Its finally here, the opening round of Super Rugby 2020! We have a full range of matches this weekend, so buckle up, sit tight and get ready to enjoy the action! If your a fan of predicting rugby, be sure to join my SuperBru league before the season gets underway! So lets take a look at the opening round games.
BLUES vs CHIEFS – EDEN PARK
The season kicks off Friday night with an intriguing NZ derby encounter. The Blues will have home ground advantage and a change to kick start a season like they haven’t done for years! They have named a largely expected side, especially in the pack. Kurt Eklund gets his first start at hooker as does Hoskins Sotutu at number eight. Jonathan Ruru will partner Stephen Perofeta in the halves and surprisingly Reiko Ioane will remain on the left wing which allows a first look at Joe Marchant in midfield.
The start the Chiefs would have dreamt of is already starting to turn into a nightmare after naming Damian McKenzie to start at full before he pulled out injured just a day before the match. Shaun Stevenson takes his place. I expected the best out of Tyler Ardron in the second row and that’s exactly where Gatland has placed him. We will also see Sam Cane at number eight. The Chiefs have talked of making a late impact in this match and the reasoning behind leaving Weber, Cruden and Lienert-Brown on the bench for the opener. Kaleb Trask will debut at ten, as will Quinn Tupaea in midfield.
Prediction – Chiefs by 9
BRUMBIES vs REDS – GIO STADIUM
We are in the swing of things now, into game two of the weekend. The Brumbies have named as about as predictable a side as you could expect. Like we spoke of in the previews, without Lealiifano, someone has to step into that number ten jumper. The man who gets first go at it is Noah Lolesio. Solomone Kata goes straight into the starting lineup as the second debutant for the defending conference winners.
Brad Thorn has wasted no time in setting about how he wants this Reds team to play. It looks so well structured. Isaac Lucas will roll out in the number ten and look at what he has outside, James O’Connor at 12, Jordan Petaia at 13 and Henry Speight at 11. Me Oh My, I like it! If captain Liam Wright can get his pack working to nullify the Brumbies forward play then they are in with more than a chance to win this. I’d love to see it, but I think the professionalism of the Brumbies will get them a close nod.
Prediction – Brumbies by 2
SHARKS vs BULLS – KINGS PARK
Oh the Sharks do look exciting! So many seasons i’ve said those words and still I wait for them to show up but man I hope this is the year. I just got excited about the Reds backline, but check out the Sharks! Curwin Bosch at ten, Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am in midfield, Makazole Mapimpi of the left wing, Sbu Nkosi on the right and Aphelele Fassi and fullback… wow, wow, WOW! The pack is solid enough and should hold its own against the Bulls to give this backline some ball.
While most sides are putting out some eye catching lineups, the Bulls have been a bit of a let down for me. More Steyn goes straight to ten which means little ball for Specman, Gelant and co out wide. Abongile Nonkontwana is a name to watch in this side, he starts on the openside flank. His combination with Josh Strauss will be important if the Bulls opt for the power forwards game plan this season.
Prediction – Sharks by 11
SUNWOLVES vs REBELS – LEVEL FIVE STADIUM
It’s a sad feeling discussing these Sunwolves this season. I think we have all learnt our lesson that no matter how good the team looks by name, it’s going to struggle for continuity. Their selected team looks alright, Paige and April should link up nicely in the halves and Ben Te’o will run off anything he gets. James Dargaville will be a safe man at fullback too. Brendan O’Connor and Jake Schatz are dangers in the backrow but how will the tight five fear is my worry. We know they will struggle and the sad part is I don’t think they care now….
We talked about the Rebels retaining players well into the new season and with that they can put out a similar side to what they finished with last season. The notable changes are in the halves with Frank Lomani and Matt To’omua running the show. This Rebels pack should dominate up front and just like last season we will be talking about how good the Rebels are in the early stages, can they keep it up though?
Prediction – Rebels by 15
CRUSADERS vs WARATAHS – TRAFALGAR PARK
Defending champions vs headless chickens. I don’t see this being a fun day out for the Waratahs this weekend. The Crusaders have named an interesting front row for this game, some unfamiliar props, George Bower at loosehead, Andrew Makalio at hooker and Oliver Jager at tighthead. The wonder about how they would balance their backrow is over with the two Toms joining up at six and seven, Christie and Sanders and no surprise to see Whetu Douglas at eight. Take on this backline at your own risk, we could see plenty of excitement with Leicester Fainga’anuku, Jack Goodhue, Braydon Ennor, Will Jordan and David Havili in the mix.
The best the Waratahs can hope for is to gain something from their forwards. That’s the closest contested area in my opinion and they should just get an edge if they execute a decent gameplan. Knowing the Waratahs, it will be a shambles and will quickly get away from them. They have resisted putting Kurtley Beale at ten thankfully and instead he is at fullback. Will Harrison beats out Mack Mason for that said ten start, so straight away we get to see what a number of these young Australian ten’s are like. Mark Nawaqanitawase is name I hope to see more of in this side also.
Prediction – Crusaders by 12
STORMERS vs HURRICANES – DHL NEWLANDS
This is the game of the weekend! This Stormers team looks fantastic on paper and being at home against a New Zealand side will be the change to set the tone for the season. World Cup winning front row, Kitshoff, Mbonambi and Malherbe with most of the back row, du Toit and Kolisi at eight, its a pack that will give the Stormers that front foot ball. Then wait on, have a look at the backline! Jantjies, Willemse, Roberts, Nel, Senatla, Nel, Peterse and Leyds, this is star studded and extremely dangerous. Get up at whatever time it is in your country and watch this game, the Stormers look superb!
A road trip to South Africa to kick off your Super Rugby season is a tough way to start but that’s how it is for the Hurricanes. It will be a baptism of fire for Canes pack which is going to put more pressure on Fletcher Smith at ten. His kicking game and how much ball he can get to his outside backs to run onto will determine what the Canes will get out of this game. I expect both sides to employ an attacking running game with as little kicking as possible unless it goes pear shaped for one and they need to go into their shell, if either, I expect that will be the Hurricanes.
Prediction – Stormers by 4
JAGUARES vs LIONS – JOSE AMALFITANI STADIUM
The last two teams to name their side just as writing this, but it was pretty expectant of them. The Jaguares side is class, we all know that and so do all the teams. The pack will hopefully be a bit more controlled without the reckless Lavanini. Its crazy they can name a team this good and I fully expect they will run riot now with that great 2019 under their belt. I cant pick areas i like about this side because its all fantastic. Emiliano Boffelli will always catch my eye with Santiago Carreras and Bautista Delguy with him. It’s settled, it’s at home, it’s getting experienced and its very very exciting!
The sad story of the Lions continues on. They need to look out for all the bashing that will be running its way at Elton Jantjies channel. Courtnall Skosan and Tyrone Green will dangers on the wing but have to be at their best on defense too. Marnus Schoeman will start at six and will bring the game to the Jaguares but I struggle to see he will get the required support to put his team on top. Veteran Jannie du Plessis returns straight into the starting lineup for some much needed experience with Dylan Smith for a good Super Rugby level front row but they are up against Internationally renowned players. This is going to be a tough test for the Lions and even worse with it being on the road.
Prediction – Jaguares by 8
That wraps up Round One of the 2020 Super Rugby season preview! What are your thoughts about these matches? What is your game to watch!? Players to watch or avoid? Let me know in the comments and as always, thanks for stopping by, Behind The Posts.