Pack down for Round 2 with Super Rugby tips for all seven matches, featuring daunting Kiwi assignments for the Reds and Brumbies.
History: Played 23: Highlanders 12 V Reds 11
Last meeting: Round 15, 2018: Highlanders 18 d Reds 15 at Suncorp Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Reds come off the opening-round bye and straight into the furnace of a Dunedin road trip. Their first line-up of the year includes new recruits Sefa Naivalu and Bryce Hegarty in the back-three, and green pairing Moses Sorovi and Hamish Stewart in the halves.
The Highlanders showed plenty of grit to pull off a 30-27 away win over the Chiefs with a late try after the red card of prop Sio Tomkinson. All Blacks Aaron Smith, Waisake Naholo and Shannon Frizell return to the hosts’ starting line-up.
The Highlanders boast a 9-1 home record against the Reds. They also squeezed out an 18-15 victory in Brisbane last season – the ninth time in the teams’ last 10 clashes the margin was seven points or less. But the Reds were swamped 40-17 in their last visit to Dunedin in 2017.
The Reds went 1-7 on the road last season, while the ’Landers went 7-1 at home. The Reds are on a hiding to nothing this season and even a massive line isn’t tempting enough to get behind them in the deep south.
15:15 (AEDT), Sat 23rd Feb @ Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo
History: Played 3: Waratahs 3 V Sunwolves 0
Last meeting: Round 18, 2018: Waratahs 77 d Sunwolves 25 at Allianz Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Sunwolves were one of the big disappointments of Round 1, trounced 45-10 in Singapore by the Sharks despite scoring the first try of the match. They will be expecting more from marquee buy Rene Ranger and senior players Hayden Parker, Hendrik Tui and Ed Quirk.
The Waratahs endured a home heartbreaker against the Hurricanes, losing 20-19 after a late try by the visitors and a missed Bernard Foley penalty in the dying seconds. Adam Ashley-Cooper is out with concussion (though he could be included on the bench) but Kurtley Beale returns to take his place in the midfield.
The Waratahs have racked up a half-century in both of their previous visits to Tokyo, while they put the cleaners through the Sunwolves 77-25 in Sydney late last season.
After holding their own with one of Super Rugby’s heavyweights, the Waratahs should enjoy the opportunity to flex their muscles against a team with questionable defensive resolve.
17:35 (AEDT), Sat 23rd Feb @ Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
History: Played 35: Crusaders 20 V Hurricanes 12 (3 Draws)
Last meeting: Semi-final, 2018: Crusaders 30 d Hurricanes 12 at Christchurch Stadium
Final Thoughts: The top two title contenders – and 2018 semi-final opponents – square off after both held on for nervy Round 1 wins. The Crusaders edged the Blues 24-22 in Auckland, while the Hurricanes struck late to pip the Hurricanes 20-19. Both survived late penalty attempts by their opponents to secure victory.
The Crusaders fielded 10 All Blacks despite the absence of Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Jack Goodhue. Braydon Ennor was a sensation at centre, but prop Tim Perry’s broken arm is a setback. Beauden Barrett is a possible inclusion for the ’Canes.
The Hurricanes have won eight of their last 13 against the Crusaders, including a 29-19 home win last season. But the Crusaders won in Christchurch in the 2017-18 regular seasons and romped to a 30-12 semi-final triumph last season.
The Crusaders are also on a 20-match winning streak at their home ground. The Hurricanes’ win in Sydney last week snapped a five-game losing run on the road. The visitors look decent value with the start but backing the two-time champs for a hard-fought win shapes as the best bet.
19:45 (AEDT), Sat 23rd Feb @ GIO Stadium, Canberra
History: Played 25: Brumbies 13 V Chiefs 11 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 18, 2018: Chiefs 24 d Brumbies 19 at FMG Stadium Waikato
Final Thoughts: The Brumbies made a less-than-ideal start to their campaign, upset 34-27 by the Rebels in Canberra last Friday. The likely absence of David Pocock with concussion and the loss of wing recruit Toni Pulu with a fractured cheekbone really puts them under the pump. Henry Speight (hip) is also in doubt.
The Chiefs lost a home thriller 30-27 to the Highlanders in Round 1 and will be desperate to get off the mark. Young backline sensation Etene Nanai-Seturo scored two tries in the under-strength Chiefs’ defeat, while they should be boosted by the inclusion of Damian McKenzie this week.
The Brumbies have won nine games to the Chiefs’ four in Canberra, with one drawn. The Chiefs have chalked up home wins over the Brumbies in each of the past two seasons.
After a subpar defensive showing last week and Pocock sidelined, the Brumbies will be hard-pressed holding off the firepower-laden Chiefs.
00:05 (AEDT), Sun 24th Feb @ Kings Park, Durban
History: Played 24: Sharks 15 V Blues 9
Last meeting: Round 7, 2018: Sharks 63 d Blues 40 at Eden Park
Final Thoughts: The Sharks enjoyed a successful jaunt to Singapore, whipping the Sunwolves 45-10. Hooker Akker van der Merwe scored two of his side’s six tries in a polished showing.
The Blues’ run of outs against Kiwi rivals continued with an agonising 24-22 defeat to the Crusaders at home in Round 1. They showed plenty of ticker and looked more solid with Ma’a Nonu in the midfield, but they will be looking to get the likes of Rieko Ioane more quality ball.
The Sharks have won 11 of their last 12 against the Blues. The Blues broke a 10-game losing streak in the rivalry with a 23-18 home win in 2016 but hit a low point last year with a 63-40 loss at Eden Park at the hands of the Sharks.
The Blues are a horrible travelling team – winning just eight of their last 30 on the road – while the Sharks lost just once at home last season. All things being equal the Blues are a better team, but home-ground factor should be enough for the Sharks to get up.
02:15 (AEDT), Sun 24th Feb @ Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
History: Played 26: Stormers 16 V Lions 9 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 15, 2018: Lions 26 d Stormers 23 at Newlands Stadium
Final Thoughts: We’re only one round into the season but it’s almost panic stations for the Stormers after they were demolished 40-3 by the Bulls in Pretoria.
The Lions, meanwhile, bagged an impressive 25-16 win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aries thanks to a Mamus Shoeman hat-trick.
The Lions are on a five-match winning streak against the Stormers. They powered to a 52-31 win in Johannesburg, before snatching a 26-23 win in Cape Town with a late Madosh Tambwe try.
The Lions have won 22 of their last 23 against fellow South African sides, and after last weekends’ performances, there’s nothing to suggest that trend won’t continue.
08:40 (AEDT), Sun 24th Feb @ Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aries
History: Played 7: Lions 4 V Jaguares 3
Last meeting: Quarter-final, 2018: Lions 40 d Lions 23 at Emirates Airlines Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Jaguares suffered a rare home loss in Round 1, overwhelmed 25-16 by the Lions. They managed just one try as they adjust to the departure of a handful of Argentina Test stars.
The Bulls got off to a rollicking start at home last weekend, belting the Stormers 40-3. Winger Rosko Specman scored an early double, Johnny Katze and Jesse Kriel also dotted down, and Handre Pollard kicked 20 points.
All four of the teams’ previous clashes were won by the home team. The Jaguares put the Bulls to the sword 54-24 in Buenos Aries in Round 14 last season, but the Bulls responded with a 43-34 victory in Pretoria a couple of months later.
The Bulls were just 1-7 on the road last season, but the class of Pollard, Kriel and co. makes them an attractive proposition against the rebuilding Jaguares.