Super 15 Rugby - key learnings as round 6 kicks off

Duane Vermeulen
Duane Vermeulen (centre) is one player to watch out for in this round
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It used to be early Saturday morning that I would switch on Sky Sports to get my rugby weekend started. It was Alex Payne leading the charge with Simon Lazenby covering the English Premiership. Now it’s an antipodean called Rupert, and very good he is too with notable sidekicks Fitzgerald and Lynagh.

The TalkingRugbyUnion broadcast budget is a little smaller and it is our regular contributor Scott Donaldson that provides our readers with insight and analysis. We asked Scott to tell us what he had learnt so far this season and what he was predicting in Round 6.

Super Rugby Round 5 was a great one for the New Zealand teams let’s look at Things We Learnt during Super Rugby Round 5.

1) Four out of five New Zealand teams won in Super Rugby Round 5 and the only team that lost, the Blues, were playing another New Zealand team in the Hurricanes.

The best part of this is that the wins for the Chiefs and Highlanders were against two of the best non-New Zealand teams in the competition in the Stormers and Waratahs. In contrast, the Sharks were the only South African team to win in Round 5, and they played the Cheetahs.

Two Australian teams won, with the Rebels and Brumbies winning away, they both played local derbies against Australian teams, maybe it was a good thing with such a dominant weekend for New Zealand teams.

2) One look at the table suggests that the New Zealand teams are looking dangerous, with the Hurricanes being the only unbeaten team, while the Chiefs and Highlanders are fourth and fifth.

It is amazing how despite their slow start to the season, the Sharks are in the Top Six. The scary thing for other teams is that New Zealand could be more dominant if the Crusaders beat the Cheetahs next weekend which is highly likely, then New Zealand could be in an even stronger position to dominant Super Rugby 2015.

3) It is best not to name your team a colour as the Reds and Blues are at the foot of the table.

4) It is important to look at the Super Rugby season holistically. It is still early to completely write off any team yet, given that we are only one quarter of the way through the competition.

5) How much longer will Sir John Kirwan last at the Blues as coach? His team is the only one not to win a game and despite some encouraging signs in Palmerston North on Friday night, they still lost their fifth game in a row.

6) How will the Highlanders go against the big South African teams? As a Highlanders fan, I was amazed by the Highlanders win over the Waratahs and their amazing counter-attack, but given the way that the Stormers at times dominated the Chiefs forwards and deprived them of possession, much like the Chiefs themselves did against the Highlanders the week before, you have to fear for the Highlanders forwards at set piece time against some of the big South African teams.

The main consolation is that the Highlanders last week and Chiefs this week showed that you don't have to dominate possession to win the game.

7) What has happened to the home advantage? In Super Rugby 2014 regular season, 71 percent of games were won by the home team, yet in 2015 so far only 14 out of 34 games have been won by the home team which is only 41 percent of games in Super Rugby 2015 have been won by the home team.

Super Rugby Round 5 was no exception with only three from seven teams winning at home.

8) There were two upsets in Super Rugby Round 5 according to tips website SuperBru with wins for the Rebels and Chiefs only picked by only 39 percent and 24 percent of tipsters only. These were hardly the major upsets like there were in earlier rounds. Wins for the Highlanders and Sharks were those dangerous fifty-fifty results which separate the tipsters.

9) The average winning margin in Super Rugby Round 5 was higher than usual at 14.42 points which was helped by the Brumbies 29-0 win over the Reds and other comfortable wins by the Crusaders and Sharks.

It is rare to have an upset win by 17 points like was the case with the Sharks. There were three bonus points for teams finishing within seven points, which included two seven point wins. The overall margin average in Super Rugby 2015 is now over 12 points at 12.18 points.

10) Do the comfortable wins for the Sharks and Crusaders mean that the established teams who were favourites heading into Super Rugby 2015 are starting to get into the form that saw them do so well in recent seasons?

Both of these teams have recently welcomed back some experienced international players who helped them win in Super Rugby Round 5. It is hard to know if or when the Waratahs will do the same?

For Super Rugby fans, the competition is now getting warmed up with five rounds giving tipsters an opportunity to get a gauge on the form horses for 2015.

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 5 where there were only two upsets and despite some unpredictable margins, most tipsters scored at least 50 percent for the round.

The average winning margin in Super Rugby Round 5 was a high 14.4 points while 12 has been the most popular winning margin, happening four times. The overall average winning margin is 12.2 points.

Less than 50 percent of games have been won by the home team in 2015 with only 14 home wins from 34 games (41 percent). This is well below the 71 percent of wins for home teams in 2014. Winning away from home has been very common, making a default option of a home win not as safe as in 2014. Mind you, there are plenty of games left to change that!

Looking at the history of games it is interesting to note that home advantage is crucial in matches between the Waratahs vs Brumbies, with the Brumbies only winning twice, while in the Highlanders vs Hurricanes games, the home advantage doesn’t mean much with both teams winning approximately half of the games on the road.

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.

This is an excerpt from The Ultimate Rugby Tipping Guide 2015 is available for only $4 for a limited time only.

For those playing fantasy rugby game www.testrugby.com, we are also naming players to watch. You can also join the Super Rugby Tips conference at SuperBru. It is difficult to afford a team if playing salary cap fantasy rugby, so you may have to buy bargains, but there are enough new players in Super Rugby 2015 to give you some options.

2015 seems tough to fill a squad without going over budget. The key is to sell players who have the bye straight away and buy them back early.

In fantasy rugby, you can relax knowing you have new allotment of trades. With the triple bye round happening this week, it is necessary to sell your Stormers, Blues and Reds immediately and buy back any players at the lock of the round, with Jerome Kaino and Duane Vermeulen performing well so far in 2015.

It is also important to plan ahead and only buy players you can get at least a few games out of before they have the bye. The Brumbies have the bye next week, while the Waratahs, Highlanders and Force have the bye the following round. It is probably not worth investing in players from these teams until after they have the bye.

It is also important to pick players from teams who play a good points scoring style, especially when playing teams like the Cheetahs, Lions and Force.

Round 6 fixtures

20th March

Highlanders v Hurricanes

Rebels v Lions

21st March

Crusaders v Cheetahs

Bulls v Force

Sharks v Chiefs

22nd March

Waratahs v Brumbies

Byes: Blues, Reds, Stormers

Game of the Round?

Round 6 is full of so many great matches that it is difficult to pick a so called “Game of the Round” with the Highlanders hosting the Hurricanes, Sharks hosting the Chiefs and the Brumbies and Waratahs clashing.

These three games are not only difficult to predict, but also sure to be great. In other matches, the Rebels host the Lions, Bulls are at home to the Force and the Crusaders host the Cheetahs. These should be more predictable. My pick for game of the round is Highlanders vs Hurricanes, but I am biased having lived in these two areas.

What is your Game of the Round?

Highlanders vs Hurricanes

The Highlanders and Hurricanes are two of the form teams, not only of the New Zealand Conference, but the entire Super Rugby competition. Both teams have had unusually good starts to the season, with the Hurricanes unbeaten and the Highlanders only losing one game so far.

The Hurricanes forwards have stepped up in 2015 and this could mean trouble for the Highlanders who have the worst possession statistics of any in the competition with an average of just over 12 minutes possession per game, but despite this, they have won three games from four and their victims include recent champions like the Reds, Waratahs and Chiefs. The Highlanders know how to hang tough!

The bookies are struggling to separate these two teams and Super Rugby Tips thinks this will be a close one based on form and the history between these two teams. This is a friendly rival with many players in the Highlanders playing for ITM Cup teams in the Hurricanes franchise region.

The loss of Dane Coles and James Broadhurst for the Hurricanes is a double blow, but the Hurricanes do have the edge on paper and should dominate the Highlanders in the set pieces. The backline clashes will be exciting, especially given that many of the Highlanders come from the Hurricanes franchise area.

The home advantage is hardly a factor in games between these two teams, although the Hurricanes haven’t really faced any of the top teams in the competition yet, so it will be interesting to see if they are up to the task.

For fantasy rugby managers, the back three players for each team are great points scorers.

Players to watch

Hurricanes: Victor Vito, Beauden Barrett, Conrad Smith, Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder (bargain).
Highlanders: Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith, Tom Franklin (bargain).

My pick: Highlanders

Rebels vs Lions

This game is probably one for the purists only as neither of these two teams is likely to feature at the business end of the season. The Rebels sit in ninth spot after a gutsy win over the Force, while the Lions are struggling in 13th spot. This represents a great opportunity for both teams.

The Rebels have never beaten the Lions, while that sounds like an impressive statistic, the Lions have never been to Melbourne!

The Lions have been getting enough ball thanks to their industrious forward pack, but they lack the X Factor backline to make the most of their opportunities and this shows, with one of the worst attacks in the competition.

The hosts should be too strong as they have shown some potential in picking up a few wins this season and they also kept the Brumbies honest in their recent game.

The Lions backline will feature regular pivot Elton Jantjies in the midfield, this could mean one thing, the Lions will be playing for territory! Don’t expect to see the Lions backs scoring heaps of tries!

There are some impressive fantasy rugby players for the Rebels with Mike Harris a rare goalkicking midfield back, while Pat Leafa is great value for money for the Rebels. The Lions rarely feature in fantasy rugby squads, thanks to their style of play more than anything else. Their forwards like Franco Mostert, Warwick Teckenburg, Warren Whiteley and Armand van der Merwe. This shows where the Lions strengths are.

Players to watch

Rebels: Luke Jones, Pat Leafa, Scott Higginbotham, Mike Harris, Sean McMahon.
Lions: Franco Mostert, Warwick Teckenburg, Warren Whiteley and Armand van der Merwe

My pick: Rebels

Crusaders vs Cheetahs

Both of these teams have won twice, but the Cheetahs look to be a team on the decline after they lost to the Sharks last week (who loses to the Sharks in 2015?). The Crusaders look to be on the rise after a slow start. Last week, they not only gained their core of stars like Nemani Nadolo, Andy Ellis, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Dan Carter and Kieran Read back into the fold, but they gained confidence after beating the Lions.

The Cheetahs have terrible defence, but they also enjoy scoring tries too, ensuring that this could be a very high scoring game for their first road on the Australian tour.

Given the history and form of these two teams, the Crusaders should win comfortably, assuming they don’t get complacent, even without King Richie McCaw.

It will be interesting to see if Dan Carter is the permanent first choice Number 12 for the Crusaders. Codie Taylor starts at hooker, while Israel Dagg is back from injury to keep punters on their toes.

For players of fantasy rugby games, the Crusaders big scoring players like Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Dan Carter and Nemani Nadolo are worth the investment. The Cheetahs have their own talent with Heinrich Brussouw back, while Torsten van Jaarsveld is a bargain.

Players to watch

Crusaders: Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock.
Cheetahs: Torsten van Jaarsveld, Heinrich Brussouw, Joe Pietersen, Francois Venter.

My pick: Crusaders

Bulls vs Force

The Bulls look to be finding their way, while the Force look like they are losing their way following a promising start, so expect more of the same in Pretoria this week.

The Bulls are traditionally tough at home and have built up some momentum with back to back wins. The most satisfying thing for them is that their attack has started functioning after a poor start to the season. The Force started with a win and have now lost their last four straight, so it will be a long day at the office for the Force.

Handre Pollard looks set to dominate in fantasy rugby this week, while Jesse Kriel, Pierre Spies, Victor Matfield and Adriaan Strauss should continue their value in fantasy rugby games. The Force have some good fantasy rugby players, even if this doesn’t equate to results in Nick Cummins, Steve Mafi, Junior Rasolea, Ben McCalman and Nathan Charles.

Expect the Bulls to win easily.

Players to watch

Bulls: Handre Pollard, Jesse Kriel, Pierre Spies, Victor Matfield and Adriaan Strauss.
Force: Ben McCalman, Steve Mafi, Junior Rasolea, Nick Cummins and Nathan Charles.

My pick: Bulls

Sharks vs Chiefs

These two teams both won last week with the Chiefs accounting for the Stormers, while the Sharks beat the Cheetahs. This is a tough match to pick. The Sharks have improved in recent weeks with the introduction of some of their experienced players from overseas clubs, but the Sharks are yet to face a non- South African team and the Chiefs look to be a class act.

The Chiefs were innovative in combating the Stormers mauls and survived off scraps to still win. It seems that most New Zealand teams will be in the same boat against the South African teams, but South African teams need to realise that winning the forward battle doesn’t necessarily equate to winning the game.

The Sharks have been disappointing in 2015, but could have turned over a leaf in beating the Cheetahs, but the Chiefs showed good form last week and will run the Sharks around.

Neither team has been named for this game. Both teams have some injuries, with Tim Nanai-Williams and Sonny Bill Williams probably out for the Chiefs, while Pieter-Steph du Toit and Willem Alberts are out with injury. All four of these players are good fantasy rugby players.

Can the home ground get the Sharks home? The Sharks have a terrible recent record against the Chiefs and only look a shadow of their former selves. It is one thing beating the other South African teams who play a certain style, but the Sharks may struggle to beat the Chiefs who play a totally different style based on moving the ball around.

For those playing fantasy rugby, it could be time to sell Pat Lambie. It seems that as in previous seasons, Franc Steyn eats into Lambie’s production. Pieter-Steph Du Toit was one of the best locks in the competition, but he is out with injury. These two teams haven’t been named, but options for the Sharks are Marcell Coetzee, Bismarck Du Plessis and Franc Steyn.

The Chiefs have a habit of unearthing talent and Damian McKenzie and James Lowe are examples of this. It is actually disturbing the way the most of the New Zealand teams are doing this by introducing rookies to Super Rugby with amazing success. It will be interesting to see who starts in the midfield. Aaron Cruden and Sam Cane are two other players worth buying.

Players to watch (neither team has been named yet)

Sharks: Bismarck Du Plessis, Franc Steyn, Marcell Coetzee.
Chiefs: Aaron Cruden, James Lowe, Hika Elliott, Matt Symons, Sam Cane.

My pick: Chiefs

Waratahs vs Brumbies

The Brumbies vs Waratahs is going to be a virtual Wallabies trial, with these two teams easily the best teams in the Australian conference. One look at the respective starting teams shows some world class international players.

The Waratahs will be looking to bounce back after a nightmare in Dunedin and will be tough to beat after hitting the tackling bags this week. The hosts will welcome the return to Sydney for the first time since their Round 1 loss to the Force.

The Brumbies are at the top of the table and will fancy themselves to win. They have only lost one game and had an easy win in Brisbane.

The hosts have an impressive record at home against the Brumbies, but the Brumbies will take some stopping. This is a day time kick off. David Pocock returns off the bench for the Brumbies.

There will be some great match ups with Bernard Foley vs Matt Toomua, Rory Arnold vs Will Skelton (Battle of the Giants), Ita Vaea vs Wycliff Palu, Christian Lealiifano vs Kurtley Beale, Joe Tomane vs Taqele Naiyaravoro. Tatafu Polatu-Nau has been replaced.

In fantasy rugby, players from the Waratahs haven’t been scoring as heavily as last season, but Michael Hooper, Will Skelton, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley and Israel Folau are still big points scorers.

The Brumbies also have some big scorers with Stephen Moore, Rory Arnold, Tevita Kuridrani, Ita Vaea, Henry Speight and Christian Lealiifano.

Players to watch

Waratahs: Michael Hooper, Will Skelton, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Taqele Naiyaravoro and of course Israel Folau.
Brumbies: Stephen Moore, Rory Arnold, Tevita Kuridrani, Ita Vaea, Henry Speight and Christian Lealiifano.

My pick: Waratahs

Who are you picking to win Super Rugby Round 6 matches? 

Super Rugby Points Table