Super Rugby
Super Rugby Round 1 preview
ESPN Staff
February 26, 2016
Super Rugby: Round 1 Preview

Friday, February 26

Blues v Highlanders, Eden Park, Auckland

Key Stat (Opta Stats)

  • The Highlanders have won six of their last eight matches against the Blues and outscored them 74-31 on their way to two wins over them in 2015.
Super Rugby New Zealand: Blues might go OK but tough as ever to predict


  • Blues: Lolagi Visinia , Melani Nanai, Male Sa'u, George Moala, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall; Steven Luatua, Blake Gibson, Joe Edwards, Josh Bekhuis, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons (capt), Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Replacements: Quentin MacDonald, Namatahi Waa, Charlie Faumuina, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Rene Ranger.

  • Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain); Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Teihorangi Walden, Patrick Osborne; Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith; Liam Squire, Shane Christie (co-captain), Elliot Dixon; Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin; Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown Replacements: Ash Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Ross Geldenhuys, Alex Ainley, Dan Pryor, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Matt Faddes.

Team News

  • The Blues will be without skipper Jerome Kaino after he was suspended following last weekend's trial against the Chiefs. Meanwhile, coach Tana Umaga will be banking on some major impact from the bench after he opted to hold Rene Ranger and Akira Ioane back from the run-on side. Ihaia West has been given first crack at the Blues' troublesome No.10 jersey while Matt McGahan is a replacement option from the bench.
    Super Rugby Round 1: Blues vs. Highlanders

  • Former Chiefs player back-rower Liam Squire debuts at No.8 in place of departed Nasi Manu, while Alex Ainley and Dan Pryor return from off-season injuries to start from the bench. Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne will combine at the back and All Black first-five Lima Sopoaga will direct the attack that features former New Zealand Under-20 player Teihorangi Walden on debut.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Blues by 3. I think the Aucklanders could be the smokies in this tournament because of the Tana Umaga effect.

    UBET verdict: The Blues won all three warm-up matches but will be without captain Jerome Kaino. That is enough for UBET to give slight favouritism to the Highlanders, who as we know are the reigning champions

    Brumbies v Hurricanes, GIO Stadium, Canberra

    Super Rugby Round 1: Brumbies vs. Hurricanes

    Key Stat (Opta Stats)

    • The Brumbies have won four of their last five matches against the Hurricanes, though the New Zealand side snapped a four game losing streak with a 29-9 victory in their last encounter.


    • Brumbies: Aidan Toua; Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane; Christian Lealiifano, Tomas Cubelli; Ita Vaea, David Pocock, Scott Fardy; Sam Carter, Rory Arnold; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Allan Alaalatoa. Replacements: Josh Mann-Rea, Scott Sio, Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin, Jordan Smiler, Jarrad Butler, Michael Dowsett, Andrew Smith.

    • Hurricanes: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Cory Jane, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Mark Abbott, Blade Thomson, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Leni Apisai, Reggie Goodes. Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves, Loni Uhila, Vaea Fifita, Callum Gibbins, Jamison Gibson-Park, Otere Black, Willis Halaholo.
    Super Rugby Australia: Brumbies look like the team to beat

    Team News

    • Argentina scrum-half Tomas Cubelli is among three Brumbies debutants, alongside Aidan Toua at full-back and Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin off the bench. Stephen Larkham has stuck with the playmaking combination he finished with last year, with co-captain Christian Leali'ifano at No.10 and Matt Toomua at inside centre, while Alan Alaalatoa, considered a Wallabies forward-in-the-making, will get a chance to press his claims for a starting spot at loosehead prop.

    • Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles withdrew from the side after suffering a minor calf strain in training, replaced by Leni Apisai with T.J. Perenara assuming the captain's armband. Coles' injury is not related to the hamstring strain that kept him out during the preseason. Coach Chris Boyd otherwise named an imposing line-up, particularly in the back-row with Brad Shields, Ardie Savea and Victor Vito. NRL convert Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso slot into the jerseys vacated by All Blacks greats Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, respectively.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Brumbies by five. They've had a pretty settled off-season while the Hurricanes have lost a few.

    UBET verdict: The Brumbies bowed out of the semis to the Hurricanes last year, but money says the Aussies will atone here with a win first-up. The Brumbies had previously beaten the Canes in their previous four starts, and they have been one of the best-backed sides of the opening round.

    Cheetahs v Jaguares, Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein

    Super Rugby Africa Two: Jaguares could go all the way

    Key Stat (Opta Stats)

    • The Cheetahs have won only three of their last 17 matches against teams from outside of South Africa.


    • Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies; Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter (captain), William Small-Smith, Raymond Rhule; Fred Zeilinga, Shaun Venter; Niell Jordaan, Uzair Cassiem, Boom Prinsloo; Lodewyk de Jager, Carl Wegner; Maks van Dyk, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marias Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche, Luan de Bruin, Reniel Hugo, Henco Venter, Paul Schoeman, Tian Meyer, Niel Marais.

    • Jaguares:Joaquín Tuculet; Santiago Cordero, Matías Moroni, Jerónimo De la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli; Nicolás Sánchez, Martin Landajo; Leonardo Senatore, Rodrigo Baez, Pablo Matera; Tomás Lavanini, Guido Petti; Ramiro Herrera, Agustín Creevy (captain), Lucas Noguera Replacements: Julian Montoya, Santiago Garcia Botta, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Matias Alemanno, Facundo Isa, Gonzalo Bertranou, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Matias Orlando.

    Super Rugby Round 1: Cheetahs vs. Jaguares

    Team News

    • Fred Zeilinga starts at fly-half to steer an exciting backline that features speedsters Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen on the wings, but there is no space in the matchday squad for returning pivot Sias Ebersohn. Niel Marais is the reserve fly-half.

    • The Jaguares' first ever Super Rugby team features 13 players in the starting XV who represented Argentina at the Rugby World Cup, with 11 who started against Ireland in their quarterfinal win. Agustín Creevy captains the side from hooker while Tomás Lavanini and Guido Petti make up a formidable lock partnership in front of flankers Pablo Matera, Rodrigo Baez and number eight Leonardo Senatore. There is a Pumas halves pairing, too, inside centres Jerónimo De la Fuente and Matías Moroni with Joaquín Tuculet, Santiago Cordero and Emiliano Boffelli in the back-three. Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias takes a spot on the bench.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Jaguares by 40. This is a Test-strength squad and I believe they can go on and win the whole thing.

    UBET verdict: The Jaguares have been backed for a fortune to win the title, and also in this game. The opening $1.73 was quickly snapped up, and that price has halved. Cheetahs matches last year saw an average of 55 points scored, and that is the sort of game that will suit the Argentines. The South Africans won only two of eight at home last year, so the support for the Jaguares is understandable.

    Saturday, February 27

    Sunwolves v Lions, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo

    Super Rugby Round 1: Sunwolves vs. Lions

    Key Stats (Opta Stats)

    • The 2015 Super Rugby season saw South African teams travel abroad on 20 occasions of which they won only seven. Of those seven wins,the Lions accounted for three.


    • Sunwolves: Riaan Viljoen; Akihito Yamada, Harumichi Tatekawa, Yu Tamura, Yasutaka Sasakura; Tusi Pisi, Atsushi Hiwasa; Edward Quirk, Andrew Durutalo, Liaki Moli; Hitoshi Ono, Timothy Bond; Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki Replacements: Masataka Mikami, Takeshi Kizu, Koki Yamamoto, Shinya Makabe, Yoshiya Hosoda, Kaito Shigeno, Derek Carpenter, Hajime Yamashita.

    • Lions: Andries Coetzee; Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Courtnal Skosan; Elton Jantjies, Faf De Klerk; Warren Whiteley, Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel; Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira; Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith, Jacques Van Rooyen, Robert Kruger, Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Van Der Walt, Harold Vorster, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg.

    Team News

    • Mark Hammett has named seven international players in his first Sunwolves Super Rugby squad, most notably Samoa No.10 Tusi Pisi and former Queensland back-rower Ed Quirk, while Japan hooker Shota Horie and scrum-half Atsushi Hiwasa are also headline selections after the team won their only pre-season trial against a Top League selection.

    • Lions coach Johan Ackermann has named an experienced side to be led as normal by Warren Whiteley. Front-rower Dylan Smith, loose forward Ruan Ackermann and back Rohan Janse van Rensburg are all set to make their Super Rugby debut from the bench after featuring in the 2015 Currie Cup-winning campaign.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Lions by plenty. The Joburg side could well prove to be the best South African outfit this year and the Sunwolves have only just completed their squad.

    UBET verdict: Not much is expected form the Sunwolves this season, as most of the prominent Japanese rugby players have opted to play overseas - in contrast to the Jaguares. The Lions had an excellent 2015 winning three of four matches outside of South Africa, and the expectations are that this will be an easy win for the Lions. All of the 'line' money has been for them conceding 11.5 start.

    Crusaders v Chiefs, AMI Stadium, Christchurch

    Super Rugby Round 1: Crusaders vs. Chiefs

    Key Stat (Opta Stats)

    • The Chiefs conceded the most penalties (12.3), yellow cards (0.8) and turnovers (18.4) in Super Rugby last season.


    • Crusaders: David Havili; Jone Macilai, Sean Wainui, Keiron Fonotia, Nemani Nadolo; Richie Mo'unga, Andy Ellis; Kieran Read, Tom Boys, Jordon Taufua; Sam Whitelock (c), Scott Narrett; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody Replacements: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Mike Alaalatoa, Jimmy Tupou, Reed Prinsep, Leon Fukofuka, Ben Volavola, Johnny McNicholl.

    • Chiefs Damian McKenzie; Shaun Stevenson, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe; Aaron Cruden (co-capt), Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Tom Sanders, Sam Cane (co-capt), Taleni Seu; Brodie Retallick, Michael Allardice; Hiroshi Yamashita, Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu. Replacements: Nathan Harris, Mitchell Graham, Siate Tokolahi, Maama Vaipulu, Johan Bardoul, Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown, Latu Vaeno.

    Team News

    • Todd Blackadder has named three Crusaders debutants in his run-on XV - Tim Boys in the back-row, Richie Mo'unga at fly-half and Sean Wainui at centre - with three more rookies - Mike Alaalatoa, Leon Fukofuka and Fiji and former Waratahs playmaker Ben Volavola - named on the bench.

    • Japan prop Hiroshi Yamashita has been included among four Super Rugby debutants in the Chiefs' starting line-up, alongside winger Shaun Stevenson, No.8 Tom Sanders and blindside flanker Taleni Seu; the two rookie back-rowers will start alongside All Blacks openside Sam Cane. Outside back Latu Vaeno is also in line to get his first Super Rugby appearance, having been included on the bench, while Aaron Cruden returns from his knee injury at fly-half..

    Greg Growden's verdict: Chiefs by two. This is going to be a good game and a lot will depend on how Aaron Cruden returns after a long injury layoff.

    UBET verdict: The Crusaders have lost their opening season fixture in each of the past three years, and last year that was a shock home loss to the Rebels. The Crusaders are favourites, but their price has eased on the back of solid support for the Chiefs.

    Waratahs v Reds, Allianz Stadium, Sydney

    Super Rugby Round 1: Waratahs vs. Reds

    Key Stat (Opta Stats)

    • The Waratahs have won each of their last four matches against the Reds spanning the last two seasons, and they've restricted them to five points for less in each of those games.


    • Waratahs: Israel Folau; Matt Carraro, Rob Horne, David Horwitz, Zac Guildford ; Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps ; Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper (captain), David Dennis; Will Skelton, Dean Mumm; Angus Ta'avao, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Paddy Ryan Replacements: Tolu Latu, Benn Robinson, Jeremy Tilse, Sam Lousi, Jack Dempsey, Matt Lucas, Bryce Hegarty, Reece Robinson.

    • Reds: Karmichael Hunt; Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi, Henry Taefu, Eto Nabuli; Jake McIntyre, Nick Frisby; Jake Schatz, Curtis Browning, Hendrik Tui; Rob Simmons (capt), Cadeyrn Neville; Greg Holmes, Saia Fainga'a, Ben Daley. Replacements: Andrew Ready, Sef Fa'agase, Sam Talakai, Ben Matwijow, Michael Gunn, Scott Gale, Sam Greene, Ayumu Goromaru.

    Team News

    • Daryl Gibson has named three Waratahs debutants in his first Super Rugby squas as head coach, namely former All Blacks winger Zac Guildford, NSW rugby pathways star David Horwitz at inside centre, and former Blues prop Angus Ta'avao. Ex-NRL winger Reece Robinson and key playmaker, Bryce Hegarty, formerly of the Rebels, also have a chance to debut off the bench. Kurtley Beale steers the backline in Bernard Foley's injury-enforced absence.

    • The Reds are without Liam Gill due to a back injury, the openside replaced by Curtis Browning with Hendrik Tui and Jake Schatz rounding out the back row. Richard Graham preferred Karmichael Hunt to Japan Rugby World Cup sensation Ayumu Goromaru, saying the code-hopper "deserves" the opportunity. Goromaru is 100 percent fit and ready to play.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Waratahs by 15. There are rumblings already that Richard Graham could be gone within a month. The Waratahs look light on up front and that will be exposed -- just not this week.

    UBET verdict: The Reds have scored a total of just 18 points in their past four meetings with the Waratahs, and they travel to Sydney having lost several big names from a side that failed last year. Not surprisingly the Waratahs are red-hot favourites to beat the Reds this week.

    Western Force v Melbourne Rebels, nib Stadium, Perth

    Super Rugby Round 1: Force vs. Rebels

    Key Stat (Opta Stats)

    • The Rebels have won only seven of their 40 away fixtures in Super Rugby history, though six of those seven wins came against Australian opposition.


    • Force: Dane Haylett-Petty; Luke Morahan, Ben Tapuai, Kyle Goodwin, Marcel Brache; Jono Lance, Alby Mathewson; Angus Cottrell, Matt Hodgson, Brynard Stadner; Adam Coleman, Steve Mafi; Guy Millar, Nathan Charles, Pekahou Cowan. Replacements: Heath Tessmann, Chris Heiberg, Jermaine Ainsley, Ross Haylett-Petty, Chris Alcock, Ian Prior, Peter Grant, Semisi Masirewa.

    • Rebels: Mike Harris; Dom Shipperley, Tamati Ellison, Mitch Inman, Reece Hodge; Jack Debreczeni, Ben Meehan; Adam Thomson, Sean McMahon (captain), Jordy Reid; Lopeti Timpani, Luke Jones; Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Toby Smith Replacements: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah Nau, Jamie Hagan, Steve Cummins, Colby Fainga'a, Mick Snowden, Jonah Placid, Tom English.

    Team News

    • Michael Foley has named five Western Force debutants in his squad, with former Queensland Reds team-mates Jono Lance and Ben Tapuai in the starting XV and Jermaine Ainsley, Peter Grant and Semisi Masirewa on the bench. Matt Hodgson will lead the team for the fourth year.

    • Melbourne Rebels winger Reece Hodge will make his Super Rugby debut, the former Australian Schoolboys and Australia Under-20 representative having joined the franchise after helping Manly Marlins to the 2015 Shute Shield minor premiership. Former internationals Adam Thomson and James Hanson will also start having joined from Queensland, but club captain Nic Stirzaker is absent with a shoulder injury. The reserves also feature plenty of experience with Jamie Hagan named alongside Colby Fainga'a, Tom English and props Pat Leafa and Cruz Ah Nau. Hagan, who adds over 100 games of professional European club Rugby to the reserves, will become just the second fully capped Ireland international to play Super Rugby if he comes off the bench, after compatriot Peter Clohessy spent the 1997 season with the Reds.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Rebels by 10. Nic Stirzaker is a fine appointment as captain for the Rebels, while the Force have promised more of an attacking game plan. I won't be holding my breath.

    UBET verdict: Half of the 10 matches played between these sides have ended with three points separating them. Add to that the fact that the Rebels have won four of the five played in Perth, and that would explain the support for the Rebels who are into $1.95 after opening at $2.00.

    Kings v Sharks, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

    Super Rugby Round 1: Kings vs. Sharks

    Key Stat (Opta Stats)

    • This will be the Kings' first Super Rugby match since 2013, their only season in the competition, and they are yet to claim victory over a fellow South African team.


    • Kings: Jurgen Visser; Luzuko Vulindlu, JP du Plessis, Shane Gates, Malcolm Jaer; Elgar Watts, Ntando Kebe,; Jacques Engelbrecht, Thembelani Bholi, Chris Cloete; JC Astle, Steven Sykes (captain); Tom Botha, Martin Ferreira, Schalk Ferreira.Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Sti Sithole, TBC, Schalk Oelofse, Cyril-John Velleman, Leighton Eksteen, Louis Fouche, Charles Radebe.

    • Sharks: Willie le Roux; Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo; Joe Pietersen, Cobus Reinach; Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Marcell Coetzee; Hyron Andrews, Etienne Oosthuizen; Coenie Oosthuizen, Franco Marais, Tendai Mtawarira (captain) Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Juan Schoeman, Lourens Adriaanse, Dave McDuling, Philip van der Walt, Michael Claassens, Garth April, S'bura Sithole.

    Team News

    • Steven Sykes will captain the Southern Kings in their Super Rugby opener against the Sharks in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. Sykes will pack down in the second row alongside fellow former Sharks lock JC Astle.

    • Willie le Roux makes his first Super Rugby appearance for the Sharks since moving from the Cheetahs, while Tendai Mtawarira leads the team for the first time in the injury-enforced absence of Pat Lambie. Hyron Andrews and Jean-Luc du Preez will each make their Super Rugby debut, as will Garth April and Juan Schoeman when they come off the bench. The du Preez brothers will become the first twin brothers in a Sharks starting side.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Sharks by 20. The Kings have had a shambolic pre-season. The Sharks won't have any trouble here.

    UBET verdict: The Kings are expected to finish near the bottom of the table this season, and the Sharks have been hugely popular through multis to bury the Kings, with plenty of money also coming for the Sharks to cover the handicap line of 12 points.

    Stormers v Bulls, Newlands, Cape Town

    Super Rugby Round 1: Stormers vs. Bulls

    Key Stats (Opta Stats)

    • The Bulls have not managed to win away to the Stormers since 2011, failing to score more than 17 points in any of their four defeats since then.


    • Stormers: Cheslin Kolbe; Kobus van Wyk, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh (co-captain), Dillyn Leyds; Robert du Preez, Jano Vermaak; Nizaam Carr, Schalk Burger, Sikhumbuzo Notshe; Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth; Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Oli Kebble. Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, JC Janse van Rensburg, Frans Malherbe (co-captain), JD Schickerling, Siya Kolisi, Nic Groom, Kurt Coleman, Leolin Zas.

    • Bulls: Warrick Gelant; Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson; Francois Brummer, Rudy Paige; Arno Botha, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager; Grant Hattingh, RG Snyman; Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka, Hencus van Wyk, Jason Jenkins, Roelof Smit, Piet van Zyl, Tian Schoeman, Burger Odendaal.

    Team News

    • Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jano Vermaak will each win their first Super Rugby caps for the Stormers after moving to Cape Town, as will experienced prop JC Janse van Rensburg from the bench. JD Schickerling and Leolin Zas will make their Super Rugby debut should they get the opportunity from the replacements. Juan de Jongh assumes the captain's armband from the departed Jean de Villiers while co-captain Frans Malherbe will play from the bench as he recovers from an ankle injury.

    • The Bulls feature nine Springboks in their squad, but otherwise they lack experience with Warrick Gelant, Nic de Jager, Jannes Kirsten and RG Snyman on debut in the starting XV and uncapped Lizo Gqoboka and Jason Jenkins on the bench. Francois Brummer - who starts instead of injured Handre Pollard - Tian Schoeman, Roelof Smit, Jaco Visagie and Hencus van Wyk also have only a handful number of games.

    Greg Growden's verdict: Stormers by 7. This is an interesting game but the Stormers should win due to the Bulls' big off-season departures and injury to Handre Pollard.

    UBET verdict: The injury-plagued Bulls are not expected to trouble the Stormers here if you believe the betting moves. The Stormers have beaten the Bulls in four of the past five meetings in Cape Town, and they have firmed from $1.56 into $1.45 already.

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