Tank Lanning - Sport24 editor
OK, so who woke up grumpy and stole the great game of rugby from right under our eyes? The ELV’s people …. The pesky ELV’s. OK, so it was not an overnight thing, but as teams have got to grips with them, so the game has become about defence, 15 people fanning out across the field, and people “Chipping and charging” in order to try and break said defence. What happened to the fat guys staying in one part of the field so the peacock guys outside them could perform their tricks? It seems I can only see that on ESPN Classic these days, and that saddens me.
OK, so more on that in a future column … time to look at the Easter Super14 rugby fare on offer this weekend ….
Friday, April 10
Blues v Lions, Auckland 09:35
The Lions gave the high riding Chiefs a hell of a scare last weekend, but as predicted, came a little unstuck in the final 20 minutes with their bench not able to add the impact the travellers so badly needed. The run on side, with the likes of Heinke van der Merwe, Jano Vermaak and new skipper, Jaque Fourie, leading the charge, can mix it with any side, but it is their lack of depth that hurts them. The Blues took some pain from the Waratahs two weeks ago, but have had a week off to lick their wounds, this while the Lions check their e-mails to see if mommy still loves them. Todd Clever is having a top season, but I am not convinced about his fetching abilities in his new role, replacing Baywatch Grobbelaar. And they will again miss Doppies le Grange. Tight until 15 minutes to go, then Blues taking it. Blues by 8.
Western Force v Hurricanes, Perth 11:40
Wow – there is not a lot in this one, and it has the potential to be the game of the weekend, given that these two sides are not shy to throw the ball around, rather then obsess about defence, as is so prevalent amongst other sides this year. The Force got over the “Winning at home bogey” by mauling the Reds last weekend, while the ‘Canes took pain from the Sharks in Durban and have now had to travel to Perth during the week. Even the bookies don’t know which side to call, the odds differing from bookie to bookie. I am going to allow a little “heart” to creep into my prediction, given the joy I get from Nonu and Smith playing in tandem, and going with the Hurricanes by 5.
Saturday, April 11
Highlanders v Reds, Invercargill 07:30
The home side pulverised the Cheetahs 3 weeks ago. So what? The home side pulverised the Bulls 2 weeks ago. Wow! The home side had a bye last weekend. Mmm, so will that rest disturb their momentum or freshen their minds in preparation for more pulverising? The Reds may have had their moment in the sun and beaten the Sharks, but they have been taken to the cleaners by both the Chiefs and Western Force in recent weeks. The visitors have some top players in Daniel Braid, James Horwill and Berrick Barnes, but I see the home side being the bullies up front, and with Jimmy Cowan ruling the roost from the base of the scrum, I have the Highlanders by 12.
Brumbies v Stormers, Canberra 09:35
Now this will make for an emotionally charged event, with the Brumbies having stated that they will be playing to celebrate the life their tragically deceased team-mate Shawn Mackay. Having been part of the Ikey set up when we lost up and coming loose forward Monte Taljaard to a car crash last year, I can vouch for the galvanizing effect such a traumatic event can have on a team. But the emotion can also get the better of you, and together with a trip back to Sydney after a hack against the Cheetahs in Bloem, the home side will be taking some strain. I am still not convinced that Rassie has the right balance in his loose trio, and I would have taken the bold step of dropping Schalk Burger, who is having a seriously ordinary season, playing Duane Vermeulen at 8, and bringing Francois Louw in as the roving number 7. I would also have put to pasture both Ricky Januarie and Sireli Naqelevuki, both of whom have been at the buffet table rather than the gym. But he has gone with consistency, which is difficult to fault, and I think we might see some payback from the players. Stormers by 7.
Waratahs v Bulls, Sydney 11:40
Hands up those who think this is going to be pretty? Go get the dunce cap please. Blood, sweat, and no beers after the match the more likely option me thinks. The Bulls are 1 from 3 on tour thus far, and in danger of ruining that amazing start they got for themselves in South Africa, while the ‘Tahs have amazed all by playing to a defensive strength and eking out wins like the snore inducing one against the Stormers last weekend. It’s neck and neck between these 2 sides on the log, the winner remaining in line for a home semi final, so do not expect attacking fireworks. It should, nevertheless, still be a fairly absorbing encounter as these two packs go head to head. The Bulls have done themselves a massive favour by dropping the rather inept Ryno Gerber and putting Werner Kruger up against “Moaning Minnie”, Benn Robinson. Shame Benn, are the flanks slipping up their props and making it 4 against 3? Does that not mean that your opposing tighthead has no flank behind him, like when a player is off the field? Does the pack with 8 men not normally beat the team with 7? Grow up, son. The best odds you will get on the Bulls is 7/5, while the same amount of bookies will offer you similar odds on the home side. It’s very tough to call, but I think the travellers will come good – oh dear, is that my heart speaking? Bulls by 2.
Cheetahs v Sharks, Bloemfontein 15:00
The cherry on top – a little SA derby to finish the weekend. I reckon all this talk about the Cheetahs being the Sharks bogey side is just media hype to get a few more troops into the Bloemfontein stadium. The Cheetahs have been truly woeful this season, making mistakes that school teams would be ashamed of! The Sharks, on the other hand, have been sublime, with just that loss to the Reds as their single blemish. If young Francois Steyn can contain himself and actually allow a few of the players outside him to play the game as well, the Sharks should have a field day. But that is a massive “If” is has to be said. My oath but that man can be selfish. So to my mind, the score basically depends on Steyn’s frame of mind. Chuffed to see the national skipper back at hooker, and not having to embarrass himself against a local loosehead. Sharks by 18.
That is a pretty brutal Saturday of rugby watching in anyone’s language! Perhaps the Stormers game on a gym bike, the Bulls pounder with Pimms and a cucumber sarmie to impress Gran, out from Kakamas for Easter, and then the derby with mates, coolerbox and Weber in full swing? Not the worst way to spend Easter Saturday …