Round Three of Super Rugby Aotearoa changed the perspective of this competition after a divide was starting to develop between the top two and the rest. The Chiefs and the Highlanders worked at setting that record straight! This weekend the Highlanders will continue that work back at home when they have a visit from their South Island neighbours, the Crusaders. On Sunday we head to the North Island in Waikato, where the two winless sides will clash to leave just one without a victory, the Chiefs hosting the Hurricanes. The Blues will rest easy at home, still undefeated, on the bye.
HIGHLANDERS vs CRUSADERS – Forsyth Barr Stadium
The weekend kicks off with the Southern Derby between the Highlanders and the Crusaders to take place under the rood at Forsyth Barr Stadium. The weather has been the big talking point over round three, but that wont be an issue for this game. Under the roof and dry as a bone, its almost like its summer. Lets not get too excited, it will still be viciously cold. Coming into this off the back of a very close loss, the Highlanders should be full of confidence after blowing all pre-match expectations of how they Blues would dominated that game completely out of the water. Their set piece was solid again, the lineout maul was was strong and the forwards were reliable, that consistency will be needed each and every week. The Highlanders may want to be doing some extra defensive work this week to try and contain the way the Crusaders will look to attack. The way their pack has performed so far this season, I feel they can match anyone with the way the game is ruled now. Quick ball always suits a team with Aaron Smith who is quick to unleash the team. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u is my key guy for any Highlanders match up now and I feel he could really cause havoc against this Crusaders side. Highlanders will back themselves to beat anyone after the start they have had to this season and even more so at home under the roof, its the home of the zoo!
There has been some bad new for the travelling Crusaders early in the week already with the impressive flanker Cullen Grace needing surgery following the win against the Chiefs. Just after I have been praising how great hes been, hes going to missed some games which is a real shame. I would expect someone like Ethan Blackadder to take that place in the back row but we will see later in the week. We have talked about how the roofed stadium enhances play for the home team, but look at what this Crusaders side has done in the wet so far this season. They will love being back on a dry turf so you can expect some exciting running rugby by them this weekend. Whats scary is how amazing guys like Sevu Reece and Will Jordan have been in wet conditions, to now be going onto a nice dry ground could be deadly on attack. Who else would you look at to make an impact under the roof that Mr form himself, Will Jordan. Hes going to be a menace with a solid footing. Kicking to him is pointless with the form hes showing, safest man under a high ball in Super Rugby Aotearoa currently.
RESULT: Crusaders by 5
CHIEFS vs HURRICANES – FMG Stadium Waikato
Here should be game of the round. You would normally look at this and think, two sides without a win so far, how will this be the game to watch? Its the two worst sides in the competition so far. Lets make no mistakes about how close these sides are regardless of positions on the ladder. The Chiefs pushed the Champion Crusaders side to one moment of brilliance away from stealing victory. Add in the single point loss in round one and the Chiefs could very easily have a couple of wins heading into round four. Looking away from the reaching positives for the Chiefs, there is a lot of problems that is letting this side down. The injuries continue to mount up and we keep talking about the issues in the second row resulting from those injuries. Even with Mitch Brown back in the pack, it did little to alleviate the troubles of the second row. Against the Crusaders last weekend the Chiefs really struggled with the weather conditions and given the fact its winter….. will most likely reoccur again. They often played a far too open, expansive and risky game play. Aaron Cruden was direct and dangerous on attack but forced the next pass too often. I expect Cruden needs to have a huge game against a ten who must be considered a weak point of the Hurricanes. Outside of him, Damien McKenzie was a nightmare to watch, far from his best and far from effective. Although grabbing all the praise from the commentary team, I cant recall any passage of play where he actually looked like a danger and was well contained throughout the game. He needs to stopped jumping in at first receiver and look to be more impactful off the back of the Chiefs midfield. Anton Lienert-Brown and Quinn Tupaea can create space with powerful running but have no support runners or support at all.
Lets talk about the Hurricanes before we run out of space on the page. They had the bye in round three so that has come at a decent time for them to regroup and for the side, hopefully enough time for Jordie Barrett to fully recover enough and rejoin the starting lineup, they need him. Speaking of back to fitness, Ardie Savea needed that extra week to back closer to full fitness. He has the capabilities to turn this Hurricanes team around with his impact and needs to be back to 100% as soon as possible before his side have fallen to far to recover. If Savea can link up with the already performing forwards like James Blackwell and Du’Plessis Kirifi it could give them a very competitive pack. Then, take those positives from the first 65 minutes against the Crusaders and the way they kept in touch with the boot despite conceding in tries. They will get more out of their pack against the Chiefs than in their opening two matches and should be able to rely on their set piece a lot more. Attack that lineout and put pressure on them territoriality. The midfield has been more explosive each week for the ‘Canes and the match up with Lienert-Brown and Tupaea will be an area to keep an eye on. As has been in the last weekend, weather will be a critical factor of the match once again, but as we know with any New Zealand rugby side they love to attack and even if its not the conditions for it. Even though they are on the road for this one, I feel its a game the Hurricanes need to be winning, but the situation both these sides are in, its time they both need to be getting really desperate!
RESULT: Hurricanes by 4
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