And so to Round 12 of this sterling Super Rugby competition and it is, in the time-honoured way, crunch time. Several franchises face season-defining clashes, while others are looking to cause them pain. Good times.
Blues v Stormers, North Harbour Stadium, 5:35pm (EST) Friday FS1HD
The Blues threw it around and ran like circus escapees against Queensland last start and will take plenty into this match. Hopefully points given they scored just 11 against the Reds. The problem for the Blues is that a different team turns up each week. It must be confusing for the coach given he picks the same players.
The Stormers? Beat the Hurricanes in Palmerston North; a town John Cleese reckons the most boring in New Zealand if not the world. Rather than being put off, Palmy chamber of commerce chairman Paul O’Brien told reporters: “The town should promote tours of Palmerston North’s dullest places and meetings with resident bores”.
If the Stormers take similar chutzpah and endeavour into this fixture they could record that very rarest of things – two on the trot in New Zealand. They have the man-power. Gio Aplon is skittish, Elton Jantjies a tight ten, and Bryan Habana – who had a blue whale of a game against the Canes – runs like he’s stolen gold ingots from Incas. Their forwards are all madmen and will bring plenty to Albany, a northern suburb of Auckland Cleese missed on his 2006 comedy tour.
Tip: Stormers by five.
Rebels v Chiefs, AAMI Park, 7:40pm (EST) Friday FS1HD
If Melbourne bring anything like the run-like-a-legion-of-the-damnedmentality they took to the Crusaders – a game Rebels would have won had they been five points better – this could be a game for the ages.
So many things came together for Melbourne: James O’Connor was brilliant; Scott Higginbotham a big lump at the back of the scrum; and hooker Ged Robinson, in the best traditions of his trade, a nuggetty menace.
But they couldn’t get it done. But they’ll take good thoughts into this match-up.
Round 11 – as at 16:05 PM, 28/04/13
The Chiefs? Put 37 points on the strong Sharks of Africa, and though the Crusaders lie dormant like angry dragons, are the New Zealand Conference’s best chance of an 12th Super rugby title in 18 seasons.
Say it most weeks but there’s a lot of league man Ben Barba in outside-centre Tim Nanai-Williams, who is also, not incredibly interestingly, Sonny Bill Williams’s cousin. Five-eighth Aaron Cruden has high-skill at No.10, winger Lelia Masaga and fullback Gareth Anscombe run dodge-filled lines, and No.6 Liam Messem will run hard at Higginbotham and test out if he’s Tarzan or Jane.
Could be a cracker.
Tip: Chiefs by 12.
Highlanders v Sharks, Forsyth Barr Stadium, 5:35pm (EST) Saturday FS2HD
Brad Thorn came from Japan and retirement to fill a hole in the Highlanders lineout and ruck-destroy stocks, and has lost every game since. And for a bloke who’s won more than Adam Scott in the game of life, this must gall. Gall appallingly. What’s gone wrong? Hard to put a finger on exactly what but you could have a stab about at a few things and make a case.
Poor hands. Poor discipline. Poor play. Never a combination for success.
The Sharks? Were out-run by top notch Chiefs for the first 20 minutes last week, the home side piling on three tries and 24 unanswered points. But the Sharks bit back and were far from disgraced, scoring four tries and combining in many XV-man total rugby movements. They’re a top outfit, the Sharks. And things won’t get better for Brad here.
Tip: Sharks by 12.
Force v Reds, NIB Stadium, 7:40pm (EDT) Saturday FS2HD
The Force and their die-hard (and very patient) fans will be confident going into this fixture with a Reds side they bested at Suncorp. But thinking they’re a chance won’t be enough. For the Reds are about to riot like it’s the Thatcher Years in Britain. Queensland’s backs are getting clean ball from James Horwill and Rob Simmons in the lineout, clean ball from the ruck courtesy of their super-fit and super-handy young backrow, and clean-enough ball at the scrum.
And half-clean ball is all Will Genia needs to display his super skill set, and to set free the high-quality and daring deeds of Quade Cooper. Their combination is arguably – some would say extremely arguably, indeed some would Tweet vociferously otherwise – the best in this Super game. Unarguably, Digby Ioane and Dom Shipperley run fast and hard, Benny Tapuai’s been hot on this feet and Jono Lance runs as straight as the sideline. The Force? Will not win.
Tip: Reds by 10.
Catch every match of round 12, starting with the Blues’ match against the Stormers from 5.30pm (EST) Friday, Live and in HD on Fox Sports!
Kings v Waratahs, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, 1:05am (EST) Sunday FS2HD
If the Waratahs don’t win this must-win match against the brave, physical, but limited Southern Kings, each and every one of their season ticket holders should march into Tahs headquarters near Allianz Stadium and throw things about and yell in an agitated fashion.
But it shouldn’t come to this. The Tahs have been good, and good to watch. And should have beaten the Bulls at Loftus, something they do less often than Haley’s Comet does laps. Israel Folau’s found his flashy feet, Bernard Foley’s dodging about in the 10, and Mad Mick Hooper is more annoying than a rare and hard-to-shift mosquito-borne tropical disease. The Kings? Are like Bulls Mini-Mes, except they are also giants. An oxymoron for another time. Regardless, they will lose to the Waratahs here.
Tip: Waratahs by 10.
Bulls vs Hurricanes, Loftus Versfeld, 3:10am (EST) Sunday FS2HD
A clash of cultures and playing styles between two teams desperate for the points. There’s more chance of me setting the alarm to watch Demtel guys sell crap.
Tip: Bulls by 10.
Brumbies v Crusaders, Canberra Stadium, 4:05pm (EST) Sunday FS1HD
Season-defining match for both teams.The Brumbies top the Aussie conference by 3 points over Queensland. A win against the champion Crusaders would be a massive fillip for the young squadron. The Crusaders are two points out of the top two of the NZ Conference, and one point out of a Wildcard. It’s not must-win. But it’s bloody close. The Brumbies have been huge for the most part, combining super-tight work in defence and counter-ruck, with clean ball given to backs running for fun and money.
Their halves are playing with confidence, plenty down to Stephen Larkham who is often on the telly and in blokes’ ears. They call him “Bernie” after the dead bloke in Weekend at Bernies, so little did he once speak. But he’s telling his charges something right. And Jake White’s brought African steel. A heady combination.The Crusaders sport several of the world’s dominant rugby players and a dynastic winning culture that scholars will write learned thesis about.
Can’t split ‘em. It’s match of the round. Watch it.
Tip: Brumbies by three.