CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the first four Vodacom Super Rugby clashes in round two, including the big Kiwi derby between the Crusaders and Hurricanes.
HIGHLANDERS vs REDS, Dunedin (Friday, 8:35am)
The Highlanders used their get-out-of-jail-free card in round one as they mounted a late fightback to snatch victory over the Chiefs.
All Blacks star Aaron Smith proved to be a highly influential figure as he produced a cameo performance off the bench, and it’s no surprise that he now reclaims the No 9 jersey, while Waisake Naholo is also back on the wing.
The Highlanders will ride a wave of momentum into this clash, but the Reds will be looking to make a statement of their own in the Brisbane-based side’s first game of the season.
The Reds could only manage six wins last year, and Brad Thorn’s team will be desperate to start this campaign in more encouraging fashion, but there is little to suggest that they will be able to cope with the Highlanders’ ruthless ability to play high-percentage rugby.
Recent history shows that the Highlanders have won three out of their last four games against the Reds, and they will be heavy favourites at home this Friday.
Stats and facts
o The Reds have won just one of their last four season-openers, scoring more than 20 points just once over this span.
o The Highlanders will be out to avoid back-to-back losses to Australian teams for the first time since July 2014, after a quarter-final defeat to the Waratahs last season.
o The Reds were the only side to average fewer than 10 clean breaks per match last season in Super Rugby (9.5), they also averaged the fewest metres (388).
o Josh Ioane landed six out of six kicks for the Highlanders in round one, only Handré Pollard (8/8) kicked more on the opening weekend without missing.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (co-c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-c), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Matt Faddes.
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 Caleb Timu, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakia-Loto, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika
Subs: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.
SUNWOLVES vs WARATAHS, Tokyo (Saturday, 6:15am)
The Waratahs should take plenty of encouragement from the manner in which they kicked off their season with a highly competitive clash against the Hurricanes.
A late penalty ultimately cost the Tahs what would have been a quite deserving victory, but they should see this clash against the Sunwolves as a golden opportunity to pick up a bonus-point win.
Wallabies stars Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau have been named to start in a strong squad that the Tahs have taken to Tokyo, and they should be looking to back their attack to make an impression on Saturday.
As it is, the Tahs have averaged 61 points per match across their three previous wins over the Sunwolves, who conceded 45 points in last Saturday’s loss to the Sharks.
Stats and facts
o The Sunwolves have won three of their last four home games, despite trailing at half-time on three occasions over this span.
o The Waratahs have lost three of their last five games on the road, but trailed at half-time just once over this span (won three, drawn one).
o The Sunwolves completed 91% of their tackles last week, their best-ever tackle success rate in a Super Rugby fixture.
o The Waratahs’ Israel Folau gained 106m last week, the joint-highest tally in round one alongside Michael Collins of the Blues.
Sunwolves – 15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Shane Gates, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Ed Quirk, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar (c).
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Awe Helu, 20 James Moore, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Michael Little, 23 Rikiya Matsuda .
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.`
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Lachlan Swinton, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Cam Clark/Adam Ashley-Cooper.
CRUSADERS vs HURRICANES, Christchurch (Saturday, 8:35am)
Both these teams will have been pretty frustrated by their efforts in the opening round of action. Although the Crusaders and Hurricanes both managed to salvage narrow victories, they were largely outplayed by the Blues and Waratahs respectively.
The two Kiwi sides will take the result and run, but there is sure to be a realisation that vastly improved performances will be required for Saturday’s match-up.
The Crusaders often make a rather slow start to Super Rugby, before getting stronger and stronger as the season progresses, but this match already shapes up as a crucial fixture in what looks set to be an especially competitive New Zealand conference.
The fact remains that the defending champs are also on a 16-match winning streak, and they frequently find a way to win even when they aren’t firing on all cylinders. This is what makes the Saders such a formidable foe, particularly when playing at home, but the Canes would love nothing more than to dish out a little revenge after suffering a semi-final defeat in Christchurch last year.
Although the Canes are still without star flyhalf Beauden Barrett, coach John Plumtree has brought Dane Coles into the starting lineup where he will take over the captaincy from TJ Perenara.
In their first home game of the season, the Crusaders should be expected to come away with victory, but this should be one of the most fiercely contested battles in round two.
Stats and facts
o The Crusaders will be aiming for a third-straight win over the Hurricanes for the first time since May 2008, after recording two wins over the Hurricanes in Christchurch last season.
o The Hurricanes have won just three of their last eight fixtures, but will be chasing back-to-back wins after a 20-19 victory over the Waratahs last week.
o The Crusaders are chasing a record 17th-straight win on the bounce in Super Rugby – they previously won 16 straight games between April 2005 and April 2006.
o The Hurricanes gained just 260m in round one, the fewest they have gained in a Super Rugby match since March 2016 (248 vs Blues).
o Manasa Mataele (Crusaders) scored a brace last week, his third brace in his last eight Super Rugby appearances (eight tries in total in those eight games).
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Fletcher Smith, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Liam Mitchell, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Chris Eves.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Ben May, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Ngani Laumape.
BRUMBIES vs CHIEFS, Canberra, Saturday, 10:45am
The Brumbies and Chiefs will both feel that they blew golden opportunities to claim season-opening wins, and it’s added an early dose of pressure as they head into this second-round battle.
Although the Chiefs will have been disappointed by their late capitulation against the Highlanders, they did display some good signs along the way.
Importantly for the New Zealand outfit, they have also been boosted by the return of talismanic figure Damian McKenzie, who takes over at flyhalf.
The Brumbies have suffered four successive defeats against the Chiefs, and they will know that their defence is primed for a litmus test against a typically dynamic attacking team.
Sadly, the Brumbies are a mere shadow of the championship team that they once were, and another heavy loss against the Chiefs could well be on the cards.
Stats and facts
o The Brumbies have won just two of their last six games at home. However, they did defeat New Zealand opposition on home soil in June last year (24-12 vs Hurricanes), ending a seven-match losing streak against the Kiwis.
o The Chiefs will be out to avoid a third straight Super Rugby defeat for the first time since June 2014 after a 2018 quarter-final defeat and a 2019 round one loss, each to New Zealand opposition.
o The Chiefs’ Anton Lienert-Brown beat a round-highest 10 defenders, as well as making more offloads (five) than anyone else on the opening weekend.
o The Brumbies’ Peter Samu made four clean breaks on the opening weekend of Super Rugby 2019, more than any other player in round one.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Chance Peni, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Peter Samu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Tom Wright.
Chiefs – 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Ataata Moeakiola, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick (c), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Sefo Kautai, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Orbyn Leger, 23 Bailyn Sullivan.
Photo: Craig Morrison/www.photosport.nz