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.
The Crusaders have started the tournament like a house on fire but despite being on a 19-game winning streak in the competition – which started way back last year in Round Six – they face a tough battle in Dunedin against their neighbours from New Zealand’s South Island, who have won their last 15 games at home.
The visitors received a timely boost ahead of this match with the inclusion in their starting XV of the All Blacks quartet of Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Matt Todd and George Bridge.
The Highlanders’ winning record at home stretches back two seasons and they will head into this match in confident mood with the knowledge that they are also the last side to beat the Crusaders.
Based on their 2019 form, however, the Crusaders will start this match as favourites as no team has troubled them yet in 2019. That means it will take a special effort from the Highlanders to beat the nine-time champions.
BATTLE OF THE SOUTH | It doesn't get much better than this, who are you backing? 🤔
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) March 13, 2019
Player to watch – Ngani Laumape
Laumape will make his 50th appearance for the Hurricanes when they take on the Chiefs in Hamilton and the All Blacks centre heads into this match in superb form after a couple of impressive performances in recent weeks.
First, Laumape was in a rampant mood on attack and scored a hat-trick of tries in the Hurricanes’ 43-13 triumph against the Brumbies in their Round Three clash in Wellington.
And he continued where he left off in that game with another brilliant display with ball in hand, as his side claimed a narrow 25-22 win over the Highlanders with the 25-year-old crossing for two five-pointers.
Such performances will be difficult to reproduce but don’t bet against him doing just that against a struggling Chiefs side.
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) March 13, 2019
One-v-One battle to watch – Pieter-Steph du Toit v Pablo Matera
Both are strong ball carriers, who will be determined to give their teams attacking momentum, but building up a head of steam with ball in hand is not their only strength. Both are also excellent defenders, who usually lead the way in that facet of play for their respective teams and boast impressive work-rates.
As a retreaded lock, Du Toit will be prominent in the lineouts while Matera will also be determined to lead by example as his side’s captain.
Subplot to watch: The Rebels to continue their winning run
After a superb start to the season, in which they won all three their previous matches, the Australian Conference leaders face a stern challenge against last year’s tournament runners-up, the Lions, in Johannesburg.
What makes the Rebels’ task more daunting is that they will play their first match outside of Australia and the Lions, despite a shaky start to their campaign – after suffering two defeats in their three previous matches – bounced back with an impressive home win against the Jaguares last weekend.
But, the Rebels are no slouches and a key part of their success is the form of their half-backs – experienced Wallaby duo Quade Cooper and Will Genia – but there have also been some unsung heroes like Jack Maddocks, Bill Meakes and Isi Naisarani, who have impressed with brilliant performances in their previous matches and they will be keen to continue in that vein.
A win for the Rebels will be a great feat as they have lost all four their previous matches against the Lions and the last time they met – in Melbourne in 2017 – the men from Johannesburg were in a fine form as they claimed a 47-10 victory.
Best of the rest
In other action, the Brumbies will be hoping to return to winning ways when they host the Waratahs in what promises to be a closely fought Australian derby in Canberra on Friday.
Both teams are hot on the trail of the Rebels in the Australian Conference and know that a winning result could push them to the top of their country’s points standings.
In other action, the Sunwolves and the winless Reds go head-to-head in Tokyo with the home side set to unleash Japan number eight Amanaki Mafi, who will make his debut for his new team off their replacements bench.
by David Skippers