By David van der Merwe - Super Rugby Writer
After weeks of warm up games and watching the Heineken Cup, Six Nations and whatever rugby was available, the long awaited Super Rugby Series is about to kick-off. All Southern Hemisphere fans must feel like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting for it. No more icy fields and postponed games for us. Here is a brief look at the weekend’s fixtures with my prediction for each.
BLUES vs CRUSADERS
The Crusaders have one of the best attacks, especially in open play. Their kicking game is also one of the best in world rugby at the moment. However with Dan Carter doubtful this might suffer a bit. At the rucks they are just about unbeatable but again because McCaw is not in the team it becomes a lot easier at the breakdowns for the opposition. Defensively they are sound and it is not easy to break their line. This will have to be steady against a good attacking team like the Blues. I'm giving this one to the Crusaders by 7.
BRUMBIES vs FORCE
The Brumbies should have the upper hand in this game, but should be weary of the Force attack. If they can't keep their defence tight and not give away to many penalties the Brumbies should be in the driving seat. They have the attack to tear open the Force defence and if they get going it will be a try fest. Over confidence might be their down fall however. The Brumbies have shown in the past that they can from time to time lose easy games. In all fairness to the Force this should be an easy game for the Brumbies. The Brumbies should win by 10 or more.
BULLS vs SHARKS
A hard South African derby that will probably be low scoring with kicks deciding it in the end. Discipline will be tested as the players will go out to make the hard tackles and have chats with each other. Both teams have short fused tempers and we might just see a couple of tea parties getting out of hand. The referee will have to be quick to stake his claim and not let this get in the way of a good rugby match. It will be a hot afternoon in Pretoria with the chance of a Highveld thunderstorm. Excellent weather for running rugby and if it rains it should be over in 20 minutes or so. Brace yourself for hard hitting rugby. The Sharks should take this one by 6 or more.
CHIEFS vs HIGHLANDERS
This will be quite a good game to watch as both teams are equally balanced and at round about the same strength. They have been up there with the top teams but just can't seem to win those play-off games. Consistency is a problem on both sides as they take roller coaster rides on the log throughout the history of Super Rugby. The fact that both sides have the ability to win this game is a given, but that will not necessarily make it a close encounter. This one is difficult to pick. I'm going with the Chiefs by 3-7 points only because of home ground advantage.
WARATAHS vs REDS
The Reds will want to build on last season's performance and show that they are worthy champions. If they lose this game all that momentum will be lost and they would have to start building from scratch again. They have an explosive back line that is unpredictable on attack and should use this to their advantage. They are at times a bit weak around the fringes of the rucks and mauls and will have to guard this area closely. Overall they should have the better of the Waratahs. I'm going with the Reds by at least 10.
STORMERS vs HURRICANES
The Stormers will miss Jacque Fourie at centre and also guys like Johan Sadie (Bulls) and JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls). But with Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers in midfield they should once again be solid on defence. Add Gio Aplon and Joe Petersen in to the mix and you have a back three that can attack from anywhere on the field. Catrakilis at fly half showed last year that he can read the game and his goal kicking is very good.
Their loose trio will dominate at the breakdown if given the chance. Schalk Burger will lead them in this quest. Line outs will see Andries Bekker take the lead and you can expect a couple of steals here. The only problem they might have is scrumming. This has never been their strong point, but they sure can maul it up from any position on the field. If they can maintain the momentum they will be hard to beat at Newlands. I hand this one to the Stormers by between 10-15 points.
LIONS vs CHEETAHS
This will be a hard fought South African derby that will probably go down to the wire. If one team however gets the upper hand it can become a runaway victory for them. The first 20 minutes will be crucial for both teams and probably will decide the outcome of the game. The Cheetahs will want to prove to all and sander that they are capable of competing and winning. The Lions should have this one by 5-10 points.
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