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S15 Preview: Round 11, Part Two

Thu, 25 Apr 2013 17:46
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Strauss cousins to captain sides in Bloem
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The Cheetahs will have an opportunity to bolster their Super Rugby play-off push when they battle the Southern Kings in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Naka Drotské’s charges got their campaign back on track with a rare win over the Sharks in Durban last weekend and will look to cash in against a Kings outfit coming off their worst defeat to date in the penultimate match of the weekend.

A bonus point victory would be an ideal way to cap a great run of form in the first half of the season ahead of the Bloemfontein side’s first bye next weekend, but the proud Kings will want to redeem themselves after last weekend’s humiliation at home.

Prior to the South African derby, the Waratahs will have their work cut out for them when they collide with a rampaging Bulls side at Loftus Versfeld.

Round 11 concludes on Sunday when the Crusaders host a team they’ve never defeated in Super Rugby competition in the Melbourne Rebels.

Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the final three fixtures of the weekend.

Bulls v Waratahs
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)

The Bulls will be overwhelming favourites to continue their dominance over the Waratahs when the teams collide at Loftus Versfeld.

The Pretoria side have not lost to the Tahs since their 2005 semifinal showdown, winning seven straight including three on Australian soil.

Their record at Loftus is even more impressive, the Tahs’ last victory at the venue dating back to 2002. The lopsided history and the Bulls’ recent form point to a win for the South African Conference leaders, but the visitors will enter the match with renewed self-belief after downing the defending champion Chiefs last weekend.

Bulls captain Pierre Spies knows they will need to work hard to bag their third consecutive win since returning from their overseas leg.

“The Waratahs are capable of beating anyone, as they showed against the Chiefs last week,” said Spies.  

“We will need to use the momentum we have created last week on attack, but from a defensive perspective, they will ask a lot of new questions. We will have to answer all of them if we want to keep on winning.”

They produced their finest performance of the season in Port Elizabeth last weekend, exhibiting the physicality and set-piece prowess synonymous with Bulls rugby, and for coach Frans Ludeke it’s now a case of upholding that standard.  

“We finally played the rugby we wanted last weekend and the challenge will be to back it up against the Waratahs,” said Ludeke.

“They are dangerous opponents and at this level the margins are very small, so we cannot afford to play at any level other than our best.”

The Tahs have been inconsistent this season but they too are experiencing a solid run of form, winning three of their last four. Their last loss (29-41 to the Hurricanes in Wellington in Round Eight) will be nothing but a distant memory after a timely bye and last weekend’s 25-20 win.

In league convert Israel Folau and Wallaby utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper the Tahs have the strike power in the backline to cause problems for the Bulls.

The challenge will be matching the physicality of the hosts’ pack in order to provide a solid platform for the backs to attack from.   

Prediction: It’s taken a while for the Bulls to hit their straps but they’re starting to look like a top four team again. The pack are coming into their own, Morné Steyn is back to his best and 2012 IRB Junior Player of the Year Jan Serfontein is starting to flex his muscles at Super Rugby level.

The Tahs haven blown hot and cold this season and despite coming off an impressive win over the defending champions, their inconsistency remains an issue. Bulls by 10.   

Teams:

Bulls:
15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Hencus van Wyk, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Lionel Mapoe.

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Tom Kingston, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Pat McCutcheon, 20 Matt Lucas, 21 Ben Volavola, 22 Peter Betham.

Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

Cheetahs v Southern Kings
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)

The Cheetahs will be keen to strengthen their run towards the play-offs when they entertain a wounded Southern Kings side at Free State Stadium.

One of the teams of the tournament in 2013 for a variety of reasons, the Cheetahs are back in Bloemfontein after leaving Durban with a rare win over the Sharks last weekend that temporarily moved them into first place in the South African Conference.

Having had a taste of life at the top, the Cheetahs will want to kick on at home and while a win will be their primary objective, they will sense an opportunity to pick up maximum log points and boost their points difference against a Kings outfit who were brought down to earth with a thud last weekend.

The Kings would have written off the 0-34 humiliation as a side product of travel fatigue, the match being the first following their maiden Australasian tour.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské isn’t reading too much into the result and has prepared his team for another tough local derby.  

“This is a very important match if we want to make the play-offs,” said Drotské.

“The Kings have been the biggest surprise in the competition this year. They showed what they can do when they drew with the Brumbies, who top the overall log, in Canberra.  

“We obviously have a lot of confidence, but it can also turn out to be a negative, especially when you are playing against a team that is lower down on the log.

“It's important that our players don't approach this as an easy game. The teams that have beaten the Kings all had to work very hard and showed respect to the Kings.”

The Kings are 0-2 in local derbies, having lost to the Sharks (12-21) and Bulls, with this third assignment set to be their first away derby.

Atrocious conditions reduced last weekend’s derby in Durban to an arm-wrestle but there will be no repeat of wet weather in Bloemfontein on Saturday, setting the scene for an expansive spectacle.

With strong ball carriers in their pack, the Cheetahs have shown they are capable of executing a direct gameplan, last weekend’s 12-6 win being a case in point.

However, with rising star Raymond Rhule and the mercurial Willie le Roux on the wings the Cheetahs will be happy to revert to their free-flowing approach this weekend.

Cousins Adriaan and Andries Strauss will captain their respective sides with a noticeably unfit Luke Watson demoted to the Kings bench, and centre Strauss will be a key player for the Kings with his valuable Intel on his former team.

The hosts’ Springboks will have key roles to play; skipper Strauss and loosehead Coenie Oosthuizen, in his 50th Super Rugby match for the Cheetahs, will be tasked with spearheading the set-piece and fetcher Heinrich Brüssow will be the possible ace in the hole in what will be an exciting and crucial battle of the back rows.        

Prediction: The Kings will be better than they were last weekend but not to the degree that they will beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Having slogged it out for 10 weeks without a break, fatigue could hamper the hosts and make for a more competitive match. The Cheetahs will still win, though, by about 10 points.  

Teams:

Cheetahs:
16 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Frans Viljoen, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Ryno Benjamin.

Southern Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Michael Killian, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Siyanda Grey, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Luke Watson, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Siviwe Soyizwapi.

Referee: Jonathan White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

Sunday, April 28

Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels
(AMI Stadium, Addington Christchurch - kick-off: 16.05; 06.05 GMT)

The Crusaders will be out to even the score when they play host to the Melbourne Rebels in the final match of Round 11 in Christchurch.

On the surface, the outcome of this match should be a foregone conclusion and indeed the gulf between the ninth-placed Crusaders and 12th-placed Rebels are far greater than the log suggests.

Analytically, there’s no evidence that even hints at a Rebels win. The Crusaders are at home, littered with Test stars and superior in every facet of play.

As the first half of the season showed, however, nothing is cast in stone, and the Rebels will be buoyed by the vast number of upsets in the campaign thus far.  

They might be the most successive franchise in Super Rugby history, but the seven-time champion Crusaders are yet to secure a tournament win over the Rebels.

In the only tournament match between the sides, the Rebels registered a surprise 28-19 victory in Melbourne last year.

That result will rule out complacency on the part of the Crusaders as they will be wary of the danger of underestimating the men from Melbourne.

Granted, the Rebels continue to struggle to meet the lofty standard of Super Rugby. Their only two victories this season came against fellow Australian also-rans the Western Force and they went down to newcomers the Southern Kings at home last time out.

However, that win over the Crusaders last year will spur the Rebels on to no end and demands the respect of the Christchurch side.

Moreover, in the context of the Crusaders’ season, they simply cannot afford to overlook the Rebels and will have to ensure they sew up the result before they pursue the ever tempting bonus point.

Prediction: With the element of surprise no longer a factor, the Crusaders will be better equipped for their second tournament meeting with the Melbourne minnows.

That, coupled with the Crusaders’ must-win mentality to keep their play-off hopes alive, spell a long 80 minutes for the visitors. The Rebels will throw everything at the hosts, particularly early on, but the Crusaders will square the ledger fairly comfortably. Crusaders by 15.    

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10  Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell,  17  Wyatt Crockett, 18  Dominic Bird, 19  Jordan Taufua, 20  Andy Ellis, 21  Dan Carter, 22  Adam Whitelock.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 6 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Lachlan Mitchell.

Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

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