In this stepping-stone week, much could happen…or not very much at all. That is in respect of the standings, or that some matches will have little impact on where teams may end the season. So, what are fans to expect? The forecast says ‘stay involved’ as Super Rugby Round 14 can still involve more riveting rugby.
Standings are not why men solely compete in Super Rugby obviously. Their love of the sport, the adrenaline, the mateship and provincial pride. Add in professionalism, and while some compete out of their region or nation, they still compete. That is the nature of the game–why fans turn up at the ground, rather than solely watch on television.
Now, before you think ‘this is a theological exercise’ the point is–by Round 14, only some teams now hold the chance of advancement. However, sides who hold pride as the key ingredient to success, will be the hardest to beat. Their reward is the joy in winning, promoting a traditional strength/local derby and for future planning…not solely a finals series place.
So who will still be up for a mathematical chance of making the Top 8?
Who to Watch #1 – The Blues
Not yet entirely outside of the reckoning, the Auckland team have a couple of opportunities left. Beat the Chiefs, and their destiny is still within their own reach. And some would say, that is not above them.
Who to Watch #2 – The Reds
Not exactly for the same reason, but for the same motivation. To keep themselves in the hunt–while the table topping ACT Brumbies look uncertain, another Australian side could literally ‘jump in’. Fighting out for that honour will be the Waratahs, but also the Reds.
As teams have found their ambitions becoming limited, desperation comes into the equation. For Nick Styles or Blues coach Tana Umaga, coaching their men to still maintain goals is crucial. And after this Super Rugby Round 14, the two sides in fact meet in Apia. The match will be a massive cultural celebration–but it will also be a ‘winner stays alive’ result.
— Fox Sports Lab (@FoxSportsLab) May 21, 2017
Even the Force might believe in some way they can ‘steal the lollies’ but that is a harder task than most.
Knowing this, and aware of the standings as they are above, what will the next nine games bring us? A full platter awaits, and Last Word on Rugby forecasts a ‘full belly’ for diehard fans.
Now, to look at the forecast ahead for Round 14. The official match packs from SANZAAR shows that nine games will be enjoyed across every conference. A true celebration, and enough to retain attention over the whole weekend.
Super Rugby Round 14 Forecast
Friday May 26
The Blues will continue their quest to stay within contention. That is a stressful task, and sympathy may not be forthcoming from the opposition. The Chiefs sit on a 12 match winning streak: hard to forecast any different result, but Umaga and captain James Parsons will be pushing hard. Discipline will be important, although a question is which Chiefs kicker turns up? Aaron Cruden has been off target, so the boot of Damian McKenzie could add to the outcome….in place kicks, and his usual one or two hundred meters.
Eden Park is a cauldron, and whatever support is present, it is a typical local derby–hard rugby, no love lost and then handshakes all around.
Over in Australia, there is more parity. The Reds will host the Western Force, and will be challenged in both skill and heart. The Perth-based side was under huge pressure (with the cloak of an Australian side to be culled from the competition). The Force have performed admirably, so the Reds will be squarely asked the hardest questions.
— rugby365.com (@rugby365com) May 24, 2017
Are they finals material? Stephen Moore and skipper Samu Kerevi need the whole squad to show maturity, and accuracy. Things that Nick Style spoke of in his press conference.
Super Saturday – Six Quality Matches
The Sunwolves (see main photo) are safe. They and the Jaguares will be assured of a place in Super Rugby 2018–whatever shape it takes–but they need a win to retain their fanbase. Japan loves rugby, and facing the Cheetahs this maybe an opportunity. Filo Tiatia will have targeted this fixture, so the forecast is a full-on contest.
Inside the hothouse that is Forsyth-Barr Stadium, the Highlanders invite the Waratahs over the Tasman. While being hospitable is a Southern trait, on the field they will want to do two things. (1) take the game to the opposition, and (2) quell the embarrassment of 2016.
The result last year only just went the ‘Landers way, as leading by four tries to none, the Waratahs nearly made a monumental return. Knowing that, some are saying ‘do not be too overconfident in Dunedin’. With a possible conference home semi-final place available; like the Reds, the ‘Tahs know that each game counts – but with their talisman Ben Smith back, the forecast swings towards the home side.
— Fox Sports Rugby (@FOXRugbyLive) May 25, 2017
In Melbourne, the Rebels have a tough task in front of them. They hold aspirations of showing both spirit, and solidarity–in the face of the SANZAAR axe. But, standing in their way on Saturday night will be an undefeated Crusaders side. The 2017 version is much more potent than the old Todd Blackadder coached side. New thinking, new voices and a new desire will surely be too much for the battered Rebels.
Fit Players Will Help Leading Sides in Round 14
Along with Ben Smith, Israel Dagg returns for the Christchurch team. Placed on the wing, the All Black will no doubt bring his guile and that cheeky grin to the fixture. A team man, he has said he was a “I’ve been a stay at home Dad for 10 weeks…it’s good to get back on the field”. Fans of rugby in general will all agree.
In South Africa, the Bulls have had a few harsh results hit them. 24-62, and then the Lions pushed them around 51-14. They will feel the heat once again, as the title holding Hurricanes blow into town. If anything, the Bulls will be hoping that jetlag affects the ‘Canes but professional sportsmen today are used to that factor. So if they are reaching for anything, it should be keeping the ball away from the fast-charging ‘Canes.
TJ Perenara is doing a stellar job in the absence of Dane Coles; still suffering concussion symptoms (like Charlie Ngatai). Chances are that Vince Aso could extend his try scoring run: 13 tries in 11 games. The odds are ‘bet on Vince to score’.
‘Match of the Round’
Sharks v Stormers: it will be a terrific match-up. Even Kiwi rugby fans will be aware of this result, because both sides should be in the finals series, so whichever NZ franchise has to travel for their wildcard playoff, the form of the Stormers must be observed.
After returning from the horrible tour of Australasia, the home side must show how ‘they can play’. The Sharks might then need to show that they can defend, and after a benefit against the Sunwolves, confidence will be high.
— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) May 25, 2017
To round off Super Saturday, the Jaguares finish off a long run of home matches. Only achieving half of what they needed, there is a minor hope that they may still realize a wildcard place, but playing the ACT Brumbies–a team in the same predicament–it is not an easy task.
While the party atmosphere of Argentina favours the hosts, the under-pressure Brumbies must be focused themselves. Stephen Larkham needs men to challenge, and accept the challenge. Rugby is a pressure game, so only the best will survive in Super Rugby Round 14.
Sunday May 28
In a rare Sunday outing, the conference leading Lions will invite the Southern Kings to play. When we say play, we mean a tightly contested local derby. This is because Deon Davids has his side buzzing. Rugby is a game of internal-confidence, and each side has that. The challenge will be to defend, hold out the opposition nd not be 30-28 going into the final five minutes.
Captain Warren Whiteley is now the Springboks leader, so he will feel inspired–as long as he is not distracted. His captaincy gives the Johannesburg side the direction required. If they are taken off that game, the forecast might see the Kings looking to add to the upset results achieved so far.
Overall, the nine match schedule delivers a full platter of matches to enjoy. It is a big weekend before the International window opens, and disrupts sides momentum. The leading teams must benefit from their opportunities, while the battlers will use pride as a motivation. As a result, every side will be out to play their hearts out……and rugby is the winner from that.
This Week In Rugby History
The birth of a new era as the inaugural Rugby World Cup kicked-off with New Zealand trouncing Italy 70-6 at Eden Park, Auckland.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) May 22, 2017
A Test-strength French XV was held to a 10-10 draw by the USSR in Moscow.
Munster won their second Heineken Cup title, beating Toulouse 16-13 in front of 74,417 spectators at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
The ‘Week in Rugby History’ is sourced from the ESPN UK ‘on this day’ webpage.
New LWOR Poll Question:
“Main photo credit”