Pack down with tips for all six matches of the 2020 Super Rugby season’s fifth round, including home games for the Waratahs and Reds.
History: Played 8: Highlanders 6 V Rebels 2
Last meeting: Round 3, 2019: Rebels 24 d Highlanders 19 at AAMI Park
Final Thoughts: The 1-2 Highlanders really can’t afford to fall any further behind in the New Zealand Conference. They bounced back from a bad home loss to the Sharks with a gutsy last-gasp win over the Brumbies in Canberra, but their 33-13 loss to the Crusaders was a fair reflection of the gap between the two teams.
The Highlanders were dreadful defensively in the first half in Christchurch before stemming the tide. But without the likes of Ben Smith, Fekitoa, Sopoaga et al, they are struggling to finish off opportunities against Super Rugby’s stronger outfits. Daniel Lienert-Brown and Ash Dixon come into the starting pack this week, while Josh McKay is in on the wing.
The Rebels are 1-3 and crashed 36-24 to the Sharks at home last Saturday. Matt To’omua returns in the No.10 after missing that disappointing effort, but strike weapon Reece Hodge remains sidelined. Their finals hopes will quickly slip away if they can’t start putting some wins on the board.
The Rebels scored a 24-19 win over the Highlanders at home early last season. But the Highlanders are 4-0 against the Rebels at home – though they needed three tries in the last 17 minutes to snatch a 43-37 victory in Dunedin in late-2018.
The Highlanders are giving away too many points (13.5) to be confident in backing them at the line. But the Rebels have been slow out of the blocks and may struggle staying inside the halftime handicap.
19:15 (AEDT), Fri 28th Feb @ BankWest Stadium, Sydney
History: Played 23: Waratahs 17 V Lions 6
Last meeting: Round 10, 2019: Lions 29 d Waratahs 28 at Emirates Airline Park
Final Thoughts: Speaking of Australian teams on the brink, the Waratahs are still searching for their first win. They went down to the Crusaders, Blues and Rebels by 14-plus margins before sitting out Round 4 with the bye. Winger Mark Nawaqanitawase and flanker Lachlan Swinton have usurped Cam Clark and Jed Holloway as coach Rob Penny looks to spark his team.
The 1-2 Lions also had the Round 4 bye. The former heavyweights bookended a 27-20 home win over the Reds with a dismal 38-8 defeat in Buenos Aries and a heartbreaking 33-30 defeat in Johannesburg to the Stormers. But with skipper Elton Jantijies calling the shots in the No.10, the Lions are still among the competition’s most gifted attacking sides.
The Waratahs’ dominant 17-6 all-time record against the Lions is misleading in the context of recent history. The Lions are currently on a four-match winning streak against the ’Tahs, including a 29-28 cliff-hanger at home last season and a 29-0 rout in Sydney in 2018.
Huge value in the Lions as underdogs here – the Waratahs are in all sorts.
14:45 (AEDT), Sat 29th Feb @ Sky Stadium, Wellington
History: Played 3: Hurricanes 3 V Sunwolves 0
Last meeting: Round 10, 2019: Hurricanes 29 d Sunwolves 23 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Hurricanes were slowly getting into their groove before having a rest with the bye in Round 4. After a eye-opening 27-0 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town, they edged the Jaguares 26-23 in Buenos Aries and outlasted the Sharks 38-22 with a second-half blitz in Wellington. Jackson Garden-Bachop is still feeling his way as Beauden Barrett’s replacement, but the ’Canes are still a side brimming with attacking strike – though Ardie Savea is missed at present.
The Sunwolves’ fortunes have dwindled since a stirring 36-27 win over the Rebels in Fukuoka in Round 1. They went down to the Chiefs 43-17 at home, before copping a 64-5 defeat away to the Reds last weekend. The doomed franchise could be in for a long season.
The Hurricanes got a huge fright in Tokyo last season, ultimately hanging on for a 29-23 win. The Hurricanes obliterated the Sunwolves 83-15 away in 2017, but the Japanese outfit performed creditably in a 43-15 Wellington loss in 2018. The scoreline flattered the ’Canes, who scored three tries in the last six minutes.
It shapes as the Hurricanes by how many…and based on the Sunwolves’ capitulation in Brisbane, it should be plenty.
19:15 (AEDT), Sat 29th Feb @ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
History: Played 23: Reds 13 V Sharks 10
Last meeting: Round 10, 2019: Reds 21 d Sharks 14 at Kings Park
Final Thoughts: After three plucky losses to the Brumbies, Lions and Jaguares on the road, the young Reds showed what they are capable of last weekend. They delighted their home fans by dismantling the Sunwolves 64-5, piling on 10 tries. James O’Connor is flourishing in the No.10 and provides vital experience in a green line-up.
The 3-1 Sharks are shaping as a huge threat in the South African Conference. This is the fourth week of their Down Under tour, which has already garnered big wins over the Highlanders and Rebels either side of an honourable loss to the Hurricanes.
The Sharks have won eight of their last 12 against the Reds, but the Reds have won the last two. The Sharks went down 28-26 in their last visit to Brisbane in 2017, while the Reds banked a rare win in South Africa in prevailing 21-14 at Kings Park last year.
This contest should be as close as the even-money odds would suggest. But last week’s breakout performance from the Reds puts them in good stead to get a roll on.
00:05 (AEDT), Sun 1st Mar @ Newlands, Cape Town
History: Played 21: Blues 11 V Stormers 10
Last meeting: Round 7, 2019: Blues 24 d Stormers 9 at Eden Park
Final Thoughts: The unbeaten Stormers have thrown down the gauntlet to the other teams in the South African Conference. After keeping the Hurricanes and Bulls to nil, they got away with one courtesy of a 33-30 eclipse of the Lions, but made a real statement by subduing the Jaguares 17-7 at home in Round 4.
The Blues continue to struggle for results against their fellow Kiwi teams – going down to the Chiefs and Crusaders – but they are belatedly starting to find form overseas. After thumping the Waratahs 32-12 in Newcastle in Round 2, they snatched a last-minute 23-21 win from the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend. Otere Black was the hero with the boot and he looks like the No.10 answer until Beauden Barrett debuts.
The Stormers have won six of their last eight against the Blues, including a 37-20 beatdown in Cape Town when the Blues last visited in 2018. The Blues carved out a convincing 24-9 win over the try-less Stormers in Auckland last season but only have a 4-6 overall record at Newlands.
The Stormers are hard to back against, but I like the spirited Blues’ chances of covering with a big start.
02:15 (AEDT), Sun 1st Mar @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
History: Played 6: Jaguares 4 V Bulls 2
Last meeting: Round 8, 2019: Jaguares 22 d Bulls 20 at Loftus Versfeld
Final Thoughts: The Bulls’ season is only three games old, but they are already under significant pressure. Losses to the Sharks (23-15) and Stormers (13-0) away and the Blues (23-21) have not flattered last year’s fifth-placed team.
The Jaguares have been solid enough so far but will be eager to bounce back from last week’s 17-7 loss in Cape Town. The 2019 Super Rugby finalists already have big wins over the Lions and Reds in the bank, while they were pipped at the post by the Hurricanes in Round 2. But winning overseas is crucial and the Jags will have pinpointed this as a key assignment.
The Jaguares won both games between the teams last season – an emphatic 27-12 victory in Buenos Aries and a maiden success in Pretoria by a 22-20 scoreline.
They’ll take care of business in this Round 5 closer.