Super charged: Semi-final showdowns and fly-half battle

Date published: June 27 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.

Super Rugby semi-final 1 – Jaguares v Brumbies

The winners of the South African and Australian conferences begin the semi-final action on Friday after successfully negotiating their last-eight encounters. For the Jags, it was a tight contest as they edged past the Chiefs 21-16 while the Brumbies had an easier time of it, comfortably dispatching the Sharks 38-13.

On the basis of those results, the Canberra-based outfit should be considered favourites going into the match in Buenos Aires but, in truth, it tells us little, other than that the sides are in good form heading into the game.

Dan McKellar’s men certainly have a few disadvantages that they have to overcome if they are to win, specifically travel and rest. The Australians have a shorter turnaround than their Argentinian counterpart and have a tougher preparation with jet lag potentially an issue leading into the showdown. It therefore gives the Jaguares, who are looking to reach the final for the first time, a distinct edge.

It is not an impossible task, however, and McKellar may actually look towards Gonzalo Quesada’s charges as to how they can master those problems. The Jaguares’ away record during the regular season was hugely impressive and they evidently managed their players excellently when flying to Australia and New Zealand, but it may still be a significant factor in the outcome.

McKellar also has the problem of finding a game plan which will overturn a superb Jaguares team. Quesada’s outfit actually defeated the Brumbies 20-15 earlier in the campaign and last week overcame a fully-loaded Chiefs side, which included Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane.

Ultimately, these teams are very equally matched on paper but the opening 20 minutes will be crucial as to how the Brumbies react to their disrupted preparation.

Super Rugby semi-final 2 – Crusaders v Hurricanes

The weekend’s action concludes in Christchurch where these two New Zealand heavyweights face off in what should be a superb advert for the game between two of the best attacking sides in the competition.

As the champions and, with the game being played on their home turf, the Crusaders will start as overwhelming favourites. Scott Robertson’s charges have, once again, been in excellent form this year and are leading most of the tournament’s attacking statistics.

The nine-time champions occupy first place for tries scored (78), clean breaks (238), carries (2022) and metres carried (8089) but the Hurricanes are no slouches in each of the aforementioned departments and are third for tries scored (64), fourth for clean breaks (189), fifth for carries (1970) and second for metres carried (7970).

However, the men from Wellington are the tournament’s leading side for defenders beaten (451) while the Crusaders are next best with 421. Those statistics sets the scene for an entertaining encounter between two teams who have amongst the world’s best attacking players in their ranks.

Although the Crusaders’ forwards hold an edge over their counterparts, the two backlines are evenly matched with Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Sevu Reece and David Havili expected to lead the Crusaders’ charge, while TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, Beauden and Jordie Barrett will be at the forefront of the Hurricanes’ onslaught.

Player to watch – Pablo Matera (Jaguares)

Has once again enjoyed a tremendous season for the Jags and was particularly superb in their quarter-final triumph over the Chiefs in Buenos Aires. Matera is a superb ball carrier and regularly gets his side over the gain line, but the flanker also works exceptionally hard in defence.

The blindside will be crucial if the Argentinians are to overturn the Brumbies on Friday and qualify for the final. There are plenty of good players in that Jags pack, with Tomas Lezana and Javier Ortega Desio completing a talented back-row unit, but the 25-year-old is the linchpin of that forward eight.

Agustin Creevy was once the main man up front and, although the hooker is still playing well, he has almost given way to the former Leicester man, who is starting to really dominate games at the highest level.

One-v-one battle to watch – Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) v Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)

All eyes will be focused on the battle between the two All Blacks fly-halves, who are also amongst the world’s best number 10s.

There is always plenty of hype when these two players go head-to-head and this match will be no different. Mo’unga heads into this showdown in a rich vein of form after a superb performance in the Crusaders’ quarter-final victory over the Highlanders in which he contributed 23 points, thanks to two tries, five conversions and a penalty.

Barrett was less influential in his side’s triumph over the Bulls and only scored nine points, courtesy of three conversions and a penalty, but he is not a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year for nothing and possesses big match temperament.

As their respective sides’ chief playmakers, Mo’unga and Barrett will be expected to lead the way on attack and their brilliant skill sets should make a big impact on this match.

Subplot to watch – Crusaders’ unbeaten home record under threat

The Crusaders have proven difficult to beat at home in recent years and head into this match full of confidence as they have not lost a Super Rugby encounter in Christchurch since Robertson replaced Todd Blackadder as the head coach at the start of the 2017 season.

Under Robertson’s guidance, the champions have won 28 out of 29 games in the tournament during that period with their only blemish being a 21-21 draw with the Sharks in Round 12 this year.

They were under the cosh for long periods during that game and only a late converted try from Mitchell Hunt earned them a share of the spoils. They put that performance behind them, however, and bounced back with victories over the Blues, Rebels and Highlanders.

Although the champions have dominated this fixture in recent years and are currently on a four-match winning streak against the Hurricanes, this is a knockout match and if the Hurricanes can put pressure on the Crusaders forwards – something which the Sharks did so well in that Round 12 draw – then they could cause an upset.

Bear in mind, however, that these sides also faced each other in last year’s semi-finals at the same venue and the Crusaders cruised to a comfortable 30-12 victory.