S15 Preview: Round 20, Part Two
Saturday’s 121st and final match of the regular season between the Stormers and the Bulls will determine who top the log.
Saturday’s 121st and final match of the regular season between the Stormers and the Bulls will determine who top the log heading into the play-offs.
The marathon season will reach an enthralling crescendo at Newlands where a victory over their arch rivals would guarantee the Bulls finish in pole position and enjoy home ground advantage throughout the play-offs.
The three key games will be contested in Auckland, Perth and Cape Town respectively as they involve the three teams - namely the Chiefs, Brumbies and Bulls - vying for top honours, although only of two of those fall under part two of our preview.
The six other sides involved in the last four games will share the goal of aiming to end the season on a positive note after missing out on a place in the play-offs.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the final four fixtures of the regular season.
Saturday, July 13
Waratahs v Reds
(ANZ Stadium, Sydney - kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
The Australians re-enter the Super Rugby fray and it doesn’t get any bigger Down Under than a derby duel between the Waratahs and the Reds at ANZ Stadium.
It’s a massive game for the fifth-placed Reds as they will finish fourth and therefore have home ground advantage in the first round of the play-offs if they topple the Tahs and the Hurricanes upset the Crusaders on Friday.
It's also an opportunity for the Reds to pick up their fifth consecutive win over their rivals and retain the Templeton Cup. Reds Director of Rugby Ewen McKenzie said his team will have to hit the ground running after the international window.
"We're in a unique circumstance where we've only got one game before the finals so it's important we begin to get our combinations right and are choosing players who are completely fit and healthy for the next stages of our campaign," said McKenzie.
"Rivalries in Australian Rugby don't get much bigger and we're proud to have won the past four games against NSW. That's an important record to us, as is the Templeton Cup, and we'll be determined for that to continue."
The visitors will be without two of their key players and leaders in injured duo James Horwill and Will Genia, but McKenzie is confident James Slipper, in his 50th Super Rugby match, will take over the captaincy with aplomb.
"You never wish to see players of the calibre of James Horwill and Will Genia miss games but James Slipper did an outstanding job in the opening month of the season and will lead us well into what is a very important match against the Waratahs,” said McKenzie.
The hosts are out of the play-off picture in eighth place but Waratahs coach Michael Cheika believes there will be no lack of motivation for his charges as they look to arrest their losing streak against the Reds and impress new Wallaby coach McKenzie.
"As I was saying to the guys, if we can beat the Reds this week we'll finish with the same number of wins as them. When you take that compared to where we were last season, that's a good improvement," said Cheika.
"If you go out and do a number on his [McKenzie’s] team, he's only going to think positively of you. It's a great opportunity for guys to go out and show their colours, especially guys who maybe haven't been in the picture.
“For the likes of Dave Dennis, Bernard Foley, Rob Horne and even Berrick Barnes who didn't play much, it's a chance to show that they're prepared to put their hands up and do their best for selection."
At the top of the list of players who will want to impress McKenzie is Reds playmaker Quade Cooper, who will sense an opportunity to return to the Wallaby fold after being overlooked by Robbie Deans for the British and Irish Lions series.
A commanding performance on Saturday will go a long way towards catapulting Cooper back into the Australian squad and possibly even straight back into the Wallaby No.10 jersey.
Prediction: The Reds will certainly miss the leadership skills and sense of stability Horwill and Genia offer the team as they are the cool heads who provide guidance when Cooper’s high-risk style backfires. The Reds flyhalf will be squarely in the Tahs’ sights and much will depend on how he handles the situation and to which degree he’s hampered by rustiness. Rugby remains a team sport, though, and although it should be close, the play-off bound Reds’ desire and the absence of Tahs magic man Israel Folau will see the visitors eke out the win. Reds by three.
Waratahs: 15 Cam Crawford, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Dave Dennis (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements - from: Luke Holmes, Jeremy Tilse, Will Skelton, Pat McCutcheon, Mitchell Chapman, Matt Lucas, Tom Carter, Ben Volavola.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ed O'Donoghue, 3 James Slipper (captain), 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Jono Lance, 22 Dom Shipperley.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Western Force v Brumbies
(nib Stadium, Perth - kick-off: 19.45 WAST; 21.45 EAST; 11.45 GMT)
The Brumbies will want to continue where they left off when they play the Western Force in Perth.
Prior to the Test window, Jake White’s Brumbies ended a nine-year drought as they beat the Melbourne Rebels 37-19 to qualify for the play-offs.
Gone was the heartache of 2012 when they fell at the final hurdle. In its place, the joy and satisfaction of knowing they had accomplished their goals of reaching the play-offs and topping the Australian Conference.
Their last outing saw them become the first Australian provincial team in 42 years to defeat the British and Irish Lions when they edged the tourists 14-12 and they will no doubt hope it spurs them on to Super Rugby glory.
A match against the Australian Conference wooden spoonists is the ideal opportunity to shake off the rust and regain their rhythm ahead of their home play-off.
They will be particularly buoyed by a Blues win over the Chiefs in Auckland as that would put them in a position to move to the top of the table ahead of the Bulls’ clash with the Stormers.
The Brumbies have reaped the rewards of refining their pragmatic approach this season and although star scrumhalf Nic White will be unavailable due to injury, they should still be able to win the tactical-kicking battle and turn field position into points.
Prediction: While it won’t be quite the thrashing as the teams’ encounter in Canberra in April, when the Brumbies romped to a 41-7 bonus-point win, the Brumbies will once again see off the Force comfortably. Brumbies by 15.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Matt Hodgson (captain), 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 James Hilterbrand, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Sam Norton-Knight, 22 Sam Christie.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Colby Faingaa, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 George Smith, 20 Robbie Coleman, 21 Andrew Smith, 22 Mark Swanepoel.
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Sharks v Southern Kings
(Kings Park, Durban - kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The biggest obstacle in the Sharks’ way to finishing their disappointing season on a high at Kings Park will be the Sharks themselves.
This is due to the Southern Kings fielding a second-string team for what could be their last ever Super Rugby match as they wrap their first-choice players in cotton wool ahead of the promotion-relegation series against the Lions.
With no less than 12 changes to the side that lost 12-24 to the Stormers in Port Elizabeth last week, the depth deprived Kings have effectively been reduced to cannon fodder.
Over confidence will thus potentially be the Sharks’ main challenge in this encounter. They were unlucky not to leave Loftus with a win last weekend and showed they belong in the upper echelons of the competition with their dominance in the set-pieces and at the gainline against the table-topping Bulls.
As is the case with many other teams, the Sharks will bid farewell to a number of players this weekend. Riaan Viljoen (Japan), in the flyhalf role, Meyer Bosman (France) and Lions loan player Franco van der Merwe are set for their Sharks swansong, while others are expected to join the exodus ahead of a new dawn in Durban prior to the start of the Currie Cup.
Former Sharks lock Steven Sykes will captain the Kings, who will hope the drizzle forecast for Sunday will arrive early to dilute the Sharks’ potency and aid them in their defensive duties.
Prediction: If the Sharks play like they did last week, they will put 50 past the Kings rather comfortably. As a neutral, one can only hope that the Kings don’t stoop to spoil tactics in an attempt to keep the scoreline respectable and end their season with the pride and character with which they started it. Sharks by 25.
Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 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 Willem Alberts, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
Southern Kings: 15 Siviwe Soyzwapi, 14 Hadleigh Parkes, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Mpho Mbiyozo, 6 Devin Oosthuizen, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Sykes (captain), 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 Charl du Plessis.
Replacements: 16 Grant Kemp, 17 Bandise Maku, 18 Darron Nell, 19 Thabo Mamojela, 20 Aidon Davis, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Michael Killian.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Stormers v Bulls
(Newlands, Cape Town - kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The Bulls have one final hurdle to clear on their unlikely road to the top of the table in the form of the Stormers at Newlands.
The traditional North/South derby is always a special occasion but Saturday’s showdown is as big as it get for the Bulls.
The Pretoria side have exceeded expectations this season as the general pre-season consensus was that coastal sides the Stormers and Sharks would lead the South African surge in 2013.
Instead, South Africa’s only and three-time Super Rugby champions rose like a phoenix from the ashes and head into the weekend’s clash with a season-best eight-match win streak.
They have been on an absolute tear since returning from their Australasian tour but coach Fans Ludeke will know that the job isn’t finished yet.
A loss at Newlands would take a considerable amount of shine off the Bulls’ charge, halt their momentum and most importantly, set them on a difficult detour on their road to their fourth title.
A defeat without picking up a bonus point could also see the South African Conference winners finish third if the Chiefs beat the Blues and the Brumbies bag five points against the Western Force.
Only one team in Super Rugby history, the Crusaders class of 1999, have won the competition after finishing the regular season outside the top two, so the Bulls will want to make sure they avoid going down that perennial dead end.
A victory, in turn, would rubberstamp the Bulls’ return to relevancy and make them the odds-on favourites to go all the way at fortress Loftus.
They almost tripped up against the Sharks last weekend and were fortunate to escape with the win, but rather than dwell on the underwhelming performance they will view the 20-19 win as a timely wake-up call.
All the pressure will be on the visitors, while the Stormers have nothing to lose and will have the advantage of playing at home.
Although they left it too late to make a run at the play-offs, the Stormers have showed character to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves and will be aiming to finish their campaign with their fifth win on the trot.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said it’s anything but a dead rubber for his team.
‘If you look at the number of tickets sold, it is obvious this is not just another game,” he said.
“It will be an intense game and, as always between these teams it is about the physicality - it will be there on Saturday.
“There is still plenty at stake for us and top of that list is pride. Since the tour our goal has been to improve out position in the standings and finish strongly.”
Springbok flyhalf Morné Steyn has been central to the Bulls’ success this season and Coetzee said they are wary of the Steyn factor.
“We've worked on a few things, especially our discipline at the breakdown and conceding soft penalties, because Morné will punish you. He is a very good goal-kicker and a good flyhalf,” he said.
After giving Elton Jantjies an extended run, Coetzee has opted for Gary van Aswegen at flyhalf and moved swiftly to take the pressure off the inexperienced pivot’s shoulders when asked about the importance of accurate tactical-kicking against the Bulls.
“It is not just the responsibility Gary van Aswegen,” said Coetzee. “We would like to see him give us direction, but it will require a collective effort from the team to get the result.”
Prediction: With the teams and players knowing each other so well, scoring opportunities will be few and far between, so both teams will have to make the most of the chances they get. Tries, especially in general play, will be scarce, thus goal-kicking will be of the utmost importance and the Stormers have lost their star player in this regard Joe Pietersen to injury, which gives the Bulls a potentially decisive edge. If the Stormers are able to get off to a strong start and establish an early lead, the Bulls could buckle under the pressure, but the visitors should win the tactical and physical battle and choke the hosts into submission. Bulls by seven.
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Louis Schreuder,8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Deon Fourie, 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 Don Armand, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Damian de Allende.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 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 Morné Mellett, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jürgen Visser.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Linston Manuels (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)