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S15 Preview: Round Five, Part One

Wed, 12 Mar 2014 20:47
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Our Friday predictions
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What a bang-up, blue–ribbon start to Super Rugby's Round Five - two enthralling Friday matches that could be great pointers to the season.

It all starts when the two-time defending champion Chiefs host an out-of-sorts Stormers team in Hamilton, a game that could be as absorbing as anything we've seen this season.

There is also the 100th Super Rugby appearance of Stormers captain Jean de Villiers in Hamilton.

Stormers boss Allister Coetzee was lavish in his praise of De Villiers, calling him a "true warrior". The inspirational De Villiers will become just the second Stormers centurion.

To add spice to the opening day of the weekend there is the erratic Rebels against the seven-time champion Crusaders - who are hovering very close to the bottom of the table after one of their worst starts in history.

With Dan Carter on a six-month sabbatical and Richie McCaw sidelined for at least another six weeks after hand surgery, the men from Christchurch have looked a pale shadow of the team that dominated the competition for a decade.

However, last week's fortuitous last-minute win against the Stormers may just be the tonic they need ahead of an encounter with a Rebels team that gives new meaning to the hackneyed term: 'Blowing hot and cold.'

Jan de Koning looks at Friday's matches!

Friday, May 14

Chiefs v Stormers
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT; 08.35 SA time)

It has almost become an obsession for teams opposing the Stormers to highlight the men from Cape Town's defensive record and look for ways of cracking the code.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said the Stormers again showed in their 13-14 defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch last Saturday that they will be difficult to break down.
 
"Over the last couple of years the Stormers have had the best defensive record in the competition and you saw why against the Crusaders," Rennie said.

"They obviously have a lot of character in their group and they are going to be a tough defensive unit to crack."

Stormers boss Allister Coetzee returned the favour, speaking about the return of players like fullback Gareth Anscombe and Test lock Brodie Retallick from injury as the reason why the New Zealand conference leaders will test the visitors' resolve.

"They will be well rested [after last week's bye] and they will be fresh," Coetzee told a media briefing this week.

The Stormers coach said the Chiefs are a side that thrives on quick ball and they come out of the line and put teams under pressure.
 
"We know exactly what the Chiefs will bring to this game," he said, adding that the key will be to "win the collisions".

"Against any New Zealand team that is a must, that's where its got to start," Coetzee said of the collisions.

Coetzee is also looking to his loose forward combination to give his team an edge in what is likely to be another nailbiter.

He said they really played well against the Crusaders last week and the trio of Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Deon Fourie were "massive physically" against a quality side.

"In terms of the collisions they were huge," Coetzee said, adding: "Dean Fourie got 21 tackles, Schalk Burger 18 tackles, Duane Vermeulen 15 tackles. Duane Vermeulen made 11 carries, Schalk Burger 12 carries and Deon Fourie nine carries.

"They have put in a tremendous amount of work and that is what is expected this weekend again," he said, adding that he opted to keep the loose forward combination intact instead of moving Fourie to hooker where injury has depleted his resources.

The Chiefs, coming off a bye, are about to enter their longest run of games without a break since Rennie took over the team in 2012.

They will play nine matches on the trot before their next bye and Rennie feels victory in Hamilton will set up their road-trip nicely.

''We've got a trip to Perth and South Africa [next week]," the Chiefs mentor said, adding: "We're away three weeks, but there are some real positives around that.

''We'll be training at altitude and we think we'll get some benefits from that coming home."

Recent results:
2013: Stormers won 36-34, Cape Town
2011: Chiefs won 30-23, Hamilton
2010: Stormers won 49-15, Hamilton
2009: Chiefs won 28-14, Cape Town
2008: Stormers won 35-26, Hamilton
2007: Stormers won 21-16, Cape Town

Prediction: You know that the Stormers have a chance, they always have a chance. But I won't bet my house on it. The men from Cape Town have several world-class individuals in their side - men like Jean de Villiers, Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger. But that is also their big problem. They have been outstanding as individuals, woeful as a team. Last week Burger dominated, but around him too many individuals fired blanks and others were too individualistic. They could have the same problem this week against a Chiefs team even more of a cohesive unit than the Crusaders. Team unity to win the day - the Chiefs by about 10 points.

Teams:

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Brad Webber, 22 Robbie Fruean, 23 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nick  Briant, Shane McDermott
TMO: Ben Skeen

Rebels v Crusaders
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT; 21.40 NZ time)

The Rebels, the Jekyll and Hyde of Super Rugby, return to Melbourne for their second home game of the season, as seven-time Super Rugby champion Crusaders travel across the Tasman Sea for their first 'international' game of the season.

The Crusaders, the competition's most successful team, have not missed the play-offs since 2001.

However, they have struggled this season - their only win last week's one-point (14-13) squeaker over the Stormers.

Before that they lost their first two games - to Kiwi rivals, the Chiefs and Blues.

After a disappointing 7-32 defeat against the Force in Perth last week, which came on the back 35-14 demolition of the Cheetahs, the Rebels will be looking to make amends when they host the Crusaders.

The Rebels have only met the Crusaders twice in their history, with the sides taking a win each.

In their only previous meeting in Melbourne the Rebels recorded one of their most historic victories, beating the Red and Blacks in a come-from-behind win, holding the visitors scoreless in the second half.

While the Crusaders are sure to test the Rebels' pack, particularly at the scrum, the home side will come into the match with an edge over the Crusaders' backline, which has struggled in the opening rounds.

Crusaders assistant coach Aaron Mauger conceded their backline are only operating at around 50 percent.

While last week's ugly win over the Stormers finally got the Crusaders on the Super Rugby points log, concerns remain about their inability to rip through defensive screens and create linebreaks.

In three matches the Crusaders have scored just five tries - with Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty and Kieron Fonotia the backline's contributors.

With Dan Carter on sabbatical, Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor have been the starting No.10s.

However, the backline functioned best when Slade switched from fullback to flyhalf in the final quarter against the Stormers.

Shifting Slade also allows Israel Dagg to return to his rightful position at fullback, after he ran on the left wing.

Coach Todd Blackadder acknowledged Slade's influence on the backline in the final quarter last week.

''Just his [Slade's] experience shone through a little bit,'' Blackadder told Fairfax NZ News.

''He can just step up there and be a little more confident.''

Blackadder also admitted former Hurricanes centre Reynold Lee-Lo's confidence was down and has been instructed to play for the Crusaders development side this weekend.

''We know he's a fine player, but we just went back to the experience of Colin Slade and a midfield pairing that worked bloody hard for us last year and got us to the semifinal against the Chiefs.''

The message from the coaches is they want to square-up his running game, not put his outsides under pressure by crabbing across the park and to reduce his errors.

Although the Rebels were walloped by the Force last weekend, the Crusaders are cautious about their running game.

''Our away record [in the past] has been poor and we have put a lot of work into addressing that,'' Blackadder

'Part of that is respecting the opposition. It is easy to get up for these big New Zealand games but we have probably lacked intensity on the road.''

In their two matches so far, the Rebels have averaged more carries, metres, defenders beaten and time in possession than any other side. The Melbourne side have won 30 turnovers in two matches, a higher average than any other team.

However, their goal-kicking is the worst in the competition - they have converted just 40 percent of their shots.

The Crusaders make more passes (169.7) per game than any other side this season. They have also mustered 10 line-out steals, more than any other side (also the best average).

Previous results:
2013: Crusaders won 30-26, Christchurch
2012: Rebels won 28-19, Melbourne

Prediction: The Crusaders are bound to hit their straps at some stage and against the erratic Rebels they will be afforded some opportunities to get that famed running game going. The odds may favour a flutter on the Rebels, but the smart money will be on a Crusaders win - but by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Angus Roberts, 23 Telusa Veainu.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nemani Nadolo.

Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Ian Smith (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

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