Round 3 – Red and Blue Rule
28 Feb 2008
Can anyone challenge the Blues and Crusaders. On the evidence of the first 2 rounds no one is even close. The Blues and the Crusaders get it – strong at set piece, a move or 2 up their sleeves from the set piece, adaptable loosies who focus on support and defence, a killer 1st five and backs running at pace with some great angles. There are some pretty average sides around this year I reckon – they struggle to score a match winning total – the likes of the Reds, Brumbies, Highlanders, Lions and Cheetahs will battle. Some hope for the Hurricanes, Chiefs, Waratahs, Force and Bulls but they need to start showing something soon.
To emphasise how dominant the Blues and Reds are here is a NZ form XV – Macca, Rokocoko, Sivivatu, Toeava, Carter, Evans, Ellis, Tuiali’I, Kaino, McCaw, Williams, Flavell, Woody, Big Kev, Somerville. Actually it would be close to a Sooper form team overall.
And what is with locks and Christchurch. The home grown lot of Clarke, Ross and O’Neill are everywhere but Chch, instead the Crusaders have locks from Auckland, Wellington and Brisbane?
So to the games
Hurricanes v Chiefs: God help us if these two turn out the tripe they have over the last couple of weeks. The Chiefs have looked the better of the two sides to date, and until overtaken by substitutions and injury last week had been the better side. A few changes in the backline may not be a bad thing as the Duck has so far failed to set his outsides alight, the more familiar Sweeney outside him may help. The Hurricanes are all over the place. Their halves are struggling and it seems the loosies are trying too hard to make up for this problem – the ELV’s seem to have them flummoxed. Nonu, for all his faults, was the difference last week and needs to be watched. The 2 sides are 3 each for Hurricanes home games. With that in mind and with the marginally better form I like the Chiefs.
Chiefs 1 – 12
Lions v Force: The Lions are crap, the Force know how to win in SA and in Giteau have the dominant player who has the talent to get the likes of Mitchell and Shepherd running at angles with pace to cause the Lions too many problems. Despite Mitch making a raft of changes yet again the Force will be too strong against a Lions side I struggle to find anything good to say about.
Stormers v Crusaders: The Stormers are a bit of a bogey team for the Crusaders in SA where they have a 3 win 2 loss record against the great Crusaders. Hard to see that record continuing with the Crusaders playing some excellent rugby at present. The inclusion of Ralph Malph will have given them some hope. But this is the best time to be touring SA with all players fresh and wear and tear at a minimum so the Crusaders will be firing and have far too many options for yet another limited SA team. Of interest will be whether the Stormers are better off without the terminal flopper that is Burger.
Highlanders v Waratahs: Interesting statistic here – the Waratahs have won 5 of the 6 games played at Carisbrook including the last 3. This does not augur well for the young and inexperienced Highlanders team.Not that the Waratahs are overly convincing either. Their pack is workmanlike, with a some good loosies which helps in the ELV age.Questions over the backs who have yet to gel, but have shown some real promise at times with Beale showing glimpses at 1 5/8, if only he could defend. The 1st home game for this raw Highlanders team, they have a lot of local players who will be desparate to win at home and show that the close losses of the last 2 weeks were due to bad luck. A new 1 5/8 ain’t goin to help. They won’t do it however
Brumbies v Reds: Bloody hell another game that fails to catch the imagination. This a very average round. Anyway 2 pretty even sets of forwards cancel each other out. On the basis that the Brumbies have yet another rookie in the centres, and are up against the skill and experience of the likes of Latham and Turunui, who will be too much for the Brumbie youngsters in all 3 midfield positions that struggled to keep the Highlanders at bay, let alone the Reds veterans. Latham to be the difference and the Reds to win for the first time in Canberra and only the second time ever against the Brumbies.
Reds 1- 12
Cheetahs v Blues: For Cheetahs read Lions of last week. The Blues are in irrestible form at this early stage of the competition. It is hard to see how the Cheetahs can beat them. They just do not have the weapons to challenge the Blues.
Bulls v Sharks: the Grand Final rematch. The games between these two are always pretty close, 7 of the 11 games these teams have played have 1 – 12, and the style of play the SA teams have adopted will ensure that is the case again – friggin trench warfare guaranteed, with plenty of niggle. The Bulls will wonder what struck them after they were belted by the Crusaders after dominating the 1st 30 minutes, but that might have done them a few favours in realising where they need to be to compete under the ELV’s and shake off any complacency from last years win. They have made a few changes and Botha and Ndungani add some much needed class to the ranks, though Steyn in for Hougaard is interesting. Still they breed only 2 kinds of players up in the veldt, bloody big forwards and deadly accurate goalkickers. The Sharks are masters of the close win, but they don’t look as sharp as last year – the loss of players and the aging of others has blunted them a bit – how slow is Ackerman these days, in this age of ELV’s and greater mobility requirements his time is surely coming to an end. A close game with goalkicking the difference.
Bulls 1 – 12