After a phenomenal opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa last weekend, its a joy to once again be looking forward to another two matches for Round Two. The action gets underway on Saturday night at FMG Stadium Waikato, where the Chiefs will host opening round victors the Blues. In the Sunday afternoon fixture, the Hurricanes have their opening match at Sky Stadium against the Crusaders, who will finally get their campaign underway. The Highlanders will sit out this weekend on the bye.
CHIEFS vs BLUES – FMG Stadium Waikato
Its only round two but already it has become time to stand up or drop off for the Chiefs and already a result like that would be considered an upset. That solitary point loss to the Highlanders last weekend has thrown up a lot of areas of concern for the Chiefs who were outplayed in several key match ups. The main concern will be the way that the Blues adapted so much quicker during their opening match and seem much more settled to the new enforcement of the rules than the Chiefs were. Predicting the sides will go with as similar starting lineups as injury allows this weekend, I expect the Chiefs will have even less of control from their forward pack. The Blues forwards were strong and led well by Patrick Tuipulotu, James Parsons, Tom Robinson and Hoskins Sotutu. This sets up a mouth watering clash with Lachlan Boshier, Luke Jacobson and Pita-Gus Sowakula from the Chiefs. As good as I rate that Chiefs backrow, if they cannot control, at least their own, set piece again, its going to be another long night for the pack.
The Chiefs also need to use their talented backline more frequently. From the limited chances, their outside backs looks dangerous with ball in hand and need to be involved more in round two. Shaun Stevenson and Anton Lienert-Brown can break a game open but the midfield defensive hold by the Blues of TJ Faiane and Reiko Ioane could restrict again like it did to Laumape and Aso. If the Blues can rule that set piece like I expect they will, it could be another fun night for guys like Caleb Clarke and Mark Telea, who were rampant in round one. Also don’t forget about the tens in that backline…. both of them if Beauden Barrett stays back. Some more soul searching coming up for the Chiefs I feel, where their only advantage will be being back at home. Hopefully they still get a good crown to back them and give that boost.
RESULT – Blues by 11
HURRICANES vs CRUSADERS – Sky Stadium
This is a really interesting fixture this is going to be. We are yet to see the Crusaders in action in Super Rugby Aotearoa and a road trip up to the capital against a hurting Hurricanes is a place no one really wants to go. After being beaten in the new backyard to their carefully nurtured former superstar, the Hurricanes have plenty to prove in round two. I think the biggest area that set them back in their opener was just their inability to adapt to the new crackdown on the laws. While both sides were adjusting in the first half, it was an very even situation and now being up against a side who is yet to play a full competition match, this is their chance to repay the lessons. They need Ardie Savea fully fit as soon as possible, hes a key cog in the machine. The midfield need to get back on top again physically. Then, clean up that contact area where they conceded so many penalties. Sounds so simple, but the biggest chance to upset the Crusaders is right now. Dominate the first half, make the Crusaders pay because they WILL give away a number of penalties at least in the first half. Go into that break with a strong lead and hope your good enough to keep them at bay. That’s the only way I can see the Hurricanes winning this one. Can they manage that though? If Jackson Garden-Bachop runs things at ten again and has the reckless words of TJ Perenara and soft midfield bullies either side, its going to wreck everyone’s game. Where is Fletcher Smith? Every kick needs to hit.
The Crusaders are a slight unknown entity. I think we know enough about the calibre of players in this squad that they will very quickly get into the speed of this new competition. They had an inter-squad hit out last week and which will be the best to full match intensity they can prepare. Let’s be honest, they will have watched the opening two matches time after time over this weeks buildup and will be well prepared for how the changes will effect the game. They have the advantage of watching to see how that opening round played out. I don’t think they will take as long as the other four sides to get adapted. If that is the case, kiss goodbye to the Hurricanes chances of shocking in the opening forty. The Crusaders are smart and ruthless. Points will be taken from the many opportunities presented. The Blues showed in the second half that you can very quickly roll on points through the boot. I’m excited to see just what the Crusaders offer this weekend and how strong of a side they will name, but I think regardless, they will be the team to beat this season. The old Auckland – Canterbury rivalry may be back on the menu in Super Rugby Aotearoa!
RESULT – Crusaders by 4
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