This week only Australian teams are playing Super Rugby.
The Brumbies play the Rebels in Canberra, and the Force play the Waratahs in Perth.
The Reds play the Lions, and all the Kiwi and SAffer teams have byes.
Brumbies v Rebels
The Brumbies have to win this game as they are only four points ahead of the Reds, who get four points from their second bye. They have to play without five of their Wallabies whereas the Reds are not affected by losing such players. It’s the luck of the draw.
The Brumbies will be wanting to press claims for home games in the finals also.
The Rebels will smell a bit of blood and try to take advantage of the missing Brumbies but they had a butcher’s bill at Suncorp and will probably suffer more.
Last week the Brumbies should have put on a bigger lead when they had dominance but they lost the ball too much in prime real estate. Nevertheless they were able to hold on in the second half against an indisciplined Hurricanes’ team that left their run too late.
The Rebels got to be seven points ahead of the Reds after oranges thanks to two charge-down tries in the first half, but the serious injury to Higginbotham with 30 minutes to go was a key moment and they faded.
Team changes: This week the Brumbies are without five players who are in camp with the Wallabies. By the numbers, new starting players are 2. Siliva Siliva, 3. Dan Palmer (who returns from a foot injury just in time), 4. Leon Power, 11. Clyde Rathbone and 12. Pat McCabe. 8. Peter Kimlin plays in Mowen’s usual spot, and 6. Scott Fardy switches from the second row.
The Rebels also have five new starting players: 4. Cadeyrn Neville, 6. Jordy Reid, 8. Gareth Delve, 9. Nic Stirzaker and 10. Bryce Hegarty.
The Plans: The Brumbies to play their Bulls’ game because it has served them well, warts and all. They were clinical against the Rebels in Round 2 and just have to be so again without doing anything too fancy.
The Rebels ran out of steam last week and had no answer from their bench when the Reds reserves came on. They just have to get back to the 80 minute effort they had against the Waratahs. I dont know how you coach that; so it just has to come from the players.
The Matchup: The scrums will be interesting. The Brumbies will have Moore and Alexander missing with the Wallabies and prop Murphy is long gone. Palmer is back from a foot injury but will be rusty and won’t be playing for a lot of minutes. The Rebels front row had some good scrums against the Reds last time out and could cause a bit of cheek.
Opponent to watch out for: Well, he may not get much game time but Luke Burgess will be on the Rebel’s bench after finishing a two-year stint for Toulouse. How will he play in Super Rugby?
I reckon we should all watch LHP Scott Sio who could come of age as a scrummager. THP Palmer is returning from a foot injury and won’t play for too many minutes. Sio will have to bear a big load without a proven THP, for a good while.
Prediction: The Brumbies have more depth in their side and will be affected less by the absences of players on Friday than the Rebels will be by theirs — Brumbies by 10
Force v Waratahs
The Force will want to ambush the Waratahs on Sunday and signalled their intent by keeping several of their players out of the starting XV against the Lions on Wednesday.
The Waratahs are now out of Super Rugby contention and will want to get the combinations of their scratch team in place for their match against the Lions.
Last week the Force had a bye, but in Round 15 they sneaked a win against the Highlanders after not getting enough reward for their stats in the first half. They were able to win at the death with a penalty kick after a bonehead play by a Highlander reserve; but they didn’t care how they won after some of the ways they had lost close games in the season.
The Waratahs were out-playing a sub-standard Crusaders side and were leading by twelve points just after oranges. But then their naïve method of running the ball from too deep inside their territory caught up with them and percentage Crusaders’ play took advantage of errors.
They could have won the match on the bell with a penalty kick but poor goal kicking was a bad feature of their game, and for once the bench did not make a positive difference.
Team changes: The Force start the same backline as in Round 15 but rest some of their starting forwards because of their mid-week game against the Lions – including skipper Matt Hodgson. New run-on players are 4. Rory Walton, 8. Angus Cottrell and 6. Hugh McMeniman, who makes a welcome return from injury.
The Waratahs have lost ten of their starting team last week to Test training, or injury. New starting players are 1. Jeremy Tilse, 3. Paddy Ryan, 4. Will Skelton, 5. Ollie Atkins, 6. Lopeti Timani, 7. AJ Gilbert, 8. Jed Holloway, 12. Tom Carter (captain), 13. Tom Kingston and 15. Drew Mitchell.
The seven-man bench includes four Sydney club players from outside the 35 players in the main Tahs’ squad and its EPS.
The Plans: The Force belted the ball up narrow in the away game in Sydney in Rd. 7 and nearly won it; so I suspect that they will do the same again.
The Waratahs will be more content with getting combinations right at first for a two-game detour segment of their season, and if that goes OK they will get the ball wide. And so they should: 11. Crawford, 13. Kingston, 14. Betham and 15. Mitchell can all use the ball.
The Matchup: The set pieces. The Waratahs’ scrum won’t have the on-paper advantage this week that they usually enjoy, with four forwards starting for the Tahs for the first time and another with a CV of only one run-on game. The Force pack will be licking its lips.
And the Tahs’ lineout hasn’t been stellar even when they had their regular starting players; so the Tahs’ reserves should not fare too well either.
Opponent to watch out for: The Waratahs will have to watch one of the rising stars of Oz rugby: Kyle Godwin, who has been causing grief for some very good teams. I expect the same against a depleted Tahs’ team.
Will Skelton of the Tahs will be worth a watch for fans: not because he will dominate a game running-on for the first time, but to see if he is any good as a starter at this level. I have already been pleasantly surprised at how he has played for the Sydney National Academy team and in cameos for the Tahs – but starting in a Super game is a different challenge.
Prediction: The Waratahs are now missing 17 players from the contracted group of 30 – ten with the Wallabies and seven injured. They were ecstatic just to hold on to beat the Force in Round 7 with most of their best team, and the Force did not start many of their best players against the Lions to keep them fresh for this game.
Therefore I expect a home victory — Force by 8