JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the first four Vodacom Super Rugby matches of round four.
HURRICANES vs BRUMBIES, Palmerston North (Friday, 8:35am)
The Hurricanes were fortunate to beat the Waratahs in round one, and were convincingly beaten by the Crusaders in round two. John Plumtree’s side will have a point to prove when they host the Brumbies this Friday.
The Brumbies may take heart from the fact that they’ve beaten the Hurricanes in six of their last seven clashes. That said, their 54-17 win over the Chiefs last week was a statement in itself, and the Brumbies will be determined to claim another big Kiwi scalp.
The hosts will be looking to All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea to make the difference this week. Barrett will start for the first time this season, and won’t have much time to settle.
The performance of the Hurricanes’ pack will be under scrutiny. The Brumbies forwards were dominant against the Chiefs last week, and will be tough to match at the set pieces and collisions. A repeat performance by the Australians will ensure that Barrett and company struggle for clean ball.
Stats and facts
– The Hurricanes have won 22 of their last 23 home games, with only the Chiefs managing to beat the Canes in that spell, back in June 2017.
– The Hurricanes have won 13 of their last 14 Super Rugby games against Australian opposition, including a 20-19 victory over the Waratahs in the opening round of this season.
– The Brumbies come into this game on the back of a big victory against the Chiefs. They’ve not won consecutive games against New Zealand opposition since winning three such games in a row in 2014.
– Thirty-seven of the last 38 Super Rugby games where a New Zealand team have hosted an Australian team have been won by the New Zealand team.
Hurricanes – 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Vince Aso, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Liam Mitchell, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Chris Eves.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Wes Goosen.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Chance Peni , 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 David Pocock, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Tom Wright.
REBELS vs HIGHLANDERS, Melbourne (Friday, 10:45am)
The Rebels began their campaign with a bang when they beat the Brumbies 34-27 in Canberra. They were forced to have a bye in round two, though, and thus denied the opportunity to build some momentum.
The Highlanders will go into this clash as favourites. They beat the Chiefs in Hamilton in round one and then fired late to down the Reds at home in round two.
While the Highlanders have impressed on attack thus far – averaging more metres and clean breaks than any other team, according to Opta – they have been woefully inaccurate on defence. Their tackle success rate of 81% is currently the worst in the tournament.
Will the Rebels exploit that area of the Highlanders’ game? If their forwards fire, the likes of Will Genia and Quade Cooper will ask questions of the visitors’ defence.
The absence of All Blacks Ben Smith and Aaron Smith may also weaken the Highlanders. The pair has been instrumental to the side’s success in the past two weeks.
Stats and facts
– The Highlanders have won six of their seven matches against Rebels, their only defeat to the Melbourne-based outfit coming in July 2013.
– The Highlanders have won 14 of their last 16 regular-season games against Australian opposition, including each of their last three in a row.
– Jermaine Ainsley (Rebels) has conceded five penalties already in Super Rugby this season; only the Waratahs’ Sekope Kepu (six) has conceded more.
Rebels – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (c), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetra Faulkner.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Rob Leota, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Reece Hodge.
Highlanders – 15 Josh Ioane, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Josh McKay, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Pari Pari Parkinson, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ricky Jackson, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Patelesio Tomkinson, 23 Marty Banks.
CHIEFS vs SUNWOLVES, Hamilton (Saturday, 8:35am)
The Chiefs will be desperate to set the record straight following their shocking start to the 2019 Super Rugby tournament. After losing at home to the Highlanders, the Chiefs copped a 54-17 hiding at the hands of the Brumbies in Canberra.
One would expect them to put away the Sunwolves at home. They will be under pressure, though, to claim a convincing bonus-point win.
The Sunwolves are a different beast in Tokyo. Last week, they pushed the Waratahs close and came within two points of a historic victory.
On the road, however, the Japanese franchise tends to struggle. The game in Hamilton this Saturday will mark the Sunwolves’ first match outside of Asia in 2019.
The Chiefs should target the Sunwolves’ scrum. This match may also present the Kiwis with an opportunity to address their lineout ails.
Usually, you’d expect the Chiefs to embrace a loose and unstructured game from the outset. On this occasion, however, they may opt to build an innings before playing more expansively in the latter stages.
Stats and facts
– This will be just the third Super Rugby meeting between the Chiefs and the Sunwolves, with the Hamilton-based side winning both of the previous encounters.
– The only previous Super Rugby meeting between the Chiefs and Sunwolves in New Zealand saw the Japanese outfit outscore the Chiefs 17-7 in the second stanza; though they still lost 27-20.
– The Chiefs have won 11 of their last 12 Super Rugby games at home against teams visiting from outside New Zealand, losing only to the Jaguares in that span.
– Gerhard van den Heever (Sunwolves) has gained 10.7m per carry this Super Rugby campaign, the most of any player to have made more than 10 carries for the season.
Chiefs – 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Orbyn Leger, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick (c), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Sefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Sunwolves – TBC
REDS vs CRUSADERS, Brisbane (Saturday, 10:45am)
The Crusaders needed some luck to beat the Blues in round one, with the Auckland-based side missing two goal attempts at the death. There was nothing fortunate about their performance against the Hurricanes in round two, though, as they hammered their Kiwi counterparts to claim a comfortable 38-22 win.
That said, a late lapse allowed the Hurricanes to score a try that denied the Crusaders a bonus point. Scott Robertson may want his team to prove a point this weekend with an 80-minute showing against the Reds.
The Reds boast some exciting players in their back division. Those players might not see the ball much this Saturday, however, if the forwards fail to fire.
The Crusaders are renowned for their strength at the set pieces and street smarts at the breakdowns. The Reds are currently ranked 15th in the tournament for lineout wins, and may struggle to prevent the red and black machine from setting that famously unstoppable maul close to the line.
Robertson has opted to give several senior players a rest this week. The Crusaders should still present a threat with ball in hand, though. The Reds will have to improve on last week’s 85% tackle success rate if they hope to keep the Cantabrians at bay.
Stats and facts
– Since losing to the Reds in the 2011 final, the Crusaders have won six Super Rugby games in a row against the Queensland side, including a come-from-behind victory in their last meeting.
– The Reds have won each of their last two home games, including a 21-point victory against the Sunwolves at the end of last season.
– The Crusaders have won their last 17 games in a row, the longest winning run by any side in the history of Super Rugby.
– The Crusaders have won 46 of 47 scrums on their own feed across their last seven Super Rugby fixtures.
– Moses Sorovi (Reds) has scored two tries and provided one try assist in his last two Super Rugby games.
Reds – 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Angus Scott-Young, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika
Subs: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Caleb Timu, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.
Crusaders – 15 Will Jordan, 14 Braydon Ennor, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makali, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 David Havili.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images