Super Rugby AU R3 & Aotearoa R2: Line-ups, odds, analysis

Argentina scrum-half makes his first start for the Force after impressing off the bench against the Brumbies in Round 1 Will Russell/Getty Images

There is plenty happening on both sides of the Tasman, as we look ahead to the second and third rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU respectively.

In New Zealand, the Auckland lockdown and other restrictions have created issues for the Blues, while the Crusaders have moved their game against the Hurricanes to Sunday in Christchurch in the hope fans will be able to attend.

In Australia, it's all about the under-fire Waratahs and just how they will climb out of the almighty hole they find themselves in.

Read on for the latest team lists, odds and analysis of the two fixtures from each competition below.

SUPER RUGBY AU

Friday, March 5

NSW Waratahs vs. Western Force, Bankwest Stadium, Sydney, 7.45pm [AEDT]

Waratahs: Mark Nawaqanitawase, Jack Maddocks, Alex Newsome, Tepai Moeroa, James Ramm, Will Harrison, Jack Grant; Jack Dempsey, Carlo Tizzano, Lachlan Swinton, Hugh Sinclair, Sam Caird, Harry Johnson-Holmes, David Porecki, Tetera Faulkner.

Replacements: Tom Horton, Sio Tatola, Chris Talakai, Jack Whetton, Jeremy Williams, Henry Roberston, Tane Edmed, Trston Reilly.

Force: Rob Kearney, Byron Ralston, Tevita Kuridrani, Richard Kahui, Toni Pulu, Jake McIntyre, Tomas Cubelli; Brynard Stander, Kane Koteka, Tim Anstee, Fergus Lee-Warner, Jeremy Thrsuh, Santiago Medrano, Feleti Kaitu'u, Tom Robertson.

Replacements: Andrew Ready, Angus Wagner, Greg Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Tomas Lezana, Ian Prior, Domingo Miotti, Marcel Brache

Odds [tab.com.au]: Waratahs $2.10 [+1.5 $1.95], Force $1.74 [-1.5 1.85]

Verdict: Alongside the embarrassing home losses to the Cheetahs and Kings in Super Rugby, the past week since their record 51-point loss to the Brumbies will have been among the toughest in Waratahs history. And the bigger question now is how in the world will they dig themselves out of this massive hole? Their confidence is shot; the squad rocked by injuries; this is a huge challenge for coach Rob Penney as he tries to shield the young playing group from the stinging criticism that is out in the media. Meanwhile, the Force head to Sydney after a solid, if deflating, first hitout against the Brumbies and refreshed by a week off. The promotion of Tomas Cubelli and Jake McIntyre as the run-on halves looks a good one given their impact off the bench against the Brumbies, and the Force must surely sniff blood in the water. But you should expect some form of Waratahs uprising, it's just not going to be enough to come away with the win and ease the pressure on Penney. Force by 10.

Saturday, March 6

Brumbies vs. Melbourne Rebels, GIO Stadium, Canberra, 7:45pm [AEDT]

Brumbies: Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Mack Hansen, Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Pete Samu Jahrome Brown, Rob Valetini, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Connal McInerney, Scott Sio.

Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, James Tucker, Tom Cusack, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Solomone Kata.

Rebels: Tom Pincus, Lachlan Anderson, Stacey Ili, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Matt To'omua, Joe Powell, Michael Wells, Richard Hardwick, Josh Kemeny, Trevor Hosea, Ross Haylett-Petty, Pone Faamausili, James Hanson, Cabous Eloff.

Replacements: Ed Craig, Isaac Aedo Kailea, Lucio Sordoni, Steve Cummins, Rob Leota, James Tuttle/Brad Wilkin/Tom Nowlan (TBC), Frank Lomani, Glen Vaihu.

Odds [tab.com.au]: Brumbies $1.18 [-13.5 $1.90], Rebels $4.80 [+13.5 $1.90]

Verdict: If things are at rocket bottom in NSW, they have seldom been better in the ACT given the rugby the Brumbies have produced across the first two weeks of this year's tournament. Just about everything went right last week against the Tahs and while it is highly unlikely the exact same situation will repeat itself, the Brumbies have the look of a team that has complete confidence in all facets of the game. Their rolling maul is humming; their defensive line is strong; halves Nic White and Noah Lolesio are finding greater familiarity with each other and they found another genuine finisher in Mack Hansen, and a talented centre in Len Ikitau. The Rebels, meanwhile, played sparing little rugby against the Reds, relying on penalty goals and territory, to hang in the fight before ultimately losing despite being a player up over the closing stages. That might have been good enough to push the Brumbies in season's past, but it won't work for the Rebels in Canberra and not if the hosts play anywhere near the same level they have over the opening two weeks. Brumbies by 14.

BYE: Reds

SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA

Saturday, March 6

Chiefs vs. Highlanders, FMG Stadium, Hamilton, 5.05pm [AEDT]

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Jonah Lowe, Sean Wainui, Anton Lienert-Brown, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber (cc); Luke Jacobson, Sam Cane (cc), Samipeni Finau, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa'i, Sione Mafileo, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Reuben O'Neill.

Replacements: Bradley Slater, Ollie Norris, Angus Ta'avao, Mitchell Brown, Mitchell Karpik, Xavier Roe, Alex Nankivell, Shaun Stevenson.

Highlanders: Mitch Hunt, Connor Garden-Bachop, Ngantungane Punivai, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Josh Ioane, Folau Fakatava, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Billy Harmon, Shannon Frizell, Jack Regan, Josh Dickson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (co-captain), Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Replacements: Liam Coltman, Josh Hohneck, Jeff Thwaites, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Aaron Smith, Solomon Alaimalo, Hugh Renton.

Odds: [tab.com.au] Chiefs $1.67 [-2.5 $1.90], Highlanders $2.20 [+2.5 $1.90]

Verdict: New year, new coach, new team? That's what Chiefs fans will be hoping anyway after the Waikato men went 0-8 last season in Super Rugby Aotearoa. After peeling off four wins in Super Rugby before its cancellation, Warren Gatland's men hit a wall they could not overcome against all four of their New Zealand rivals. With Gatland now back in Britain casting an eye over potential Lions, Clayton McMillan takes the reins. Ironically, the have also picked up Gatland's son, Bryn, from the Highlanders as well and he takes the No. 10 jersey this week. The Chiefs retain a classy backline but outside of skipper Sam Cane and back-rower Luke Jacobson, they look short of genuine Test quality up front. The Highlanders, meanwhile, had more than enough ball to defeat the Crusaders but couldn't break their line when the game was in the balance. This contest should be similarly tight but with the bounce of the ball they did not often get last year, the Chiefs might just hold the edge at home. Expect a big game from Damian McKenzie. Chiefs by 5.

Sunday, March 7

Crusaders vs. Hurricanes, Orangetheory Stadium, Wellington, 2.35pm [AEDT]

Crusaders: David Havili, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Dallas McLeod, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Cullen Grace, Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett (c), Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

Replacements: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Fletcher Newell, Quinten Strange, Sione Havili Talitui, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Will Jordan.

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jonathan Taumateine, Ardie Savea (c), Du'Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Fraser Armstrong.

Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli, Xavier Numia, Tevita Mafileo, Liam Mitchell, Devan Flanders, Luke Campbell, Billy Proctor, Salesi Rayasi

Odds: [tab.com.au] Crusaders $1.20 [-12.5, $1.90] Hurricanes $4.50 [+12.5 $1.90]

Verdict: Question: How does a team concede 15 penalties to eight, have two players yellow carded, and still win by 13 points? Answer: Be the Crusaders. The defending champions rode a powerful set-piece performance and some superb goal-line and maul defence to see off the Highlanders in Dunedin and are only boosted this week by the return of David Havili and try-scoring freak Will Jordan. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, were terribly wayward at home in a first-up loss to the Blues, with simple dropped ball killing their hopes on multiple occasions. They did defeat the Hurricanes in Christchurch last year, but that was in the second half of the season and it would be a huge improvement on last week if they were even get close. The lack of a quality halves pairing looks to be a big issue for the Canes in 2021. Crusaders by 12.

Bye: Blues