Now that the preliminaries are done and dusted, the real business begins as the cream of the New Zealand and South African Super Rugby franchises lock horns with each other.
We’ve got what everyone wanted, the best of the best.
Many comments were aired and viewed about the strength of the Aussie conference.
Well, thankfully the Sharks obliterated the Reds and ensured that no Australian team will have a chance to be engraved on the trophy of the 2012 edition.
Personally, I think the Reds 2011 triumph boiled down to the 2011 Rugby World Cup preparations by SA and NZ, and not to mention the globetrotting Crusaders. Make no mistake, the Reds are still a class outfit, but they do enjoy a much weaker National conference – without a doubt.
It seems like the other day that we were talking our teams up during February, and now after a marathon competition of Comrades proportions, we have the two C’s of New Zealand and the two S’s of South Africa ready to battle it out for a place in the final. The bonus: a NZ/SA final. There’s nothing better than getting the whole country behind one franchise, especially when the common enemy are the New Zealanders.
If memory serves me correctly, this must be the Crusaders 11th straight semi-final. What pedigree! I don’t know many other teams that have enjoyed such domination and you fear for the Chiefs – especially with Dan Carter hitting the same type of form that was visible against the 2005 British and Irish Lions.
The Crusaders are missing the world’s best no.8 in Kieran Read, yet their loose-trio are still fairly settled and don’t have the luxury of playing their hooker at 8. I know Liam Messam will be licking his chops because Read provides that brick wall effect at the breakdown, but you sense the Crusaders have the personnel and the depth to deal with semi-final rugby (11th straight semi-final, hello!). Oh yes, they also have Richie boy.
Look, the Hurricanes recently beat the Crusaders at Christchurch. They’re not unbeatable, but they possess that knockout edge. We can all wax lyrical about players, combinations etc. But this match, and the SA semi-final, will be close to test match intensity. Like the Sharks. the Crusaders are more of an attacking outfit and Chiefs will have their hands full. Defence is the key.
The Sharks/Reds game was too much of an open affair and this played favourably into the Sharks hands. They like to open it up with JP thriving. The Crusaders have also scored quite a few runaway tries too, with Zac Guilford cashing in.
It may happen, but I doubt these two big games are going to high scoring affairs. I put my money on the Crusaders to win in Hamilton – purely on the Dan Carter, Richie McCaw axis. They have timed their return to form to perfection, and without these two colossal Super Rugby gladiators, the Crusaders would be nothing.
CHIEFS 18 CRUSADERS 25
The Stormers have the inside lane – a partisan Newlands crowd, a nice weeklong break and the ultimate carrot of hosting their first-ever SuperRugbyfinal.
The Sharks team have racked up the frequent voyager miles of late and this will determine whether they can regroup in time for Saturday’s big match.
I believe they will, but I don’t see them being allowed by the Stormers to dictate the same type of rugby we saw in Brisbane.
It will be a close, tight affair and I’m sure the Stormers management will take cognisance in the fact that against the Cheetahs, the Sharks suffered in the first half due to Brussouw’s continuous slowing and pilfering of their prime attacking ball. They looked rather limp, but in saying that, Alberts was like Viagra to the team when he came on. He starts this weekend.
But, I’m a Stormers fan and this isn’t a journalistic piece. I can’t see any other result than the Stormers to win. Yes, the detractors and choke police will say their last game against the Rebels was poor, but they still won. They came swarming back after the Rebels scored and played some great rugby. Peter Grant is truly an unsung hero in this country. His wet-weather rugby skills are superb and his kicking excels in these conditions. (Heyneke alluded to the Springboks being unable to adjust wet-weather rugby in the 3rd PE test) Hopefully Grant will crack the nod.
Grant, De Villiers, De Jongh, Kolisi, Eztebeth, Bekker and Habana are key to putting one over the Sharks. And you’ll note I left Habana last because we all know what he’s capable of. (2007 Final, ahem!)
The Stormers MUST play their game and not commit too many defenders at the breakdown, as this will allow the Shark’s attacking prowess to dictate affairs. Have a look at past Stormers matches and you’ll note that their forwards tend to fan out in defence instead of all of them bashing in at the ruck and mauls. It’s very effective and should be enough to win on Saturday.
STORMERS 18 SHARKS 11
Enjoy the weekend!