Welcome to the Super Rugby round two preview! We finally have a little bit of real competition form to look on now for the second round of matches with some really fire cracker meetings already in the season. The Sunwolves get a week off to bask in the glow of victory and the Highlanders finally get their season underway under the roof. So let’s take a look at the seven games for the upcoming round:
HIGHLANDERS vs SHARKS – Forsyth Barr Stadium
Some some dodgy fixtures to start the Highlanders season saw them having the bye in round one of Super Rugby. They kick off round two in their opening match with some interesting team selections. We have talked a lot about the impact of Tony Brown at this Highlanders side and I think we have seen it already with this backline. Mitch Hunt get the first ten start and Josh Ioane will sit outside him at inside center. You can expect some chopping and changing from those two with some playmaking danger. The pack looks fairly settled for the Highlanders, most of it has spent a bit of time in this Highlanders set up and should quickly gel. What I’m excited to see is the combination of both Dillon Hunt and James Lentjes at six and seven that will give the Highlanders extreme breakdown speed and workrate around the park. Highlanders will want a broken, high speed game and under the roof at home they are always dangerous. There maybe a few making their first Highlanders appearance but only two are on Super Rugby debut and they are both wingers, the one place you can get away with it. There’s plenty of experience in the newcomers from other franchises.
Just one change comes about for a opening round victorious Sharks team heading into their first match in their New Zealand tour already. On the right wing Madosh Tambwe will replace S’bu Nkosi in a like for like replacement. This is a dangerous Sharks team which will enjoy having the time under the roof in Dunedin in dry and a hard under foot ground. The team has all the attack in the back with a running, attacking fly half in Curwin Bosch. They won’t need to be too worried of getting overrun in the pack with both of these sides being weaker in the pack to the backs. It may seem hard to believe but the Sharks actually do have a good record against the Highlanders. In 2016 the Sharks beat the Highlanders at home 15-14. How much will that travel affect them this time, it’s such a huge decisive factor of any South African side. I expect this game hopefully be quite attacking, this is the chance to show those abilities.
Prediction – Highlanders by 4
BRUMBIES vs REBELS – GIO Stadium
Two sides in extremely different situations going into round two. The Brumbies continued to show that professional hard work determination against a very good Reds side in their opener and have proven to be a tough team to beat again in the conference. That confidence flows through with their team named also. Only the one forced change in the team which just proves have content they were with the opening display. With the injury to Darcy Swain, it will give Cadeyrn Neville the chance for his first start and former junior Wallaby and top future prospect Nick Frost an opportunity off the bench. We get more time with Noah Lolesio in the hot seat at ten to back up his debut last week and given how their opponents played, I’m sure the Brumbies will be quietly confident going into round two.
I was sceptical of the Rebels chances this season but certainly did not expect the result against the Sunwolves. I was predicting a strong start to develop some false hope for the side that would later crumble all over the place. Well, why wait for later?! The Rebels have crumbled already it seems. Losing to the Sunwolves by nine is bad enough, but after watching the game most people would call that scoreline generous to the Rebels. The axe has swung on a few starters in the forwards for this weekend. Both props, Jermaine Ainsley and Fereti Sa’aga have been dumped, along with flanker Robbie Leota in the pack. Matt Gibbon, Ruan Smith and Michael Wells take their place to go up against a pack I expect to be even tougher than the Sunwolves were. The questions still remain around starting Matt Toomua at ten, a guy who is much more valuable in midfield but it seems the Rebels are falling in the trap of playing their best players anywhere they fit as opposed to the best team in their best positions. Something many sides were guilty of during the Rugby World Cup 2019. It would be an impressive turn around if the Rebels get anything from this game, but they can only improve from what they offered up in round one.
Prediction – Brumbies by 13
CHIEFS vs CRUSADERS – Waikato Stadium
Two opening round victors with impressive victories to start their season will clash in Hamilton for what should well be the match of the round. The big news for the Chiefs is finally the return (he’s got a couple of days to stay fit again) of Damian McKenzie. He replaces Shaun Stevenson at fullback. More of the hot shots come into the starting lineup for this huge clash, Anton Lienert-Brown comes in for Alex Nankivell, Aaron Cruden backs up his brilliant second half display against the Blues to take the number ten off Kaleb Trask and the injury to Nepo Laulala gives a start to Atu Moli which is a quality replacement. This is a quality Chiefs lineup that showed plenty of intent last week although instead of the strong finish against the Blues, question will go against how well this bench will perform instead.
Ah well, it’s the Crusaders isn’t it? There is a big omission in this side that gives the Chiefs a little sniff at a result and its in the number ten jumper. Injury to Richie Mo’unga will see, no not Brett Cameron, but David Havili start at flyhalf. This is going to change the entire dimension of how this team plays I expect. Havili will want to replicate how Mounga plays but is a player that will take an opportunity if it sparks in front of him. With the movement of Havili, Will Jordan moves from the wing to fullback and the All Black wing combination of George Bridge and Sevu Reece is reunited with Leicester Fainga’anuku moving to the bench. Joe Moody returns to the starting lineup in the place of George Bower in the front row and finds an old friend joining him there with Codie Taylor replacing Andrew Makalio at hooker. The Crusaders already look a click above all others early this season and even though I think the Chiefs will challenge their top spot in New Zealand, they won’t beat them in this encounter.
Prediction – Crusaders by 3
WARATAHS vs BLUES – McDonald Jones Stadium
The Waratahs return home for the first time in 2020 for find a Blues side not only hurting from throwing away a big lead to lose against the Chiefs, but also a number of injuries. But first the Waratahs, outclassed and bullied by the incomparable Crusaders in round one, the only way is up. They have a couple of changes to the side with wingers Alex Newsome and Mark Nawaqanitawase switching wings and Harry Johnson-Holmes replacing Tetera Faulkner at tighthead prop. The rest of the side remains the same which is good news for young fly half Will Harrison who was solid enough in his debut match against the Crusaders. It’s good to see the faith being shown is the young number ten and resisting against the urge coming from putting Kurtley Beale there instead. Beales performance from fullback last week was positive enough to keep him there for the time being and hopefully we see more positives from Nawaqanitawase on the right wing this week and more leadership from their senior players around the park who were too quiet in round one.
The mood in the Blues camp must be frustrated and confidence low after the second half collapse against the Chiefs. To make matters worse, the have filled half of Auckland hospital with injured player. None will be more annoying than losing their talisman Reiko Ioane for a number of weeks. The list of changes is rather large so lets going over that. At number one, loosehead, Karl Tu’inukuafe replaces Alex Hodgeman who is out injured, Josh Goodhue comes into the second row for Tom Robinson who moves to the bench, the impressive Tony Lamborn is also out injured and Blake Gibson will come in at seven and of course no Ioane on the left wing so Mark Telea moves off the right and Jordan Hyland takes the fourteen jumper instead. This will be a tight match up between these two sides, but I think the Blues should take a lot of confidence from that opening half against the Chiefs. Historically the Blues are very strong against the Waratahs and I do expect that to continue this week.
Prediction – Blues by 8
LIONS vs REDS – Ellis Park
The Lions have brought back some much needed experience in their starting side for their round two clash with the Reds. Classy fullback Andries Coetzee forces his way back into the fifteen after missing out last week, in the place of Tiaan Swanepoel. There was enough positives for the Lions to not be pressured into changing too much else from the rest of their team as the only other movement is a swap of scrum halves from bench to starting as Morne van den Berg replaces Andre Riaan Warner. This is a must deliver chance for the Lions to get a victory and points on the board. With the Jaguares last week it was hard to see much positives from the Lions, but that tough game out of the way is the chance that they could battle with the mid table sides. This should be an interesting match with the Lions back at home. Australian sides are never too pleased with the trip to South Africa and it always becomes a pivotal point of their season, the Reds are going early and they have hardly hit their marks yet.
It’s a hard road for any side to venture out to South Africa at any time of the season and the Reds will have to get it done early in 2020. It’s not a bad opening draw for them, taking on the Lions who looked a shadow of their past seasons in the opening round. The Reds have made a few changes to their starting fifteen for this weekend with one quite surprising move. After I had given Brad Thorn some credit for seeming quite decisive on his selections in key positions, he seems to have u-turned on those quite drastically. I’m talking about that fateful ten position YET AGAIN. Isaac Lucas seemed to be the guy for the Reds but after one round has been dumped to the bench in favor of James O’Connor, who for me isn’t the guy for the job. Yes, experience, but as we have mentioned before with the Beale and Toomua situations, it’s just not where you get the best out of them. With the twelve jersey now open with that move, the extremely versatile Hamish Stewart will take that role. Another surprising move when it would have made more sense to keep O’Connor at inside center and do a straight swap with Lucas and Stewart. Izack Rodda sures up the second row Angus Blyth and Alex Mafi joins the front row for Brandon Paenga-Amosa at hooker. Travel and the hard road of South Africa will be a little too much for the Reds this week, even as bad as the Lions have been. I’ll return to tipping them when they get home.
Prediction – Lions by 2
STORMERS vs BULLS – DHL Newlands
If it ain’t broke, dont fix it. The Stormers need to keep things simple to make the most of the squad they have this season. The best pack in the competition can deliver any backline worth its weight, opportunities to score tries. Don’t over complicate things, put the best players on the park, top class professionals who can execute a plan and watch the results flow, for me, that’s all the Stormers need to do. A couple of changes to the pack for this weekend will see Mbongeni Mbonambi out of the side and Siyabonga Ntubeni, a luxury of riches, in at hooker. Captain Siya Kolisi will be missing for a few weeks with injury and has Johan du Toit in his place at number eight. Nothing can take away the fantastic opening results by the Stormers, the defensive effort to keep the Hurricanes to nil will be a result talked about for a long time in Stormers history books. In the fortress of Newlands again, but with the old foe of the Bulls at the door this time, confidence must be sky high at the Stormers to put some puts on a conference rival. Everyone is already eagerly waiting for the Jaguares and Stormers to light up the South African conference when they meet, but for now, take care of what’s at your door.
We were pretty worried about the Bulls in the preview of this team a couple of weeks ago and the effect of Morne Steyn at ten. Sadly, it was as we expected. Against the Sharks, the Bulls kicked kicked kicked, let’s be fair, almost to victory before the Sharks sparked a winning try late on. Its old school Bulls and its not great to watch but the scoreboard ticking over in three’s can really go unnoticed by the opposition. They have named only the one change to their side that lost to the Sharks, at tighthead prop the experienced Trevor Nyakane is out and Wiehahn Herbst takes his place. I wonder how long the Ivan van Zyl – Morne Steyn combination will continue to start with the prospect of Embrose Papier and Manie Libbok on the bench. Libbok would make much more use of the talents of Rosko Speckman, Warrick Gelant and Cornel Hendricks in the backline, but for now chasing kicks and defensive work will be their workload. I can only see one winner here, this Stormers side really looks a cut above but always be wary of those ticking three’s….. Oh and please dont both wear blue/gray… Please…
Prediction – Stormers by 18
JAGUARES vs HURRICANES – Estadio José Amalfitani
The Jaguares have carried on their merry way in 2020, dominating a poor Lions side and now with a chance to show the New Zealand fans what they can do. There is a handful of changes in their starting side, but just one in the pack which will be more than capable against a Hurricanes side that will be happy to play backs rugby. Tomas Lezana makes way for Rodrigo Bruni at number eight and the rest remains the same. In the backline Bautista Delguy departs the right wing and electric Sebastian Cancelliere takes his place. Regular inside center Jerónimo De La Fuente makes his first appearance of the season replacing Juan Cruz Mallia in midfield and of course the injured Joaquin Diaz Bonilla is out of the side with impressive Domingo Miotti taking the reigns at fly half. I am expecting this Jaguares side to be all over this game, the loose forwards will have a physical time and the backs always have someone in form, Matias Moroni is the man early on doing the deed. The front row battle should be a close battle but without either side top class there we may find a stalemate. Jaguares at home are the team to beat for anyone.
The Hurricanes worst nightmare wouldn’t have been as bad as that opening result against the Stormers. To score no points, is the lowest point for a team the prides itself on its ability to score tries especially. Unsurprisingly there are changes, but not as many as one would expect. Just two, with one each to the forwards and backs. Again we talk about a young fly half and like has been said before, these coaches really need to show the faith in these guys more than just one game. Fletcher Smith is out of the starting lineup and has been replaced by Jackson Garden-Bachop to run the show. I really feel Smith should have at least had at least the first five or six games given to him in an effort to let him work with this backline. Show the confidence, say “these five games are yours Fletcher, we back you to do the job and this is your time to shine”. The other change comes in the pack at hooker with Asafo Aumua swapping with Ricky Riccitelli. To start a season on tour can make or break the season fairly quickly, if the return with a win on the road, it makes it easier to run the season at home. To face the fantastic Stormers and now the 2019 finalists in the first two rounds, that’s tough and I can’t see them leaving Argentina with a win either.
Prediction – Jaguares by 11
That wraps up Round Two 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.