Super charged: Big game, Franks is back, centre battle

Date published: June 20 2019

Making its return to Planet Rugby, we bring you Super charged, in which we preview the main talking points ahead of the upcoming Super Rugby action.

Game to watch – Hurricanes v Bulls 

With this being Super Rugby quarter-finals weekend, there are four exciting encounters lined up but we’ve opted for the showdown in Wellington between the Hurricanes and Bulls, who have both impressed for various reasons this year.

These sides employ expansive game-plans with the Hurricanes, in particular, very effective in implementing their free-flowing style and they are amongst the leading attacking sides in this year’s competition.

Under the guidance of their head coach John Plumtree, they have impressed on the attack and are second only to the Crusaders for metres gained (7,551) in the entire competition. However, Plumtree’s charges finished the regular season with 434 defenders beaten which is more than any other team this year.

By contrast, the Bulls have not set the world alight statistically but they have made great strides on attack, while the Pretoria-based outfit have also relied on their traditional strengths such as a solid scrum and strong line-out. In fact, they are the tournament’s top-ranked team in the latter department and have a 93.6% success rate at the set-piece.

As the home side, the Hurricanes will start as favourites but the Bulls have impressed on the road this year, especially in New Zealand, where they secured two crucial draws against the Blues and Highlanders respectively.

The ‘Canes hold a slight edge in overall matches between these sides – with 10 wins and nine defeats from the 19 matches played – but the Bulls will be quietly confident as they claimed a 21-19 victory when these teams previously met in Round Two last year.

Player to watch – Owen Franks (Crusaders)

The Crusaders received a shot in the arm with the news that the first-choice All Blacks tighthead prop is fit for their clash with the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday.

Franks has been sidelined for two months after tearing a shoulder muscle in the Round Eight clash against the Brumbies in Canberra and and will be raring to go this weekend.

Although not the most exciting player in the Crusaders’ ranks, his value to the nine-time champions should not be underestimated as his powerful scrummaging and execution of his other core duties are highly valued and make him amongst the best players in his position in the world.

The match is a special one for the 31-year-old as he will make his 150th appearance for the Crusaders and he would love to celebrate that achievement with a victory this weekend.

One-v-one battle to watch – Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies) v Lukhanyo Am (Sharks)

A battle between two exciting centres takes place on Saturday when the Sharks and Brumbies go head-to-head. Once again, the Australian international has been the Canberra outfit’s most potent attacker behind the scrum and has particularly impressed towards the end of the regular season.

Dan McKellar’s men have improved as the year has gone on and Kuridrani and co will provide a stern test for the South African franchise, who will look towards Am to create in midfield. While they have running threats in Curwin Bosch, Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi, the outside centre is the one that has consistently performed over the past two years.

He is a big game player and stepped up when they needed him against the Stormers, taking a nice line to win the match in the final minute. It duly sets up an intriguing duel between two players who will have big international ambitions heading into the Rugby Championship and World Cup.

Subplot to watch – Jaguares to break the big-three stranglehold?

In fairness, it is only a stranglehold because a franchise from outside of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand didn’t enter the competition until 2016, but it is pleasing to see the progress that the Argentinians have made. They created history by reaching the play-offs for the first time last season before going even better this year and winning the South African Conference.

They now take on the Chiefs in Buenos Aires looking to reach the semi-final, which would be their best ever run, and duly get another home game in the last four. Even more impressive is the way Gonzalo Quesada’s men have done it; by rotating most weeks and winning some tough matches on the road.

While the Crusaders and the Hurricanes have been the best teams this year, the Jags have not been far behind and an appearance in the showpiece event would be thoroughly deserved. Of course, they have to get past Colin Cooper’s improving team first but, should they do that, then the semi is arguably easier with the Brumbies and Sharks both succumbing to the Jaguares in Argentina during the regular season.