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S15 Preview: Round Four, Part Two

Thu, 07 Mar 2013 18:44
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The match at Newlands is an interesting clash of contrasting styles
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Can lightning strike twice for newcomers the Southern Kings when they host the Sharks in their second Super Rugby match in Port Elizabeth on Saturday?

That’s one of several intriguing questions that will be answered in the final three Super Rugby matches of the weekend, which features four of the five South African franchises.

The Stormers will be determined to get their campaign back on track in their first home game of the season but they will have their work cut out for them as they confront the high-riding Chiefs at Newlands.

The Kings face a considerable step up in competition in their first South African Conference clash against the in form Sharks after passing their first Super Rugby test with flying colours at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

And wrapping up Round Four, the Bulls have the daunting task of travelling to Auckland to take on the Blues in the season’s first Sunday showdown.

Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the action!     

Stormers v Chiefs
(Newlands, Cape Town - kick-off; 17.05; 15.05 GMT)

Styles make matches and this cross-conference clash pits two teams with polarising approaches to the game against one another.

The Stormers have reinvented themselves in recent years, moving away from the flashy backline play synonymous with Cape rugby in favour of a percentage based defensive approach.

The change in strategy wasn’t spared condemnation, in fact, criticism of their ‘boring’ and ‘negative’ approach has been increasing with every passing week as supporters of the star-studded franchise’s frustration mounts.

The Super Rugby title remains elusive, yet back-to-back South African Conference crowns confirm the Cape side are moving in the right direction.

The Chiefs arguably mirror the All Black style of play better than any of the other New Zealand franchises and one need just look at their position on the table - second overall and conference leaders - and status as defending champions to reaffirm what a formidable side they are.

They are at their potent best with ball in hand, offloading in the tackle and forcing the opposition to play at their frenetic pace. Crucially, however, they boast a pack that allows them to vary their attack between slick backline play and direct pick and drives.

While jetlag will rob the Chiefs of some of their pace and explosiveness, their natural flair, skill, power and seamless interplay between forwards and backs will ask serious questions of the stoic Stormers defence.

Patience - both on attack and defence - will have a major bearing on the outcome of the match, and the Stormers have the edge in this department.

As they showed against the Sharks last weekend, they are content to hit the ball up through multiple phases of direct running and have such confidence in their defensive structures that they more often than not rely on their tackling to get the job done.

It wasn’t enough to sink the Sharks, but they won’t be questioning their proven gameplan after two tough away assignments.  

Discipline goes hand-in-hand with patience and the Stormers will be keen to outsmart the visitors, frustrate them into making mistakes and kick the points.    

Prediction: This is undoubtedly the toughest match of the weekend to call. The Stormers’ impressive home record - they have won 21 of their past 27 games at Newlands - and the travel factor suggest a win for the Stormers. However, form should trump history in this particular match and see the Chiefs snatch a win by two points.

Teams:

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Patrick Osborne.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

Southern Kings v Sharks
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - kick-off; 19.10; 17.10 GMT)

A dream debut and a week to bask in the glory of an unlikely historic victory.

The Kings could not have hoped for a better start to their maiden Super Rugby campaign.  

Under siege, overlooked and - seemingly - out of depth, the controversial Super Rugby rookies defied the odds in fighting back from a five-point halt-time deficit to run out 22-10 victors over the Western Force.

The performance was guts and glory personified, the culmination of years of hard work on and off the field, followed by a bye to soak up the euphoria and regroup for the next challenge.

Come Saturday, however, the Kings’ feel-good Super Rugby honeymoon is over, with the Sharks set on bringing the Kings back to earth on their first visit to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The visitors are arguably the form South African side after three rounds of competition, with back-to-back wins over the Cheetahs and Stormers, in which they displayed their all-round proficiency.

In their season opener in Bloemfontein, they attacked with confidence and width and although there was a degree of rust that hampered their execution and a lapse in concentration that allowed the Cheetahs back into the game, the Durban team cleared the first hurdle.

Against the Stormers last weekend, the Sharks showed their cerebral side and ultimately beat the Stormers at their own game. They won the crucial tactical kicking and gainline battles and demonstrated the composure that often proves decisive in such tense and close affairs.

Their adaptability and efficiency in executing various gameplans is a luxury not many teams have and make them a challenging side to prepare for, especially for an inexperienced side still finding their feet.

The Kings have a tactical genius in their midst in director of rugby Alan Solomons and along with New Zealand-born coach Matt Sexton and the rest of the management team, they will be fully aware of the enormity of the task at hand and will be well prepared.

Sexton said one of the areas they have worked on is improving their ball retention. “If you consider that during the Western Force game we made in excess of a hundred tackles in the first half of the game, which, if you have to take those sort of statistics into every game, sooner or later you’re going to run out of petrol, so we want to make sure we retrieve the ball and hold onto it,” said Sexton.

The big question is will they be able to front up to the powerful Sharks pack and keep their plethora of game breakers in check?

Kings vice-captain Andries Strauss, who started his Super Rugby career at the Sharks in 2006, believes the rookies can shock the world for a second time.  

“As a team we have set ourselves goals, and winning one game doesn’t mean we’ve really achieved anything yet,” said Strauss.

“If we want to win more games in this competition, we are going to have to improve on that performance. There is no better way than to take on a side with a bunch of Springboks and showing the world once again that we can play this game.”

Prediction: The Kings have to start strong if they are to have any hope of pulling off an upset. An early lead will amplify the belief they took from the Force win, whereas a similar slow start to the one against the men from Perth will see the Sharks run away with it.

The outcome shouldn’t be in question, it’s a more a case of whether or not the Sharks will bag the bonus point, and in this regard playing the Durban side early in the season should benefit the Kings. There will be more grit and determination from the Kings, but the Sharks simply have too much class across the board and should coast clear by about 15 points.    

Teams:

Southern Kings:
15 SP Marais, 14 Marcello Sampson, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Darron Nell (captain), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jaco Engels, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Luke Watson, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Francois Steyn (captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.

Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwessen

Blues v Bulls
(Eden Park, Auckland - kick-off; 16.05; 05.05 SA time; 03.05 GMT)

The odds are firmly stacked against the Bulls in the opening match of their overseas leg against John Kirwan’s impressive Blues.

The Pretoria side have never defeated the Blues on New Zealand soil - a 21-23 loss in 2008 being the closest they have come to victory in Auckland.

Their overall record against their fellow three-time champions also makes for dismal reading for Bulls supporters, with just five wins from the 14 encounters between the sides, the last of which a 59-26 triumph in 2009.

Add to that the Blues’ dominant start to the season - back-to-back bonus point wins over the Hurricanes and Crusaders - and a number of curious selections by Bulls coach Frans Ludeke and the visitors’ chances of victory seem slim.    

Small niggles to Chiliboy Ralepelle and Werner Kruger saw Ludeke overhaul his front row, dropping the Springbok duo to the bench and thrusting Willie Wepener and Frik Kirsten into the frontline, and the match could be won and lost right there.

Wepener and Kirsten are proven Super Rugby calibre players, but as back up players they have had little game time. Fitness should not be an issue as Ralepelle and Kruger are bound to be introduced in the second half, but it remains to be seen how the starters - along with inexperienced loosehead Morné Mellett - hold up and play to the new scrum sequence.     

Deon Stegmann, Jano Vermaak and Akona Ndungane also come into the run-on side, which suggest the Bulls will look to dictate the game with their halfback pairing and target the breakdown.

Prediction: The Bulls love a challenge and they will relish their status as underdogs in this contest. They won’t be pushovers and if they can put the Blues under pressure early on with a strong kicking and set-piece game, they could end their Auckland bogey. Having said that, the smart money is on the Blues, who we pick to prevail by 10 points.    
 
Teams:

Blues:
15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ronald Raaymakers, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 Albert Nikoro.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Jürgen Visser.

Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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