Friday’s Rugby News sees Super Rugby AU Week 4, Super Rugby Aotearoa, The Weekend Ahead in Club rugby and World Rugby Sets International Window
SUPER RUGBY AU WEEK FOUR
Last week brought us two tight games, probably tighter than a lot expected on paper. While the results were what the odds-makers had predicted they certainly got the margins wrong, having used the goat entrails of prophecy to forsee large margins.
Instead we got one cracking game (Reds v Force) and one game of a team playing on maybe five of their eight cylinders (Brumbies) against a very game Waratahs outfit. This week the Reds have their spell while two more games pop up, with the boffins again expecting fair margins in both.
Friday night (705PM Fox Sports and Kayo) sees the Rebels play the Waratahs at the SGC, with the Rebels firm favourites, although I am not sure how. The Rebels had the bye last week and team wise welcome Trevor Hosea and Reece Hodge into the starting lineup. Campbell Magnay drops out after an injury at training and Hosea replaces Michael Stolberg at lock. Cameron Orr comes into the starting side for Matt Gibbon. The Rebels have opted for a 6-2 bench, clearly recognising the aggressive and abrasive nature of the Waratahs pack.
On the NSW side, there have been a few changes with Joe Cotton, Chris Talakai, Jed Holloway coming onto the bench in the forwards along with Jake Gordon in the backs. This should be closer than it suggests, and another bruising forward encounter awaits.
Saturday (715PM EST, Fox Sports and Kayo) has the Western Force searching for the elusive win against the Brumbies. Having been at the press conference last week after the Reds game I saw how bitterly disappointed coach Tim Sampson was and there is a genuine belief that success is just around the corner. Will it be against a misfiring Brumbies side that has won, but unconvincingly against the Rebels and the Waratahs?
The Brumbies have made a few changes, some through injury and some not. Scott Sio comes into the starting side for James Slipper, Nick Frost comes in for Darcy Swain and Will Miller starts for Tom Cusack. In the backs Bayley Kuenzle starts for Noah Lolesio due to injury and Solomone Kata starts for Andy Muirhead on the wing.
Coming into their third game the Force have been forced to make a number of changes. Captain Ian Prior is out after coming off early against the Reds, replaced by former Red and recent signing Nick Frisby. Jeremy Thrush takes the captain duties in Prior’s absence. On the bench there is room for former All Black Richard Kahui, and Tom Sheminant comes in for Greg Holmes who is out with a broken thumb.
If the Brumbies struggle to fire the Force might be a chance here, the sheer aggression caused the Reds headaches for much of the game and only some panicked play toward the end when they had the man advantage really told the difference then.
Tips: Waratahs by 4, Brumbies by 8
SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA
With only three rounds left, there are still three teams in with a mathematical shot of winning the title, although it is fair to say that the Crusaders are the very strong favourites.
This weekend should see the gap widened further with the unbeaten Crusaders hosting the Hurricanes in Christchurch. While the Hurricanes have been on the improve since week one, the Saders are on the back of an astonishing 36 games home unbeaten streak and have conquered all before them thus far. This game is Saturday (505PM EST, Fox Sports and Kayo).
Team wise, the Crusaders are in the midst of what coach Scott Robertson calls an injury crisis, with David Havili gone for the season. The competitions leading try scorer, Will Douglas, is the rather handy replacement. In the midfield Fetuli Paea replaces the injured Brayden Ennor.
For the Canes, Dane Coles is out with injury, meaning Asafo Aumua comes in, and out wide Wes Goosen comes in for Kobus van Wyk, along with some bench changes. On the left wing, Ben Lam marks his 50th game which will also be his last, before he moves on for the riches of overseas.
The other game sees the hapless Chiefs travel to Auckland to take on the Blues. After snatching defeat from the jaws of victoty last week can the Chiefs finally break through. It is possible against a Blues outfit that has looked a bit wobbly the last two weeks, albeit against the two top sides. At the time of writing the teams are not out for this game.
Stay in touch with the team news courtesy of ESPN here.
Tips: Crusaders by 9, Blues by 6.
CLUB RUGBY WEEKEND PREVIEW
After the opening of club rugby in the ACT and NSW now have a good chunk of club rugby to get our teeth around.
Over in WA there are still five teams unbeaten after three rounds with Associates, fresh off a 38-0 win last week, and Nedlands leading the way. Associates also feature in what looks like the Match of the Round in WA, taking on the fourht place Cottesloe.
In SA, Old Collegians, Southern Suburbs and Brighton are unbeaten through four rounds and should gap themselves further from the others after big wins last weekend. The best match this weekend should be 1 v 2 with Brighton and Old Collegians locking horns. Both teams have a +160 For and Against after four rounds so will each be looking to make their mark on the others. SA Rugby Facebook will be streaming the clash between Woodville and Onkaparinga.
ACT saw the start of the John I Dent Cup, and most of us missed what seemed like the most epic of finishes last week, with Owls scoring three tries in the last five minutes to come back and beat defending premiers Royals 26-24. Only Queanbeyan were outplayed last week and they will look to repair that when they take on Gunghalin this weekend. Check out the John I Dent Facebook for the match of the round between Vikings and Royals.
In Sydney, the expanded Shute Shield played and new comers Newcastle were beaten but not totally embarassed by Randwick last week, and the returning Penrith had the bye. The TV game this week is Eastern Suburbs v West Harbour, with both sides looking to open their account after losses last week. Penrith face a stern test in their return against a Northern Suburbs outfit that comprehensively did away with West Harbour last weekend.
Tasmanian Premier Grade also gets under way this week with perennial heavyweights Deveonport and Taroona expected to lead from the front again.
And finally, the Darwin Premier Grade Round 9 has already commenced with Uni downing Darwin Dragons 14-0. The remaining game sees Palmerston take on Casuarina.
For some more detail, colour and news around the club traps of the nation, take a look at Nick Wasiliev and his column on Rugby.com.au. He does the club scene more justice than I ever could in this little column.
WORLD RUGBY SETS INTERNATIONAL WINDOW
In an effort to give some certainly to member nations, World Rugby has set the dates for a window for internationals to be played later this year. This has flow on effects for both hemispheres as our end looks to schedule the Rugby Championship and the northerners look to tie the loose ends up on the yet-to-be-completed Six Nations.
As reported on ESPN Rugby here, the plan is to have a temporary (ie only for this year) window from October 24 to December 5. This will allow the mooted six week Rugby Championship to be run along with players serving any sort of quarantine period as set by the host nation.
In the north of the world, the plan is to finish off the Six Nations first, then from November 14, have a series of other Tests played. Given the current state of flux of most of the world, there is no discussion yet around who those matches may involve, but it figures to be those countries involved or nearby that prove the easiest.
This will leave nations like Japan, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and others in the cold, although given the large numbers of players from the Pacific Islands already in Europe it is perhaps also feasible that they could end up playing European nations.
Like most things in rugby, this is only a proposal at present, with the actual decision to be made by the World Rugby Council on 30 July. It will be interesting to see if the clubs push back against this, given they are also hurting from lack of revenue, ticket sales and TV money in the same way the national bodies are.