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2013 Lions tour and Super Rugby this weekend

British and Irish Lions vs Barbarians (Hong Kong)

The challenge of bringing together the best players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and turning them into successful Lions tourists will be tested once again this coming weekend when the British and Irish Lions face the Barbarians side in Hong Kong, in the first match of their 2013 Test series against Australia.

Warren Gatland has demonstrated his implicit trust in Sam Warburton by appointing him as his first choice for the captaincy. Warburton will have to show his mettle and leadership, creating a cohesive team from the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English members that makes up his Lions team, since they will most certainly face intimidation, not least from provincial sides challenging the dirt-trackers, doing their patriotic duty by “softening up” the tourists. Unfortunately Warburton has been ruled out for this first tour match and the captaincy role shifts to Paul O’Connell.   Even though refereeing is much tighter these days. the focus will also be on the match officials. especially in lights of recent controversial decisions that were made even after referrals to the TMO’s.

Irish centre, Brian O’Driscoll,  embarks on his fourth tour and is well aware of the fact that you are only remembered when you return when you have won the series. “Until you win a series it’s difficult to place yourself in that elite group of great Lions players,” he told local media before embarking. “It’s not enough to produce one-off performances or be nearly-men. You’ve got to win a series to be properly remembered.”

Australian rugby is on the up and this will be a fantastic challenge for the current Wallabies side that are young and talented.  For the record, the Lions have won 15 of the 20 tests they have played Down Under and have only lost a series once – and that was to the world champions in 2001.

What to expect? Injuries, refereeing controversy particularly over the breakdown, accusations from both sides about over-physical play and perhaps more muscle-on-muscle confrontation than free-flowing rugby.

Following the Barbarians match, the Lions will begin a four-week tour of Australia with the sole objective of their first Test series victory in 16 years.

Just what the doctor ordered…for the rugby connoisseur. Enjoy the British and Irish Lions tour 2013.

Andre’s prediction – Lions by 20

Crusaders vs Warathas (Christchurch)

Three changes were made to the Crusaders team that lost to the log-leading Chiefs last weekend for this Friday’s game against the Warathas in Christchurch. This is the last game for the Crusaders before a month-long break and they would desperately like to take the break on a winning note.

The Canterbury side is currently 10 points behind the Chiefs, who have a bye this weekend and therefore automatically claims four points, and the potential of that gap widening should they lose to the Tahs. The Crusaders face a Waratahs team who suffered their first-ever loss to the Rebels last week, but, this same Sydney side has won three consecutive games before that loss and therefore cannot be taken lightly.

Andre’s prediction – Crusaders by 9

Brumbies vs Hurricanes (Canberra)

A physical encounter is expected when the Brumbies hosts the Hurricanes on Saturday in Canberra. The normally expansive Hurricanes will go all out since their hopes of making the play-offs is dependent on winning their last four matches, starting with this one against a high-flying Brumbies team. Conrad Smith will captain his side against the Brumbies, after recovering from a concussion picked up three weeks ago.

The Brumbies have been rather fortunate this season, thus far without any major injury concerns, and it is one of the reasons they are still flying.  Their South African type approach of last week against the Blues in Auckland, could seem them prevail against the Hurricanes.

Andre’s prediction – Brumbies by 7

Highlanders vs Blues (Dunedin)

Time is starting to run out fast for the Blues and they need to stick to John Kirwan’s passionate plea to stick to the plan if they are to feature in the play-offs. The Blues have certainly had moments of brilliance during the tournament but consistency and implementation of the plan have been lacking. Success in Saturday night’s match is crucial for the Blues if they want to progress to the next stage and Kirwan has made five changes to his team for Saturday.

The Highlanders have been firing hot and cold – mostly cold or even misfiring – and they are due for a game where everything clicks and they realize their substantial potential. All-though they have squandered many an opportunity in previous games, the Highlanders would like to show their loyal faithful that they do indeed have the ability of beating the Blues’ team, who sorely needs a win to achieve their prospects of a top six position.

Andre’s prediction – Blues by 9

Reds vs Rebels (Brisbane)

A fortnight ago this wouldn’t have been hard to think about this one. The Reds were storming ahead after several victories while the Rebels were losing one after the other.

The Reds’ loss against the Cheetahs and then an unexpected loss against the struggling Stormers certainly changed this. During the same period the Rebels beat the Stormers as well as the Waratahs.

Logic would dictate that the Reds are too good to lose again, and the likelihood of the Rebels beating three strong teams in successive weeks is unlikely.

Andre’s prediction – Reds by 6

Stormers vs Southern Kings (Cape Town)

Trench warfare…that is what is expected by the Stormers on a guaranteed-to-be-wet Newlands against the Southern Kings on Saturday. A hard-working Kings forward pack will ensure that the Stormers will have their work cut out since an expansive game is unlikely in this, the first-ever clash between the two sides.

The Kings will be without injured lock Steven Sykes who has ensured cohesion for the Kings this season but, attitude and desire will ensure that the Kings remain a dangerous side. Controversial Kings captain, Luke Watson, has withdrawn from the team due to flu and is replaced by centre Andries Strauss.

Although they have suffered a few heavy defeats in this, their first Super Rugby season, the Kings would like to give the Stormers a serious challenge on the hallowed Newlands pitch in the last game before the June break. This is the last thing the embattled Cape side need – an embarrassing home defeat to the Super Rugby newcomers.

Andre’s prediction – a draw

Cheetahs vs Bulls

“A season of firsts” that would be an apt summary of the 2013 Super Rugby season for the Cheetahs.  And what a prize would it be to add their first Super Rugby win over the Bulls. In 11 games between the Cheetahs and the Bulls since 2006, and even though there were some momentous clashes between these two sides,  the Cheetahs have never been able to walk off the field victorious.

“This is definitely the biggest game of the season for us,” Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss said. “We know all three games that are left are important, but this is certainly the biggest for us and we want to keep the momentum we have been building on every week. “We have had a lot of firsts this year and we’re very positive. For once we’re looking forward to big games like this with excitement and we welcome the challenge. We know the Bulls will be tough to beat but like any team, they have their strengths and weaknesses.

The statistics of the Sharks game – which resulted in an 18 – 16 victory for the Bulls, shows that the Bulls did very little attacking in Durban. In fact, they only carried the ball a scant 97 metres on the night, probably the lowest ball-carry figure of the season. But assuming that they will repeat this in Bloemfontein is highly unlikely and they are expected to do a lot more when they get the ball in hand.

The importance of walking off the field as the winner is highlighted by the fact that the victors will get a home playoff game by being top of the SA conference log. If the Cheetahs win and deny the Bulls a bonus point, they will be level on points and have the added advantage of a bye in hand, while if the Bulls win with a bonus point and deny the Cheetahs any points, it will mean they will open up a 10-point lead on the Bloemfontein side.

The fact that the Springbok squad for the upcoming three Internationals will be announced directly after the final whistle on Saturday, will ensure that there will be 30 players who will be giving it their all to ensure their team bags the points.

Probably the highlight of this weekend’s Super Rugby clashes.

Andre’s prediction – Cheetahs by 4

 

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