So to round 8 of the Super14, and a round that could pretty much define a lot of the side’s seasons. With all five South African sides taking to the turf, and not playing against each other, it makes for a pretty demanding rugby watching weekend. Throw in two ODI’s against the Aussies, the Sevens in Adelaide and the F1 GP in Sepang, and you have a marriage wrecker waiting to happen. I am not suggesting missing out, though, just a little PVR ballet and a LOT of planning!
So to the Super14 weekend, then …
Friday, April 03
Crusaders v Bulls, Christchurch 08:35
One hell of a start to the weekend! I mean – who would want to call this? Bulls fresh off a pasting from the Highlanders, and notoriously poor travellers, while the Crusaders held on for a very dull win against the Stormers last weekend. Victor Matfield is back for the men in light blue, and that can only be good, but it does mean a move to the side of the scrum for Danie Rossouw, though, who has been outstanding at lock – his prime position in my book. Pierre Spies is looking pretty ordinary it has to be said, and I cannot believe that Ryno Gerber has kept his place after his dismal showing last week. But surely they cannot play as poorly as they did last week? And just look at the talent in the line-up! But the Champs are fighting back hard – it might not look pretty, but it is pretty effective, even if Stephen Brett often looks like he does not want the high ball. I will be brutally honest – I have no idea who will win this game. It really could go either way. No grey areas in this column, though. Bulls by 1.
Western Force v Reds, Perth 13:05
I am not sure one person could be less interested in a game of rugby. Two Ozzie sides, 11 vs 12 on the log … I would rather do the Argus on a bike with no seat than watch this. Force by 9
Saturday, April 04
Chiefs v Lions, Hamilton 08:35
Seems an obvious call given the log positions and recent results … But this Lions side has a potent front row, one of the best centres in the world, and probably the most important ingredient – heart. Their come back against the Canes last weekend proved that. Interesting that they are resting Jano Vermaak - one of the players of the tournament thus far. But then the Chiefs have lost their try scoring machine, Sitiveni Sivivatu. This Lions side has a fairly potent run on XV, but it is in the last 20 minutes, when you want the bench to make an impact, that they come a little unstuck. And that is when I think we will see the home side take control. Chiefs by 6.
Waratahs v Stormers, Sydney 10:40
Second on the log vs ninth on the log. Tahs beat the Blues last weekend, while the Stormers lost to the Crusaders. Tahs at home in Sydney, Stormers a long way from home and taking serious heat in the media. No-brainer? Not completely. Peter Grant is back at flyhalf, Gcobani Bobo is back at centre to restore the partnership with Jean de Villiers, and Conrad Jantjes is back at fullback in place of Monty. All good? Better, for sure, but they still have the fairly cumbersome AJ Venter at lock, the fairly rotund and sluggish Ricky Januarie at scrumhalf, and a badly balanced loose trio with Luke Watson and Schalk Burger not 100% sure what kinds of games they should be playing. As per the Bulls game, I really do think this could go either way, but this is not a place for fence sitters … Waratahs by 2.
Cheetahs v Brumbies, Bloemfontein 15:00
Righto, so the boys from Bloem are back at home after a pretty damn disastrous tour. Question is – will anyone bother to turn up to see them play? A cool six from six sees them super glued to the bottom rung of the ladder so one could not really blame the locals if they were to leave a few empty seats exposed, but they love their rugby down in Bloem, so I am sure a few people will pitch. Especially with the world class Juan Smith back in the mix – to complete a very classy loose trio. And given the Brumbies performance against the Sharks last week, an upset is potentially on the cards … But their talisman leader, Stirling Mortlock is back at the helm this week, and while the Cheetahs might be OK for 50 or 60 minutes, I think they will come unstuck in the last quarter, but not by too savage a margin. Brumbies by 6.
Sharks v Hurricanes, Durban 17:05
What a finale! If both sides open up, it could be an absolute cracker. Chances are, sadly, that it will be more about defence than attack, though, as has been the case this year. Good friend and Ikey head coach, John Dobson, is hosting a pizza making contest that afternoon (topping suggestions welcome as a comment below), but all traces of mozzarella, garlic and tomato paste will be gone come kick off, that is for sure. Regular readers will know my affection for this Kiwi franchise, with Ma’a Nonu (especially in tandem with the super talented Conrad Smith) probably being my favourite player to watch in the game right now. But they will be up against it in Durban – even with the selfish and drop kick obsessed Francois Steyn at flyhalf, and John Smit at tighthead – who will also be properly tested by John Schwalger. But in Rory Kockott, Ryan Kankowski and Stefan Terblanche, they have the form players of the tournament, and if Jacques Botes can continue doing the unseen hard yards on the ground, and JP Pietersen can continue his assault on the tryline, the home side will have too much in the tank for the Canes. Sharks by 9.
So based on the above, I see the Sharks and Bulls maintaining their status as our flag bearers, but I would not put my house on any of the predicted results. And that is what is so exciting about this year’s tournament. It’s wide open … The semi finalists could easily only be decided in week thirteen …