Super Rugby preview: Mouth-watering Chiefs and Hurricanes encounter ahead as four NZ teams battle it out for semi-final spots

Four New Zealand teams battle it out this weekend as they look to cement their spots in next week's semi-finals, 1 NEWS NOW's rugby expert Campbell Burnes breaks down this weekend's action.

Hurricanes v Chiefs: Hurricanes by 2

Time for the Hurricanes’ pack and the Barrett boys to stand up and show that recent form was just an aberration. Time for Ben Lam to score another try. Time for the Hurricanes to show they do not rely that heavily on Ardie Savea to get them going.

Time to give Jeff Toomaga-Allen a nice gift for his 100th outing. As for the Chiefs, all the form pointers are in their favour. Moreover, they have two fetchers in their loose trio, while the Canes have opted for muscular ball carriers in the loose. D Mac versus Beauden Barrett should be decisive and instructive. But if the latter fires, the home side will get up… just.

Crusaders v Sharks: Crusaders by 27

The Sharks are being accorded a lot of respect for a side that has virtually no chance. If they win, it will rank as just about the biggest upset in Super Rugby since the 2008 Highlanders beat the Crusaders in Christchurch, regardless of the TAB odds.

The Crusaders have some key men back from rest and just look irrepressible and nigh on unbeatable. The Sharks will target the scrum (over to you, Beast) but they will need more breadth to their game to trouble the home team.

Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders in action during the Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Lions played at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand, Saturday 12 May 2018. Copyright Image: Joe Allison / www.photosport.nz
Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders in action during the Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Lions played at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Source: Photosport

Waratahs v Highlanders: Highlanders by 7

If rugby were that simple, you might say this clash in Sydney boils down to the Highlanders pack against the Waratahs backs, where Taqele Naiyaravoro is poised on 15 tries for the season. In truth, the Highlanders backs can strike from anywhere.

As long as they do not overdo the kicking, we should see a far different chain of events that occurred when the Waratahs ended the trans-Tasman hoodoo with a 41-12 victory some time ago. The aerial battle between Israel Folau and Ben Smith, if they are allowed to contest, will be worth the price of admission alone. But it will not be the deciding factor as the Highlanders will win the collision and the loose ball.

Chiefs flanker Mitchell Karpik is tackled by Hurricanes winger Ben Lam during the Super 15 Rugby match - Chiefs v Hurricanes played at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand on Friday 13 July 2018.

Copyright photo: © Bruce Lim / www.photosport.nz
Chiefs flanker Mitchell Karpik is tackled by Hurricanes winger Ben Lam. Source: Photosport

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Watch: All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala shows off scars from broken arm as he prepares for rugby return

After nearly seven months on the sidelines, All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala is firming for his return to action, named on the bench for Counties' Mitre 10 Cup season finale against Canterbury on Saturday.

Having cemented his spot in the All Blacks' front row towards the end of 2017, Laulala's season was derailed just two weeks into his 2018 campaign, suffering a broken arm playing for the Chiefs. 

However, after a long road to recovery, Laulala is just one of three All Blacks front rowers to make their returns this weekend, with the Counties prop having seen the silver lining in his time away from rugby.

"It feels like an eternity," he began.

"I'm just really grateful for the time I got with my family - especially my wife. We're expecting our first child, (I'm) just trying to stay on the positive side of it all."

This isn't Laulala's first brush with serious injury, snapping three ligaments in 2015, ruled out for a year afterwards and fearing he'd never play again.

The burly front rower has used his experience though, helping him to come back stronger for a second time.

"I've been through some pretty intense trainings lately."

"This is my first full week with the boys. I'm going for whatever minutes I get, even if I get five minutes, I'll just be grateful to get back on the field, and just get an opportunity again."

Laulala will make his Counties debut, should he come off the bench.

After injury at the start of Super Rugby, Laulala will play for Counties this week. Source: 1 NEWS


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Beauden Barrett 'still the number one' first-five over Richie Mo'unga, says Dan Carter

All Blacks great Dan Carter has thrown his support firmly behind Beauden Barrett as the first-choice in the number 10 jersey heading into next year's World Cup, following Richie Mo'unga's heroics against South Africa last weekend.

Coming off the bench in the second half in Pretoria, Mo'unga proved to be the All Blacks' saviour, slotting a conversion after the final whistle to steal the win after his side had been 30-13 down to the resurgent Springboks.

With Barrett having moved to fullback to accommodate Mo'unga's inclusion, debate has begun to arise as to whether or not the twice reigning World Player of the Year stay in the number 15 jersey, allowing for both stars to play at the same time though.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB this morning though, Carter said that the All Blacks need to persist with Barrett as the creative linchpin of the side.

Mo'unga is set to start in the No.10 jersey against Argentina in Nelson. Source: 1 NEWS

"He's still the number one 10 but to have the competition with Richie there, and when the time is right in certain games for Beaudie to go to the back and Richie come on and add another string to the backline," he said.

"It's the kind of depth and competition you want in a squad.

"For me Beaudie is still the leader in that All Blacks side and what he's achieved in the last three or four years has been incredible."

Carter also praised Mo'unga's emergence as a genuine world class player, having steered the Crusaders to back to back Super Rugby titles.

"I'm extremely proud of Richie and the way he's progressed over the last couple of years. I worked with him down at the Crusaders and he's got such a clear head. He doesn't let pressure get to him as we saw in the weekend.

"The fact he's putting Beaudie under a lot of pressure is great."
 

Barrett unselfishly let young Mo'unga take the game winning kick against South Africa. Source: 1 NEWS


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Wayne Barnes to referee All Blacks v Ireland, Jerome Garces takes charge of clash with England

All Blacks may not be happy with the refereeing appointments for this year's end of year northern hemisphere tour, with Jerome Garces and Wayne Barnes to officiate New Zealand's clashes against Europe's best.

Barnes, 39, has earned the ire of All Blacks fans in the past, famously missing a forward pass against France that led to New Zealand's elimination from the 2007 World Cup in Cardiff.

He will take charge of the All Blacks' clash against world number two Ireland in Dublin on November 18 NZT.

Meanwhile, French referee Garces, 44, who showed Sonny Bill Williams a straight red card in last year's second Test against the British and Irish Lions, will officiate the much anticipated Test between the All Blacks and England at Twickenham on November 11.

The All Blacks' end-of-year tour begins on November 3 against Japan in Tokyo.

Referee Wayne Barnes.
2nd Bledisloe Cup Test of the 2018 Investec Rugby Championship.
New Zealand All Blacks v Australia (Wallabies) at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand on 25 August 2018.
Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz
Rugby referee Wayne Barnes. Source: Photosport


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'We've discussed what we need to change' - Michael Cheika happy with Wallabies coaching staff

Michael Cheika isn't convinced personnel changes to the Wallabies coaching staff are needed in order for the team to climb back up world rugby's pecking order.

Slipping to a historic low of seventh, the Wallabies coach will next week present to the Rugby Australia board his plan to improve the team's performance ahead of next year's World Cup.

Cheika didn't believe sweeping changes to his set-up were required but is looking for greater collaboration from the Super Rugby franchises.

"We've discussed what we need to change internally and I think before we go chopping guys or changing things around you need to understand what we need to change internally to make a difference because maybe what we were doing before hasn't achieved the same outcome," Cheika told Fox Sports' Kick and Chase.

"You need to give the opportunity for changes to sink in and make a difference."

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle also appeared in a pre-recorded interview and floated the idea of a head selector.

Cheika said he hadn't had any discussions about such an appointment.

"No-one's spoken to me about that ... I will say this though, I'm not just picking numbers out of a hat - I take advice from coaches who've been in the job in the past," he said.

"I'm always taking counsel on those things and I think more often than not we're making the right calls."

Cheika said he was looking for more buy-in from Super Rugby sides, hinting at the frustration of the Brumbies choosing to play three Wallabies just before the June Ireland series when he wanted them rested.

"There's no doubt that the more we can collaborate with Super Rugby with what we can deliver around fitness leading into the international season, that's definitely something we can push for," Cheika said.

"This year we've had moments where we've tried to manage that but we haven't been able to get a handle on it completely.

"But there's a willingness from Super Rugby coaches that I speak with regularly to change and improve so that's the biggest thing."

Cheika also revealed that his famous half-time spray of the players when they were trailing 31-7 against Argentina last weekend didn't include any "technical information".

He said the response was more than just scoring tries, which delivered a 45-34 victory.

"It was a time when it had to get personal ... people have talked about the chat at halftime but you've got go out and do it and they did," Cheika said.

"What they just had to do was understand that this is personal, let's do what we know how to do, do it as best we can, and see what happens."

Castle was happy to see the group respond to Cheika to secure the win but said the question still needed to be asked about the first half performance.

She said that while Cheika had a contract through to the World Cup, the board wanted to see more detail.

"He's the head coach and it's his responsibility to put that plan together and he will be presenting that to the board," she said.

"We want to see what is the plan? What is the plan to recognise that we can see improved performances?"

Psychologist Sara Chatwin has some tips for Michael Cheika, who was left fuming at the weekend.
Michael Cheika Source: Photosport


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