S15 Preview: Round 11, Part One
With every passing week some teams become more desperate, but Week 11 will have the long-await 2013 Final replay.
With every passing week some teams become more desperate, but Week 11 will have the long-await 2013 Final replay.
The two-time defending Super Rugby champion Chiefs travel to Canberra on Friday to play the Brumbies, a team they beat with a late score in the Final last year to claim their second title.
And with the two teams both on 25 points - the Brumbies ahead in second place because they have a better points differential - this game could not have been better scripted.
The weekend's drama - and what drama it will be - starts with two teams in contrasting positions.
The in-form Waratahs (in fourth place) travel to Auckland to face the struggling Blues (11th place). Desperate is indeed a word describing the hosts.
Add to that the off-field drama - the sudden departure of high-profile Rugby League recruit Benji Marshall - and the scene is set for a classic showdown.
And Friday's action concludes in Durban, when the table-topping Sharks host a Highlanders team keen to add to the two victories they posted before last week's bye. That two-match winning streak saw the men from Dunedin move up to eighth on the table.
Jan de Koning looks at Friday's matches!
Friday, April 25
Blues v Waratahs
(Eden Park Auckland - Kick-off: 17.35; 05.35 GMT; 15.35 AEST)
Blues coach John Kirwan spent most of the week dealing with media enquiries surrounding Benji Marshall dramatic and sudden departure from Auckland.
He had to fit in a normal week's preparations in a very abnormal week.
No doubt the off-field distractions will be a factor.
However, Kirwan is well aware that is on the field where his team's biggest problem awaits - a must-win game against a very impressive and powerful Waratahs team.
"I don't need to hide the fact of how important this match is for the franchise, for the team and for our fans," Kirwan said.
"We said last week that, against the Hurricanes, if we lost away from home then we were going to be under pressure and we're under pressure.
"We've just got to get out there and go hard.
"It's going to be a really physical game, I don't know how many Wallabies they've got, I stopped counting so it's going to be a great match up," Kirwan added.
After notching up an important away against the Stormers in South Africa three weeks ago, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is now looking to add a second.
And it is in the set pieces where they believe they can lay the foundation for that victory.
Big lock Will Skelton said the side had spent a considerable amount of time making a weapon of their set piece work.
"Like most teams we play, we try to put pressure on at set piece," Skelton told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"This week they have an All Black front row and that's going to be a test for us.
"However, our focus this week has been pressure at set piece so if we work on that the result should come our way."
2013: Waratahs won 30-27, Sydney
2011: Blues won 26-13, Auckland (preliminary play-off match)
2011: Blues won 31-17, Auckland
2010: Waratahs won 39-32, Sydney
2009: Waratahs 27-22, Auckland
2008: Waratahs 37-16, Sydney
Prediction: Although the Waratahs won the last Super Rugby encounter between the sides (as well as February's pre-season trial), it's five years since their last away win - a narrow 27-22 Phil Waugh-led victory at Eden Park back in March 2009. The only other two contests to be played in Auckland since then both came in 2011 - when the Blues recorded back-to-back wins, with the latter (a 26-13 Super Rugby preliminary play-off win) ending the Tahs' title hopes. The Blues are in desperate shape and the Waratahs in fine fettle. We suggest a Waratahs win by 15 points ... maybe even more.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Pita Ahki.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 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 - from: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Pat McCutcheon, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 Stephen Hoiles.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Chiefs
(GIO Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 17.40; 07.40 GMT, 19:40 NZST)
The Brumbies and Chiefs are preparing for a blockbuster grand final rematch in Canberra on Friday.
Given their positions on the table - Brumbies second and Chiefs third, both with 25 points - this is shaping up to be match of the weekend.
According to replacement Jarrad Butler, although not having been part of the Brumbies side that lost the Super Rugby Final to the Chiefs in Hamilton last season, said the rematch was a chance to prove their championship credentials.
"There's a lot of incentives to beat the Chiefs," Butler told the Canberra Times.
"As far as wanting to win the grand final later this year, you have to be able to knock off teams like the Chiefs.
"I think Friday is going to be pretty telling.
"[We] understand how important it is as far as the whole season's concerned."
And Chiefs coach Dave Rennie was also playing up the importance of the game as a decisive encounter in the build-up to the play-offs in July.
"We're taking away a pretty good side and we know if we play well we're a good show," Rennie told the Waikato Times.
"We're playing against a team with some really good form over there and tough to beat at home so she's a big challenge," Rennie said.
The return of Samoan international Mahonri Schwalger, who comes in for 21-year-old hooker Rhys Marshall, was important for the Chiefs in terms of his experience - not to mention his set-piece skills.
"We're going to need that this week," the Chiefs mentor told the Hamilton-based newspaper.
"The Brumbies scrum a lot for penalties, they drive [from line-outs] a lot for penalties - so are very efficient [in those set-piece areas] and pretty destructive on opposition ball.
"Having Mo [Schwalger] back is a real bonus."
2013: Chiefs won 27-22, Hamilton (Final)
2012: Chiefs won 29-22, Hamilton
2011: Brumbies won 28-20, Canberra
2010: Brumbies won 30-23, Canberra
2009: Chiefs won 10-7, Hamilton
2008: Chiefs won 42-28, Canberra
Prediction: The Chiefs are second on the competition's try-scoring list, with 23 touch-downs, the Brumbies not far behind with just one five-pointer less. The Chiefs are also second with clean breaks (61) and the Brumbies have 54 in fifth place. However, the Brumbies are the worst in terms of their tackle success rate - just 84.6 percent, compared to the Chiefs 88.2 percent) in forth place. The Brumbies do lead the line-out success rate (94 percent) and the Chiefs are worst (74 percent), while both are just mid-table in the scrums stats, the Chiefs on 86 percent and the Brumbies on 85 percent. The Chiefs have been far from clinical this season, but at times showed their championship quality. We feel the Chiefs will edge a brutal battle by less than 10 points.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Dwayne Sweeney, 23 James Lowe.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia) , Andrew Lees (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Sharks v Highlanders
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT; 05.00, Saturday, April 26, NZ time)
The Sharks have made no secret of the fact that they want their home ground to be a fortress.
In fact that has been a trademark of all Jake White-coached teams. They may not produce the most aesthetically pleasing rugby, but they win and get into play-offs.
And with their Australasian tour just over a week away - this being their last home game for over a month - victory on Saturday is more important that at any stage this season if the Sharks are to retain that No.1 ranking through to the play-offs in July.
Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White said the challenge for his team is to focus on getting a result against the Highlanders and not look past Friday's outing.
"We go away [on tour] the next day, it's our last home game for a long while and we have to keep the momentum going, whether it's the Highlanders here or the Rebels [in Melbourne] the following week," White said.
The 2007 World Cup-winning former Springbok coach, White, said he was expecting a typical South Africa-versus-New Zealand encounter - a brutal battle.
"New Zealand teams are always strong," he said, adding: "They [the Highlanders] are a good team, they have some good players, Ben Smith and Aaron Smith are probably the two form players in New Zealand, and have been for the last couple of seasons, not just this year."
The Highlanders arrived in Durban this fresh off a bye and on the back of back-to-back victories.
"There are two ways of looking at it: One, you're rusty because you didn't play the week before, or two, you've had two weeks to prepare yourself and freshen up mentally," White said.
"I don't think you can ever work out in theory if you have a rest you're better, or you lose your momentum.
"The challenge for us is to focus on getting a result."
The Highlanders finished last year second from bottom on the standings with just three wins. This year they already have one more win and they still have nine games to play.
"There is no doubt that this year they are way better than they were last year," White admitted.
2013: Highlanders won 25-22, Dunedin
2012: Sharks won 28-16, Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-16, Dunedin
2009: Sharks won 23-15, Durban
2008: Sharks won 19-17, Dunedin
2007: Sharks won 23-16, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks (17 in eight matches) and the Highlanders (16 in seven games) have struggled to score tries. The Sharks, despite leaking only nine tries, have the second worst tackle success rate (85 percent), while the Highlanders (87 percent) is barely mid-table in that department. The Sharks' line-outs are at a healthy 89 percent, compared to the Highlanders' 84 percent. In the scrums the Sharks (86 percent) are also better off than the Highlanders (84 percent). Home ground advantage and superior set pieces will give the Sharks the edge ... and victory by about 10 points.
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 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 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 John Hardie..
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)