Some excellent rugby in store for fans and gamers this weekend. The top competitions are moving into the business end of the season; even Super 15 Rugby is at the halfway stage with nine rounds giving tipsters an opportunity to get a gauge on the form horses for 2015.
This year is flying along and the Rugby World Cup will be on us more quickly than we realise. As fans and gamers now is the time to be looking at the players who will make the biggest impact. With help from Talking Rugby Union's Alex Shaw and Mike Stanton there are a number of exclusive and original pieces covering up and coming talent on the site. This analysis combined with our expert tipster, Scott Donaldson should help get those predictions right.
Why not check out Scott Donaldson's thoughts on this weekend's Super Rugby.
Super 15 Rugby Round 1 2015 left a lot of people red faced with most tipsters picking between two and three winners out of seven games. Fast forward to Round 9 and just when you thought this competition was getting predictable, there were three upsets and one match which split tipsters fifty fifty. The crazy thing was that there were only six games in Round 9.
The average winning margin in Super Rugby Round 9 was the lowest all season 8.8 points meaning that the overall average is now under 12 points, at 11.9. while 12 has been the most popular winning margin, happening six times. It is interesting to note that while 12 is a popular winning margin, 13 hasn’t been the winning margin in any games this year and an 11 point margin has happened once. 7 is the next most popular margin happening five times.
Super Rugby Round 10 fixtures
Crusaders v Chiefs
Highlanders v Blues
Hurricanes v Waratahs
Brumbies v Rebels
Force v Stormers
Sharks v Bulls
Cheetahs v Reds
Just over 50 percent of games have been won by the home team in 2015 with only 32 home wins from 59 games. There has been a rapid turnaround recently with most games in the last few rounds being won by the home team. Maybe the 2014 overall statistic of 71 percent of home wins set in 2014 could happen again this year too.. It is an alarming trend, with away wins seemingly becoming more difficult to achieve. It is hard to know if it is simply because of the draw or if this trend looks set to continue. Although less home referees may also have something to do with this.
Out of the New Zealand teams, the Blues lost their first game after returning from South Africa, and so did the Crusaders. The Hurricanes just defeated the Blues, although they had a bye first. The Chiefs beat the Cheetahs by 10 points in a penalty ridden performance after returning from South Africa. It is interesting given that the Lions for example had no problems returning to South Africa from their tour down under.
There are some really good quality games this week, with two New Zealand derbies, including the epic Crusaders vs Chiefs match of the round, while the Hurricanes host the Waratahs, and the traditional rivals the Sharks host the Bulls in South Africa.
In 2012, 69 out of 120 regular season games were won by the home team, this increased in 2013 with 77 out of 120 and in the year 2014, 85 out of 120 games were won by the home team (71 percent). It seems to be getting harder to win away, with 51 away wins in 2012, 40 away wins in 2013 and only 33 away wins in 2014.
The average winning margin has been increasing, from 10.89 points in 2012 to 12.85 points in 2014. The most common winning margin in 2014 was 3 points, in 2013 it was 7 points while in 2012 it was 5 and 6 points. Margins of 1, 7 and 8 points are also popular, while in 2014 a margin of 16 points was very popular, which shows why the average winning margin is increasing.
Players to watch - both teams have world class players
Crusaders: Nemani Nadolo, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Israel Dagg, Colin Slade/Dan Carter (whoever's kicking) and young Jordan Taufua.
Chiefs: Hika Elliott, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane, James Lowe.
My pick: Crusaders
Both of these teams are under pressure to win this match with the Crusaders losing to the Highlanders last week, slipping back to eighth place, despite scoring the most points in Super Rugby 2015 so far, while the Chiefs find themselves with the second most competition points, but with the Highlanders breathing down their necks and the system, they sit fourth and could drop further as they have played one more game than the Highlanders and Hurricanes.
This game features some brilliant match-ups with some world class players making this into a virtual test match.
Sam Whitelock vs Brodie Retallick, Dan Carter vs Sonny Bill Williams, Jordan Taufua vs Liam Messam, Richie McCaw vs Sam Cane, Colin Slade vs Aaron Cruden.
We think that this will be a typically tight affair, but the Crusaders will be hurting after losing to the Highlanders and the Chiefs could be made to pay for a slow start out of the blocks following the bye. This game is definitely the match of the round!
Players to watch
Hurricanes: James Broadhurst, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Reggie Goodes, Julian Savea.
Waratahs: Bernard Foley, Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Micheal Hooper, Will Skelton.
My pick: Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are the top of the table and should be too strong at home for the Waratahs who were the top of the table last year, but seem to be lacking that extra je ne sais quoi to return to their all conquering role of Super Rugby 2014.
The Hurricanes welcome back Ardie Savea to the mix as they look to build on their confident start to the season. It is also Jeremy Thrush’s 100th game for the team.
The Waratahs will be hoping that Adam Ashley-Cooper’s influence can help them return to the winners circle after losing their way against the Stormers. They now sit 10th although they have at least one game in hand over their nearest rivals overall.
Given the history between these teams in Wellington, we expect the Hurricanes to beat the Waratahs, but they will be tough to beat.
The Highlanders go into their game against the Blues as favourites, but this Blues team offers far more than their lowly ranking suggests. They have yet to lose by more than 12 points this season and the drought breaking win over the Brumbies could have just kickstarted their season about nine weeks too late.
Players to watch
Highlanders: The Highlanders back three are potent this season, with Waisake Naholo the best value for money. Lima Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa and loose forward Elliot Dixon are also good options.
Blues: Along with the classy Jerome Kaino, outside backs Charles Piutau, George Moala, Melani Nanai and Frank Halai are dangerous.
My pick: Highlanders
The Highlanders are also coming off a win and it will be interesting to see how the Highlanders cope going into a game as the favourites. They love being the underdogs!
Both teams have made some changes to their teams through a combination of injuries and resting players to keep them fresh.
The biggest talking point for the Blues is Akira Ioane starting in the Number Six jersey, while Jimmy Cowan may talk like a staunch Southlander, but he will be on the away team’s bench for this game.
James Lentjes continues to start for the Highlanders as Shane Christie and John Hardie still battle with injuries.
There are some devastating broken field players in this game, but expect the Highlanders to win on form, but not by as much as they would have won if the Blues didn’t win last week.
This game looks like a no-brainer, right? Well actually despite the Rebels being in 11th spot, and the Brumbies sitting pretty at the top of the Australian conference, this match may not be as one sided as expected.
Players to watch
Brumbies: Christian Lealiifano, Stephen Moore, David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Rob Coleman, Joe Tomane, Henry Speight.
Rebels (not named yet): Sean McMahon, Scott Higganbotham, Pat Leafa, Mike Harris, Mitch Inman and Luke Jones.
My pick: Brumbies
One look at the Brumbies backline reveals a real makeshift set up, missing classy players like Toomua and Kuridrani, while moving Lealiifano to the Number 10 position while Nic White is being rotated from the halfback position.
This game will be closer than expected and there could even be an upset like what happened last week with the Blues vs Brumbies.
The Rebels have some of the best fantasy rugby players with the likes of Mike Harris, Pat Leafa and Luke Jones great value for money partly because of the lack of depth in Rebels rugby.
Players to watch
Force (yet to be named): Ben McCalman, Nathan Charles, Steve Mafi.
Stormers (yet to be named): Eben Etzebeth, Scarra Ntubeni, Nizaam Carr, Damian de Allende.
My pick: Stormers
The Stormers upset the Waratahs last week, even without inspirational Duane Vermeulen and given the Force’s recent results, the Stormers should pick up another win on the road. The Force were brave at times earlier this season, but now they seem to be struggling.
The Force haven’t won at home this season and unless they can find some more class players like Ben McCalman then they will continue to struggle to win games. They have only one victory so far and that was on the road.
The Cheetahs ended their Australasian tour on a high with a win over the Force. It is hard to know what to read into that victory though given that the Force are hardly worldbeaters in 2015.
Players to watch
Cheetahs: Heinrich Brussouw, Boom Prinsloo, Joe Pietersen.
Reds (yet to be named): Adam Thomson, Liam Gill, Jake Shatz, Lachlan Turner, Samu Kerevi.
My pick: Cheetahs
The Reds will give themselves more of a chance since the Cheetahs have the worst defence and the Reds have the worst attack in the competition.
The Reds have struggled with injuries to some of their key players in 2015 and their coaching staff are also struggling to get the best out of their team which now sits at the bottom of the table. But Sir John Kirwan knows what a difference a win makes and the Reds will be hoping that they can overcome adversity to win this game.
They simply don’t have the depth to replace their injured or suspended players like James Horwill, James O’Connor and Quade Cooper. Their lack of quality players in key positions doesn’t help their cause.
Players to watch
Sharks (yet to be named): SP Marais, Lwazi Mvovo, Marcell Coetzee, Ryan Kankowski, Fred Zellinga.
Bulls (yet to be named): Handre Pollard, Francois Hougaard, Jesse Kriel, Pierre Spies, Adriaan Strauss.
My pick: Bulls
These two rivals of South African rugby are both having mixed seasons, but the Bulls will go into this game with the better form following a win over the Reds, while the Sharks are on a two game losing streak at the moment.
It is hard to know if the Sharks can win without Lambie and Franc Steyn given their recent absence. The Bulls will welcome back their Springboks like Adriaan Strauss, Jan Serfontein and star pivot Handre Pollard and this should give them the edge over the Sharks who are really struggling without Jake White’s influence.
Watch for the Bulls to win on the road and retain their spot at the top of the South African conference.
Who are you picking to win Super Rugby Round 10 matches?