Our punter Neal Hoogwerf sets his eyes on Super Rugby Aotearoa as well as the third round of Super Rugby AU.
Let’s hope for another full house.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Friday 5 March – 08:05
The Chiefs head into their first match of Super Rugby Aotearoa off the back of a winless 2020 campaign. New Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan will be looking to turn around their attacking fortunes after only crossing the line 14 times in eight fixtures last season. Off season recruitment has seen the replacement of Aaron Cruden with ex-Highlanders pivot Bryn Gatland, who infamously slotted an injury time drop goal to hand the Highlanders a 33-31 victory in Round 1 of the 2020 edition. The Highlanders succumbed to a 13 point loss at home against the red-hot Crusaders in Round 1. It was a disappointing flow of the game as the home side had the advantage in both the territory and possession metrics.
These two sides traditionally produce nail biting encounters, with the last four fixtures being settled by three points or less. The Chiefs have struggled in recent times against the handicap at home, having only covered seven of their last 26 fixtures. The Highlanders have been strong performers against the Waikato outfit in beating the spread in 10 of their last 14 encounters. I expect an immensely tight affair, but I’ll be siding with the Highlanders this weekend.
Waratahs v Western Force
Friday 5 March – 10:45
The Waratahs enter Round 3 of Super Rugby AU having recorded one of the most starts to a season in Australian rugby history. After conceding a combined 85 points in their opening two fixtures on the road, the Waratahs will be itching to return home to Allianz Stadium. The Western Force return from their Round 2 rest as they look to snap their losing streak against derby opposition. Team news has seen the away side bring in Jaguares halfback Tomas Cubelli to add some much needed spark to the backline.
It’s surprising to see the Force as favourites away from home in the competition. Statistics don’t paint the full picture with past results featuring a title-winning Waratahs side and a Force side that was scrambling for players and resources. For interest sake, the Waratahs have covered their last 6 out of 7 fixtures as home underdogs. When taking a step back and reflecting on the fixture, it’s clear that the Waratahs are ripe for the picking and I expect the Force outfit to record a long awaited victory.
Brumbies v Rebels
Saturday 6 March – 10:45
The Brumbies return for their second consecutive fixture in Canberra after recording a record-breaking victory over cross-country rivals NSW Waratahs in Round 2. After covering both handicaps with ease, the Brumbies seem like deserved favourites to add to the trophy cabinet at GIO Stadium. The Rebels produced a spirited display as they narrowly lost out to the Reds in Brisbane last weekend. Dave Wessels has managed to shape his side around the playmaking abilities of Wallabies star Matt Toomua and outside half Reece Hodge.
The Rebels are being handed a generous double digit spread based largely on the ruthlessness of the Brumbies on their home turf. While I don’t expect the Rebels to claim a victory, they have enough quality to keep it tight this weekend. Add to the fact that the Rebels have covered their last 3 in Canberra, I fancy Melbourne to make a game of it.
Crusaders v Hurricanes
Sunday 7 March – 5:35
The Crusaders return home to Orangetheory Stadium after setting off their 2021 campaign with a tricky victory in Dunedin. Scott Robertson will be well aware that his side struggled against the whistle last weekend and will have his team well prepared for this weekend.
In what is a difficult start for the season for the Hurricanes, they travel to Christchurch for Round 2 and I don’t see how they replicate last season’s heroics in Canterbury. They were monstered in the pack last week and a repeat dose is likely when they front up against the defending champions’ set piece.
The home advantage and the return of mercurial outside-back Will Jordan should be sufficient in ensuring smooth sailing for the ‘Saders this week. The Crusaders have covered the spread in 13 of their last 18 fixtures against New Zealand opposition and I can’t see any other outcome this weekend.