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S15 Preview: Round Seven, Part Two

Thu, 27 Mar 2014 21:16
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Will it be all home teams again?
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There are some desperately disappointed teams that will feature in Saturday's edition of Super Rugby's Round Seven.

The Stormers are on a three-match losing streak and desperate to get something from their disastrous Australasian tour - amidst talk of a management revamp.

Their opponents, the Reds, are just as livid with the result of their most recent outings - two defeats on tour in South Africa.

Another team coming off a less than satisfactory performance is the Chiefs, who came unstuck against the Western Force in Perth last week.

Finally there are the Sharks, who saw the Bulls end lost their unbeaten streak - in what was the Sharks' first away game of the season.

Winning on the road is a far less regular occurrence this year, with just seven away wins in 2014 - that is less than 20 percent, well below the annual average.

And Saturday may well be another good day for home teams - which starts when the Blues host the Highlanders and Eden Park in Auckland.

That is followed by the Reds facing the Stormers in Brisbane, before we cross the Indian Ocean to see the Bulls against the Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, and the Sharks take on the Waratahs at Kings Park in Durban.

Jan de Koning looks at all Saturday's matches!

Saturday, March 29

Blues v Highlanders
(Eden Park, Auckland - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)

The Blues have had plenty to digest this week - with Piri Weepu's stroke top of the list.

No doubt it will be an emotional occasion for the men from Auckland, with the return of All Black veterans Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino to the starting XV adding further spice to the occasion.

And it the weather forecast of fine conditions with light winds holds true, this should shape up nicely to be a high-octane try-fest.

Neither team has trouble scoring, although they sometimes tend to leak some first-half points and then go into overdrive after the break - producing some fine displays of catch-up.

In fact both sides leaked 30-plus points in their last outings.

The Highlanders' forward pack has been strengthened, with Jarrad Hoeta, Ged Robinson and Chris King all returning.

The Highlanders beat the Blues by eight in Round Two, but their record in Auckland isn't flash.

While Blues coach John Kirwan was happy with last week's fortuitous victory over the Cheetahs, he also acknowledge that his side would have to work much harder this week - as they can't expect the same leniency that they received from Argentinean referee Francisco Pastrana, a performance so pitiful that it cost the match official his job.

"We had a win that we were happy with and we got maximum points," he said of the 40-30 triumph over the Cheetahs.

"However, I think we just need to look more at our own performance," Kirwan added.

"We realise that we're going to have to be better to beat the Highlanders.

"They're a better football team this year, they're playing really well, they've got confidence so we need to tidy up one or two of our things and just get a little bit harder on each other about performing for the full 80 minutes."

Recent results:
2014: Highlanders won 29-21, Dunedin
2013: Highlanders won 38-28, Dunedin
2013: Blues won 29-18, Auckland
2012: Highlanders won 27-20, Auckland
2012: Highlanders won 30-27, Dunedin
2011: Blues won 33-16, Auckland

Prediction: The Highlanders have won four of their last five against the Blues. In their last two meetings between the sides, the Highlanders took a lead of more than 20 points into the sheds, but ended up hanging on desperately and won by less than 10. The Blues' scrum success rate (67 percent) is the worst in Super Rugby heading into Round Seven. However, the Auckland-based side have averaged fewer turnovers conceded (11.8) per game than any other team. This is a tough one to call, but being in Auckland we feel the Blues will hang on in a thriller and win by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Tom Donnelly, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Pita Ahki, 23 Benji Marshall.
 
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Shaun Treeby.
 
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Reds v Stormers
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT; 10.40 SA time)

The Reds can do themselves a huge favour by stop complaining that they were "robbed" by South African referee Stuart Berry - with SANZAR having cleared the match official of any wrongdoing.

What is important is that the Reds put their winless tour of South Africa quickly behind them and focus on their own shortcoming if they want to remain in the play-off race.

They're up against an equally desperate Stormers team, who are in the midst of some major internal politics - with a management shake-up on the cards when the team returns to South Africa.

After three defeats on a fruitless Australasian tour the Stormers hierarchy have called former Ireland forwards coach and Springbok assistant Gert Smal in to salvage the sinking ship.

However, the Reds - who have lost flank Liam Gill and fullback Aidan Toua for an extended period - will need to look internally rather than hope for another disjointed performance from the Stormers.

Reds coach Richard Graham suggested the team needed little motivation to get the win on Saturday.

"We've had a difficult start to the season and the team is looking forward to returning to our fortress on Saturday," Graham said.

"Our trip to South Africa was tough. We didn't get the results we wanted and suffered four injuries, but we've returned home with a desire to get our season heading in the right direction.

"With the next three games at home, we're going to enjoy the opportunity to play in front of our own supporters.

"The Stormers are a very good side. They have been on the road for four weeks and will want to finish their Australasian tour with a win.

"They have been a semifinalist for a number of years and have set the standard defensively for the competition over a long period. They are now putting a lot of time into their attack and are holding the ball for long periods."

However, the Reds' biggest concern is their own disciplinary problems, which have seen them end on the wrong side of every referee in the competition this year - averaging 15 penalties per game, the highest of all teams by some distance.

Graham said he addressed the team's high penalty count.

"Four of the Australian franchises [Waratahs, Brumbies, Force and Reds] sit atop the Super Rugby penalty count," Graham said.

"It gives a strong indication of the mentality the Australian teams are taking particularly at the defensive breakdown.

"Whilst we have conceded penalties in this area, we have also forced the most turnovers, averaging eight per game, and also forced opposition teams to play with the second slowest breakdown ball. We continue to work on the skill and the decision making but it is risk verse reward.

"Our attacking breakdown had come under scrutiny, but you need to look in greater depth to understand the penalty count.

"If anything, we were probably guilty of being a little ambitious at times in counter attack or the wider channels.

"We have put a fair bit of time into our attacking framework and we only conceded one penalty in attack last weekend. That is a great result and supports the work we have done.

"We have gained a reputation on the back of the two games in South Africa.

"We need to continue improving to ensure perception isn't reality. I have said a number of times this week that we need to control the outcome of games.

"We're comfortable with the review process done by SANZAR.

"[SANZAR Games Manager] Lyndon Bray is guaranteeing the process is reflective of a high-performance organisation.

"We will continue to work with the referees to ensure our game constantly improves."

The Reds and Stormers have met 17 times in Super Rugby, with seven wins for Queensland. The Reds' record against the Stormers in Brisbane reads five wins from nine matches.

Their most recent match against the Stormers was a 20-15 loss in Cape Town in 2013.

Recent results:
2013: Stormers won 20-15, Cape Town
2012: Stormers won 23-13, Brisbane
2011: Reds won 19-6, Cape Town
2010: Reds won 16-13, Brisbane
2009: Stormers won 27-24, Cape Town
2008: Stormers won 34-16, Brisbane

Prediction: The Stormers have won six of their eight meetings with the Reds. This fixture has seen an average of 41 points per game since 2006. The Queensland outfit have coughed up the most penalties, on average, so far. They have averaged 15.4 infringements per game. However, Stormers hooker Deon Fourie has conceded more penalties (nine) than any other player heading into the weekend. The Stormers have also posted fewer points (15.4) and tries (1.4) per game than any other side so far. The internal turmoil is also likely to further dishearten the Stormers - giving the Reds a chance to bounce back with a win - by 10 to 15 points.

Teams:

Reds: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga'a, 23 Ben Lucas.
 
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Jurie van Vuuren, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Tazz Fuzani, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Demetri Catrakilis, 23 Jaco Taute.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)

Bulls v Chiefs
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT; 02.00 Sunday, March 30 NZ time)

The defending champion Chiefs will be angry and determined to put last week's aberration behind them.

Their first loss of the season - to the Western Force - was probably their wort performance in three seasons.

And they are up against a Bulls team fresh from beating the table-topping Sharks and showing some championship form of their own.

The Bulls, who have made only one change to their lineup with veteran wing Akona Ndungane returning, will again rely on the leadership skills and experience of World Cup-winning Springbok lock Victor Matfield.

The Bulls, who will aim for their seventh straight win at home over the Chiefs, are not paying much attention to last week's result.

They are expecting a "brutal" onslaught from the New Zealanders.

Matfield admitted that the Chiefs will be a stern test.
 
"They are not the champions for nothing," Matfield told a media briefing this week.

"They are well-balanced with a lot of strike power at the back, but also have a solid and strong first phase in their play.

"We will have to be very accurate and use our changes if we want to be victorious," he added.

The Chiefs have not won at Loftus since 2001 and suffered what remains a record beating in a Final -when the Bulls beat them 61-17 in the 2009 grand finale.

Matfield felt that last week's loss for the Chiefs against the Force was not good news for his side.

"It will be bad for us because they will be a bit sharper this week. I don't think they were at the top of their game last week.

"In the other three games they played there were very good," he said.

Recent results:
2012: Chiefs won 28-22, Hamilton
2011: Bulls won 43-27, Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 33-19, Hamilton
2009: Bulls won 61-17, Pretoria (Final)
2009: Bulls won 33-27, Pretoria
2008: Chiefs won 43-27, Rotorua

Prediction: The Chiefs' scrum success rate (94 percent) is the best in the competition, but their line-out is the worst (70 percent). And it is no secret they are up against the world's premier line-out exponent. The Chiefs are the only side yet to concede a try from a possession that originated from within their opponents' half. The Bulls have won four of their last five against the Chiefs, but did suffer defeat in their most recent meeting in 2012. This is going to be an intriguing game of contrasts - the Bulls' measured approach against the Chiefs' willingness to run from anywhere. We feel the Chiefs may take a few risks to many that will afford the Bulls opportunities to put points on the board and win - by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Anton Lienert-Brown, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Marc van Zyl (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Sharks v Waratahs
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT; 02.00 Sunday, March 30 EDT)

The Sharks have made no secret that they are hurting from last week's loss to the Bull and the Waratahs may feel the sting of that desire to right the wrongs.

Added to that the Waratahs' prospects of being the first team to beat the table-topping Sharks at home this season nosedived when try-scoring freak Israel Folau was ruled out with a bruised throat.

Folau, who will only join the Waratahs at the weekend after being clear by a specialist in Sydney, has crossed for eight five-pointers in just four games - more than half his side's total number of tries.

With a game in hand, the Waratahs sit fourth on the overall table, just three points behind the Sharks.

An away win could see the Tahs regain pole position, but Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has warned that the Jake White-coached side will be looking for vengeance after last weekend's loss to the Bulls.

"When we lost to the Brumbies [in Week Five] we wanted to bite back and they'll want to do the same," Cheika said.

"It's up to us not to fold and fight fire with fire. We won't be scared to do it," he added.  

The Sharks mentor, White, pointed out that they have scored the most tries from first phase and about 85 percent of their tries have been scored by backs.

And with a week off after this game they are going to give it a full in Durban on Saturday.

"We have nothing to lose and we can leave nothing out there," the World Cup-winning coach said.

"We're back at home, we're back in front of our crowd, we're unbeaten at home - which is fantastic for us.

"We want to try create a culture that when we lose a game, we make sure the next team faces all the pent up frustration we've taken out of that loss."

White said his team will take the win any way they can.

"I would like it to be in style, I would like the backs to get some ball, to show what they can do because I'm really excited about this backline," he said.

"If we get a sniff of ball and we get into open play, there is no reason to sit back on our heels."

Recent results:
2012: Waratahs won 34-30, Sydney
2011: Sharks won 26-21, Durban
2010: Waratahs won 25-21, Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 16-12, Durban
2008: Waratahs won 28-13, Sydney (semifinal)
2008: Waratahs won 25-10, Sydney

Prediction: The Waratahs have come up with more clean breaks (9.8) and offloads (16.3) per game than any other team this season. The Waratahs (32.5) and Blues (30.8) are the only sides to average more points per game than the Sharks (29.8) this term. The Sharks have scored more tries (eight) on the first phase of play than any other side this season. Israel Folau will certainly be missed as he has made four more offloads (15) and clean breaks (11) than any other player this season. The Sharks have lost six of eight against the Waratahs - making the Australian outfit their official bogey team. However, we believe the Sharks will bounce back from last week's disappointment and edge an arm-wrestle by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
 
Waratahs: 15 Jonno Lance, 14 Rob Horne, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: TBC

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Marius Jonker (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

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