29 Apr

Super 15 – Round 11
by WAJ
29 Apr 2011

Terrible news for Blues lock Kurtis Haiu – we all hope for a fast and full recovery. Our world has an amazing ability to inject a little/lot ofperspective into life at regular intervals.

Seems there is going to be a salary cap in operation for the Aus sides. This will stop the likes of the Waratahs building ateamfull of Wallabies, probably force the Reds to dismantle their successful squad and work towards a stronger Force and Rebels. It will thus have the effect of making Aus teams less of a force in Soopa rugby as there will be noteams full of outstanding players like the Crusaders and Bulls of recent vintage. Unless of course players choose to play for less than their market worth. The Highlanders form of this season though gives hope to all teams.

Highlanders v Blues
What a great way to start the round, this should be a cracker. The Highlanders have been great all season, well coached by JJ, he has got the best out of his team with a simple game plan – get the bloody ballusing a great lineout, solid enough scrum and plenty of aggression at the breakdown, and don’t waste it when you have it on the back of a scheming 1 5/8.Simple, effective and everyone has bought in. Throw inthe outstanding form of individuals like Thomo, Hoata, Smithamd Poki and a depth in the ranks that must make JJ very happy to see come through – they are a real threat to go all the way. The Blues too continue on their winning way, and have also managed themselves through the inevitable injuries. The main isse for them is their hot and cold turns during the game – they won’t be able to do that tonight. I like the Blues for their greater strike power out wide, they will make breaks and they will score tries, hopefully they can sort out their defence for the full 80. Some great match ups too – Cowan v Matthewson and Kaino v Thomothe big ones but the lineout battle too looks a goodie. Can’t wait.
Blues 1 – 12

Cheetahs v Brumbies
The who cares game of the weekend. The Brumbies are coming off a bye and have been strengthened by the return of a few players. They will also want to put on a show for their new coach, though the way things are going not many of this years team will be left. They should be well prepared for the SA leg and with a 4 to 1 winning record against the Cheetahs will challenge strongly. The Cheetahs welcomeback the hugely influential Roussow and are a good chance to win this as they are not scared to throw the ball around. A toughie but think the Brumbies have a bit more class.
Brumbies 1 – 12

Hurricanes v Reds
A lot of injuries for both teams here, though the result won’t be affected. The Reds are on a roll on the back of their irresistable halves pairing and will be too strong here. The Hurricanes are having a shocker and will have a crack but have too many playersout or out of form.
Reds 13+

Waratahs v Rebels
I fear a repeat score of the round 1 clash between these two sides, though injury may limit the effectiveness of the Waratahs. Waugh, Palu and Mitchell are big outs, and with only Barnes returning they are down on strike power. But they have a dominat scrum and still retain some outstanding players in the form of the Flying Affro, Ben Mowen, Bealeand Burgo. If they maintain 80 minutes of concentration they will be too strong for an erratic Rebels team. The Rebels are close to full strength and have made a point of dropping their 2 worsat defenders, who also happen to be their best attackers, but will be arguably better off for it. This will probably mean they will lose by 20instead of 40.
Waratahs 13+

Force v Crusaders
I don’t fancy being a Forceforward this week, the Crusaders will be very keen to put last weeks disappointing effort behind them and get back on track with, in particular, a strong display up front. The loss of Thorn is the perhaps the key here and Romano and Jack will need to keep it tight to compensate. But with McCaw at the helm you feel this will happen and give the wonderfully gifted backline plenty of pill to run theForce ragged. The Force will be brave and the loosies will challenge all day, but they lack the class out wide that the Crusaders bring and will struggle to defend against them. A big game for Todd againstPocock and we will know more about him after this.
Crusaders 13+

Bulls v Chiefs
Can the Bulls get their faltering campaign back on track. They are 2 1/2 wins out of the playoffs at the moment and a loss here would almost certainly end any chance to defend their title. And you know, I fancy the Chiefs here to pull off an upset so bad are the Bulls playing. The Chiefs haven’t wonin Pretoria for 10 years, but certainly have the backline ammunition to break that streak. The forwards of course hold the key and anything close to parity will see them go close. The Duck hopefully has sorted out his kicking blues, he wasshit last week and they can’t afford to give anything away with Steyn always accurate as hell. The Bulls are so out of form, with all their big guns struggling, if the Chiefs put it together a win is on the cards. My upset of the week, and yes I know … it is the Chiefs.
Chiefs 1 – 12

Stormers v Sharks
And we finish off with a good old fashioned South African grudge match. It will be tight, niggly and extremely intense. I see Smitty holds his hooking bath ahead of the returning Battleship.The difference could be at 1 5/8 where two young guns could be set to face off. Their goalkicking will be critical and Lambie will want to improve on his efforts of last week. The Stormers with home advantage should get up. Interestingly these sides are dead even on wins and losses both home and away and 9 of the 14 meetings have been wins by 12 or under.
Stormers 1 – 12

Regards Waj

22 Apr

Super 15 – Round 10
by WAJ
22 Apr 2011

A couple of great games on Saturday evening, with match ups all over the place. And three other games, with struggling teams needing to show they still hold out some hope, make for another excellent weekend of rugger.

Blues v Rebels
The Blues finally seem to have found the key to consistent rugby. quite simple I would have thought – front up every week and follow the game plan. The Blues of course have failed to do either for the last 5 or 6 years, why suddenly now?? They should be too strong for a hugely up and down Rebels mob – how ironic. The Rebelstend to bounce back after a bad loss and with MortlockandHuxley back are fielding arguably their strongest line up so far. They are very good when they get on the front foot, well who isn’t, but their tackling has been horrible of late and they are also slow in the backs. This is not a recipe thataugurs well for them in Albany against a Blues that was unbelievable in the first half last week and are arguably stronger this. Strong and accurate up front with a wide range of skills all over the park, the Blues willhave too many options in the backs.
Blues 13+

Crusaders v Highlanders
I can’t believe the two teams that are named for this game – are they trying to takethe piss out of us! Suddenly a lot of the gloss has gone off this game. Was really looking forward to SBW vTreeby and how Thomo would fare. The Highlanders look the more weakened of the two and were always up against it anyway against this phenom they face. The forward battle should still be a highlight with plenty of Highlanders keen to show their wares. But this has perhaps been the unsung strength of the Crusaders. Plenty of accolades have been put the Crusaders backs way, but the big boys have done plenty as well and will be keen to show who is boss and improve further on their 8 and 2 home record. On the back of another strong forward effort the Crusaders will get another bonus point win.
Crusaders 13+

Reds v Waratahs
So this then becomes the game of the round I reckon. Two historical rivals will go hammer and tongs all night. It will probably be atight low scoring affair as these intense derbies inevitably are. But – withCooper aroundthe reds could well look to open it up. Link has been incredibly astute so far this year matching tactics to the opposition perfectly. So will he take anything from last weeks Waratah capitulation, or note the ins of Waugh, Palu and Carter, know they are going to turn it into an arm wrestle andman up accordingly. I fancy a close grinding battle with the Redsat home to just get up.
Reds1 -12

Force v Bulls
Can the Bulls go home on the back of a win. They have been incredibly disappointing on this tour, cracks appearing all over this once indomitable team. They need the big names to really stand up to have a chance, will they finally step forward? The Force are on a high after a battling win in Canberra, not a vintage performance but a win is a win. O’Conner again showed the way, buttoo much is now being left to this guy and the bulls are the sort of team who could well shut him down.The Bulls will turn this into trench warfare in their efforts to win and against a weakened Force pack will give Steyn plenty of chances to kick points.
Bulls 1 – 12

Sharks v Hurricanes
Amazingly these 2 teams have broken even both home and away over the 13 times they have played – yes a draw as well. The Sharks though should be too strong, especially up front, for this strugglingHurricanes outfit. They will play to their strengths, with Lambieback to add a bit of flair, and win comfortably.
Sharks 13+

Lions v Chiefs
The Chiefs were very impressive last week and if they bring that form to this game will win. That of course is the big question, can they turn up again. The Lions will come at them and are capable of scoring plenty of points, but alsogive up plenty as well. The Chiefs won here last year in a 130+ points fest and fancy theu have too much class not too get up again. They will want Sivi to be somewhere near his best and Kahui and Mils to show why they are AB’s – and can Delaney get some consistency in his game?
Chiefs 13+

Regards Waj

20 Apr

Who's Super in the Super Comp?
by Tracey Nelson
20 Apr 2011

We’re halfway through the 2011 Super Rugby competition, so which NZ players are putting their hands up as we start to think about the All Black squad for the Tri-Nations and further ahead to the Rugby World Cup?

With Colin Slade out with his second broken jaw before he had a chance to even generate us some decent stats and Stephen Donald also on the injured list, the race is wide open as to who will be Dan Carter’s back up this year. Do we pick a goal kicker, a line breaker or a combination of the two? Which backs have made the most linebreaks? Who is off-loading the most in the tackle? Who are the leading locks? Which flanker is heading the count for breakdown steals? All is revealed here.

Goal Kicking % Success Total attempts
Aaron Cruden 80% 10
Dan Carter 79% 39
Stephen Donald 75% 16
Luke McAlister 71% 35
Dan Kirkpatrick 63% 32
Mike Delany 62% 26
Stephen Brett 56% 16
Robbie Robinson 46% 26

1st 5 linebreaks
Stephen Brett 5
Dan Kirkpatrick 3
Dan Carter 2
Luke McAlister 2
Aaron Cruden 2
Mike Delany 2
Robbie Robinson 2
Stephen Donald 1

Top linebreakers (backs)
Isaia Toeava 10
Kade Poki 8
Sean Maitland 7
Andre Taylor 7
Leilia Masaga 6
Jared Payne 6
Ben Smith 6
Joe Rokocoko 6
Stephen Brett 5
Robbie Fruean 5
Tim Nanai-Williams 5
Shaun Treeby 5
Andy Ellis 4
Hosea Gear 4
Zac Guildford 4
Julian Savea 4
Sitiveni Sivivatu 4
Ma’a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Sonny Bill Williams 3
Conrad Smith 4

Top tackle offloaders
Sonny Bill Williams 29
Adam Thomson 14
Dan Carter 12  
Rene Ranger 11  
Israel Dagg 10
Stitveni Sivivatu 10
Brendon Leonard 9

Lineout jumpers – wins
Whitelock 14/14
Donnelly 9/9
Thorn 12/14  
Ross 11/13
Bekuis 10/12  
Boric 24/29  
Thrush 10/13
Jack 5/7
Williams 7/11
Eaton 7/11

Lineout jumpers – steals
Ross 6
Boric 3  
Thrush 1  
Jack 1

Lineout throwers Not straight Overthrows
Keven Mealamau 1 0
Dane Coles 2 1
Jason Rutledge 2 2
Andrew Hore 1 3
Aled de Malmanche 0 4
Cory Flynn 6 0
Hika Elliot 5 1

Flankers breakdown wins
Matt Todd 10
Adam Thomson 8  
George Whitelock 4  
Scott Waldrom 3
Jerome Kaino 2
Kieran Read 2
Daniel Braid 1

18 Apr

RWC Squad – Who Will They Choose?
by Rob Wallace
18 Apr 2011

ABs_coachesI don’t think Henry will move far from his core players, and if there are newbies he’ll need to see them in action in the Tri Nations before naming them in a World Cup squad. I also don’t think he’ll move far from last years End Of Year Tour squad unless there are compelling form changes.

Hookers: Mealamu and Hore
Elliot was chosen for the EOY tour but he hasn’t shown anywhere near that form in 2011, and if you factor in his (rumoured?) personality I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to Flynn.

Props: Woody, B Franks, O Franks, Afoa
With specialist injury backup from Whopper at loose-head. It’s hard to know who the backup tight-head would be. Tialata isn’t in the starting XV for the Canes currently and would need a personal trainer and a rocket to get him properly aerobically fit while in camp, and none of the others particularly appeal.

Locks: Thorn, Whitelock …
Probably Boric next, with Donnelly and maybe Ali Williams scrapping for the last place. The Blues play the OH twice in the latter half of the season which should help sort things out.

Loosies: McCaw, Kaino, Read, Todd, Messam
I think the selection of Braid last year signals they will take a backup specialist openside. This is where compelling form may lead to some changes and unless Braid plays out of his skin in the next few weeks I can see Matt Todd being included in the TN squad so they can have a closer look at him. What Braid gives that is important is leadership and experience which may be important for the wider squad seeing as the player selected here ain’t going to play much during the tournament. The last loosie place is still open – I’ll stick with Messam (EOYT) for now

Halfbacks: Weepu, Cowan, Ellis/Mathewson
Weepu is the key at HB – if he’s half fit they’ll take him. Cowan also and then a toss up between Ellis and Matthewson.

First Five-eighth: Carter
Carter only at first 5 with backup from McAllister and Weepu.

Centres: Nonu, SB Williams, Smith and McAllister
Nonu and SBW to fight for the starting position, McAllister sneaks in for his kicking game and ability to provide bench cover. I don’t know his exact placekicking stats but he seems to be kicking as well as anyone in the country and that’s whats going to matter in the big games.

Back Three: Mils, Toeava, Gear, Sivi, Jane and Dagg
Mad Peter de Villiers has suggested SA will be playing a forward based kick and territory game at RWC so ability under the high ball, and a kick-return game are going to be must-have skills for the back 3. So I’m leaving Fruen and Maitland out. Rokocoko needs to show stunning running form to make it so he’s out too.

Which interestingly is only 5 changes from the EOYT squad:

Current All Blacks
Forwards
Andrew Hore Anthony Boric
Ben Franks Brad Thorn
Daniel Braid* Hikawera Elliot*
Jerome Kaino John Afoa
Keven Mealamu Kieran Read
Liam Messam Owen Franks
Richie McCaw Samuel Whitelock
Tom Donnelly Tony Woodcock
Backs
Albert Mathewson Andrew Ellis*
Conrad Smith Cory Jane
Dan Carter Hosea Gear
Isaia Toeava Jimmy Cowan
Joe Rokocoko* Ma’a Nonu
Mils Muliaina Sitiveni Sivivatu
Sonny Bill Williams Stephen Donald*

Where ‘*’ denotes a player change.

15 Apr

Super 15 – Round 9
by WAJ
15 Apr 2011

Well I reckon you can draw a line through the bottom eight teams – none are playing well enough, or consistently enough to move into the Top 6. After this weekends games there could well be up to a 7 point gap between 7th and 8th. Injuries are really starting to kick in now with very few teams unaffected.

Chiefs v Crusaders
Nice way to start the weekend. Should be a cracker. The only way the Chiefs are going to win this is to attack and take every chance offered. Unfortunately that has been their downfall this year, dropping the friggin ball. A couple of their key players in Kahui and Sivi should be fit now and will offer a lot in the attacking stakes, and they have beefed up their pack with the addition of Afeaki, Graham and Lee. Thought Umaga might have started to bolster the midfield defence. But of course it won’t make an iota of difference whatever or whoever. The Crusaders will roll on and over – scrums, lineouts, rucks, midfield, pace etc etc etc they have it all. Well nearly, that "it" is just around the corner, heaven help us all when they are at full strength.The Chiefs have won only 4 games against the Crusaders and No.5 won’t happen tonite. And isn’t it strange that this crowd drawing match is at the Mount????
Crusaders 13+

Rebels v Highlanders
Late breaking news – Sterling Mortlock has withdrawn from tonites game through injury. Bugger! This is a hard one to work out anyway – the tough, to the point Highlanders, who are ever improving under an excellent coach and get the most out of themselves each week. Can’t work out why Donnelly and Cowan are on the bench though, but it probably says a lot about the replacements in a must win game for both teams. The Rebels have now won 2 of the last 3 two games at The Stockade, with a close loss in the other and are really starting to gel as a team also under a very good coach. Cipriani is stearing them around the park well ane the pack is one of the best going forward with the loose forward combination greatly underestimated, but hugely influential in their roles. Actually the Slade v Cipriani match up is bloody interesting. I can’t pick too much between them and will go with the home team and the best supporters going around.
Rebels 1 – 12

Blues v Waratahs
The Waratahs are another side hit hard by injury with 5 first choice players out for this. The Blues are nearly at full strength with only Williams and Woody sidelined, though the Waratahs scrum has of late been winning the referees favour and Mailau will need to front. Kaino back is a big win and will go a long way to the Blues winning ascendency up front, the key to their success this year and give Brett and McAllister the space to get there outsides running. Toeava especially has been in great touch and his ability on the counter-attack has the Blues able to strike from all over the park. They will need to watch Mitchell and Beale who are also great counter-attackers and are blessed with loads of pace. The blues need to shut down Burgess and limit his influence feeding runners so big fringe defence and a keen eye for the turnover is required. Really looking forward to Big Kev v The Flying Affro.
Blues 1 – 12

Reds v Bulls
du Preez benched eh! Big big call and I thought there would have been others under more scrutiny, injured perhaps. But I fancy this is the last chance saloon for several high profile players – Triple B, Olivier and Spies need to improve hugely to justify a start, all were terrible last week and I find it hard to believe that they can’t find a starting place for Rossouw who at least goes forward and is involved. Steyn too looks average. With their confidence down it is hard to see where they can beat this Reds team. The old crash and bash, kick and then release it to the pace men out wide doesn’t work as other teams dominate them at the breakdown – too old and slow perhaps. And they will have their work cut out against this fabulous Reds team. McKenzie has been the key with his horses for courses approach and the nous to pick the right players to do the job, and with the best halves combination going around they will be too good for the Bulls.
Reds 13+

Lions v Stormers
Sorry to our Hong Kong based pundit, but if the Lions are the new Bulls, or even a couple of years from being such, then the Crusaders are the new Hurricanes. Mitch has them playing well, but they are very limited with the cattle they have available. And I would not be wanting to face the Stormers this week. They have a few points to prove and will be out for a convincing win to right the ship. No Flash, but Aplon is a better option for the out of form flyer anyway, so expect plenty of ball out wide, with Fourie set to run riot.
Stormers 13+

Cheetahs v Hurricanes
Wow 12th v 14th – yawn. So now not only are they playing like a used ashtray, injury smacks the Hurricanes around as well. But this under performing mob need to find a little fire in the belly to get anywhere near winning this. All the talent in the world gets you nowhere without the will to use it correctly. He may be passed his use by date, but I reckon Rodders would make a big difference to this mob, though he is injured as well of course. Anyway the Cheetahs will win at altitude in a close one.
Cheetahs 1 – 12

Brumbies v Force
Bloody hell another yawn fest between two tryhards. Injuries to key players have ravaged both teams, and they have struggled accordingly. The Brumbies are trying to perfect the "three pivot offence", quite what this is going to achieve I have no idea as one good one has always sufficed in the better teams, but that probably sums up where they are at. The Force need to play Twinkle Toes closer to the action, he needs the ball in hand to work his magic, 2 5/8 at least, though why you wouldn’t keep him at 1 5/8 I don’t know – Ripia is a donkey in comparison. The home team should take it on the back of a stronger scrum and a few more options in the backs.
Brumbies 13+

Regards Waj

8 Apr

Super 15 – Round 8
by WAJ
8 Apr 2011

I see Slipper got off when cited for the “spear” tackle he was yellow carded for against the Lions. Verdict was given as “not guilty”??? It raises the issue again of yellow cards for me.

The inaccuracy of match officials, the mindset of some that they are bigger than the game and thus have to influence it in the worse possible way – and feel they have to act to justify themselves, the failure to use available technology if there is a doubt, is all a worry.

The other classic was Gerrards sinbinning – a perfectly legitimate tackle, and you could see the linesman was not totally sure, and the ref finally got a yellow card recommendation out of him, and whilst they were having their discussion the replay of the incident was on the big screen, and that of course was ignored. If they are using replays for tries then why not this as well. It was as plain as day that if the assistant referee had had the option of viewing a replay he would have taken it – and the ramifications are significant.

It looks like Jake White is heading to the Brumbies. What will happen to player power then, I can’t see him have anything to do with it. Mind you with the departure of Giteau and AAC things will change anyway.

Injuries are starting to kick in now – Mils, Carter, Weepu, Read, Braid, Kaino, Woody, Whitelock, McCaw, Williams – 10 players in or close to the AB’s all either out or questionable for this weekend! Not good Jan!!

No Chiefs, Blues or Rebels this week – dull dull dull.

And so to the games:

Highlanders v Cheetahs
Apart from the blow out against the Reds the Cheetahs have been competitive in all games this year, and in this, the last game before heading home, they will be keen as ever to get another result. They are a limited team, but are strong at set piece and have a live wire halfback who needs to be watched. An interesting switch at lock for the Highlanders, Donnelly on the bench – really!! Is he still easing into it – strange. As the leading lock, and an AB to boot mmmmm. A niggle perhaps. Anyway the Highlanders have won all five games these two have played against each other, will struggle a little bit up front, though should dominate in the loose and be too strong out the back for a relatively easy win.
Highlanders 13+

Crusaders v Bulls
Game of the round no doubt. The pity is the Crusaders cannot be at full strength – in fact imagine any team taking the field without four these pretty influential players – the two best players in the world, one of the 3 or 4 best tighthead props, and one of the better up and coming locks – and still be favorites! The Crusaders have never lost to the Bulls in NZ, and with plenty of class throughout the team will be up for it. I love all the 30 somethings at lock, a few battle scars among that lot. The Bulls are down on their best form and look half a yard slower and less ruthless than previous – they are just executing well. Can they get it right tomorrow? The Crusaders should win but a lot depends on Berquist and the way he varies his game.
Crusaders 13+

Brumbies v Hurricanes
So here we have Dance of the Desperates – The Sequel. Two teams who have flattered to deceive all year, average up front, inexperienced and inconsistent in the loose, and flakey in the backs. The superstars are not geting the right ball and are then trying too hard. The goalkickers couldn’t hit the side of a barn. And now rumours of player unrest at the Hurricanes to get that alignment as well. Only one result going to happen here.
Draw

Force v Waratahs
The Waratahs are a different team with the Flying Affro on the paddock, the glue that keeps the T5 together and a follow me for the others. He gets them going forward and that has been the difference and why this team stumbles at times. A great backline goes nowhere if the forwards aren’t getting over the advantage line, and this applies particularly to the flakey Waratahs. The Force could well upset here, you take them lightly at your peril. Young Twinkle Toes moves to fullback with Ripia now fit, but they loose another of their top loosies with Brown out. With an average T5 they need all the help they can get from the loose trio, this is offset by the loss of Waugh for the Waratahs. So expect the Waraths to start fast, and if they execute well will make it very hard to for the Force to pull it back. The Waratahs do inevitably hit a flat patch, whether they are too far ahead to catch then is the problem facing the Force..
Waratahs 1 – 12

Stormers v Reds
The next best game of the round sees 1st play 3rd, the defensively strong Storm v the attack minded Reds. It will probably be as dull as dishwater as the Stormers go about their business of closing the visitors down and win by 7 penalty kicks to 4. It is hard to believs a backline that includes Aplon, The Flash, Fourie and de Villiers has been so frugal in their try scoring. The Reds have added more grunt up front with Daley and Samo in. If they can hold the Stormers up front(and Bekker in particular is a huge weapon at this level), avoid setting too many targets for the big Stormers loosies and their changed midfield works then they have every chance. The battle of the backlines could be a highlight, but this will depend on the Stormers game plan. I fancy they will try and run their big loosies at Genia, Cooper and Harris, this will either open holes for others or tire the Reds trio and they will become less effective. To my mind the Stormers will grind.
Stormers 1 – 12

Sharks v Lions
The Lions are a likely lot – Ok in the T5, a good set of loosies and an attacking mindset in the backs, they lack the class to beat most teams but are certainly improved. The Sharks mmmm. A goodish team, they lack an edge that would make them a contender. They battle away up front, but insist on rotating through the front row and accomodating Smit who is now not in their best team. Alberts is a real weapon but that is it about it with Kankowski less and less effective these days. Not a lot offers in the Sharks backline either with Lambie out. The Sharks nous will see them home, and probably quite comfortably in the end.
Sharks 13+

Regards Waj