‘Underdog’ Lions at full tilt

Among the talking points ahead of this weekend’s Super Rugby fixtures are that previously unbeaten Melbourne Rebels and reigning champions Canterbury Crusaders will both try to bounce back from defeats last weekend.

No more Mr Grumpy

Rebels coach Dave Wessels has blamed his grumpiness and lack of energy for his team’s first loss of the Super Rugby season, but has vowed not to make the same mistakes in Friday’s game against the Sharks.

The Rebels lost their unbeaten start in a 51-27 defeat to the Waratahs last weekend and Wessels took the rap for their performance.

“I was probably a little bit grumpy last week and I probably didn’t bring a great energy to the team, which I think rubbed off on the team and on the environment,” Wessels said.

“We haven’t had too much time to sit and feel sorry for ourselves. That’s life sometimes. We’ve got to get on with the job.”

Crotty eases crocked Crusaders

Defending champions the Crusaders have enjoyed some rare good news on the injury front as they prepare to face the Bulls on Friday after suffering their first back-to-back losses in three years.

Inspirational captain Sam Whitelock and backline general Ryan Crotty have both recovered from concussion to give the eight-time champions a boost for the match in Christchurch.

The Crusaders still have an extensive sick list, including All Blacks skipper Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Israel Dagg and Richie Mo’unga. But coach Scott Robertson was not looking for excuses, saying players were fired up.

“There’s been a little bit of an edge at training — it’s the expectations that come with the jersey, and we’ve got to drive it ourselves,” he said.

White hails rampant Stormer

Teenage Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse will face the resurgent Reds in Cape Town buoyed by praise from 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok coach Jake White.

White saw Willemse (19) star last weekend, scoring 17 points in a big win over the Blues despite having spent most of the week in bed recovering from flu.

“Damian is definitely the real deal. He ticks all the boxes and what I like most is that he is quick,” said White.

“One thing that South Africa has lacked for a long time is a really quick number 10.”

Sunwolves narrow the gap

Japan’s Sunwolves may have lost 30 out of 34 games since joining Super Rugby in 2016 but they at least appear to be cutting down on the horror losses that marked their first two seasons before Saturday’s visit of the Chiefs to Tokyo.

Last weekend’s 40-38 defeat away to the Lions was a marked improvement on the 94-7 mauling they suffered in Johannesburg last year.

After early calls for the Sunwolves to be booted out of Super Rugby, there are encouraging signs under Japan coach Jamie Joseph.

“I’m proud of the way the team played,” said captain Yutaka Nagare ahead of the Chiefs game.

‘Underdogs’ seek Jaguares first

Lions coach Swys de Bruin raised a few eyebrows this week by labelling his side the “underdog” ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

It is true that the Lions lost on both previous visits to Argentina — 36-24 last year and 34-22 in 2016 — but on those occasions they fielded second-string sides, as former coach Johan Ackermann opted to spare key players the long journey to South America.

It is not an example De Bruin will follow and, after the nervy 40-38 win over the Sunwolves last weekend, the coach said he would be picking his strongest possible side.

“It’s nice to go there as the underdog,” he said. “We’ve never won there, so that’s a challenge that works in our favour.” — AFP

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