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S15 Preview: Round 13, Part Two

Thu, 09 May 2013 17:55
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Stormers face the Folau factor
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It will be gut-check time for the Stormers when they take on the Waratahs in Sydney in the pick of Saturday’s Super Rugby matches.

With just a solitary log point separating the sides and both teams in desperate need to get a result to stay in play-off contention, the match at Allianz Stadium guarantees to produce fireworks.

Saturday’s action kicks off in Auckland where the Blues will want to keep the pressure on the New Zealand Conference-leading Chiefs with a strong performance against the Melbourne Rebels.

The final match of the weekend promises to be anything but a dire basement battle when the Southern Kings and the Highlanders lock horns in Port Elizabeth.
 
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at Saturday’s fixtures

Blues v Melbourne Rebels
(Eden Park, Auckland - kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)

An ambitious Melbourne Rebels side will be desperate to turn a corner when they battle the Blues at Eden Park.

While results have not gone the Rebels’ way in recent weeks, things have been looking up for them since returning from their nightmare tour of South Africa.

The record books will show that the Rebels have won just one of their last four games, but all three of those defeats were by less than seven.

They would have been bitterly disappointed with the last-gasp 27-30 loss to the Southern Kings at home, but brave performances against the Crusaders (26-30) and the Chiefs (33-39) over the past fortnight would have boosted their belief that a victory is imminent.

Certainly they punched well above their weight in these encounters; they had the Crusaders on the ropes in Christchurch and ran in five tries against the defending champions last weekend.

They will hope to shake their habit of narrow losses when they face a New Zealand team for the third time in as many weeks this weekend.

The Blues scraped past the Stormers last weekend and for them this is a must-win match ahead of their crunch conference clash against a Crusaders side fresh off a bye in Christchurch next weekend.

The Blues will thus view this match as an opportunity to pick up maximum points and build momentum - four points alone would be bittersweet for the host.

As a result, the Blues will attack with added vigour and with the likes of Wallaby playmaker James O’Connor in the Rebels’ ranks, it should be an entertaining, high-scoring affair.

Prediction: As long as the Blues don’t try anything overly ambitious and keep a measure of structure, they will have too much class for the visitors. Blues by 10.

Teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Gafatasi Su'a, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Ronald Raaymakers, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Lolagi Visinia.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachie Mitchell, 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 Shota Horie, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Bryce Hegarty.

Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathon White (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Waratahs v Stormers
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - kick-off: 19.40; 11.40 SA time; 09.40 GMT)

Contrasting styles will add extra spice to proceedings when the Waratahs and the Stormers collide in a must-win match for both teams at Allianz Stadium.

It will be the attacking flair of the hosts against the defensive dexterity of the visitors.

The Tahs under Michael Cheika have been transformed into a lethal attack-orientated outfit this season - a far cry from the predictable, unimaginative side of 2012 that managed just four wins.

Their potency with ball in hand was on full display when they ran in 11 tries en route to a record 72-10 rout of the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth last weekend, and they will be brimming with confidence as a result.

Israel Folau was the destroyer-in-chief in the No.15 jersey, becoming just the 11th man in 11 years to run for over 200 metres in a Super Rugby match in a performance that also saw him score a try, make 16 tackle busts and two linebreaks.

As a result, much of the build up to Saturday’s showdown has centred around the mercurial skills of the League convert, who many believe could be a match winner for the Wallabies in the forthcoming three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

He’s hardly put a foot wrong in his debut Rugby Union season, but a true test of his potential at international level faces him this weekend with the Stormers set on shutting down his time and space on the ball.

Folau this week conceded he underestimated the speed at which Rugby Union is played.

"Before I played a game I sort of underestimated the pace of the game and that’s one thing that definitely surprised me - how quick the game is," he told Fox Sports’ Rugby HQ.

"Physical wise and that, it’s what I expected and it’s very tough week in week out."

The Stormers are known for their commitment and efficiency on defence. Employing a territory-based gameplan, they have a tendency to kick too much and/or aimlessly on occasions.

They can ill-afford to do so against the red-hot Tahs, who lead the metres gained (5042) and clean breaks (103) stats and sit second in tries scored (31) and defenders beaten (218).

The Tahs’ success on attack stems from their solid set-pieces and it’s here where the Stormers will need to fight fire with fire. The return of lock prodigy Eben Etzebeth is a major boost for the visitors as far as winning the collisions and battle at the gainline is concerned.

However, having played only 40 minutes of Super Rugby this season in last weekend’s 17-18 loss to the Blues in Auckland, the 21-year-old could be undercooked and struggle to match the form of De Kock Steenkamp, whom he replaces, at line-out time.

With both teams se to target the set-pieces to gain ascendency, a war of attrition beckons. The bench players will thus have key roles to play in the latter stages and the key men in this regard are the returning Berrick Barnes and Elton Jantjies.

Barnes, who returns after suffering a broken hand against the Cheetahs in Round Five, may well be the Tahs’ trump card as he possesses the experience and tactical nous to find space behind the Stormers’ defensive line.

Like Etzebeth, the Wallaby utility back has played precious little rugby this season, but having had more than his fair share of injuries over the years, Barnes believes he will be able to hit the ground running.

"Pretty much every year I have had to come back from injury, and this year is no different. Having been through it a number of times is a big help, and that's what I have tried to do,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“I have gone back to Uni, I've gone to old coaches, I have tried to replicate those steps to get back into it and be ready to go, and be fresh in the head. I have found if you work hard and tick all the boxes off the field, things tend to turn in your favour eventually.''

Drew Mitchell, should he make the cut after being named on an extended bench, could also ask questions of the Stormers’ defence.

Jantjies’ tactical and goal-kicking expertise will bolster the visitors while his ability to attack the advantage line and put support runners into space with deft touch could unlock the Tahs’ defence and prove decisive.

Prediction: While the Stormers were a tad unlucky to leave Auckland without a win, they will know it will take a vastly improved performance to topple the in-form Tahs in their own backyard.

Home ground advantage says the Waratahs will get the win, but we feel the Stormers pack will get the upper hand in the collisions and use their technical driving maul to grind out a close win. Stormers by three.  

Teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Will Skelton, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Berrick Barnes, 23 Drew Mitchell.

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Southern Kings v Highlanders
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)

After last weekend’s humiliating loss to the Waratahs, the Southern Kings will be out for redemption when they face the Highlanders at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The Super Rugby rookies hit a brick wall last weekend and have had to pick up the pieces this week ahead of Saturday’s clash against an underperforming Highlanders outfit.

The Kings, having played eight consecutive matches prior to the 10-72 defeat, have put the result down to fatigue and feel that a relaxed week of training and changes in personnel will remedy the franchise’s weariness.   

Kings vice-captain Andries Strauss conceded that the Highlanders’ win over the Sharks, their first of the season in Dunedin at the weekend, could not have come at a worse time for the Port Elizabeth side.

However, having done some soul-searching, Strauss believes last weekend’s thumping will fuel the Kings’ fire.

“They were a side in a bit of a hole at the start of the season. They played some good rugby and some bad rugby but hadn’t managed to get a win. They got it against a quality Sharks side so they will take a lot of positives from that game,” said Strauss.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us this weekend. What we gone through this past weekend and this season have build this team’s character and desire to do well this weekend,” he added.

Luke Watson, who has been reinstated as captain after two weeks of bunch duty, echoed Strauss’ sentiments and said the Highlanders’ position at the bottom of the log is not a true reflection of the quality of the Dunedin side.

“They’re a great side. If you look at their team from one to 15 they have the individual ability and capacity to beat most teams on their day, so we’re fully aware of the challenge that’s ahead,” said Watson.

“For us, focusing on our systems and our level of commitment and what we do best is of the utmost importance. They are a fantastic side and they are coming off a great win, so it’s going to be a big game for us.”

Demetri Catrakilis will be key to the Kings’ cause and will need to dictate where the match is played with the boot. The young flyhalf is just seven points shy of becoming the first South African in seven years to reach a century of points in his debut season of Super Rugby.

The last South African to achieve this milestone was Stormers pivot Peter Grant in 2005.

Prediction: The travel factor is sure to hamper the Highlanders but not to the degree that they won’t be able to get the job done.

The fact remains that this will be the Kings’ 10th match in as many weeks and as a young franchise with little depth to speak of, they will struggle to match the speed and intensity that the Highlanders’ will bring to the table. Highlanders by eight.   

Teams:

Southern Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Marcello Sampson, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Siyanda Grey, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Luke Watson (captain), 6 Wimpie van der Walt, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 Daniel Adongo, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Shane Gates, 22 SP Marais.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Tino Nemani, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Mose Tuiali'i, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Fumiaka Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Jason Emery.

Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwessen (South Africa)

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