S15 Preview: Round 14, Part One
The Stormers and the Sharks both end their overseas tours with tricky fixtures in Australia on Friday.
The Stormers and the Sharks both end their overseas Super Rugby tours with tricky fixtures in Australia on Friday.
The two coastal sides might have finished at the top of the South African conference last year, but they have had a much tougher time of it this season with their play-off hopes all but over.
They face the bottom two sides in the Australian conference, but any thoughts of an easy end to their respective tours will have been erased by the encouraging recent form of the Rebels and the Western Force.
The Australian minnows have both shown the ability to mix it with the top sides in the last few weeks, which means that the Stormers and the Sharks will have to work hard to take some log points home with them.
We take a closer look at Friday's matches:
Hurricanes v Chiefs
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Hurricanes return home this weekend after a morale-boosting win in Bloemfontein last week to face the defending champion Chiefs in an intriguing Kiwi derby.
The Chiefs have been fairly erratic in recent weeks, mixing periods of complete domination with a few 'soft moments', so they will be keen to find some more consistency.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett has named an unchanged line-up from the combination that took care of the Cheetahs last week as they look to give themselves a shot at making the play-offs.
The Chiefs will be aiming to preserve their place at the top of the New Zealand conference, but after narrow wins over the Rebels and the Force they will have to raise their game if they are to win in Wellington.
The Chiefs' tight five has been the most reliable part of the team this season, and they are sure to attack the Hurricanes in the set-pieces to restrict the home team's supply of quality possession.
The Hurricanes' strength lies in their electric back three, and if they are freed up to run then the injury-hit Chiefs backline could be in for a long day.
Although the Chiefs have not been entirely convincing in their last few matches, they have found a way to win those games so it will be interesting to see if they are capable of doing the same against the Hurricanes.
Prediction: The Chiefs will be tough to beat, but their erratic form may catch up with them away from home so we are backing the Hurricanes to win by a few points.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito (captain), 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Reggie Goodes, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 James Marshall.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Dan Waenga, 22 Save Tokula.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Stormers
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
The Stormers end their tour in Melbourne where they will want to put their off-field issues behind them against a Rebels side that has shown themselves to be no pushovers.
After narrow losses to the Blues and the Waratahs the Cape side have left themselves plenty of work to do if they want to challenge for a play-off spot again this season, so they are likely to throw everything at the Rebels.
Injuries and "rotation" have resulted in seven changes to the team that went down to the Waratahs last week, and they will need to turn their attacking game around if they are to take a bonus-point win.
With hooker Deon Fourie at flank alongside speedy No.8 Nizaam Carr the visitors will target quick ball for the new halfback pairing of Louis Schreuder and Elton Jantjies.
Whilst their defence has been typically solid this season, the Stormers have battled to score tries once again, so the pressure is on them to find their finishing touch.
The Rebels have conceded bonus points in their last two games against the Chiefs and the Blues, but they fought back well in both those games to claim bonus points of their own so they will be keen to close this one out.
They will be seriously tested in the set-pieces by the physical Stormers side, and with backline stars James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale out of action they will have to produce something special to trouble the visitor's defence.
Prediction: The Rebels could spring an upset, but we are backing the Stormers to take this one by about five points.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Lachlan Mitchell, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 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: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Kimami Sitauti.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Don Armand, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Western Force v Sharks
(NIB Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 19.45; 11.45 GMT)
The Sharks have one last chance to win a game on tour when they face a competitive Force side eyeing another scalp in Perth.
Whilst their hopes for the season have already been declared "dead" by coach John Plumtree, the Sharks will feel they have a point to prove after a tough tour which took a nasty twist this week.
The claims of a language-based rift in the squad by some sections of the South African media may well prove the motivation the Durban side need to turn things around after their uninspiring display against the Reds in Brisbane last week.
They face a Force team that has shown a hard edge all season, and while coach Michael Foley's team have not scored the most tries in the competition they have shown tremendous commitment on defence so they will be a tough nut to crack.
With wins over the Reds and the Crusaders under their belts the Force will feel that this vulnerable Sharks team are ripe for the plucking, so expect them to come out firing.
Both teams place a heavy emphasis on the physicality of their forwards, so the battle up front will be intense as they search for the upper hand in the tight exchanges.
The visitors will be hoping that the inclusion of Springbok forwards Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts will give them the momentum required to put the Force on the back foot and give their backline the chance to impose themselves.
Teams: The Force have shown encouraging signs recently, but the Sharks have little to lose and plenty to prove at the end of a tough tour so we are backing them to get up and win this one by a few points.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Matt Hodgson (captain), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Junior Rasolea, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (Captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Derick Minnie / Tera Mtembu, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia).
By Michael de Vries