Thursday, February 11, 2010

Super14 preview: Round one
Mark Cashman Thu Feb 11 2010

The question on everyone’s mind is: are we going to be entertained and enthralled by Super14 2010?

Let’s be honest the offerings that were dished up at time by the 2009 Super14 competition were at times diabolical.

So it’s pleasing to see that we have had a good hard look at ourselves and the teams have been told to be more entertaining. The new law interpretation at the breakdown will have a significant effect and the game that we see in 2010 won’t be one that is best played in possession.

The parameters for a cracking season have been set – let’s get on with scoring some tries and kicking some goals!

Venue: North Harbour Stadium, North Shore City Time: 5.35pm (AEDST)
Referee: Stu Dickinson (AUS)

The Blues of 2009 had one of the least efficient defences in Super14 and it showed with their ninth place finish despite having the ammo to do much better. They will cause their share of headaches this year despite losing Ali Williams for the year with another ruptured Achilles.The Hurricanes appear to be on just about every coach’s radar and it would be fitting for Colin Cooper if he finishes up with some success this time through. I like the move to make Andrew Hore the skipper and letting the likes of Rodney So’oialo work their way into the season. The Canes haven’t always started the season well in week one, but this could well be the exception.
Last year: Hurricanes 45, Blues 27 in Wellington.

Venue: Member’s Equity Stadium, Perth 10.05pm
Time: 10.05pm (AEDST) Referee: Steve Walsh (AUS)

You've got to feel sorry for John Mitchell and the Western Force as they prepare for their bell-ringer of a season opener against the Real Madrid of Australian rugby, the Brumbies. They’d recruited well and appeared to have a lot of the ducks all in a row, when BOOM, it all came crashing down with the season-ending hammy injury to Andre Pretorius. Life will go on for the Force and they could well flourish if they can get their very capable backrow of David Pocock, Richard Brown and Matt Hodgson to dominate games like they did at times in the trials.I know everyone has been talking up the Brumbies to hit the ground running with their bevy of talent but in my humble opinion that is a good month away. New faces, new law interpretations, new combinations it will all take time. The Brumbies should win this one by a couple of scores but it’s not going to pretty!
Last year: Western Force 25, Brumbies 16 in Canberra.

Venue: Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
Time: 4.10am (AEDST) Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SAF)

The Cheetahs have recorded just 12 wins from 52 matches since 2006 in Super14 but strangely have been able to trouble the Bulls on a regular basis. Three of the four previous Super Rugby matches between these two teams have been close with the Bulls winning by less than 12 and with Heinrich Brussouw fronting for the Cheetahs this time through that is sure to be the case. Even so the Bulls will be looking to keep their winning run in the Republic going. They have now won 15 matches on end in South Africa since 2008. That's record I am sure will continue.
Last year: Bulls 29, Cheetahs 20 in Pretoria.

Venue: Christchurch
Time: 5.35pm (AEDST) Referee: Chris Pollock (NZL)

The Crusaders and the Highlanders owe us one after putting everyone through hell last year with that try-less and often gormless performance in Dunedin. It’s a new year now and the emphasis is on ball-in-hand rugby and with a new stadium in Christchurch to be christened we can expect some sparkling footy. The Crusaders may well be without their skipper Richie McCaw until round four but they will have Dan Carter in action and their new acquisition in Zac Guildford out wider. Carter averages 13 points a Super Rugby game and that will be the sort of return you can expect from him on Saturday night. The Crusaders were conservative in their gathering of points in 2009 and coach Todd Blackadder has worked hard in the off-season to turn that all round. The results, I hope we will all see on Saturday night.
Last year: Highlanders 6 Crusaders 0 in Dunedin.

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Time: 7.40pm (AESDT) Referee: Craig Joubert (SAF)

If a coach is only as good as the cattle in his care and on that front you would have to say that Tahs coach Chris Hickey holds the upper hand as we head into this Templeton Cup season opener. The Tahs have 12 players with Test rugby experience while the Reds, now under the great rejuvenator Ewen McKenzie, have eight men who have played at the highest level. The acquisition of Berrick Barnes, Sosene Anesi and Drew Mitchell to the SFS has many in and around the team quietly confident about their chances. Barnes will give them direction and the gas will be supplied by the likes of Anesi and Mitchell and the pack as always with Phil Waugh at the arrowhead as competitive as ever. I’m not writing off the Reds by any means in this game, and for that matter the rest of the season, but the Tahs look to have a number of types who can close games out and that means they should have a good buffer by the end of the 80 minutes.
Last year: Waratahs 15, Queensland Reds 11 in Sydney.

Venue: Johannesburg Time: 2.05am (AEDST) Referee: Jayco Peyper (SAF)

The Stormers have been winning regularly in pre-season and have recruited particularly well with Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie amongst others coming on board. But skipper Schalk Burger and his coach Allister Coetzee warning their charges not to be too ‘windgat’ about their chances. That’s an Afrikaans word for high and mighty and it will almost certainly be the theme of their 2010 campaign. The Lions have been on the rise and have a new coach in Dick Muir and pretty handy playmaker in Carlos Spencer, the former All Black flyhalf. That will be a good start but what they do need to get in order is their defence after last year conceding 56 tries, the worst of any Super14 side. The Stormers may well win this one but don’t be surprised if there is the occasional upset out of Jo’burg.
Last year: Stormers 56 Lions 18 in Cape Town

Venue: Durban Time: 4.10am (AEDST) Referee: Keith Brown (NZL)

The only thing that I am 100 percent sure about is that it’s going to be hot and humid in Durban on Saturday night and that the ball will be slippery after the first couple of minutes. How the Chiefs fare in this game will go a long way to telling the tale of their season. Ian Foster’s side rattled home last year to make the final against the Bulls in Pretoria only to lose in a major blowout. They have a new skipper for the first three rounds of the Super14 in Sione Lauaki who is deputising for Mils Muliaiana.The Sharks under John Plumtree have had their own issues with players returning from injury in Ruan Pienaar and a major court battle of flyhalf Willem. All that aside the Sharks will look to atone for their bad form at home last year with an early win over the visiting Chiefs.
Last year: Sharks 22 Chiefs 15 in Hamilton

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