Round 9 of Super Rugby Aotearoa is upon us and the matches this week see the Chiefs hosting the Hurricanes in Hamilton and the Crusaders battling the Blues in Christchurch. This means the Highlanders have the week off.
Here is a look at the two games in Round 9:
Chiefs vs. Hurricanes
Friday, April 23 – FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
The Chiefs are the form team of Super Rugby Aotearoa right now and they will be desperate to add to their four-game winning streak against a Hurricanes squad that has looked off of the pace all season long.
The big team news for the Chiefs is that they will be starting their third first-five in the last three weeks. Kaleb Trask’s injury initially opened the door for Damian McKenzie to step up from 15 to 10, but coach Clayton McMillan was happy with the work of Bryn Gatland against the Crusaders off of the bench last weekend and he gets the start here. The change sees McKenzie drop back to the fullback position where he has been so dangerous in 2021. The Chiefs will be without loose forward Luke Jacobson after a concussion issue, but Pita Gus Sowakula returns to No. 8 for his first start of the season.
The Hurricanes return to the wing for the Hurricanes for his fourth start of the season while Julian Savea – fresh with a new contract – drops out of the 23 entirely as the ‘Canes have such talent in the outside backs. The team will be without Ardie Savea for the rest of the season with a knee injury, while Dane Coles returns to captaincy and the workmanlike Du’Plessis Kirifi wears No. 7.
Crusaders vs. Blues
Sunday, April 25 – Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
The Blues will still be without captain Patrick Tuipulotu for their huge game against the Crusaders with both teams suddenly being without any form. The Blues have won just one of their last four games and they also will likely be without stand-in captain Tom Robinson after he suffered a head injury in the first few minutes of the game last weekend. Lock Josh Goodhue is also a doubt as the Blues have to look deep into their reserves to find talent for the back five of their scrum.
The Crusaders just haven’t looked right over their last few games and their error rate – both with the ball and in the tackle – has been a big issue for a team that is usually so fundamentally sound. Joe Moody looks like he will be remaining on the sidelines with a toe injury while centre Braydon Ennor is still not available at the highest level but is making progress in his return from an ACL injury in the club game lower down the leagues.
The Crusaders know a win here will place the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa final in Christchurch in a couple of weeks. With that incentive, they will find some of their old form and win (and cover at -6.5 paying 0.90) against the team that could catch them in the standings with back to back wins to end their campaign.