(Fancy making a fool out of yourself in the mailbag? Send your questions in by email to SuperRugbyMailbag@gmail.com or you can find me on the Twitter as @el_nonpareil)
Week two promises to be everything week one was and more: exciting tries, inexplicable blunders, sub-par coverage on Sky (UK), and the best rugby competition IN THE WORLD. Anyway, we all know why you’re here so on to..
Oh, you were only here for the mailbag? Well I can absolutely none of the questions are fictional*…
*they all are. Don’t you dare scroll past the picks!
FORCE +2.5 vs Reds **BEST BET**
Well that went well. It turns out that the Force have a little bite to match their bark after all. They managed to pull off an upset and outplay the Reds with ball in hand, leaving big question marks all over Queensland – if the Reds can’t beat the Force in Perth, how are they going to fare on against the Kiwi teams, and on the road against the tougher of the two African conferences? And not only that, it’s a big loss for the Australian conference overall: missing out on points like these might be the difference between getting into the playoffs if they don’t top the Australian teams or four teams from New Zealand getting in again.
Well done boys, you really Reds-ed that up. Credit where it’s due though, the Force kicked same ass today, and their performance was an excellent demonstration of exactly why it’d be catastrophically stupid to cut them from the completion.
CHIEFS -6.5 vs Blues
BEAT ‘EM DOWWWWWWWWN! Life comes at you so fast. One week you’re burning defenders for fun and the next, you’re struggling to even get a touch until the game’s basically gone. The Blues managed to stick around before Luatua had a colossal brain fart but don’t let that fool you – the cracks in their defence were apparent from the start and were getting bigger and bigger as the Chiefs found their stride and eliminated the handling errors that were holding them back early on. Luckily for them, they’ve got a host of players back now and seeing as they’ve lost, Tana has an excuse to bring them all back in. Winning at the Chiefs was always going to be a tough task so it’s not the end of the world, as long as they can get back to winning ways soon so it’s a good thing they have the –oh the Highlanders next week. Well, damn. At least it’s at home I guess? Just stop beating yourselves dammit!!
As for the Chiefs, well how about that? I’ve been critical of Kerr-Barlow in the past, and felt that losing Weber for the year was enough to drop the Chiefs from the joint favourites I thought they were but today was full of promising signs that they might be able to manage just fine. Kerr-Barlow challenged the fringe defence with his running game, and cleared the ball from the breakdown well. Now he only needs to start getting there a little faster and the Chiefs will start looking even better. Meanwhile, the McKenzie-Cruden-Lowe triumvirate is looking as dangerous as ever, Tim Nanai-Williams has settled back into Super Rugby without missing a beat, and Anton Lienert-Brown impresses more with each game. Add to that their ability to keep churning out dynamic forwards who keep popping up with big contributions and you’ve got a team that can beat anyone on any day. Everyone will associate them with their exciting attacking play but don’t sleep on their set piece. Last year, their front row was decimated by injuries but with the likes of Nepo Lualala back and Kane Hames coming in, they are a menace at the scrum and their lineout savaged the Blues today. Next week: the Hurricanes. Who said Super Rugby doesn’t work?
HURRICANES -22.5 vs Rebels
I’m sorry, there’s just no way I can pick the Rebels in this one. I know I should but I just can’t. This spread is probably 8 points too high – bear in mind that the Chiefs absolutely destroyed the Blues today… and they still wouldn’t have covered a spread this big. The Rebels are definitely underrated (in betting terms at least) after last week, while last week’s stroll means the Hurricanes are probably slightly overrated (again, as far as betting spreads go) so the Rebels are an extremely attractive option here, seeing as they ONLY HAVE TO LOSE BY LESS THAN 22 POINTS!
Then again, the Rebels still don’t have a lineout and Jackson Garden-Bachop starts at fly half for the Rebels. Oh, and the Canes have Milner-Skudder and Beauden Barrett back in their starting line-up. They’re pretty handy as it happens, and if the Blues could wreak that amount of havoc in week one, what are the Canes capable of after hitting their stride in Japan last week? Yep, I’m picking the Canes but there’s no way you’re going to talk me into betting this spread.
HIGHLANDERS -2.5 vs Crusaders **BEST BET**
The Crusaders made tough work of the Brumbies last week and are starting a Mitch Hunt at fly half after losing Mo’unga for a few weeks with a broken hand. Not good. Meanwhile, it turns out that the Highlanders should be just fine: the Barracuda is back! They managed to impress and depress in equal measures against the Chiefs last week but they’ve made all the right noises about playing with less possession this week and going back to the style of play that was so successful over the last couple of years: tough defence, intelligent kicking, and speed with ball in hand. All. The. Speed.
It’s a no brainer pick really – the spread’s at least 3 points too low – there’s no way that the Crusaders would be 0.5 point favourites on neutral ground and that’s what this spread says. Fun fact: the Highlanders were much better last week than you might think. They recycled the ball well, ran hard in traffic and fast in space, and showed good continuity but just made daft mistakes at crucial times against the kind of team that’ll turn the smallest crack in your defence into the Grand Canyon. The Crusaders are a lot of things: full of brilliant forwards, unpredictable now that Dagg is back to his otherworldly best, and most of all smart as hell but they’re not the Chiefs, and that’d be enough if Mo’unga was playing. He isn’t though, so grab this spread while you can.
BRUMBIES -3.5 vs Sharks
If there’s one sure thing for this week, it’s that this game is going to hurt. Hard defence led by a brutal back row is a calling card for both teams but the Brumbies just don’t look as threatening unless they get the ball to Kuridrani in space. The problem is the Sharks don’t really look like creating many try scoring opportunities of their own, and rely mainly on gifts from the opposition to find the try line. They do have Pat Lambie though, and they should be able to rely on the pressure they’ll put on the Brumbies to force enough mistakes for an away win.
The Brumbies surprised me last week though, and might not be the basket case I thought they were going to be this year. If they can get out to a lead, the Sharks will struggle if the Brumbies can stay on the right side of the referee. Grab the points though, because this is going to be one of those tight games. Yep, you can go and bet the over now I’ve said that.
SUNWOLVES +5.5 vs Kings
Both teams got pumped last week by teams full of talent, but will get one of their few big chances to grab a win this week. This spread is just so unkind to the Sunwolves though, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. In reality, these teams are probably just about even, with the Kings probably having a slight edge on neutral ground – and that just goes to show that this spread is just all the disrespect. You know, the Rieko Ioane vs The Rebels defence kinda level of “fuck you”, and I’m not having any part of that. Plus, the Sunwolves played the Canes last week. You remember them right? The fucking Canes! The Kings are to the Canes what a cow is to a T-Rex: food, and Wolves eat food.
LIONS -6.5 vs Waratahs
The Lions were disappointing last week but Ackermann has rang the changes, dropping Faf and Malcolm Marx to the bench, and they had a number of excuses after last week’s near miss against the Cheetahs: poor conditions for their style of rugby, rust, and maybe even playing a tough game against an underrated team (OK, I’m kidding with that last one) but they need to sort it out in a hurry or their best chance to win a championship will disappear into a road playoff schedule. They get a helping hand from Bernard Foley travelling to South Africa with the Waratahs but being unable to play, and that should be all the help they need.
Without Foley playing last week, the Force knew they could focus on limiting Israel Folau, and while they lost, the boys from Perth managed to keep it tight. The Lions have more in the tank than the Force though, and will test the Tahs defensive structures. The Tahs will give it a good go back though so don’t be surprised if this ends up being the game of the weekend, but without Foley, I just can’t see them staying in a close game at altitude after a long trip to South Africa. Besides, there are rumours that Folau might be the goalkicker Reece Robinson was absolutely fine last week so making a change makes zero sense, especially when you consider that Folau can barely kick a ball well when he has it in his hands, so Darryl Gibson might do well not to put the pressure of having points on the line on Folau’s shoulders too.
STORMERS -9.5 vs Jaguares
The Stormers made a bright start to the season last week, forcing the Bulls to play a high speed game that ran them off their feet while Handre Pollard’s game imploded. In hindsight though, Pollard was likely to struggle in his first game back after so many health issues, and the Jaguares are a team that thrives on a structure-less game so expect the Stormers to revert to type this week. If they do, that’ll open the door for the Jaguares to match fire with fire, and with Nicola Sanchez back this week, they should have enough to keep this as a one score game.
CHEETAHS -2.5 vs Bulls
The Bulls struggled last week against a Stormers side that pushed the pace against them last week, and that’s exactly what the Cheetahs will try to do this week but one thing is getting lost in the mix a little: the Stormers absolutely dominated the massive Bulls pack. If the Cheetahs can manage that then sure, they can turn the Bulls over but it’s not likely. Besides, while the Cheetahs might be brimming with confidence after coming so close to toppling the Lions, there’s also the chance that snatching defeat from the jaws of victory has a negative effect on them. After coming so close and then throwing it away, can you trust the Cheetahs with your money? Take the Bulls, and more importantly, the points!
I can’t believe you laughed at us last week. You’ll see! My boys are so ODT for tonight. BALL OUT REIKO, BALL OUT – Danny, The Dark Side of the Moon.
Too bad you can’t take this back.
FFS. Why is life so cruel? And that would have been a yellow card last year!! P.S. I hate you – Danny, The Dark Side of the Moon (11.30am GMT).
“But Stan, why are you so mad? Try to understand that I do want you as a fan.”
P.S. who are you kidding? He almost took Nanai-Williams’s head off!
P.P.S. I literally told you what happens when you stick your neck out too far too soon http://linebreakrugby.com/2017/03/its-easier-to-win-when-you-dont-beat-yourself-super-rugby-week-one-review/
Are the Lions regressing to the mean? Also, what is regression to the mean – Johan, Johannesburg.
Regression to the mean is a simple concept: let’s say you toss a fair coin six times and it comes up heads four times, that’s heads 67% of the team, which is 17% more often than you’d expect. However, flip the coin 44 more times, and at the end of it, you’re likely to have results closer to 50% for tails, rather than 33% – that’s to say, the more often you do it, the more the results will revert back to the mean.
In theory, that’d mean that if the Lions over-performed last year, then you’d expect their performance to drop off this year. Regardless of whether you think they did over perform, regression to the mean doesn’t mean they’ll be terrible this year: they could continue to over perform (although it’s unlikely that over performance can be maintained), they could drop off slightly but still take advantage of an easy schedule to finish top of their conference and maybe even the overall table, or be terrible enough to regress back to – or even beyond – the mean.
One of the ways to identify an over performing team is to look at the performance in the games they lost and the close games they won. This is especially helpful for the Lions because it means we can ignore their two games against the Kings. When you look at the season this way, the Lions had a really mixed bag last year. While they were annihilating teams at times, they also conceded 50 points the Hurricanes and 43 to the Crusaders (both of which were at home), while being outplayed away to the Highlanders, which is no shameful thing. They also held on for dear life to win a narrow victory against the Chiefs, who were pressing for a final score to win the game after falling behind when they had a player in the bin. The Chiefs were camped on the Lions try line and won penalties but couldn’t break the Lions defence before time expired. As commendable as that is, this is the Chiefs we are talking about, and if you put them in that situation over and over again, regression to the mean would tell you that there’s a pretty good chance of the Chiefs winning from that position too, especially when you consider that the level of the Chiefs was very close to that of Highlanders, Hurricanes, and Crusaders, all teams who were convincing in wins over the Lions..
All of which is to say the Lions probably did over perform last year and rode their luck in places, not least of which was stealing a win from one of the best teams in the competition but luckily for them, they have the easiest schedule in the competition, which means they’re in a great position to make a good run at the top overall spot. Short answer: probably but you might not realise until you’re in the playoffs.
Are we sure Aaron Smith is still good? – TJ, Wellington
Is water still wet TJ?
Why is Aaron Smith a protected species? When are you going to tell it like it is? He’s shit now mate!! – Augie P, Auckland.
I hope you sent this before today’s game Augustine…
Dear Triple “Baby Killer” Ess, thank you for answering my question last week but one thing has been bugging me. Why do you hate England/Eddie Jones/England fans? – Ed, somewhere between Sydney and London.
I don’t hate Eddie Jones, I pity tha fool! Tell me this, how good are England really? Answer: They have fantastic depth, exciting young players, and veterans you can rely on… but there’s still a little something missing and can we really say they’re better than they were before the disaster that was 2015? The problem was that 2015 was so bad that it dropped expectations to the extent that it looks like Eddie Jones is working miracles, and don’t get me wrong, he has done well so far (the improvement in Billy Vunipola is something else altogether) but he’s coming up to the sticking point now: moving on from this level to the next. Lancaster tried and failed, and Eddie Jones is a far superior coach to old Stuart, but the challenge for Jones is that in order to improve this team, he has to improve as a coach too.
What do you think of the idea of moving the Western Force to West Sydney? – William Pulver, Sydney.
Come on Billy, the Tahs can barely fill out their stadium, and you want to put another team there?! Why!? If you’re going to say it’s because the Force are rubbish, how about you “force” the more successful franchises to stop hoarding young players (even if it is done via a loan system to begin with) so that more talented young players go to Perth. Besides, they just beat Australia’s big hope this year, and were competitive last week against your countries most recent Super Rugby champion.
Didn’t Perth win the NRC last year too? What’s this thing about removing teams from Super Rugby too? Not all teams can be good, and sometimes terrible teams are actually necessary – better teams tend to stockpile good young talent that might end up getting game time against weaker sides, and no one minds this if the weaker team changes every couple of seasons so they don’t have to endure beatings year after year after year. The problem is that when you’re a newer team, you face difficulty in getting past that initial step, and now the Force are showing signs they might be ready, you want to cut the rope? Shame on you Bill, shame on you.
Karmichael Hunt. What. The. Hell? – Quade C, Queensland.
The million dollar question: what are you supposed to do when you line up a player and go low, but he anticipates the contact/slips and goes lower than you, leading to you making contact above his shoulder? What’s to stop players from trying to do that deliberately to get you in the bin?
Is Jackson Garden-Bachop a competition winner? – Jack D, Melbourne
Now you’re just being cruel.
Is a Kiwi team going to lose to a non-Kiwi team this year? – Shag, Location Redacted
*Thinks about checking fixtures* Let’s go with probably not.
I have a theory (bear with me on this one): George Smith is a vampire. It’s the only explanation! He just keeps going on and on and on and on – Anon
We’re getting to the “that’s not a question” dredges…
I’ve heard that Dave Rennie is letting Aaron Cruden kick because it’s his last year there but I’ve also heard he’s doing it just to screw with your fantasy team. Which is true, and which one would hurt more? – SCUM FANTASY RIVAL, A CESSPIT
Scum, that’s what you are. I’m done.
Overall: 5-6 (45%)
Last Week: 4-5
Best Bets: 1-2 (33%… well this is concerning)
Last Week: 1-1