For the love of it!

Random toughts of a Sports Lover…

It’s here!

The time has arrived! At 8:35 on 24 February, the SuperRugby tournament for 2012 kicks off.  This year’s tournament runs over 20 weeks of the year, only being interrupted for three weeks of test rugby in June. Otherwise, it’s week in and week out rugby, Rugby, RUGBY!

We kick off with the Blues hosting the Crusaders early Friday morning, after that the Jake White Brumbies taking on the James O’Connor’less Force and a new look Bulls side (including kit) Spearheaded by Spies aiming to catch the Sharks off guard at Loftus, all on Friday!

It’s very difficult to assess the sides at this time as almost all the teams have a very new look to them. Sonny Bill left to Crusaders for the Chiefs to partner up with Kahui; there is no Dan Carter, McCaw, twinkle toes Quade Cooper, or Piri Weepu and Zac Guildford is probably in rehab still. We have newcomers abound, and looking at the sides, it almost seems as if the Lions and the Blues are the most consistent teams from last season!

So, my take on the fixtures this weekend:

Blues vs Crusaders

Historically there is very little between these two sides, with the average scoreline 23-24 in favour of the visitors. The Blues have won 6 and lost 4 at home against the Crusaders, but have never lost in the opening round against them (twice). In fact, in 5 opening round games at home, the Blues have only lost twice, both against the Hurricanes. Looking at the squads, the Blues as mentioned seems like a rather established side, with dangerous runners like Wulf, Ranger, Stanley and Toeva in the backline, while All Blacks Kaino, Ali “look at my tongue”Williams and Keven “I’m innocent” “Head Butt” Mealamu will lead the forwards.

For the Crusaders the obvious omission is Dan Carter who tragically missed out on World Cup glory with his groin strain, and Sonny “I’m a boxer” Bill Williams is replaced by a quite able Ryan Crotty. The frightening front row of Wyatt Crockett and the Franks brothers are still in tact, with a newcomer in Quintin McDonald coming in for Cory Flynn who moves to the bench.

This is bound to be a tight match when old meets new and with weather looking to be fine, we will be in for a treat of running rugby! Just a pity my Walka (now renamed as Wanka) does not have signal at my office (no, it does not bring you mobile TV anywhere!).

My call, Blues to pip it, only just, with 4 points.

Brumbies vs Force

Guess what? No Matt “I won’t play if Walsh is ref” Giteau, no Adam Ashley Cooper, no  Rocky “I used to be captain” Elsohm and no James “the only guy who could play in the Force” O’Connor.

A very much new looking Brumbies side who would have no doubt benefited from World Cup winning coach Jake White’s appointment to the side. To be honest, it would be hard for the Brumbies to do worse than last year, so Jake can only do better even if he doesn’t try.

One would have thought the Brumbies have the number on the Force, but historically the Brumbies lost 2 and won only 1 at home. That was back in 2007. And interestingly the average scoreline is 19-19 between the two sides in all games. The Force is a rather inexperienced side, but still features Nathan Sharpe, David Pocock and Ben McCalman, while the similarly starless Brumbies have Robbie Coleman, Christian Lealiifano, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander lining up. This will essentially come down to the battle of the coaches, and for Jake White, a win in his first match is an absolute must to gain the faith of the Brumbies fans. And for most, the view is one of “in Jake we trust” when looking at who might win this match; one that will be won by the best coach. In Jake we trust? Well, so do I. Brumbies to win it by 7.

Bulls vs Sharks

Mouth watering when the new look Bulls take on the Smit’less Sharks! The Bulls have lost several of their top line players in Matfield, du Preez, Rossouw, Steenkamp and Gary Botha, but have made clever buys in Johan Sadie and JJ Engelbrecht. Last season there was some doubt over du Preez and Matfield’s Super Rugby form in any event, but make no mistake, their leadership and ability to read the game will be sorely missed with their tasks now trusted in the hands of Spies and Wynand “Meisiekind”, Olivier.

This match sees several youngsters making their start to international stardom in both sides. For the Bulls we’ll have Sadie (who played one or two blinders for the Stormers last year) being first choice 13, the young u/20 Springbok Francois Venter on his inside, Juandre Kruger making a big step up from Currie Cup, Frik Kirsten, CJ Stander and JJ Engelbrecht all being new(ish) names to the side.

For the Sharks young Marcel Coetzee is an exciting prospect to enter the Super Rugby  scene, with Tim Whitehead and Anton Bressler also relatively new.

It’s one that both teams would feel they can win, and comparing the sides man on man, there is very little between the two sides quality wise, but it will come down to who can establish their game plan the best. The Sharks came through their warm ups with relative ease, while the Bulls had to do hard work in theirs to topple the opposition. Add to that the fact that they lost the services of Heyneke Meyer on top of the experience of Matfield and co, and the odds swing slightly into the favour of the visitors. History also seem to lean into the Sharks favour, with the average scoreline favoring them at 19-21 in Bulls country, and having notched up 4 wins at Loftus to the Bulls 3, with one drawn.

Common sense tells me that the Bulls should pull this one through, but my gut tells me the Sharks will do the business. Questions over Spies’ form whilst captain will be answered, and the battle of the best Bok 10 between Steyn and Lambie will continue. But I feel in Michalak at 9 with his vast experience and Lambie to feed,  JP Petersen at 13, the boot of Viljoen at 15 and the fearless grunt of Coetzee, the Sharks have enough brain and brawn to take it away from the Bulls.

So, my pick for this match as the first away win of this season will be Sharks by 6.

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