Time for Tank Lanning to run the rule over the five matches making up the Rugby 5 bet this week ... and Super Rugby is back with a bang.
But the little nugget of a game that really stands out is the second Test between the Wallabies and the Lions in Melbourne on Saturday. In a truly enthralling game of rugby last week, Kurtley Beale could not do the business off the kicking tee in the final seconds, but he has been given a chance at redemption by coach Robbie Deans this weekend, despite being spotted munching on some fast food in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Each Rugby 5 bet comprises five matches, which are labelled M1 to M5. In each match the home team is shown as Team A and the other as Team B, and you must predict the results of all five matches using one of the following five result options:
1 = Team A to win by difference of 1 to 12 points (say 7-3, 10-9, 24-12 etc)
2 = Team A to win by difference of 13 points
or more (say 19-6, 20-3, 32-6 etc)
3 = Draw
4 = Team B to win by difference of 1 to 12 points
5 = Team B to win
by difference of 13 points or more
So a look at the weekend then...
M1: Highlanders vs Crusaders
On paper, it seems such an obvious call to get the weekend going. Both teams have played 13 games, 1 has won 8 games and is in contention for the playoffs, while the other has won only 2 and is completely out of the race for silverware. The Crusaders average score is 26-20, while the Highlanders average score sees them going down 22-29. One has Dan Carter, and the other does not. But one of those Highlanders wins came in the last round, against the much improved Blues, and never have I seen Dan Carter play as poorly as he is playing at the moment. Also, the Crusaders, with the inexperienced Nepo Laulala instead of Owen Franks at tighthead, have really struggled come scrum time in recent games. This while the Highlanders top the "Defenders beaten" list, and are second only to the Waratahs in "Metres carried" and "Offloads". They do not always finish particularly well though, top the yellow card list and miss a lot of tackles. But put some form together like they did against the Blues and we could be in for an upset up front.
My Rugby5 pick: 1
M2: Australia vs British & Irish Lions
Could it actually have been tighter last week? I had the Aussies by a grasshopper's hamstring, and if replacement Wallabies full-back Kurtley Beale had not slipped on the damp turf in Brisbane while attempting a penalty goal as time expired (because he was wearing moulded cleats instead of normal studs according to Lions coach Warren Gatland), and thus missing the kick, allowing the Lions to win the first Test 23-21, so it might have been! But we all know what "If" did, don't we? And I do not see the balance of scales changing much this week, with the game again perhaps being decided via the boot, and were that to be the case, one's money would have to be in Halfpenny and Farrell. Perhaps because of last week, the ARU has confirmed the roof will be closed for Saturday's second Test at the Docklands stadium, which is a good thing given how influential the pitch was in Brisbane. In an early scrum, the Lions basically used the Aussie pack to plow the field as they shoved them back metres, only for the home side to bounce back up front later in the game. It was truly wonderful entertainment! The last time the teams played at Docklands in 2001, Australia won 35-14 under a closed roof to level the series 1-1. Australia went on to win that series 2-1. Same again this year? Interesting to see flank Dan Lydiate added to the back row in place of Tom Croft, and Sean O'Brien brought onto the bench, with the breakdown being a clear focus. Also, Ben Youngs replaces Mike Phillips at scrum-half, and that will up the tempo considerably. With both Berrick Barnes and Pat McCabe injured last week, the Aussies were handed a bit of a lifeline when Christian Lealiifano was cleared to play at inside centre. A game not to be missed!
My Rugby5 pick: 1 and 4
M3: Sharks vs Blues
The Sharks last played Super Rugby on May the 25th, when they went down by 2 points to the Bulls, and I am not sure more could have happened to a union between 2 games! Coach John Plumtree is gone, and they will be coached by assistant coaches Hugh Reece-Edwards and Grant Bashford, both looking unlikely to have a future under new Director of Rugby, Brendon Venter! In these situations, players tend either to dissolve or show enormous resolve. Given the injury list the Sharks are dealing with, they will be chuffed to have Butch James back at inside centre, and Pat Lambie at flyhalf, with the latter having improved his bag holding skills immeasurably over the last 3 weeks. Up front they sport a pack that could do international duty via a Bok front row and back row. The Blues will have been stunned by their loss to the Highlanders 3 weeks back, but they can score tries (they are 5th on the list with 35), and at 88.5%, they are second on the "Tackle success" list, so it will be all about if and how the Sharks contain the travellers. With a sparse crowd predicted, I think we might see more Disprin than granite from the home side.
My Rugby5 pick: 4
M4: Bulls vs Kings
The Bulls have won 10 out of their 13 games this year, and are at home to the Super Rugby virgins who have won just 3 of their 13 games thus far. The Bulls welcome back all their Boks, affording 3 of them time on the bench just in case things go awry, while the Kings say cheers to their most expensive player, Luke Watson, who is out for the season with an ankle injury. It is a classic David vs Goliath clash, with the Bulls expected to take this easily. But with all "Foregone conclusions" comes the old banana peel, and with the Kings leading the "Tackle success" list on 89.4%, and should the Boks return to their franchise over confident, and not willing to work for their tries, they may well find themselves in a very physical battle they were not anticipating. And the PE boys will arrive fuelled on passion, guts, determination and team work ... But with their eye on potential silverware, sense should prevail in Pretoria.
My Rugby5 pick: 2
M5: Stormers vs Cheetahs
A brutal game to call! The Cheetahs are on fire having won 9 out of their 14 games thus far, and deservedly sitting second on the SA conference log. Long having been a side known for their attack, now brilliantly orchestrated by the likes of Rob Ebersohn, Johan Sadie and Willie le Roux, coach Naka Drotdsky has added structure to their defence. And with Lourens Adriaanse having matured amazingly this year at tighthead (securing them a second in the tournament 94% scrum success rate), and Heinrich Brussow, even though Bok coach Heyneke Meyer cannot see it, able to secure quick ball at the breakdown, while slowing down the opposition, the men in orange will arrive in Cape Town confident in their ability to topple the Cape side, who in turn, have had a season to forget. But Newlands remains a fair old fortress for the Stormers, and while only able to score 20.3 points per game, they have also only let in the same amount of points, which is 2.3 points less than the Cheetahs have allowed in. Having lost both Pat Cilliers and Frans Malherbe to injury, the home side are now scratching around with journeyman Ross Geldenhuys on the bench and Brok Harris trying to steady the Coenie Oosthuizen missile. Sans Jean de Villiers, they are also without their leader and manager of defence.
My Rugby5 pick: 4