come (although like the Stormers, I am told they might be aiming to play more with ball in hand), but they know how to win games.
My prediction: Tahs by 11
Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ed O’Donoghue, 3 James Slipper (c), 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Bench: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Nick Frisby, 21 Jono Lance, 22 Luke Morahan.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Jeremy Tilse.
Bench: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 David Hickey, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Ben Volavola.
17:05 Cheetahs vs Sharks, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha, Tiaan Jonker
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
Steyn at skipper for the first time and Kanko at 8 after not playing in either of the pre-season games. Against a Cheetahs side that has one of the more exciting centre pairings seen on paper, not that Steyn and Jordaan should be scared of anyone! Rhule and Le Roux out wide with Goosen at flyhalf and no doubt hoping to get his backs away. This could be a real high scoring cracker if the weather plays its part. But the peacocks out wide can only do their stuff if they get ball in hand, and the massive Bok infused Sharks pack looms large and lifelike for the men from Bloem. And I see that being the big difference between the two sides. Not exactly a fixture the Sharks are particularly fond of, though …
My prediction: Sharks by 5
Cheetahs: 15. Hennie Daniller, 14. Willie le Roux, 13. Johann Sadie, 12. Robert Ebersohn, 11. Raymond Rhule, 10. Johan Goosen, 9. Piet van Zyl, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Lappies Labuschagne, 6. Frans Viljoen, 5. Francois Uys, 4. Lood de Jager, 3. Lourens Adriaanse, 2. Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1. Trevor Nyakane
Bench: 16. Ryno Barnes, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen, 18. Waltie Vermeulen, 19. Boom Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21. Elgar Watts, 22. Ryno Benjamin
Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik 14. JP Pietersen 13. Paul Jordaan 12. Francois Steyn (captain) 11. Lwazi Mvovo 10. Patrick Lambie 9. Cobus Reinach 8. Ryan Kankowski 7. Marcell Coetzee 6. Jacques Botes 5. Franco van der Merwe 4. Anton Bresler 3. Jannie du Plessis 2. Craig Burden 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Bench: 16. Kyle Cooper 17. Wiehahn Herbst 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit 19. Jean Deysel 20. Charl McLeod 21. Meyer Bosman 22. Odwa Ndungane.
19:10 Kings vs Force, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Christie du Preez
TMO: Johann Meuwessen
So the same side that lost out to Griquas in a pre-season game, is hoping to tame Super Rugby. This could really be painful! All new Super Rugby sides have suffered in their first year, but throw in the drama surrounding the Kings, and it’s a recipe for disaster. But an opportunity for a sneaky early win does not come better than this! The Force lost their opening match 30-23 to the Rebels (sometimes known as the Rabble) and have flown to South Africa for a two match tour that starts with the Kings and ends with the Bulls. They are no title contenders! But I am afraid this Kings side is Vodacom or Varsity Cup quality and will even struggle at home against the Force.
My prediction: Force by 16
Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Luke Watson (captain), 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Steven Sykes, 4 David Bulbring, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Bench: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jaco Engels, 18 Daniel Adongo, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht , 20 Johan Herbst, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.