June always bring the next level up for all of us in the Southern Hemisphere as we put Super Rugby a little bit back and turn our attention to Test Rugby.
This year we can add some Tabasco to it all with the British and Irish Lions touring in New Zealand as well, but before we look at their first match we have the small little thing called Super Rugby which see some New Zealand and Aussie teams playing this weekend.
After last weeks results we can almost for certain say we know who the three teams from the two African conferences will be come play-off time, but we still have a way to go for the New Zealanders to fight out.
Here is a look at the logs as it stands now…
This week I would suggest that if your family does not want to sit in front of the TV the whole weekend that you give some money and send them shopping because we have 5 Super Rugby matches for Friday and Saturday, The British and Irish Lions first match on tour on Saturday and 6 Junior World Championship matches on Sunday to make this a heavenly weekend for rugby lovers.
Lets first have a look at our Super Rugby matches coming up this weekend
Friday 2 June 2017
Blues v Reds 09:35 Apia Park Catch the live scores and chats here
Saturday 3 June 2017
Crusaders v Highlanders 04:35 AMI Stadium Catch the live scores and chats here
Chiefs Waratahs 07:05 FMG Stadium Catch the live scores and chats here
Brumbies v Rebels 11:45 GIO Stadium Catch the live scores and chats here
Force v Hurricanes 13:55 NIB Stadium
Let’s have a look at the matches and maybe we can help with your Superbru predictions, but I doubt it
Blues v Reds
This could be one of those matches that you usually do not expect to lift the excitement bar but then it does. Both teams have been struggling with consistency and showing promise but just have not been able this year to get over that line.
The Blues will definitely go into the game as the favorite but the Reds have the capability to surprise on the day as they have enough quality players which just have not been on form this year.
The two teams have also traveled this weekend to play an historic first ever match in Apia in Samoa.
We expect a huge crowd at the ground and the atmosphere will be electric so hold thumbs that the two teams will produced the goods
Blues head coach Tana Umaga highlighted the importance of this clash to his side and said his charges are determined to deliver a good performance.
“We know this is a special game and a special occasion for the Blues to bring a home game to Samoa,” said Blues coach Tana Umaga.
“We have a significant number of our club who have heritage in Samoa, including myself, and it is a privilege for so many of our team to return home to play in front of friends and family.”
He expects a tough challenge from the Reds but wants his side to build on last weekend’s effort against the Chiefs when they were unlucky to draw 16-16 in Auckland.
“It is important for us to respect this game in Samoa with a strong performance,” added Umaga.
“We have two games left in the Super Rugby season and we desperately want to continue our progression.
“Also the injuries to some of our regular starters have given us the chance to play some of our exciting young players who have earned their opportunities.”
Prediction: The Blues will relish the opportunity to play in front of a passionate island crowd and will take this one by at least 15 points
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Declan O’Donnell, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Jordan Trainor
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi (c), 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Sef Fa’agase
Replacements: 16 Alex Maf, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Caleb Timu, 22 Nick Frisby, 23 Jake McIntyre
Crusaders v Highlanders
I think New Zealand rugby is getting us Saffas back for all the early morning matches they have to sit through when their teams tour South Africa , and yes you have seen this important game kicks off at 04:35.
Makes you think back to the 1981 Springboks tour to New Zealand.
This will be a game worth waking up early for with the unbeaten Saders hosting the Highlanders on Saturday. With the New Zealand conference so tightly contested the Highlanders will have to come with everything to secure a win and break the Saders winning streak this year.
The Highlanders head coach Tony Brown also see this as one of those must win games and has made four changes for the clash.
Brown has reinstated Daniel Lienert-Brown to the front row and promoted Gareth Evans to the starting line-up after a number of good performances in recent weeks. James Lentjes comes back on the openside following an elbow injury that sidelined him for three months, taking the place of Dillon Hunt who gets a well-earned break.
The in-form Rob Thompson comes in at inside centre this week pushing utility back Richard Buckman to the left wing; otherwise the starting backline remains the same as the one that performed well against the Waratahs. Plenty of strike power on the bench with All Blacks Elliot Dixon and Lima Sopoaga while Matt Faddes returns as outside back cover.
Captain Ben Smith will play his 128th Super game for the Highlanders and become their most capped player ahead of Anton Oliver.
The Crusaders are a bit in a more comfortable situation leading the New Zealand conference with their coach Scott Robertson has made ten changes to the starting line-up
The entire front row has changed, with Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks starting, and Wyatt Crockett, Mike Alaalatoa and Ben Funnell sitting on the bench.
The other changes in the forwards are at lock, with Luke Romano staring and Quinten Strange shifting to the reserves, and at loose forward with Matt Todd returning at number seven in place of Pete Samu.
In the backs, Mitchell Drummond starts at scrum-half this week. George Bridge and Seta Tamanivalu take the wings, and Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue start at inside centre and outside centre respectively. Bryn Hall will cover scrum-half while Mitchell Hunt and Israel Dagg will cover the rest of the back line.
The last time the Crusaders and Highlanders played each other was in round two of the season, and the Crusaders snatched a last minute win down in Dunedin. The Crusaders have won every game since, while the Highlanders have dropped just one game since and won their last nine in a row.
Prediction: With the Saders resting so many players makes this a game that the Highlanders can win and which will help them for making the play-offs, Highlanders by 10 points
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Israel Dagg
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Richard Buckman, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (cc), 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Matt Faddes
The Waratahs have started to look more like a the team we expected to pitch up in the beginning of the year so this is no easy game for the Chiefs who has not won a pretty as well for some weeks now.
The end of the tournament do asked more from the players and for teams to keep performing but the Chiefs have been one of the New Zealand teams who has not been convincing.
It looks set that it will be between the Brumbies and the Waratahs who will fight it out for the top spot in the Aussie conference so each match now is a must win for both sides. With the Brumbies playing the easier game this weekend against a struggling Rebels side the Waratahs will have to fight hard to get this important away win against the Chiefs.
Desperation can be even seen as Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has made only one change to his starting lineup.
Scrum-half Nick Phipps has been ruled out with an ankle injury while Jack Dempsey, who was named this week in the Wallaby squad, has moved on to the reserves bench in a six/two split of forwards and backs.
The Chiefs has made two changes to their team as we see Stephen Donald in jersey number 12 for his 100th match and speedster Toni Pulu start on the right wing.
Of note in the reserves is the inclusion of 22-year-old Bay of Plenty hooker Liam Polwart. The former New Zealand Under-20s representative is in line to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench.
Prediction: Difficult one this one, so going with home side by 8 points.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams, 23 Solomon Alaimalo.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cameron Clarke, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Angus Taavao, 19 David McDuling, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Bryce Hegarty
Brumbies v Rebels
Another important Aussie Derby this weekend, ah well at least for the Brumbies that is as the Rebels have no chance of making any play-offs this year.
The Brumbies and Waratahs are looking to be the two Aussie teams that will play it out for that conference spot this year.
Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has made one enforced change to the starting lineup for the clash, prop Nic Mayhew comes into the team in place of the injured Ben Alexander.
Alexander had been set to make Brumbies history by claiming his 143rd cap against the Rebels at GIO Stadium this Saturday, but an injury sustained late in training on Wednesday has put those plans on hold.
Mayhew, who himself was forced to miss the match in Buenos Aires through injury, comes into the team which returns from their around-the-world trip, having gained nine points following excellent victories against the Kings in Port Elizabeth and the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
Melbourne Rebels welcome back Lopeti Timani from a head knock as Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made five changes to the starting line-up with the return of Timani, Hugh Sinclair and Mitch Inman, while Ben Volavola and Reece Hodge have shifted positions in the backline.
Timani has passed the concussion protocols after the loose forward missed last weekend’s game following a head knock at training while Sinclair will fill the shoes of injured Sean McMahon at flanker. McMahon is expected to miss six to eight weeks after dislocating his wrist against the Crusaders.
Prediction: Brumbies by 30 points
Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Hugh Sinclair, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Will Miller, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Jonah Placid
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Aidan Toua, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Nic Mayhew.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Faalelei Sione, 18 Leslie Leulua’Iali’I-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Andrew Muirhead, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Force v Hurricanes
The Hurricanes will be looking to keep up the pressure on the Crusaders when they travel to take on the Force in Perth on Saturday.
The Hurricanes are in second position on the New Zealand conference, 11 points behind the Crusaders but having played a game less.
The Hurricanes have won nine of the last meetings with the Force, including the last eight in a row by an average margin of 17.5 points.
Meanwhile, the Force have lost their last seven games when hosting New Zealand opposition, including a record home defeat in their last match in Perth (49 points v Highlanders).
Furthermore, The Hurricanes have won their last 12 games in a row against non-New Zealand opposition, with those victories coming by an average margin of 30.5 points.
This should all make for an uphill battle for the Force who in fairness did well to bounce back from the thumping at the hands of the Highlanders to beat the Reds 40-26 last weekend in a good advert for attacking, running rugby which shows they are more than capable.
However, they must be wary of exposing themselves by committing too many numbers as the ‘Canes possess the most lethal counter-attack in the competition along with the Crusaders and Highlanders.
The Force need to improve their defensive effort if they are to nullify the away side who have a fit-again Beauden Barrett returning and the in-form duo of centres Vince Aso and Ngani Laumape, who lead the Super Rugby try-scoring charts.
And the Perth franchise will be looking to leapfrog the Waratahs and go up to second position in the Australian Conference. They are two points behind the ‘Tahs and a further 11 behind the Brumbies.
Force head coach Dave Wessels said that his team are looking forward to taking on the Hurricanes at home and backing up with another strong performance.
“Our biggest challenge is to learn how to back-up performances,” he said. “We didn’t play well in our last home game. It’s important that we address that this weekend.
“We want to play the way the people of WA will be proud of.”
Prediction: The Hurricanes should make it nine out of nine against the Force. Hurricanes by 20.
Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 James Verity-Amm, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Francois van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Mitchell Short, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Marcel Brache
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Loni Uhila
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Nehe Milner-Skudder
One of the big games on Saturday is the British and Irish Lions that start their tour against the Provincial Barbarians. A tour that has all the making of a classic and no matter how and when a way to beat the unstoppable All Blacks in their own back yard even if it is the Lions.
The match start at 09:00 on Saturday morning and will be broadcast live on Super Sport HD.
It’s finally here. Still fighting off jet-lag and adjusting to ‘home’ for the next six weeks, the Lions get going on Saturday in Whangarei.
Make no mistake, the Lions preparation time for Saturday’s opening game has not been ideal considering they landed in Auckland on Wednesday morning, but any concerns over that travel fatigue have been dampened down by the strength of the side named by Warren Gatland.
Sam Warburton spoke about itching to get going on tour in the Lions’ first press conference on Kiwi soil and gets his wish, and this first hit-out will be of vital importance for both the Lions captain and an important lieutenant in Alun Wyn Jones, with both short of match fitness.
All three Scots in the 41-man group have been selected, as are both Harlequins props, and there is an air of familiarity in having an all-Welsh back row, an England centre combination and Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg, team-mates for club and country, bunched together in the back three.
Unsurprisingly none of those players involved in last weekend’s Premiership and PRO12 finals are involved, with only Johnny Sexton in the starting XV from the domestic semi-finals, in a bid to allow for maximum recovery time.
Perhaps the most excitement has been reserved for the Lions bench, featuring four Saracens who could all start in the Test series in Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, George Kruis and Owen Farrell.
If the Provincial Barbarians are able to keep the contest tight going into the second, then even with having spent close to 24 hours on a plane, the quality of those replacements should be enough to seal the deal.
Opening games on Lions tours are always treated with trepidation given the limited prepartion time and travel factor, and while 2013’s first match was an emphatic 69-17 win over the Force in Perth, there have also been wobbles; the 37-25 win over a ‘Royal XV’ in South Africa in 2009, wearing down Bay of Plenty in 2005.
A repeat of the 114-10 win over Western Australia in 2001 seems unlikely and followers of New Zealand rugby and Sevens will recognise the name of Sam Vaka, who along with former Chiefs midfielder Dwayne Sweeney and Waikato’s try-scoring sensation Sevu Reece all make up a competent back-line.
Lachlan Boshier, part of the Chiefs squad, and of course Blues fly-half Bryn Gatland, son of Lions head coach Warren, will need to be paid close attention also.
Players to Watch
For Provincial Barbarians: Highly regarded by Canterbury, Irish prop Oliver Jager will get the chance to take on his country’s captain Rory Best when the two face off in the scrum. London-born and educated at the famous Blackrock College in Dublin, whose alumni include Lions legends Brian O’Driscoll and Fergus Slattery, Jager is part of the Crusaders’ squad this season and will be understandably be out to make an impression. His Crusaders and former Canterbury coach, Scott Robertson, has suggested he could play for the All Blacks.
For British and Irish Lions: Earning a first chance to make the number eight shirt his own is Taulupe Faletau, who despite the protests of even the most one-eyed of Welsh supporters was considered second choice for the position behind Billy Vunipola until his decision to withdraw. Faletau’s form pleasingly returned towards the end of the season with Bath but it was easily his toughest campaign since bursting onto the scene at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Widely hailed for his engine, Gatland will be looking for plenty of energy.
Prediction: Even in the jet-lag and getting to know each other stage of the tour, the Lions should have too much ability here to be troubled, particularly with those reinforcements from 16 to 23. Lions to win by 30.
Provincial Barbarians: 15 Luteru Laulala (Counties Manukau), 14 Sam Vaka (Counties Manukau), 13 Inga Finau (Canterbury), 12 Dwayne Sweeney (Waikato), 11 Sevu Reece (Waikato), 10 Bryn Gatland (North Harbour), 9 Jack Stratton (Canterbury), 8 Mitchell Dunshea (Canterbury), 7 Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki), 6 James Tucker (Waikato), 5 Keepa Mewett (Bay of Plenty), 4 Josh Goodhue (Northland), 3 Oliver Jager (Canterbury), 2 Sam Anderson-Heather (c) (Otago), 1 Aidan Ross (Bay of Plenty)
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio (Tasman), 17 Tolu Fahamokioa (Wellington), 18 Marcel Renata (Auckland), 19 Matt Matich (Northland), 20 Peter Rowe (Wanganui), 21 Richard Judd (Bay of Plenty), 22 Jonah Lowe (Hawke’s Bay), 23 Junior Ngaluafe (Southland)
British and Irish Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rory Best, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Tadgh Furlong, 19 George Kruis, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Elliot Daly
Here is a quick look at the tour program for the Lions….
2017 British & Irish Lions tour fixtures
Sunday it is the time for the Junior’s to show their skills as we move into the second round of matches in this years U20 World Championship.
Here is the schedule for Sundays’s matches……
Argentina v France 11:00 live on SS1 HD
Ireland v Scotland 11:00
Australia v Samoa 13:30 live on SS1 HD
New Zealand v Italy 13:30
South Africa v Georgia 16:00 live on SS1 HD
England v Wales 18:30 live on SS1 HD
Match previews to follow and live score updates on Sunday…