Super 14 round 12 predictions

Last week was much of the same thing. Was ever a harder Super 14 season to be doing predictions?

So, it is more for you, loyal readers of the weekly predictions here at Ka Mate Ka Mate, than for anything else that I keep posting my predictions this week.

This week's about consistency. Hurricanes should defeat a non-consistent Blues team; that would almost secure them the payoffs. But the Blues have been performing like a wave: one hill and one valley. Will the Hurricanes unleash the real power of the Blues to their fate? Don't worry about the Sharks or the Bulls. They shall win. The Stormers vs Chiefs game could be the one to watch, as the classy Stormers arrive in home after an ill-fated tour. But the Chiefs, even in the defeat at Loftus, have shown they are a fearsome team and they are certain a much better SA tourists than they were in the past. The Brumbies and the Waratahs need wins. But they also need bonus points. They may get wins, but I'm not so sure about bonus points.

So, to the facts:

Hurricanes 34 - Blues 27 (I would only ask for both teams to get 4 tries. The outcome of the game, I really don't care)
Lions 18 - Crusaders 24 (McCaw is not playing, Laulala is also out and the Crusaders need all their firepower to get a bonus point from Jo'burg)
Cheetahs 16 - Waratahs 23 (This is the warm-up for the real Waratahs exam next week. Beware Waratahs or the Cheetahs could very well bite you out of the playoffs)
Reds 25 - Brumbies 18 (This is the end of the story for the Brumbies)
Sharks 33 - Highlanders 23 (The real question is: will the Sharks get 5? They need it)
Bulls 27 - Force 15 (The Bulls and the Hurricanes are my picks to host both semifinals)
Stormers 22 - Chiefs 40 (This win is 50% of the playoffs road for the Chiefs. They deserve it. They really do.)

Therefore, the table after this round would look something like this:

  1. Hurricanes 38
  2. Chiefs 37
  3. Bulls 37
  4. Sharks 35
  5. Waratahs 32
  6. Blues 31
  7. Crusaders 31
  8. Force 28
  9. Brumbies 28

Why I can't stand football

Englishmen used to say that their real national team is the rugby national team (A.K.A. pommies, for the rest of the world), whereas in most other european countries (Germany, Spain, Italy...) the only possible team is the football national team.

So, in a time when a football star can earn as much as the whole budget of a team like, let's say, Perpignan (currently on top of French Top14), in the U.K. there are lots of campaigns to convince people switch their attention towards rugby.

It's fair, given the fact that RFU almost rules everything in rugby these days, including which ELVs should stay and which are not worth even a try. It's fair that they try to gather people from football, as people mean money and money means power. It's something that can be done in England. Or Scotland. Or Ireland. Not many more places.

To us, people from other countries, not blessed with the glorious gift of having been born in a place where they cook using filthy butter instead of olive oil, where they can't make a proper salad, don't know any use for the tomatoes, have no proper fruits at all, don't have quality meat and lack every possible single sign of civilised cuisine... For us, people not blessed with the glorious gift of such a nationality, rugby is not something we grow up with, and we need external help to get into it.

This is one or two weeks old and a very good example of what makes a normal person switch towards rugby.

Blues are out of it. It could be a tough day for New Zealand franchises.

The Reds totally outsmarted the Blues and the Auckland franchise is out of the playoffs contention.

It is alarming the ease with which the Reds dismantled Blues display. It should make the Blues coach think.

By the way, today could be a terrible day for the New Zealand franchises. At this very moment, the Blues are down 5-31 in Albany while the Brumbies have just scored a try in Wellington.

Good luck, 'canes.

Super 14 round 11 predictions

It's predictions time at Ka Mate Ka Mate...

And it is hard times in Sydney and Durban. No matter what happens, Bulls, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Brumbies and Crusaders will look to put miles ahead of Sharks and Waratahs who may well be wondering what would have happened if their last week's games (bonus-point losses for both teams) would have been played after a bye and not before a bye.

But so to the facts,

The Bulls and the Chiefs meet in Pretoria, where the Bulls have not lost a game this season. The Bulls have done a bit of what Rassie Erasmus claimed to be the key to put his Stormers into the playoffs during the pre-season: make your home ground a fortress, so it is not going to be easy for the Chiefs not to be bullied at Loftus. I claim that whoever wins the match will play home advantage during the semifinals. The Hurricanes and the Brumbies face each other in Wellington in a sweet moment for every team, and neither team can afford a loss. Crusaders and Blues need a bonus point win, and while the Blues play at home and have shown their attacking power, the Crusaders play away and they need to remember how to score tries if they are to get classified.

Highlanders 22 - Stormers 13 (a meaningless game that should, however, cement some All Blacks contenders' hopes. A win for the Highlanders)
Western Force 33 - Lions 19 (The Force are 18 points away from the playoffs and this is their only easy game remaining. They'll get 5)
Blues 42 - Reds 14 (While the Reds can be a formidable foe, ask the Sharks, the fact that they are playing for nothing will sort things out. Besides, no return home for Braid leaves this match spicyless)
Hurricanes 28 - Brumbies 26 (This would be the match of the week, should any of those teams not be a bore)
Cheetahs 23 - Crusaders 30 (Either bonus point or DEATH for the Crusaders)
Bulls 25 - Chiefs 19 (I would love the Chiefs to win, but they have lost to the Waratahs, the Crusaders and the Sharks, and only been able to defeat the Blues. They have trouble with the big teams)

So, I wouldn't be surprised if at the end of round 11 the table looks something like this:

  1. Bulls 33
  2. Hurricanes 33
  3. Blues 33
  4. Chiefs 32
  5. Sharks 31
  6. Crusaders 31
  7. Waratahs 28
  8. Brumbies 28

Who will make the playoffs and who won't

Only a few weeks ago no one would have bet on:
  • The Bulls or the Sharks in risk of not making the semifinals.
  • The Crusaders with real options of making the semifinals.
  • The Chiefs on top of the table.
And this is how the picture is right now, with just 4 games to go (except for Waratahs and Sharks, with only 3 games remaining).

First of all, given the fact that both Waratahs and Sharks have been playing for ten succesive rounds without a bye and both have lost their last week's game, had not it been fairer if they had rested last week?

But, that's not the subject, although it could take a high toll to both Durban and Sydney at the end of the season. What are the chances of every contender to the title?

  1. Chiefs. The Chiefs have got it right since round 3. 28 points in 6 rounds must be a kind of record and have deserverdly lifted the Chiefs to the number 1 spot. But two are the Chiefs main foes, now: a hard calendar, with games in Pretoria and Cape Town and two finals in the final weeks against Hurricanes and Brumbies is the first, and their own ghosts of the past is the other. Last year they were also in a run when suddenly they fainted. This year, things look much better for them, with better play, a better position in the ladder, but still, the hard calendar lies ahead. The Chiefs would need at least 10 points to classify, which inevitably means two wins. Wins at Cape Town and against the Brumbies are a must, while everything would smoother if they manage to win at Loftus Versfeld next week. I think the Chiefs will end with 41 points and possibly, fighting for the 4th place.
  2. Sharks. All of a sudden, the Sharks numbers are not right. With a bye next week, their worst enemy could be the lack of chances to gather points. With Highlanders, Waratahs and Bulls visiting the once so strong Durban's fortress, how many points can the Sharks get? 15 points would see them classified, but, can they get three victories? 2 wins and a loss could see them getting less than 10 points (they have 31 now and will have 31 next week), and Waratahs and Bulls will surely be desperate for a win. The Sharks-Bulls game in the last round will be the most exciting game of the season for sure. I predict the Sharks to end with 41 or 42 points fighting for the 4th place.
  3. Bulls. The Bulls are possibly the team with the easiest path to the top. Three games at Loftus Versfeld could be enough for them, making the last game in Durban less relevant. But if for any reason they lose one of their three home games, they would come to the last week with less than 40 points and praying for a win. That means that the game against the Chiefs will be a final for the Bulls. If they get this one, the Force and the Cheetahs won't look so threatening and they could seem themselves already classified with 42 points with one game to go. My prediction is that the Bulls will end in first-second place with 43 or44 points.
  4. Hurricanes. Beware. The Hurricanes can get to the first place. They play the Brumbies and the Blues at home, the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Reds in Brisbane. They should be targetting both games at home and the one in Brisbane, for a total amount of 14 points. For them, getting the most of their upcoming fixtures at home is life or death. Neither the Brumbies nor the Blues will be easy victims, but the Mackay mourn alone won't be enough for the Brumbies and the Blues... well, the Blues look fearsome. I think the Hurricanes will end with 42 or 43 fighting with the Bulls.
  5. Blues. Oh, God. The Blues have stolen the Chiefs the label of being the most powerful and the most vulnerable team of the Super 14 this season. They have the advantage of playing three games in New Zealand and one in Canberra, but their rivals won't be easy at all. Hurricanes, Brumbies and Crusaders could spoil their bid to the playoffs. Their first game against the Reds will surely give them 5 points but, how many points can get them out of the last three? A win in Canberra won't be easy, but a win in Wellington seems even more difficult. The Blues could see themselves in the last round with 37 points playing in Auckland an all or nothing game against the Crusaders. Nothing less. You cannot miss the last week!!! I predict the Blues will fall short of the playoffs, with 38 points at the end of it.
  6. Waratahs. Oh, God (bis). The Waratahs do have 27 points and will have 27 points next week, which is a burden almost too heavy to wear. The loss to the Force could have come at a heavier loss; they are now 14 points away of the playoffs with only three games remaining. And their try-scoring ability is not their best quality. They could get 9 from Bloemfontein and Jo'burg, but do you see them getting 5 or even 4 from Durban? Even 13 points in three games would not be enough. I predict the Waratahs to finish with 37 points out of the playoffs just like the Blues.
  7. Brumbies. The Death of Shawn Mackay has made the Brumbies click. Now they share something in common which is greater than the colors they defend. They are now together in a quest to offer their lost teammate their affection, their love towards him. This is what permitted them to defeat the Bulls last week and make them a hard foe, if not the hardest of the foes. Expect the Brumbies to win every game when decided by close margins. But their toughest game will be next week at WestPack stadium, against the Hurricanes. Only 4 wins will be enough for the lack-of-bonus-points Brumbies, but I don't see them getting close to it. I can see them gathering 10 or 12 points and ending with the Blues and Waratahs or perhaps a bit better, 38 or 39 points, but not enough to get to the playoffs.
  8. Crusaders. Cheetahs, Lions, Reds and Blues. All away, none at home. Expect the Crusaders, the hot team of the competition to win their three games coming to Auckland and perhaps reaching 39 points before coming back to New Zealand. Then, in one of the strongest rivalries in the history of Super 14, both teams might play a game with the winner getting a place in the playoffs. I'll be bold and concede the victory to the Crusaders, ending thus with 43 or 44 points and, oh surprise, on top of the ladder.

Then, this would be my predictions for the ultimate standings

  1. Bulls, 43
  2. Crusaders, 43
  3. Hurricanes, 42
  4. Chiefs, 41
  5. Sharks, 41
  6. Brumbies, 39
  7. Blues, 38
  8. Waratahs, 37

I think that Waratahs, Brumbies and Blues won't make the semifinals, but they could drag some teams with them out of the playoffs. This is the toughest of the calls, but I'm sticking to it.

Cowan's guilty

Glen Moore can be annoyed by Cowan's behavior yesterday at Eden Park.

When you are a skipper, you don't turn your own free kicks into penalties against you.
When you are a skipper, you don't talk more to the referee than you do to your teammates.
When you are a skipper, you don't let your team one man down for illegal, nonsense, shoulder charges.

Even with a normal skipper, the Highlanders would have lost yesterday's match. But having Cowan as skipper can do Highlanders more harm than good. He loses his focus and that does not make for a good skipper.

Good day.

Super 14 round 10 predictions

This is a tough week to predict. Not that the past was easy, either (did anyone bet on a Cheetahs' 25-point victory over the Sharks?) but I must confess this time I don't know where to start.

Firstly, would you risk predicting any outcome of the North vs South game? I like the Highlanders, I want them to win, but... do you trust the Blues, either for the good or for the bad? Pat Lam seems confident that he's finally found the recipe for his Blues, but the Highlanders are full of confidence after, let me remind you, three wins in a row. Besides, the once most powerful first row in New Zealand, the Blues' first row, seem now weak against the Super 14's best-fit first row, in which Newland, Mackintosh and Hall feature. However, the Blues play at home. But the Blues have not performed well at all this year at Eden Park. Who can tell???

Secondly, will the Cheetahs strike twice in a row? They have a clear 2009 record: 100% of wins at home, and 0% wins on the road. The thing is, all their upcoming matches are at home. Besides, the Chiefs always struggle in SA. Can anyone bet on a Cheetahs loss at home after they dismantled the Sharks? But the Chiefs look certainly impressive. They managed to defeat the Reds in Brisbane with apparent ease, the same Brisbane where the Cheetahs were severely punished.

What would you expect of the Sharks against the Crusaders? Can the Bulls prove Heineke Meyer right when he predicted three wins out of five games for his former franchise during their australasian tour?

I'm going mad. This is what I think:

Blues 28 - Highlanders 31 (Berquist, Vainikolo, Bowden, Shoemark, Smith, Dagg. If one manages to learn the names of the any team's backs and they feature in the game, they have a chance to win)
Brumbies 21 - Bulls 16 (Fear the new-look, dry, Brumbies)
Hurricanes 18 - Stormers 12 (I would not bother to watch this game. Both sides are playing horribly)
Red 27 - Lions 21 (Did I ever tell you I like these Reds?)
Waratahs 31 - Western Force 18 (From time to time the Waratahs like to remind us how damn good they are. I have the feeling that this is going to be one of these times)
Cheetahs 12 - Chiefs 24 (After the feat, comes the relax)
Sharks 15 - Crusaders 11 (My kingdom for a red and black try!)

Colin Cooper, you should learn from the Cheetahs

The Hurricanes coach blasted the Super 14 calendar when his sided had so little time to recover after a trip to SA followed by a game in Perth.

Wonderful. Then, what should the Cheetahs, whose seven starting games have been played outside Bloemfontein, think about the calendar?

No complains, mister, as the calendar is not specially difficult for the Hurricanes. The conference system, if ever the SANZAR reaches an agreement over that matter, will certainly ease travel troubles which, I swear, are not bigger for the kiwis than are for the saffers.

Super 14 round 9 predictions

Chiefs and Crusaders have a bye this week while Sharks and Waratahs will seek to extend their lead. Hurricanes and Western Force play a crucial game for both teams whereas the Brumbies certainly play for more than a single win after the painful death of Shawn Mackay.

Blues 44 - Lions 21 (Last train for the Blues. Can they get on ?)
Western Force 18 - Hurricanes 23 ( It could be the other way around, but I want the Wellingtonians to win)
Cheetahs 12 - Sharks 20 (The Sharks will win in Bloemfontein, but not easily)
Highlanders 32 - Reds 19 (One team is going up and the other is going down)
Brumbies 20 - Stormers 10 (The Brumbies have been struck twice in two years with terrifying health issues over their players. Best of lucks to them)
Waratahs 14 - Bulls 12 (This is going to be the match of the week)

Shawn Mackay

I have no words.
Rest in peace.

Brave Lions should have won

The Chiefs can be pleased. Can be happy, indeed.

8 games gone and 27 points lift them to a place into the top 3. Their bye week comes next and after that, winning 3 games out of 5 should be enough to see them qualify for the semis.

But after impressive wins over Reds and Blues, they can call themselves lucky to have escaped the ropes with which the Lions had tied them early in Hamilton today.

The Lions played great. The Lions played brave. With impressive defense against the expansive approach of the Chiefs, they conceded just 10 points in the first 40 minutes while Pretorius and Fourie dismantled the weak Chiefs defense. Mils Muliaina did have trouble with the number on his jersey and more trouble with the tricky balls the Lions played. Fourie was happy. 10-22 at halftime.

The gap was widened through an interception by the Lions and with 20 minutes to go, the Chiefs saw themselves 19 points behind.

Hika Elliot came in for Aled de Malmanche and the recipe worked. Better throwing at the line-out put confidence on the Chiefs, just what they needed to unleash their backs. One, two, three and four times the Chiefs crossed the line as the look on the eyes of the Lions was of resignation.

The Chiefs were again on top, Donald kicking superbly and not even a drop goal could put the Lions ahead again. Game over.

Chiefs 36 - Lions 29

Yes! I made a mistake!

Sure! Wonderful thing that I totally missunderstood the Crusaders - Bulls game. I thought the Bulls would go on to win the game in the latter stages...

But Brett's kicking and drop goaling was enough to tame the Bulls.

4 ugly points are still 4 points. Even for the exquisite rugby standards of Canterbury.

Congratulations, guys.

Crusaders 16 - Bulls 13

Super 14 Round 8 Predictions

Last week I did pretty well. I only failed to understand that the Blues would misserably loss to the Waratahs and, although I predicted the Highlanders to prevail over the Bulls, I did not foresee such a margin.

This week is consederably tougher for the kiwi franchises. The Crusaders receive a wounded Bulls side with Matfield and Habana back from their respective injuries. McCaw is still out and Ellis is out again. The Hurricanes, despite the win in Johanesburg showed weakness against the Lions and it is not going to get any easier in Durban. Only the Chiefs can be confident they will win, as they receive the Lions in Hamilton before their Bye.

So, these are my predictions:

Crusaders 18 - Bulls 23 (It's hard to predict the Crusaders will lose, but even with Slade at the wing and a magnificent Read they are lacking firepower)
Western Force 25 - Reds 28 (This should be a fun game to watch. I like the Reds and my friend Miff likes the Force)
Chiefs 33 - Lions 17 (Last season the Chiefs were on their usual mid-season come-back when they unexpectedly lost in Johanesburg a match they needed to win so badly. Suddenly their chances to reach the finals were over. This year, the revenge will be in Hamilton)
Waratahs 25 - Stormers 15 (The Waratahs are in the 3rd place and want to see themselves away of the chasing group that starts with the Chiefs, and the Stormers want to join the chasing group. A defining match for the two teams, but I feel the 'tahs will not give the Stormers any chance)
Cheetahs 23 - Brumbies 28 (The Cheetahs have Smith back but the captain has not been able to grant them more than two wins in the last two years. No hope for the Cheetahs)
Sharks 24 - Hurricanes 22 (The Hurricanes are pretenders, but the Sharks are contenders)

All in all, a tough week for NZ teams, it seems.