S15 Preview: Round Five, Part Two
After four brutal rounds of Super Rugby the injuries have started to take their toll and have influenced the complexion of a number of games on Saturday.
There is no letting up as the procession of physical clashes continues and it is clear that the depth of some teams will be seriously tested this weekend.
There are a number of potential nail-biters on the cards to wrap things up on Saturday with three inter-conference matches followed by a South African derby, we take a look at the matches.
Crusaders v Cheetahs
(Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35)
The Crusaders play their first game in Christchurch since May 2010 when they take on the Cheetahs in the newly built Christchurch Stadium on Saturday.
It will be an emotional occasion for the seven-times champions and they will be particularly fired up after having a bye week to reflect on their consecutive losses.
After going down to the Highlanders and Chiefs, coach Todd Blackadder has responded by moving Israel Dagg to his favoured position of fullback and dropping flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal from the squad altogether with utility back Tom Taylor stepping on with Dan Carter ready to make his highly anticipated return from the bench.
However it is up front that the Crusaders will be most intent on stepping up, their front row would have been stung by coming off second best against the Chiefs and they will target the relatively inexperienced Cheetahs props for a working over.
The Cheetahs will be riding fairly high after their dramatic win in Melbourne last week and they are likely to play an entertaining brand of rugby as they look to catch the home side out.
With game-breakers like Adriaan Strauss, Heinrich Brussow and Johan Goosen in their ranks, with players like Ashley Johnson and Coenie Oosthuizen ready to make an impact from the bench the visitors will relish the chance to cause an upset.
2011: Cheetahs won 33-20 in Bloemfontein
2010: Crusaders won 45-6 in Christchurch
2009: Cheetahs won 20-13 in Bloemfontein
2008: Crusaders won 55-7 in Christchurch
2007: Crusaders won 49-28 in Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Cheetahs will approach this match with great enthusiasm as there will be far less pressure on them than on the home team, however the Crusaders have plenty to play for and simply do not lose three games on the trot so we are backing them to win by about 12 points.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ross Kennedy, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Dan Carter, 22 Tom Marshall.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 George Earle, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Andries Ferreira, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Matthew Muir (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Highlanders
(Canberra Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40)
The Highlanders travel to Canberra this weekend after an impressive unbeaten start to the season which has been built on their hard style of ultra-comitted rugby.
That approach may have just started to catch up with them though with a number of players such as impressive newcomers John Hardie and Phil Burleigh unavailable this week due to injury.
It will be interesting to see how Egland international James Haskell fares in his first Super Rugby start and he will certainly have big boots to fill as he takes the place of the dynamic Adam Thomson whose all-action style symbolises the attitude of the Highlanders.
The Brumbies have used their impressive defensive organisation and aggression to ensure that every game they have played has been a close one and they have shown that it will take a top performance to win in Canberra.
The home side will put in another hard-working, industrious team performance as they try to pressurise the Highlanders by tackling hard and pinning them back in their own half.
2011: Highlanders won 26-20 in Invercargill
2010: Brumbies won 31-3 in Canberra
2009: Brumbies won 33-31 in Dunedin
2008: Brumbies won 22-20 in Canberra
2007: Brumbies won 29-10 in Dunedin
Prediction: The Brumbies are back at home and they will fancy their chances against a Highlanders team that has been shaken up a bit. However, the Highlanders pose more of a threat on attack and we think they will sneak an upset away from home by a few points.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Leon Power, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Zack Holmes, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Doug Tietjens, 6 James Haskell, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Simon Moore (Australia)
TMO: Steve Lesczcynski (Australia)
Bulls v Reds
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Both the Bulls and the Reds will be out to bounce back from their first loss of the 2012 campaign when they run out at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The Bulls have kept the team that went down to the Blues intact apart from the inclusion of exciting runners Francois Hougaard and Johann Sadie.
The Reds have not had that luxury with key injuries taking them down to their fourth-choice flyhalf Dallan Murphy who will surely rely heavily on the steady hand of Wallaby general Will Genia in the cauldron of the Bullring.
The Queensland side would have been frustrated with giving away a 17-0 lead at Kings Park next week and will be keen to show their champion quality by hitting back when their backs are against the wall.
Coach Ewan McKenzie's pack will certainly be no pushovers, and will certainly be a good test of the Bulls' discipline at the breakdown, but the crucial question will strangely be whether they have enough strike power out wide.
With Digby Ioane out of the picture the spotlight will be on players like Dom Shipperley, Jono Lance and Luke Morahan to prove that they can step up in a pressure situation away from home.
The Bulls will place a premium on set-piece dominance and from there they will want to force the Reds to tackle at high altitude.
The Pretoria side have had a week to stew over what went wrong against the Blues and they will be out to improve their accuracy and control whilst maintaining their characteristic physical intensity.
2011: Reds won 39-30 in Brisbane
2010: Reds won 19-12 in Brisbane
2009: Bulls won 33-20 in Pretoria
2008: Reds won 40-8 in Brisbane
2007: Bulls won 92-3 in Pretoria
Prediction: The Reds have shown an amazing ability to adapt under McKenzie, winning tough games when it matters, and if they pull this one off then it will go down as a classic. The Bulls will be smelling blood and should edge this one by about five points.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.
Reds: 15 Rod Davies, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Jono Lance, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Dallan Murphy, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 James Slipper, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Van Humphries, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Nathan Eyres-Brown.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Lions v Stormers
(Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The Lions may have had a bye last week but they are still suffering with what their coach John Mitchell says is the longest injury list he has ever had to deal with in his career.
They will be up against the Stormers who topped the South African conference last year and have won all of their games in a strong start to the season.
The Lions have not beaten the Cape side in Super Rugby for over ten years and with so many of their key players who helped them to Currie Cup glory last year on the sidelines this week, it is hard to see them breaking that streak.
By contrast the visitors have named a completely unchanged squad from the one that took care of the Blues at Newlands last week, and they will be looking for a similar display of pressure rugby in Johannesburg on Saturday.
It will be intriguing to see how the different styles of the two teams match up. The Lions love to play with width and are very mobile with most of them able to compete for the ball on the ground quite well.
The Stormers are a far more direct team and will want to impose their physicality on the Lions by winning the collisions to give their stars a chance to play on the front foot.
One positive for the Lions is the fact that they welcome on-form tighthead Pat Cilliers back, and his battle with young Stormers loosehead Steven Kitshoff at scrum time could be pivotal.
In the backline Jaco Taute shifts to outside centre, where he played fairly unconvincingly for the SA Under-20 team last year, and without many big names on his outside the pressure will be on him to get past the hard-tackling Juan de Jongh.
The one area where the Lions have not lost many frontline players is in the loose trio, and Stormers No.8 Nick Koster is well aware of the threat that the Lions back row poses.
"The Lions have got a very well-balanced loose trio, Warren Whitely is a good ball player who runs well in space, they have got JoshStrauss who is obviously their go-to man when they want to get momentum and Derrick Minnie who scavenges for the ball on the ground," he said.
2011: Stormers won 33-19 in Johannesburg
2011: Stormers won 19-16 in Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 26-13 in Johannesburg
2009: Stormers won 56-18 in Cape Town
2008: Stormers won 22-13 Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions may be wounded, but there is no doubt that they will be competitive. They will look to stretch the Stormers defence and will play with purpose in front of their home crowd but the Stormers have too much quality and have also shown good composure so afr this season so we are backing the Stormers to win by about 10 points.
Lions: 15 James Kamana, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Andries Coetzee, 10 Butch James, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Joshua Strauss (captain), 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Marius Coetzer, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Stephan Greeff, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Michael Killian, 22 Ruan Combrinck.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean De Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
By Michael de Vries