27 May

Super 15 — Round 15
by WAJ
27 May 2011

Four rounds to go and with 8 sides vying for the 6 spots available there are 3 games of crucial importance over the weekend.All sorts of questions going into this round – Can the Sharks bounce back from a pretty demoralising loss, which of the Waratahs teams will show up,can the Bulls continue on their impressive run, how will the Cheetahs go againstthem after 4 consecutive wins, and inthe match of the round- how will the Reds andCrusaders play it?

Hurricanes v Force
Mmmm 11th plays 12th – could be quite a good game though with nothing to lose from both sides – though the weather might have the final say. Twinkle Toes out reduces the appeal a bit.And with Ripia also out Stannard becomes the makeshift 1 5/8! Most interest is probably in the performance of the Hurricanes back line – but again the weather could be the spoiler here. A few of them need to start showing some form to ensure a World Cup spot, with Jane probably under the most pressure from the improving Smith from the Highlanders. The Hurricanes have won 4 of the 5 games played between the two and will make it 5 out of 6 here. Interesting choice ofHurricanes captain!
Hurricanes 1 – 12

Highlanders v Lions
Should be a straight forward win for the Highlanders as they push for a top six spot. Sitting in 6th spot now, a bonus point win is a must and with a virtual full strength team lining up should run over the top of the Lions. Tom Donnelly out injured is further putting his World Cup spot in jeopardy – I still puzzle how a 1st choice AB lock can fade to abit part reserve in less than a year. The Lions are the real battlers of this comp with only 2 wins in their last 27 games and just do not have the cattle to challenge here.
Highlanders 13+

Brumbies v Stormers
Again this should be a straight forward win for the Stormers. The Brumbies were improved last week, but were certainly no world beaters. Again it is issue of not having the cattle available, and the ongoing loss of players, and the sacking of the coach, and the outburst of his replacement, and the constant changing of the team….. The Stormers should have too much class all over the paddock and win comfortably
Stormers 13+

Sharks v Waratahs
This really holds no attraction as a viewing spectacle, but of course is crucial to both teams Top 6 aspirations. If results go as they should the loser of this is in real dogfight for the last spot in the 6. Form is pretty similair for both teams – up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers. I fancy this then to be a pretty dour struggle, and with the Sharks slightly better ability to gather points, they should win in a close one. As an aside it is fascinating to watch the circus that isSouth African rugby. Where else would you get thenational captain relegated to prop, holding up his major rival, who is arguablya better player, though far less disciplined. The captain has to be hooker at the WC – so game time would be fairly important you would think- all bizarre really.
Sharks 1 – 12

Bulls v Cheetahs
The old bull v the young bull.There could be an upset here! Of course this a South African derby so it will begin and end in the forwards and any chance the Cheetahs have will depend on their young forwards fronting against the onslaught that was the downfall of the Sharks last week – Triple B and his mates on the front foot is nigh on impossible to counter. Having had the better of the Crusaders a fortnite ago the Cheetahswill have the confidence to give this a red hot shot. They will need to start well and get some points early agaisnt the great accumulators of the comp. I fancy this mighht be close but ultimately the Bulls will have enough smarts to pull through.
Bulls 1 – 12

Reds v Crusaders
It is time for McCaw to bring that imperious form we all know to the fore as the Crusaders will need all hands on deck to defeat this very good, but also adaptableReds team.But I figure this game will come down to one aspect – thescrum. You know the Crusaders are going to target this area, and with Iron Man backtheir scrum becomes a truely formidable weapon. With play then generated from this phase they should get on the front foot and there is no better player to exploit this than DanThe Man. This also means the Burglar is not going to receive a lot of good ball to generate momentum for the Reds. Combine this with strong defence on the inside channelsagainst the likes ofDiggers. Link is a clever man though and the Reds will have to watched.
Crusaders 1 – 12

Regards Waj

26 May

Midfield bust
by Tracey Nelson
26 May 2011

Which NZ midfielder has made the most line breaks, offloads and is the best tackler? Check
out the midfielder stats here.

I have looked at the players most likely to be in contention for the All Blacks, plus the Highlanders pairing to gauge how that franchise is comparing against the others. All tables start with the top player for that category (so missed tackles is therefore in reverse order with the player making the least number of missed tackles being top). One point to note is that while Rene Ranger has been included here as a midfielder, he has played a number of games at fullback for the Blues this season. However, to gauge offloads in the tackle those games have been included for his stats here.

Linebreaks made Average per game Games played
Robbie Fruean 2.17 12
Rene Ranger 1.75 12
Shaun Treeby 1.56 9
Luke McAlister 1.44 9
Jared Payne 1.15 13
Kendrick Lynn 1.15 13
Sonny Bill Williams 1.10 10
Conrad Smith 1.00 6
Richard Kahui 0.33 9
Ma’a Nonu 0.29 7

Average number of off loads per game
Sonny Bill Williams 4.40
Rene Ranger 1.92
Conrad Smith 1.17
Kendrick Lynn 1.08
Jared Payne 1.00
Shaun Treeby 1.00
Robbie Fruean 0.92
Richard Kahui 0.89
Luke McAlister 0.78
Ma’a Nonu 0.57

Average number of tackles per game
Conrad Smith 10.33
Shaun Treeby 10.11
Sonny Bill Williams 7.90
Luke McAlister 7.56
Kendrick Lynn 7.08
Jared Payne 6.92
Ma’a Nonu 6.43
Richard Kahui 6.11
Robbie Fruean 4.92
Rene Ranger 4.50

Average missed tackles per game
Rene Ranger 0.50
Jared Payne 0.54
Kendrick Lynn 0.85
Sonny Bill Williams 0.90
Ma’a Nonu 1.00
Robbie Fruean 1.17
Richard Kahui 1.33
Conrad Smith 1.50
Shaun Treeby 1.78
Luke McAlister 2.11

Total percentage of tackles successfully made
Jared Payne 92%
Rene Ranger 89%
Kendrick Lynn 88%
Sonny Bill Williams 87%
Ma’a Nonu 84%
Conrad Smith 86%
Shaun Treeby 82%
Richard Kahui 78%
Robbie Fruean 76%
Luke McAlister 72%

20 May

Super 15 — Round 14
by WAJ
20 May 2011

More ructions over here in Aus with the Waratahs given a good grilling by fans in a forum last night and of course the Brumbies continuing to implode in a spectacular way. Big changes in the wind in Canberra with a lot of experience leaving – JakeWhite will certainly have to build a team from scratch, that can only be a good thing for an outfit that has steadily declined of late.

Blues v Stormers
I’m sorry but I didn’t think Ranger was that bad last week, and he is a better player than Stowers every day. The backline looks far less threatening with him not lining up. But equally the forwards look a lot stronger withKaino in,though it is an interesting choice of McCartney at L/H. itis a big game for the Blues locks as well, Williams was only average last week and he needs abig game against Gigantor to keep pushing for that recall. Injuries have hit both sides in the backs, more so the Stormers than the Blues and this should be enough to get the Blues back on the winning road. The Stormers are going to attack the inside back channel all night, and the loss of their test midfielders will limit the effectiveness of this tactic. So with Kaino to stiffen up the fringe defence, Bretthopefully made to watch his defensive efforts last week repeatedly with a "DO NOT DO….." before every clip, and Payne back at centre to organise things the Eden Park faithful should go home happy.
Blues 1 – 12

Crusaders v Chiefs
The last, and only,timethe Chiefs havebeaten theCrusaders awaywas in the infamous 2007season of reconditioning (sorry to bring it up).With only 9 of their best 15 starting, the fatigue factor after returning from Yarp Africa and a less than convincing display last week this could well be the second time. The Chiefs have finally sparked up and are putting some quality play together, the issue though is they can’t do it for a whole game yet. Some changes in the Chiefs, none of which make sense to me, won’t help. So much for not changing a winning team, and wouldn’t you want that team to carry on from the previous weeks great 2nd half? How muchlonger is Foster around?What to make of the Crusaders? The issues mentioned previously are probably just the thing they need to get back to their winning ways. I can’t imagine McCaw putting in a 2nd bad performance and Read will be better for the run as well. Mr Sabbatical will need to be at his best to guide this young makeshift backline through a difficult assignment. Down on pace and experience he will need to be at his best against a very good opposition who have Kahui cutting a merry caper through all and sundry. I think the Crusaders will muscle up in the forwards, target Taumololo at scrum time, and work from there to keep the Chiefs quiet. Fruen v Kahui a huge match up and Messam will be another to watch.
Crusaders 1 – 12

Waratahs v Lions
Apart from the Reds theAustralian sides are playing some appalling rugby, and the Waratahs contributeto that big time. To hear Phil Waugh come out and criticise the Force for enticing the Waratahs to kick and thus turn the crowd against them is just laughable. Phil have a look at the last few games your mob has played, and if you can stay awake long enough perhaps you will realiseTHAT YOUR TEAM IS SO FRIGGIN BORING AND CLUELESS THEY BRING IT ON THEMSELVES!! And you can guarantee they will role out the dross again to get the win, which at the end of the day is what it is all about. The Lions will come to play, but are not good enough up front to compete with the Waratahs. Will probably be a bore fest to be watched on a highlights reel only – Butchie Boy will be an interesting watch. The Waratahs will win reasonably comfortably.
Waratahs 13+

Force v Brumbies
Rocky 8 – out Saturday night on your local TV, will he get through his latest comeback?A fit Elsom will be of huge importance to the Wallabies come the World Cup. But more to the point what a debacle of a season for the Brumbies -they were woeful last week, poor at ruck time,giving away turnovers at will, and again disorganised out back. Constant change isn’t helping but a combination ot players trying too hard (Giteau), out of form (AAC), or just not up to it (Valentine). The Force have beenthe hard luck story of the year, with so many close results going against them. You feel they are just one more very good player in the midfield,to compliment Twinkle Toes, away from being a real Forcein the Aus section. So despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the capital and the corresponding, supposed, lift this will bring I reckon they are shot to pieces and the Force will do them like a dinner – a team v a group of individuals and all that stuff.
Force 13+

Cheetahs v Rebels
The way the Cheetahs are playing at the moment this could be another hiding for the Rebels like last weeks against the Bulls. The Rebels have too many injury/disciplinary problemsthat weaken them too much, and then the cattle they still have leave a bit to be desired, too one dimensional with no pace or guile or too break things up andcreate chances. The Cheetahs are a good young team on a role and will be far too good.
Cheetahs 13+

Sharks v Bulls
Are the Bulls back? They have been better in their last couple of games, though admittedly against disappointing opposition at home. They will need to take another big step up against a pretty good Sharks outfit, that whilst not the best Sharks outfit we have seen go around are still pretty bloody good. The forward clash, as always between two sides from the Republic, will be extremely willing, and I can see the Sharks with a small advantage here as the Bulls have yet to convince that they are as good as previous seasons when the heat goes on. This will give Lambie the chance to dictate and turn the Bulls around. The key for the Sharks though will be midfield defence which was very leaky in the loss to the Stormers. They tighten this up, edge it up front, and kick their goals then win they will.
Sharks 1 – 12

Regards Waj

19 May

Loose change – count em up
by Tracey Nelson
19 May 2011

Crusaders_006How are the loose forwards looking now we are three quarters of the way through the Super competition? Check out their stats here.

I have included Jarrad Hoeata in this group as he is potentially playing for a spot as blindside/lock cover in the All Blacks squad. Daniel Braid is omitted due to the very few games he has started in this year. Richie McCaw is included because despite only three starts he is undoubtedly the bench mark. All tables start with the top player for that category.

Tackles Average per game Games played
Alado Soakai 16.1 9
Luke Braid 15.9 9
Matt Todd 14.3 11
Richie McCaw 14.0 3
Adam Thomson 13.9 10
Jarrad Hoeata 13.0 11
Liam Messam 12.9 12
Scott Waldrom 12.8 9
Victor Vito 12.2 12
Fritz Lee 11.2 10
Tanerau Latimer 10.4 9
Jerome Kaino 10.3 10
Peter saili 7.3 9
Kieran Read 6.7 9

Total percentage of tackles made
Richie McCaw 97.6
Luke Braid 97.2
Adam Thomson 95.7
Victor Vito 95.2
Tanerau Latimer 95.2
Liam Messam 94.2
Matt Todd 93.7
Alando Soakai 93.1
Scott Waldrom 92.2
Jarrad Hoeata 90.2
Jerome Kaino 87.4
Fritz Lee 88.1
Kieran Read 86.7
Peter Saili 84.8

Average number ball carries per game
Liam Messam 10.9
Fritz Lee 10.8
Victor Vito 10.5
Luke Braid 9.0
Kieran Read 8.9
Peter Saili 8.6
Adam Thomson 8.2
Richie McCaw 7.0
Jerome Kaino 7.0
Alando Soakai 5.7
Scott Waldrom 5.8
Matt Todd 5.4
Jarred Hoeata 5.1
Tanerau Latimer 4.8

Average metres made per game
Fritz Lee 70.3
Liam Messam 69.2
Adam Thomson 66.8
Kieran Read 60.4
Victor Vito 58.0
Peter Saili 56.7
Luke Braid 44.0
Matt Todd 42.3
Richie McCaw 38.7
Jerome Kaino 35.2
Alando Soakai 28.9
Scott Waldrom 28.4
Jarrad Hoeata 26.7
Tanerau Latimer 19.9

Turnovers won Total Average per game
Matt Todd 13 1.2
Adam Thomson 10 1.0
Luke Braid 8 0.9
Victor Vito 9 0.8
Jarrad Hoeata 7 0.6
Scott Waldrom 5 0.6
Jerome Kaino 5 0.5
Kieran Read 4 0.4
Liam Messam 3 0.3
Alado Soakai 2 0.2

Coming soon: see how the midfielders have been going

13 May

Super 15 — Round 13
by WAJ
13 May 2011

After all the promise of some great games Round 12 turned into a bit of a damp squid.

The 2 all New Zealand games were average with a truck load of errors in both. The 2 all Oz games were pretty dire as well, especially the dross served up in Sydney. The only decent game was in Capetown and that was a ripper. Heres hoping for something better this weekend, though the 2nd half of the round is pretty much one way traffic.

Highlanders v Hurricanes
Again the lesser performed team is the favorite,even with the Highlanders having home advantage. Looking at the makeup of the two teams you would give the advantage to the Highlanders in the locking department, and inside backs. The front row and loosies are pretty even, as are the back 3, with the advantage to the Hurricanes in the midfield. The Highlanders won the 1st round match up, and though hit by injury, no more so than the Hurricanes. Surely all pointing to a Highlanders advantage! At home I reckon the Highlanders will tighten things up as they seek to return to better form, and look to dominate possession and let Cowan do his thing at a ground they have only lost at once in recent times. The first appearance of Weepu a nice sideline.
Highlanders 1 – 12

Reds v Blues
Game of the round for sure. Both teams have been a bit down on earlier form, the Reds only doing what was required against the Rebels after losing to the Hurricanes, theBlues very dour in its last two wins against the Highlanders and Hurricanes. Conditions tonite will favour a more expansive game than that, but the running ability and counter attacking ability of both teams may mean they choose to keep ittight. Accurate kicking will be paramount, with the Reds probably having the edge with Cooper and Genia, but if Brett can stay consistent and McAllister resume on form and they keep hitting the corners the more experienced Blues pack may have to edge it. If the likes of Mailau and the loosies can step up, the latter needing to "protect" Brett,then the Blues will win a close one. But the Reds will be very tough and will like the look of the flakey defence of the Blues in the inside backs.Could go either way.
Blues 1 – 12

Chiefs v Stormers
This has a lot of potential as well. I fancy the Stormers will want to send a strong message that they are just as good away from home and will be well fired up for this. They are one of the few sides able to play a full strength line upwith The Flash and Grant back. They have won 3 of the last 4 games between the two including the last 2 in Hamilton, last year in particular a belting. A lot of course will depend on what Chiefs team turns up. They need to improve in the inside backs and scrums and start taking advantage of the many linebreaks that the likes of Masaga and Sivi make. But I think the Stormers will just be too good for them, wet or dry, andget their campaign back on track.
Stormers 1 – 12

Brumbies v Lions – A who cares game if ever there was one.

Bulls v Rebels
The Rebels are fielding their 3rd string 1 5/8, a new centre and a rookie hooker -on top of some mediocre recent form things aren’t looking good. They will need to defend very well here, not their strength, and whilst theyremain brave up front, the Bulls aren’t exactly the weakest pack going around. The Bullies looked to be gaining a bit of confidence last time out and will be looking for more of that here. Based on the poor defensive record of the Rebels and the hard nosed approach to that the Bulls will bring this will be an easy overs win.
Bulls 13+

Cheetahs v Crusaders
A tough game for the Crusaders against a young improving Cheetahs side. With altitude and injury also against them they need to be on the job. Interesting move to put Fruean on the wing, no alternatives obviously but an intriguing move nonetheless. Great to see Carter and McCaw back, the latter in for a tough nite opposing Brussouw (I would have loved to haveseen how Todd would have gone against Brussouwv). The class of the Crusaders will be too good and they will win comfortably.
Crusaders 13+

Regards Waj

6 May

Super 15 — Round 12
by WAJ
6 May 2011

Another great round coming up. Not a dud amongst the games. Well, perhaps the Lions v Cheetahs but this will still be a good game as they both like to run, and will be anxious to avoid being the bottom SA team.

The Sharks v Brumbies perhaps doesn’t promise anything flash either, but
the Sharks need a big win so could be OK. It is all about the top seven
teams now, with the Bulls maybe an outside chance, and ensuring that
you finish top of your pool and guarantee a home semi.

They have had a feature on Nathan Charles (Force hooker) on Inside Rugby
tonight. Great story – he suffers from Cystic Fibrosis – amazing.

One guy who is slipping under the injury radar is Rocky Elsom, Aus Capt no less!! He is still battling a hamstring injury, and toured at the end of last year with it by all accounts, and his continued absence must be a concern for Dingo. Surely he will need some Soopa rugby before the WC (only126 days to go by the way) otherwise his campaign has to be compromised.

To the games:

Hurricanes v Blues
A bit nervous about this one. The Hurricanes have won 5 of the last 7 match ups and looked very good at times last week.A tad inconsistent though, and they will get no relief from what has become a very consistent Blues side. You feel that the Blues will be too good up front, and have enough inventiveness in the backs for a comfortable win. I would anticipate a strong start from the Blues, with a few early tries too take the heat out of things. Concerns are goal-kicking, well that applies to both sides, and the new combination in the outside backs. I like the move of Ranger to centre as it gives the Blues a line-breaking capability in the middle of the field to offset the loss of Toeava, but here’s hoping he remembers to bloody pass! Big game for Rokocoko up against Gear.
Blues 1 – 12

Rebels v Reds
A near full strength Reds side will cause plenty of problems for the Rebels. The pack especially is strengthened and with the brilliance and accuracy of the inside backs and the pace of the outside backs this could get ugly. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Burglar live. What concerns me about the Mighty Rebels is their lack of pace in the backline, and the inability to make a break, let alone capitilise on it. Phipps (good player but not quick), Mortlock, Gerrard and Huxley are all as slow as awet week. So they need to rumble it up front, and against this combative Reds eight they will have their work cut out. The Burglar is a far superior punter of the ball than his opposite as well – so the Rebels will struggle to apply any pressure I reckon.
Reds 13+

Lions v Cheetahs
Two developing teams, and local rivals, sure to put on a good display. I like the look of the Cheetahs, plenty of youth, a spark in the halves and a good mix of skill and brawn up front. They were very good last week andhave improved a lot during the season. The Lions look to have stalled this year after a bright start. A dead even win loss record in this derby can’t split them. But good recent form and the influence of Brussouw should see the Cheetahs home.
Cheetahs 1 – 12

Chiefs v Highlanders
I can’t believe the Chiefs are the favorites for this, based on what? Results – no way. Form – patchy at best. Condition – just flown back from YarpAfrica. Home ground – record average to say the least. Opposition – the Highlanders have been in great form all year, and beat the Crusaders 2 weeks ago. Do the bookies know something???? Well sure the Chiefs have won 7 of the last 8 matches between these two, but come on, look at who is playing good consistent rugby and who is all over the shop.The Highlanders should win on the back of a superior tight 5, more accurate backs in better formand most importantly, a decent game plan and a coach who knows what he is doing. Thomo v Messam the match up to watch.
Highlanders 1 – 12

Waratahs v Force
Could be an upset here, the Force are fully capable of repeating last years result. With theBlues down on strength and the Force having a few players back from their last meeting, and playing well for the last three weeks I can see a Force win here. The Waratahs without Waugh (leadership) and Mitchell (major strike weapon) are well downin strength, and throw in Palu andThe Flying Dreadsalso and they look very vulnerable to me. Especially against a side that has the ability to score tries that the Force do. The Waratahs will try and grind the Force down up front where they do have a superior scrum but the Force have more options than the Rebels and I doubt that tactic will work twice in a row against the canny Force.
Force 1 – 12

Stormers v Crusaders
The game of the round. Two very good teams needing to win to keep their conference topping ambitions alive. The Stormers were very good last week. There game is based on defence, defence and more defence – but they also have good set pieces to restart with and agreat strike force in the centres,all of which makes them very formidable at home. The Reds beat them a few weeks ago by playing them at their own game, hard to believe when the Burglar is one of the defenders I know, but they were brutal up front and very quick to get the ball down the other end, with a good chase. I don’t know whether the Crusaders have the pack to do this though, hopefully they stick to their usual game plan and we see plenty of ball go through SBWto test the midfield defence and also wide to utilise the excellent form of the back 3- it doesn’t matter who you line up against them, that back 5 are going to cause problems, and the Stormers do look a bit weak defensively in the inside backs, with a rookie at 1 5/8 and de Villiers not always rock solid. A short arse on one wing is also a possible weakness. Equally if the Crusaders can stop any threat from de Villiers and Fourie on attack, and with a question mark over the Stormers goalkicking where are there points going to come from? This game also has fascinating battle amongst the loosies, and with Todd to come off the bench and the returning Read the Crusaders have the edge in skill and nous there. So deal with the bash, scrum well, be clever at lineout time to negate Gigantor, shut down the midfield, and use the backs.
Crusaders1 – 12 (but wouldn’t be surprised if it is 13+)

Sharks v Brumbies
This should be a convincing win for the Sharks, the Brumbies have been horrible this year, struggling up front due to injuries and the inconsistent form of some players and confused in the backs with their triple pivot ploy – to see a class player like AAC struggle the way he has sums it up. The Sharks were well beaten last week in Capetown, and it sort of summed up where they are at. And that is a good side but one that struggles against the top sides (except the Blues of course). They will be too good up front, and defensively,for the Brumbies and win quite easily.
Sharks 13+

Regards Waj