Round 4 of Super Rugby Trans Tasman kicks off with the Aotearoa champs, the Crusaders, hosting the Force in Christchurch.
The Force have had a tough time of it thus far, narrowly losing out to the Chiefs in Round 1 before taking falling prey to the Highlanders the following week while most recently they took a hammering from the Hurricanes in Wellington.
By contrast, the Crusaders have notched up one victory after the other, starting with a nail-biting 2-point game against the Brumbies before turning the screws on the Reds and Waratahs in Rounds 2 and 3 respectively. It is not expected that they will have much of a problem against the Force this weekend as their tough, mobile pack of forwards coupled with the sublime skill of their backline – headed by Richie Mo’unga, who appears to be playing the best rugby of his career at present – have rendered them an almost unstoppable unit.
The second game of the round sees the Blues travelling to Brisbane to tackle the Reds. While the Blues currently top the leader board, the Reds’ confidence will have jumped a few notches after their victory over the Chiefs last weekend – the first win registered by a member of the Australian conference. The Reds have shown this year that they have the capacity to roll their sleeves up and play quality rugby as they triumphed in the Super Rugby AU competition. The game will also mark Reds’ captain James O’Connor’s 100th Super Rugby match.
The Blues have been in good nick and deserve their spot at the top of the log – their lowest score posted so far has been 38. While the Reds did taste victory last weekend, it will have to be a monumental effort on their part to put the Blues down while the latter are enjoying the form that they are.
The Highlanders, finally back home at the Forsyth Barr Stadium, will meet the Waratahs in the round’s third fixture.
While the Tahs have shown some plucky attack during this competition, it has not yet translated into victories. They have averaged 25.5 points per game thus far, however, their defence has been the element letting them down as they have conceived an enormous average of 55.3 points per game. Last weekend they faced the mighty Crusaders and, predictably, were on the receiving end of a hiding. It has been a decidedly difficult year for the men in the light blue strip and, all things considered, they need not feel ashamed of their efforts, especially with ball in hand.
The men from Dunedin have been rumbling on well with 3 wins from as many outings in the bag. Aaron Smith, Shannon Frizell and Jona Nareki have been in especially sublime form and will no doubt prove much for the Tahs to handle this weekend. In the last round, the Highlanders stuck one on the Rebels, 42-27, in Sydney.
The Hurricanes will be looking for their fourth consecutive victory when they square up to the Brumbies in the penultimate game of the round.
The Brumbies came agonisingly close to drawing their first outing – against the Crusaders – and thereafter fell prey to the Chiefs and Blues.
The Canes opened up their account with a big win over the Waratahs and followed it up with two more solid victories over the Rebels and the Force.
The round will conclude with the only losing outfit from the New Zealand conference, the Chiefs, looking to get back to winning ways when they challenge the Rebels in Waikato.
Chiefs lost not only the game last weekend, but the enviable talents of Damian McKenzie as well, who was slapped with a 3-week ban after a dangerous tackle on Reds’ scrumhalf Tate McDermott. The loss of McKenzie will be a significant one for the Chiefs to adapt to as the 26 year-old playmaker has been at the heart of their successes thus far in the competition.
The Rebels, also winless, have showed promise as the tournament has progressed and put up a decent display against the Highlanders last weekend – one that they will hope to replicate or even improve on this round, and will take the Chiefs’ recent loss as a good sign.
An animal wounded is at its most dangerous, however, and the Australians will have to be wary of a backlash from the Chiefs, especially on the latter’s home turf.