S15 Preview: Round Nine, Part Two
Strap yourself in, the ride is going to be wild. Round Nine's Saturday action is likely to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Strap yourself in, the ride is going to be wild. Round Nine's Saturday action is likely to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
The day starts with the defending champion Chiefs determined to show they have not lost their grip on the trophy, when they host a Rebels team that has again flattered to deceive this season and still looking for their first win outside of Australia.
The Western Force have emerged as play-off contender after securing four consecutive wins for the first time, but the visiting Waratahs would like to end that run Perth and relegate the men from Western Australia to the also-rans column.
In South Africa the Cheetahs, struggling for some form, are hosting the resurgent Crusaders in Bloemfontein - a game that will go a long way to answer the nagging question: Are the Crusaders still championship quality?
The weekend's drama will conclude when the Lions put their newfound reputation as everybody's second favourite team on the line against the table-topping Sharks. The Lions last week looked a poor shadow of the team that caused a few upsets earlier in the season.
Can they bounce back and deny the Sharks a first win on the road or are the Ellis Park men about to have their bubble burst?
Jan de Koning looks at all Saturday's matches!
Saturday, April 12
Chiefs v Rebels
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT; 17.35 AEST)
There are two schools of thought on the Chiefs' recent form. One suggest their are beginning to show signs of being vulnerable, while other feel their two draw in South Africa show just how dangerous they still are - given that on both occasions they closed a gap of 20-odd points in the final quarter.
They scored three tries in the final 11 minutes to draw 34-all with the Bulls and then came from 10-34 down at half-time against the Cheetahs to tie at 43-all.
Their supporters feel that incredible resilience is ample and proof that they can never be written off.
In stark contrast there Rebels are looking for their first ever win overseas, a feat which has eluded them by four points or less on three separate occasions. It includes a heartbreaking 30-33 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin last week.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan said in order to break that duck on the road they are continuing to place an emphasis on improving their field kicking ahead of the game, after a few uncharacteristic errors against the Highlanders.
"We always do plenty of training around our kicking every week, and the players are still working hard and understanding that," McGahan said.
"We know if we don't get that right we will be punished against good teams, and it certainly has been given extra attention this week."
The Chiefs in spent a considerable amount of time this week working on ways to counter the slow starts that saw them concede such big leads on tour.
"We've discussed that for an hour and a quarter," coach Dave Rennie told the Waikato Times.
"Clearly we need to be at the right end of the field, and be reasonably direct, and have a strong base to work from. We probably haven't done that in the last few weeks.
"That'll certainly be the focus this week. Hopefully then later in the game we'll earn the right to play the same sort of footy that we did last week."
2013: Chiefs won 39-33, Melbourne
2011: Chiefs won 38-10, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs have averaged more metres (547), breaks (8.8) and off-loads (15.3) per game than any other side this season. That might explain their ability to continuously come back from the dead late in games. However, their line-out success rate (74 percent) is the worst in the competition. The Chiefs have scored more late tries (10 after the hour-mark) than any other side this season. No side has conceded more tries in the first 20 minutes of matches than the Rebels (six) this season. The Rebels will surely never have a better chance of upsetting the Super Rugby heavyweights, but we are still backing the Chiefs to take the win - by about 15 points.
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mils Muliaina, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick (captain), 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Ross Filipo, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordan Payne.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emilie, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Tom Kingston, 23 Angus Roberts.
Referee: Matt O'Brien (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Western Force v Waratahs
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 17.40; 09.40 GMT; 19.40 AEST)
This game may well give the term 'derby' new meaning. With just two points separating the Force and Waratahs on the competition ladder it is all to play for.
The Force are coming off four straight wins, including a 32-29 win over the Reds last week, thanks to a late try from Jayden Hayward.
And the home team is also determined to make amends after they lost their Round Two match against the Tahs by 22 points in February.
After last week's historic achievement they now dare to dream of five in a row.
Western Force coach Michael Foley said his side is looking forward to the challenge of taking on one of the competition's front-runners.
"We were extremely pleased with the result against the Reds - in particular seeing our whole bench close out the game after an enormous effort from the starting XV," he said.
"Having said that, we acknowledge there were some areas of our game that need to be better if we're to get the result this weekend."
Foley has tried to keep a lid on things this week, but it can't have been easy following that marvellous victory over the Reds last Saturday.
A win this weekend would give the Waratahs two from three on the road and with the Brumbies, Force and Rebels all still to tour Africa, give them the upper hand in the Aussie conference.
It's a fixture they've dominated since the Force's inception (won nine and lost two) and have an unbeaten record at nib Stadium.
A potential distraction could be news coach Michael Cheika will face a SANZAR judicial hearing next week, though that has surely been offset by confirmation Israel Folau will play.
2014: Waratahs won 43-21, Sydney
2013: Waratahs won 28-13, Perth
013: Waratahs won 23-19, Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 23-18, Perth
2012: Force won 21-20, Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 20-15, Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 31-3, Perth
Prediction: The Waratahs have the best tackling success rate (89 percent) in the competition this year, but their discipline is the worst. They've conceded more penalties and free-kicks per game (14.5) than any other team and they've picked up four yellow cards. The Force have conceded fewer turnovers (12.3) per game than any other side this year. The Waratahs have won their last four, and seven of their last eight, against the Perth outfit. If the Waratahs can sort out their disciplinary issues they should win by about 10 points.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Chris Tuatara-Morrison.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Jono Lance, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Nathan Gray, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Cheetahs v Crusaders
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT; 03.00, Sunday, April 13 NZ time)
There remains serious questions about the Crusaders' qualities as play-off candidates, even after the win over the Lions eased some concerns.
However, they need to back that up with a second tour win when they face a tricky hurdle in the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs showed, in the first half, against the Chiefs last week that they are better than what their lowly position on the standings suggest.
If they play for 60 or 80 minutes like that against the Crusaders it could get ugly for the visitors.
Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie feels a change in tactics is what got the Crusaders back on the winning track against the Lions last week.
"They kicked a lot more, especially the contestable [high] kicks and put plenty of pressure on the Lions at the rucks where the catcher was tackled," Fourie told this website, adding that they are planning for a similar approach in Bloemfontein.
He said the Crusaders' change in tactics - those contestable high bombs - are tailor-made for the Lions and Cheetahs.
"They know the Lions and ourselves are two teams that enjoy counter-attacking and play more in our own half, than other South Africa teams," the Cheetahs' backline mentor said.
"That is why they employed those tactics and put so much pressure on that first breakdown, to kill off the counter-attacking chances."
The Crusaders' defence was also outstanding and their scrumming has improved since their early season losses.
"They may not be as dangerous on attack as a team like the Chiefs, or even Crusaders teams of the past, but they remain a solid team that does the basics well," Fourie added.
The Cheetahs will be looking to replicate the first half they produced against the Chiefs, rather than the error-riddled performance that was on display after the break last week.
"We played almost perfect rugby in the first half," Fourie told this website, adding: "After the break we had less possession and conceded a few too many penalties in the early stages.
"That put us under pressure inside our own 22.
"On defence, in the last 10 minutes, we simply left open too many hole and did not work hard enough."
2012: Crusaders won 28-21, Christchurch
2011: Cheetahs won 33-20, Bloemfontein
2010: Crusaders won 45-6, Christchurch
2009: Cheetahs won 20-13, Bloemfontein
2008: Crusaders won 55-7, Christchurch
2007: Crusaders won 49-28, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Cheetahs have averaged 160 attempted tackles per game this season and no other side has been worked harder in defence. Phillip van der Walt (96) and Pieter Labuschagne (89) are top of the tackle charts this season, respectively. Also, their average of 14 minutes in possession is the lowest in the tournament - which explains the number of tackles they are forced to make. The Cheetahs have averaged more turnovers won (10) per game than any other side, while the Crusaders have averaged the fewest (6.2). The Crusaders' goal-kicking success rate is a Super Rugby low 61 percent. This game depends on which version of the two teams turn up. We feel the Cheetahs have one really big game in them and might upset the Crusaders - but it will be by less than 10 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Hennie Daniller, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Pieter Labuschagné, 6 Johannes Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Tom Taylor.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Francois de Bruin Francois (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Lions v Sharks
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
It should be a great finish to an exciting weekend of Super Rugby drama.
The table-topping Sharks are somewhat apprehensive ahead of their trip to the Highveld and with good reason.
They are going up against a team with the ability to punish any mistakes, especially through the boot of flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff - who has an astonishing 92 percent strike rate with the boot.
Add to that the fact that the Sharks' only match outside Durban this season resulted in their one loss of the season - a 19-23 defeat to the Bulls.
The only question is how much to read into the Lions' loss at home to a depleted Crusaders outfit last week?
Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White feels it was a one-off mishap for the men from Johannesburg.
"Yes, they'll be disappointed because they have been going along well, but to lose to the Crusaders is not doom or gloom for anybody," White said, adding that the Sharks are in for a typical South African derby.
"The Lions' forward pack has been outstanding," the Sharks boss said.
"I think Johan Ackermann has done a fantastic job. Their front row was supposedly young players who've come along and staked a claim. That's just three players in a whole team, but it epitomises everybody in that group - no-namers who have really stuck their hands up and played above themselves."
He also spoke of the pace in the Lions' backline.
"The fact that Elton Jantjies, a Springbok, isn't in their starting line-up proves that they're obviously quite comfortable with the way they're playing," White said.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann said his team had done some introspection after last week's loss and he was confident they would be able to atone for those mistakes.
"We've worked on that and obviously we've discussed ways to get out of our half," he said of the issues that saw then fall flat against the seven-time champions.
"We also worked on the breakdown, which was a concern," Ackermann added.
"Hopefully our physical, but also mental, preparation will be better because we are playing the leading side in Super Rugby."
In their first meeting in Durban last month, the Sharks outplayed the visiting Lions 37-23.
The hosts will be desperate for a positive result in their final home match before they take on the Stormers in Cape Town and then leave on a tour of Australasia.
2014: Sharks won 37-23, Durban
2012: Lions won 38-28, Johannesburg
2012: Sharks won 32-20, Durban
2011: Lions and Sharks drew 30-all, Johannesburg
2011: Sharks won 27-3, Durban
2010: Sharks won 32-28, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions have kicked a Super Rugby high 92 percent of their goals this season. Their scrum success rate is also 92 percent and is also a joint-high in the competition. The Sharks have averaged a Super Rugby high 4.7 tries and 30.2 points per game this season. They also boast the best defensive record, shipping just 16.8 points and 1.3 tries per game so far. The Sharks are the only side yet to concede a first-half try this season, conceding just eight in total. The Lions have won just one of nine against the Sharks (drawn one and lost seven). The Lions will give the Sharks a good workout, but the men from Durban will most likely be too composed and take the win - by about five points.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.
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 Paul Jordaan, 23 SP Marais.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Marius Jonker