Super Rugby: Campbell Burnes' picks for the opening round of Super Rugby action

With the Super Rugby season about to get underway for New Zealand teams, experienced rugby writer Campbell Burnes has offered his insights into this weekend's matches.

Blues v Highlanders, Dunedin

Result: Blues by 10

"The Blues are hit by injuries in the pack, but they have a backline full of X-factor, so this should give them an edge over a Highlanders team seeking to find their cohesion with new personnel."

The Blues skipper is backing his team in their Super Rugby opener in Dunedin. Source: 1 NEWS

Crusaders v Chiefs, Christchurch

Result: Crusaders by 5

"How about Richie Mo'unga versus Damian McKenzie to get the juices flowing? Or perhaps Jack Goodhue versus Anton Lienert-Brown? The Crusaders will seek an early statement at home and it may be too much for the visitors."

Bulls v Hurricanes, Pretoria

Result: Hurricanes by 12

"Beauden Barrett has arrived late in Pretoria due to a wedding, while Asafo Aumua was never sent in the first place. After shaking off the jetlag and cobwebs, however, the Hurricanes should be too strong against John Mitchell's Bulls."

To see who TVNZ rugby buffs such as Andrew Saville and Stephen Stuart selected for this weekend's action, click here.

Andrew Saville and Stephen Stuart are back for another year to break down the weekly Super Rugby match-ups for Kiwi sides. Source: 1 NEWS

Neck problems to plague the rest of David Pocock's career

David Pocock admits he may have to manage his war-torn neck for the rest of his career as he prepares to make his Wallabies return as captain.

The flanker will step in for injured skipper Michael Hooper (hamstring) against Argentina on the Gold Coast tonight after missing last week's defeat of South Africa.

The injury is a result of Pocock's dominance at the breakdown, with opponents pulling and twisting at his neck in an attempt to remove him from is position over the ball.

World Rugby maintains a strong stance on issues such as high tackles, dangerous play and intentional knockdowns but no action has been taken to penalise any illegal neck-rolling that has led to Pocock's discomfort this year.

While confident he has proved his fitness to clash with Los Pumas, Pocock admits he will need to sit down next week and establish some long-term safeguards.

"It's something I'll have to talk to medical staff about and have a bit of a plan," he said.

"I've got through enough contact (at training this week) to give me the confidence to play and that's the focus at the moment."

Argentina boast an imposing forward pack but coach Mario Ledesma, who built his resume as the Wallabies' forwards coach for three years, won't resort to illegal tactics to stop Australia's pilfering master.

"Trying to be before him, beat him to the ruck," Ledesma said when asked how to counter Pocock.

"But everybody tries and not everyone succeeds."

Argentina carry plenty of zip in their backline, too, and could be hard to handle at what is expected to be a fast Cbus Super Stadium surface perfect for free-flowing rugby.

Factoring in Israel Folau's aerial threat, Ledesma says his biggest focus has been preparing for the Wallabies' first-phase play.

Both sides boast a 1-2 record in the Rugby Championship with the victor set to move into outright second if New Zealand beat South Africa.

Australia are aiming for back-to-back wins while the visitors were plucky in a loss to New Zealand last week that followed a comfortable defeat of the Springboks on home soil.

Australia's David Pocock, left, catches the ball as teammate Sekope Kepu looks on.
Australia's David Pocock, left, catches the ball as teammate Sekope Kepu looks on. Source: Associated Press


Chance to win Rugby Championship driving All Blacks for big win over Boks

The World Cup and Bledisloe Cup are prizes the All Blacks cherish most but they're using the Rugby Championship as motivation to beat the Springboks in Wellington.

Victory for Kieran Read's team will almost certainly hand them a sixth Rugby Championship crown in the seven editions since Argentina joined, expanding it to four teams.

What's more, they'll achieve it with two rounds to spare.

Veteran captain Read usually likes to focus on the process before the prize but admits locking away more silverware in their final home Test of 2018 carries a certain appeal.

"There's something pretty big at the end of the day, if we get it right on Saturday, around The Rugby Championship, so that's in our sights," he said.

"We'd love to do it in the four games but we can't get ahead of ourselves."

A bonus-point win on Saturday will guarantee a third-straight title to New Zealand, while a standard win will leave Australia or Argentina with a thin mathematical hope of finishing top.

The All Blacks haven't lost a Test in the championship since 2015 but Read insists it's not getting boring.

He doesn't anticipate anything like last year's 57-0 drubbing of South Africa, a result that cast a shadow over the nations' famed rivalry.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the seventh-ranked Springboks have appeared a unified group this year under new coach Rassie Erasmus.

The visitors would be on edge following losses to the Pumas in Mendoza and the Wallabies in Brisbane, he said.

"Very rarely do they lose twice in a row, let alone three times in a row so they'll be desperate," Hansen said.

"For us we have to make sure we get our house in order and we turn up. If that's the case then we could be in for one of those special Test matches."

The All Blacks captain says South Africa is special in their own way. Source: 1 NEWS



Wallabies great backs Eddie Jones to 'reinvent himself', guide England to resurgence

England coach Eddie Jones has the experience to reinvent himself and turn the nation's fortunes around before next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan, Australian great John Eales says.

England have lost six out of nine games this year, including a 2-1 series defeat to South Africa in June.

They also finished fifth in the Six Nations, which they entered as champions.

"I would never underestimate his ability to turn things around, very, very quickly. He's been around for a long time, and knows how to reinvent himself and tweak things within a team," World Cup winner Eales told BBC Radio.

England's slump has came as a shock after an fine run since Jones' appointment in 2015, which included 18 consecutive test wins and two Six Nations titles.

"He demands high standards, so I can imagine the intensity of that environment will be difficult to maintain over a long, sustainable period of time," Eales added.

"But there is no question England will improve. Anyone who takes England lightly is a fool. They have a lot of talent in the team and a bright guy in charge."

England take on South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia at Twickenham in November.

England coach Eddie Jones
England coach Eddie Jones Source: Photosport


Michael Hooper out, David Pocock made captain as Wallabies forced to make late changes for Pumas

Michael Hooper's withdrawal wasn't exactly music to the ears of David Pocock, though the industrious loose forward has embraced taking over the captaincy for the Wallabies Test with Argentina.

Jimmy Barnes' classic 'Working Class Man' blared from the Cbus Super Stadium speakers at Friday's captain's run on the Gold Coast as news of regular skipper Michael Hooper's unavailability due to a hamstring strain filtered through.

The Barnes' anthem doesn't feature on Pocock's play list but, like an injury- disrupted squad, the veteran has had to go with the flow ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship clash.

Yet again the Wallabies have had to deal with late disruptions to their line-up following Pocock (neck), Israel Folau (ankle) and new father Adam Coleman pulling out of the team to face South Africa last Saturday.

"You've got to share the load," said Pocock, who prefers Australian indigenous rappers Baker Boy or Briggs.

Getting in sync after losing personnel has been a theme throughout the Rugby Championship with coach Michael Cheika having to make unexpected changes in three of their four games.

Before last weekend's trio pulled out, impact prop Taniela Tupou was also a last-minute withdrawal from the series-opening loss to New Zealand in Sydney due to a hamstring strain.

The quartet are back in the side to face the Pumas, though Folau is on the wing rather than his usual position at fullback.

Pete Samu moves from the bench to start at No.8 alongside new openside Pocock, while Ned Hanigan has been added to the reserves for the Wallabies last home test of the year.

Pocock captains the side for the first time since 2016 and although he described it as a huge honour, the on-field leadership was not just his responsibility.

He said "different leaders in different areas" will simplify his task.

Pocock also felt with disruptions becoming the norm in 2018, they might actually benefit Cheika's side.

"I think it does. It forces you to adapt and one of the things Cheik has done really well is bring in a bunch of new talent," he said.

"If this (run of injuries) had happened before the last World Cup I think we'd be in some serious strife."

The Wallabies will start as comfortable favourites with bookies but the hosts are wary of a side that pushed New Zealand last weekend and beat South Africa in their last start at home.

"They mix a big, abrasive forward pack with some real flair out wide so you've really got to cater for everything in defence," he said.

Australia v Ireland in the second Mitsubishi Estate Ireland Series Test Match at AAMI Park, Melbourne, 16 June, 2018.  Rob Herring of Ireland tackles Australia’s David Pocock. Copyright Image: Stuart Walmsley /
David Pocock. Source: Photosport