Super Rugby Week 5: The Force is strong with this one

August 11, 2017, will always be a black moment in Australian rugby history. But July 11, 2020, may go some way to providing a silver lining to that dark day.

When it was announced on that Friday evening that the Western Force would be cut, no one would have thought the same side would be running out for a Super Rugby game less than three years later.

Sure it’s taken some pretty extraordinary events to get here, but in a year where we’ll take all the good news we can get, it’s worth celebrating the Force’s return to the highest level of Australian domestic rugby this weekend.

Far from the complete easybeats which you’d expect of a team which hasn’t been exposed to proper top-fight opposition in years, a number of shrewd signings mean Tim Sampson’s side should be competitive.

No one’s expecting them to make the finals, and they’ll start each match as underdogs, but with the likes of Jono Lance, Kyle Godwin, Greg Holmes, Nick Frisby and (once he’s passed quarantine and is match-ready) Pek Cowan, there’s enough rugby nous to keep opposition sides honest. I was seriously considering tipping them in their opener this weekend against the Tahs, at least until Rob Penney’s men put up far more of a fight against the Reds last Friday night.

That match, and the following night’s encounter between the Rebels and Brumbies, might not have been the highest-quality affairs, but were still close-fought games with the results only decided late on.

Skills and familiarity with new rules will improve with time. If we can keep the close contests, Super Rugby AU will be a thoroughly enjoyable competition – for fans on the west coast as well as the east.

Where tipping was concerned, we had rare occurrences on multiple fronts last week: two of the panel managed to pick perfect rounds, and neither of them were Brett. Harry and Digger both went four-for-four, Nobes, Brett, The Crowd and myself nabbed three, while Geoff brought up the rear with two for the week.

With Harry coming off a perfect round and now sitting equal-first, he gets us started this week.

Jono Lance playing for the Western Force

Jono Lance. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Harry

Reds, Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes
Now I see what Brett meant about the view. It is nice up here. Arm in arm with Brother Brett. Cheek to cheek.

I like it here. I will try to stay up here, with a shirtless Laidlaw, gazing down at the striking Geoff Parkes and Diggercane.

The Reds have a nasty, intelligent pack with a bit of confidence. All things being equal, I’ll go with the better pack.

The new voodoo Blues will push the unredeemed Crusaders to the very brink, but it will probably come down to the boot.

I have no faith in the 2020 Waratahs, but Machooka tells me the 26 points in Week 4 will be doubled in Week 5.

Will Harrison seems to know how to make plays as a playmaking playmaker and he will make Jack Maddocks play.

Hurricanes versus Highlanders is a headscratcher. When I scratch my head, lacking hair, the scratch can hurt a bit. HUR has no LO.

The Canes rely on untransformed Saffa outside backs. That’s odd. Both are handsome; one tiny, the other large.

TJ Perenara’s rugby IQ exceeds the entire, accumulated IQ of his teammates. I am not sure if the Hurricanes have props.

But I just feel the Highlanders are weary, wan, wee, and worse for the wear; and the Canes are rugged defensively.

I shall pick the Canes not by plenty, but by a scintilla, after extra time, and when I say scintilla, I bloody mean it.

Sure thing: Drop goals are back in style in New Zealand this year. BBBBB versus the New Richie in a droppie duel.

TJ Perenara passes

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Digger

Rebels, Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes
Reds and Rebels, Rebels and Reds. I’d usually plump for the home side but of course this has now been shifted due to lockdown and I cannot make up my mind. My gut favours the Rebels here so will run on that basis.

Really looking forward to the Crusaders and Blues, should be a cracker but simply cannot ignore the Crusaders’ impressive home record.

I simply have no idea how the Force will take shape and due to having a game under the belt, will nervously back the Tahs.

And Canes by plenty.

Sure thing: The Reds’ fears over amorous security guards at their hotel have been lifted with the relocation of their match and TJP and Smith will be able to add another chapter to their personal debate of ‘who knows more than the referee’ this Sunday.

Reece Hodge of the Rebels

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Brett

Rebels, Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes
A genuinely tough round this weekend, the first since the resumption where I’m just as likely to manage none from four as I am to jag all four right. Previously solid confidence is suddenly shaky.

The Rebels and Crusaders look strong enough on paper, but the issue is the Reds and Blues aren’t that far behind them. But while winning in Christchurch might be a bit much even for the new and improved, bigger and badder Blues, the Reds winning on neutral turf is in no way out of the question.

The Waratahs get the nod over the Force, but only for two reasons: they actually weren’t too bad last weekend against the Reds, and the Force are running out for the first game in four months with a heap of new players at an unplanned-for level. But this will be a game with plenty of interest.

And the ‘Canes at home by something in the general proximity of plenty.

Sure thing: More table movement than a furniture store. Shuffling of competition ladders on both sides of the ditch, and a new pecking order among the panel as ones and twos prevail.

Rob Simmons of the Waratahs looks on

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Nobes

Reds, Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes
Luckily the Chiefs aren’t playing this weekend after they cost me last round by losing to the Canes where once again a Barrett made the difference. It is not the first time that Jordie has put the team on his shoulders.

The teams from Australia played as expected and will surely improve in this second round where we will also see the Force debut against the young Waratahs. The New South Welshmen have the chance to gain confidence with a win.

The Reds versus Rebels result is hard to pick but Queensland seem to me to have a slim lead. The Hurricanes will be able to extend their streak against the young Highlanders as long as Jordie has a good day.

Finally, we have the duel between the Blues and Crusaders. The Blues have been playing well this season and the Crusaders don’t seem all that sharp but they have a winning mentality and are too experienced.

Sure thing: All eyes will be on the Force in Australia and the Blues in New Zealand.

Beauden Barrett celebrates with Blues teammates

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Geoff

Rebels, Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes
At 23-24 and with the wind in their sails, the Rebels really should have gone on to claim the upset in Canberra. Just goes to show that my grandma, who always said, “never trust a hooker”, was right.

Despite the Reds under Thorn proving to be difficult for any side to put away, the Rebels have more improvement in them. If they throw straight, they win.

The match everyone has been waiting for should be a cracker, but as well as the Blues are going, you just don’t tip against the Crusaders at home.

A win for the Force first up wouldn’t be a huge surprise. But the Tahs are advantaged by having had a run under the new interpretations. And while it would be good to help give the Highlanders a leg up for all their heroics last week, the loss of Josh Dickson will hurt them. Canes by a few.

Sure thing: If the Force lose to the Tahs, expect their fans to say “that’s just what we expected, really proud of our boys…” If the Force win, expect those same fans to say “we told you so!”.

Sevu Reece of the Crusaders charges forward

Sevu Reece of the Crusaders. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Dan

Rebels, Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes
If there’s one thing the opening week of Super Rugby AU didn’t deliver, it was some clarity around who’s going to succeed in the competition.

The Reds weren’t half as convincing against the Waratahs as expected, and while the Rebels were uncompetitive for stretches of their match against the Brumbies, the minority of the game in which they matched it with the tournament favourites was almost enough to earn them a victory.

While the Tahs’ performance was more than enough to suggest they’ll handle the Force, neither the Rebels nor Reds did showed enough to demand favouritism tomorrow night. I like Queensland’s back row, but I’ll go with Melbourne based on the strength of their backline – and the assumption they’ll actually get their Wallaby backs involved for more than 20 minutes this week.

Had this week not marked the Force’s return, we’d have spent most of this column talking about the Crusaders versus Blues. If we’re lucky, the reverse fixture in Round 10 will be a competition decider, but Saturday’s match will still be crucial in the Super Rugby Aotearoa title race. Whichever side heads into the second half of the season with a perfect 4-0 record will have their fate firmly in their own hands, while the loser will be unable to afford another slip-up.

The Blues have probably played the better rugby of the two teams over the past month – the Crusaders’ last-start win wasn’t half as convincing as the scoreline suggested – but the home side’s proven record in must-win matches gives them the edge. That and you just don’t tip against the Saders in Christchurch.

Like Nobes, I’m pretty glad the Chiefs aren’t around this week to tempt a tip away. The reason that one went astray last round was, of course, a solid performance from the Hurricanes, who look a dangerous proposition once again with Jordie Barrett at the back. Against the Highlanders, I’ll take the Canes – not by plenty, but by enough.

Sure thing: Australian rugby fans being glad to see the Force back out there again, regardless of the result.

Brett Geoff Nobes Digger Harry Dan The Crowd
REB vs RED REB REB RED REB RED REB ???
CRU vs BLU CRU CRU CRU CRU CRU CRU ???
WAR vs FOR WAR WAR WAR WAR WAR WAR ???
HUR vs HIG HUR HUR HUR HUR HUR HUR ???
Last week 3 2 3 4 4 3 3
Total 9 7 8 6 9 7 8

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