S15 Preview: Round 19, Part Two
All eyes will be on the battle in Bloemfontein on Saturday as the Cheetahs chase history in an all-or-nothing encounter with the Blues.
All eyes will be on the battle in Bloemfontein on Saturday as the Cheetahs chase history in an all-or-nothing encounter with the Blues.
In a second successive ‘super’ Saturday, all five South African teams will be in action on home soil.
However, it will be the clash in ‘Cheetahs country’ that will yield the most interest as the Bloemfontein side are on the cusp of securing their first ever Super Rugby play-off berth.
South African strugglers the Southern Kings and the Stormers will square off in Port Elizabeth next, before the penultimate round of the regular season wraps up with the Bulls going head-to-head with the Sharks.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the final three fixtures of Round 19.
Saturday, July 6
Cheetahs v Blues
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - kick-off: 14.50; 12.50 GMT; 12.50, Sunday, July 7 NZ time)
It will be do-or-die for the Cheetahs when they face the Blues at Free State Stadium.
This clash doesn’t need superlative heavy hype as, simply put, it’s the most important match in the history of the Cheetahs Super Rugby franchise.
For the Cheetahs, the Cinderella side of Super Rugby 2013, a marathon season’s endeavour all comes down to 80 minutes between the four white lines on Saturday.
The Bloemfontein side did themselves a great disservice in not pitching up for last Saturday’s derby against the struggling Stormers in Cape Town.
Knowing that a win would secure their place in the top six, the Cheetahs made a cardinal mistake in their mental approach. They attached too much significance to the game rather than view it as just another regular season fixture.
The coaching staff erred in switching from the total gameplan that had served them so well all season to a conservative, finals rugby strategy.
As a result, they had effectively lost the match before they had run on to the Newlands pitch.
The players were caught between a rock and a hard place; confusion and doubt had set in and the team imploded.
Fortunately for the Cheetahs, they get a second bite at the cherry on Saturday and, armed with the knowledge of what went so terribly wrong last weekend, they ought to be better equipped to handle the high stakes situation come this weekend.
“We’ll approach the Blues game with a final mentality and we view it as our first play-off game," said Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re sitting at home during the last weekend and hoping other teams get results that will favour us. We have the chance to shape our own destiny in the tournament. Victory over the Blues will guarantee us a place in the play-offs.”
Drotské would have learned that the change in gameplan was a drastic and self-defeating decision. The hosts will be best served to revert to the style that has put them in a position to secure a maiden play-off berth.
The teams are similar in that they instinctively play a positive, attacking brand of rugby, and while conditions will be conducive to such an approach, the sides are bound to put more emphasis on playing in the right areas of the field considering what’s at stake.
Both teams remain prone to tactical naivety on occasion, often trying to run out of their 22, and this could be costly. In this regard, the Cheetahs have the comfort of continuity in Riaan Smit, while Baden Kerr gets a rare start for the Blues at No.10 following an injury to first-choice Chris Noakes.
The visitors have also lost veteran All Black scrumhalf Piri Weepu to injury, so they will have to make do with the inexperienced combination of Kerr and Jamison Gibson-Park.
The Cheetahs’ tactical-kicking game will suffer a blow if Hennie Daniller fails to pass a late fitness test as his booming left boot is key in this regard.
Prediction: Following the disappointment of last weekend, both teams will lift their game and leave everything on the field. With both teams boasting a number of game breakers - Willie le Roux and Rene Ranger the apex predators of their respective sides - structured and disciplined defence will be vital as goal-kicking could prove decisive. The Cheetahs have the pack and set-piece prowess to keep the Blues on the back foot and we think this ascendency will get the hosts over the line in the teams’ first match since 2010. Cheetahs by five.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Rynhardt Landman, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Petrus Vermeulen, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison,12 Francis Saili, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Wayne Ngaluaf, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 George Moala.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
Southern Kings v Stormers
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
It will be basement battle take two when the Stormers make their first Super Rugby appearance at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium against the Southern Kings.
As they did heading into their first meeting (which the Stormers won 19-11 at home last month), the teams remain rooted at the bottom of the South African Conference.
However, despite occupying the same lowly conference positions, the teams are on contrasting end-of-season trajectories.
The Stormers have won their last three while the Kings have been battling to remain competitive after making a promising start to their debut season.
They were outclassed by the Bulls for the second time last weekend and have little to play for ahead of their promotion/relegation series against the Lions.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, however, believes the Kings will be driven by their determination to register their first ever win over a fellow South African side.
“One shouldn’t read much into their performance against the Bulls last week and expect to just pitch up and take the points,” said Coetzee.
“It is the last home game for them - it will be a packed stadium - and with them having beaten a New Zealand and Australian side, they will put all their eggs in this weekend’s basket to make sure they beat a South African franchise for the first time.”
Coetzee said they are bracing for a set-piece onslaught.
“They will look to put pressure on our set-piece because they have a good set-piece. Obviously if we don’t get ball on our terms it will make it difficult for our halfbacks, so we are determined not to allow that and to lay a good foundation for the team to function properly.”
The Stormers need the full five points and other results to go their way this weekend to have a slight mathematical chance of a top six finish heading into the final round of the regular season.
According to captain Deon Fourie, though, the outcome of the preceding Cheetahs-Blues game will have no bearing on their approach.
“We are playing for pride. Hopefully if that game goes our way we will still be in the hunt but we are playing for our pride. We let ourselves down this season and our supporters down, so we would like to win some pride back,” he said.
Fourie added that they will need to be patient with ball in hand against a committed Kings defence.
“In all South African derbies patience is important and the team that make the least mistakes win. Especially with Omar [Mouneimne] there, their defensive coach, they have shown they are powerful on defence and attack.”
Prediction: As a neutral, one would hope that the teams will rely less on their proven driving mauls and make the most of the dry conditions and attack via the backline. Regardless of tactics, the Stormers will have too much firepower for the hosts and will win more comfortably than they did in the teams’ first encounter. Stormers by 14.
Southern Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Marcello Sampson, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Michael Killian, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Shane Gates.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rynhardt Elstadt, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Bulls v Sharks
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - kick-off: 19.15; 17.15 GMT)
There will be plenty to play for for both teams when the Bulls host the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld.
Riding an impressive seven-match win streak, the Bulls are guaranteed to win the South African Conference and are one of just three teams (along with the Chiefs and Brumbies) assured of their place in the play-offs.
However, with an opportunity to finish atop the standing at the end of the regular season, the Bulls will have no lack of motivation to complete the double over the Sharks.
The Sharks, in turn, are chasing a handsome victory to keep their slight mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs alive.
Frans Ludeke’s team selection confirms that the hosts are fully focused on achieving this objective as the Bulls coach has named his strongest available side with Morné Steyn back at flyhalf in place of the injured Louis Fouché.
Steyn’s positional battle with Pat Lambie, one of his main rivals for the Springbok No.10 jersey, will once again take centre stage.
Much like their teams, Steyn is in top form while Lambie was mediocre behind a dominant pack in last weekend’s last-gasp win over the Blues.
It was apparent in all aspects of his play that Lambie, who will win his 50th Super Rugby cap at Loftus, was rusty having had precious little game time for the Springboks in last month’s four-nation tournament.
He will be a key player for the visitors and will have to play to his potential if the Sharks are to cause an upset.
As in any South African derby, the collisions will be immense and Ludeke feels the battle at the gainline, coupled with adequate game management, will be vital.
“It is all about decision-making,” said Ludeke.
“The battle of the advantage line will be crucial for both teams. Obviously we will work hard to get the advantage, but it also depends on how much the opposition allows you, that is why decision-making is vital. The key for the players at No.9, No.10 and No.15 is to make good judgment calls.”
Ludeke’s charges, often labelled conservative and predictable, continued to improve as an attacking unit when they romped to a 48-18 win over the Southern Kings last weekend to move up to second place on the log.
Ludeke said he’s pleased with the progression and diversity they showed on attacked.
“Out of broken play we have scored some great tries. Last week we scored from the set pieces and with structured play. We would like to improve that, but we've had success in scoring from the set pieces,” he said.
“If the opportunity presents itself we'll attack, but in any game of rugby, if you do well at getting over the advantage line, then you get the momentum to play your game. We know we will have to work hard to get that advantage.”
Two all-Springbok front rows will wage war up front and it is here where the Sharks will pose the greatest threat coming off their utter annihilation of the Blues’ scrum.
Jacques Potgieter, man of the match last weekend, and Springbok bulldozer Willem Alberts are on a collision course and will shake the foundations of Loftus when they inevitably collide head-on.
Like Ludeke, Hugh Reece-Edwards - who shares the head coach responsibilities with Grant Bashford since the controversial departure of John Plumtree last Tuesday - anticipates a physically intense battle.
“We’ve always gone up there and known how we want to play the Bulls and that’s worked for us at times and other times we’ve been physically dominated,” said Reece-Edwards.
“We are very aware of their physicality and certainly we know we need to be physical if we want to be in that game. The result we need is to come back with a win to have any chance of staying in this competition.
“We have some talented players, some talented backs, and although we don't have a huge number of backs, with what we've got we can certainly play exciting rugby.
“We know we have to keep the ball in hand for long periods of time against the Bulls and that doesn't change regardless of the style of rugby we want to play.”
Prediction: The Sharks showed character last weekend to rise above their off-field dilemmas and beat the Blues. The performance itself, though, didn’t suggest that they will be able to topple the inform team of the competition in their own backyard. Playing at Loftus and with the team and Steyn firing on all cylinders, the Bulls should continue their winning ways. Bulls by eight.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Jürgen Visser, 22 Morné Mellett.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Butch James, 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 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwessen (South Africa)