Super Rugby Preview: Friday

Date published: March 2 2012

Ding! Ding! It's Round Two of Super Rugby with another weekend full of interesting clashes to whet the appetite.

Ding! Ding! It's Round Two of Super Rugby with another weekend full of interesting clashes to whet the appetite.

Hands up if you picked the Crusaders, Brumbies, Bulls, Highlanders and Reds to win their season openers last weekend? Well done, cause we got it horribly wrong.

Once again, the opening round was full of surprises and we have a sneaky suspicion week two will be no different.

The Chiefs and Blues get the ball rolling in Hamilton, with both sides looking to make up for last week's defeats and get a win next to their name.

The action then makes its way to Melbourne where the Rebels – fresh off a bye – host the Waratahs, who will be out to avenge last week's last-ditch defeat to the Reds.

A storm will be brewing in Johannesburg next when the Hurricanes take on the Lions, with the Kiwi outfit looking to leave the Republic with one win in the bag.

Chiefs v Blues
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

The Blues will fancy their chances against an injury-hit Chiefs outfit when the two teams go head to head in Hamilton on Friday.

Both suffered opening home defeats last weekend, with the Chiefs and Blues capitulating to the Highlanders (19-23) and Crusaders (18-19) respectively as both visiting sides came from behind to win.

The Chiefs' loss proved to be more costly than their North Island rivals however, after losing two first-choice props, their top scrum-half and number one winger with long-term injuries.

Ben Afeaki (broken forearm, 12 weeks), Toby Smith (calf strain, four-six weeks), Brendon Leonard (hamstring, eight weeks) and Lelia Masaga (knee strain, three weeks) – all ruled out. And as a team currently going through a rebuilding phase under new coaches, it's a set-back they could very well do without.

But while the hosts' injuries are no quick-fix, new head chief Dave Rennie needs to turn his attention to what can be resolved in a week – namely his team's poor decision-making, scrappy play and poor field position that served to bring them undone against their less-fancied opponents last Saturday.

Blues coach Pat Lam will also be frustrated at taking home one point instead of four, but there were some positives to come out of his team's defeat – namely their defence which restricted the Crusaders to just one try.

With both sides oozing class in midfield, defence will once again be the name of the game with Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui going up against Benson Stanley and Rene Ranger – four All Blacks.

He may have won in the first round in the boxing ring, but Williams failed to punch above his weight against the Highlanders and will be looking to make amends with a big performance for his new team.

Prediction: Games between these two rivals are always close affairs. The Blues picked up a victory in Hamilton last year but lost their return fixture at Eden Park. Home advantage didn't help the Chiefs' cause last week, and playing at the same venue with a side crippled by injury won't help them this week either. Blues to win by four points!

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger , 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Shane Cleaver, 18 Fritz Lee, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Declan O'Donnell.

Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Pauliasi Manu, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Brad Mika, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Gareth Anscombe, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Keith Brown

Melbourne Rebels v Waratahs
AAMI Park, Melbourne

Revenge will be on the Rebels minds when they open their Super Rugby account against the Waratahs at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Friday.

The Waratahs steamrolled the Rebels 43-0 in the opening game of their debut 2011 season at the same ground, but head into this Round Two fixture off a heart-breaking loss to the Reds (who won the match in Sydney with a try after full-time).

After finishing a distant last on the Super Rugby ladder in their inaugural season, the Rebels – who enjoyed a bye in the first round – will be hoping to kick-off their 2012 campaign on a strong note.

The Rebels lost all three of their trial matches against the Chiefs, Blues and Crusaders but showed enough to suggest they'll be much improved in their second Super Rugby season.

However, their ambitions of a winning start were been dealt a heavy blow with Wallabies full-back Kurtley Beale ruled out of Friday's clash. The Rebels had planned to give Beale until game day to prove the readiness of his troublesome hamstring for the clash with his former team at AAMI Park. But they bowed to the inevitable, accepting he could not play, leaving veteran Mark Gerrard to take over at full-back.

The Waratahs have to make do without a playmaker of their own after the influential Berrick Barnes was forced to sit out another round due to a groin injury.

But Melbourne locals will get a chance to see the other star recruit in action for the first time in Rebels colours when Australia's goldenboy James O'Connor lines up in midfield.

While there is no doubting O'Connor has the skills and attacking nous to bring the Rebels backline to life, the time and space he has to work with might make things difficult. At the Force, O'Connor played behind a world-class backrow and lock combination, the Rebels equivalents aren't in the same category.

The Rebels conceded seven tries to the Waratahs in their opening game last season, but did a little better in the corresponding fixture in Sydney, letting in just three. They will need to tighten their defence if they want to offer any resistance this season.

In 2011, they conceded the average most points (35.6), tries (4.6), metres (693) and linebreaks (7.3) per game, while also allowing the four-try bonus point in 12 out of their 16 matches. They also conceded the second-most penalties of any team in the competition, averaging 10.8 per game.

And with Daniel Halangahu finding his target more often than not against the Reds last week, the Rebels will need to make sure their discipline is kept in check.

Prediction: It's hard to predict how the new-look Rebels will turn out in their first game of the season. One thing that's certain is they won't fall apart in their season opener like they did last year. However, saying that, we still can't see the angry Waratahs leaving Melbourne with back-to-