S15 Preview: Round 12, Part Two
The championship credentials of several teams will be put to the test in what will be a Saturday of wall-to-wall Super Rugby.
The championship credentials of several teams will be put to the test in what will be a Saturday of wall-to-wall Super Rugby.
Starting with the Crusaders versus Brumbies game in Christchurch, though to the derby between the Bulls and the Cheetahs there are desperation written over the matches.
The Crusaders, sitting just two points outside the play-off places, must overcome a determined Brumbies team that tops the very competitive Australian conference.
Now throw in the Brumbies' chances of overtaking the table-topping Sharks with a win and the enormity of the Crusaders' task is put into perspective.
The two-time defending champion Chiefs - although still seated inside the top six - will look to regain the momentum they lost in the past month when they host the hapless Lions. After a good start, which included victories in their first three matches, the Chiefs have produced just one win in their last six outings. They are up against a Lions that have lost their last three games, after winning four of their first six.
After the two encounters on New Zealand soil we hop across the Tasman Sea, where the Waratahs will have the unenviable task of facing the top Kiwi team, the Hurricanes. Given their erratic from - a loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss run - beating a Hurricanes team that won their last four matches will indeed be a tall order.
Then we cross the Indian Ocean and travel to Cape Town where the Stormers will look to salvage something from a disastrous campaign when they host a vastly-improved Highlanders. Victory may well move the Stormers off the bottom of the table, while the Highlanders are within touching distance of the play-off positions.
The weekend's action is completed when the Bulls, still in with a realistic chance of reaching the play-offs, will host the enigmatic Cheetahs. Last week's demolition of the Stormers was as entertaining as it was indicative of the Cheetahs' potential.
Jan de Koning looks at Saturday's matches!
Saturday, May 3
Crusaders v Brumbies
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 16.35; 04.35 GMT; 14.35 AEST)
There is no doubt the significance of this match for both teams.
The second-placed Brumbies head the Australian conference with 30 points and will want to consolidate that lead over the Western Force (27 points), while they have a chance to go top of the global standings if the Sharks in Melbourne come unstuck on Friday.
In contrast the eighth-placed Crusaders are hovering in fourth place in the New Zealand conference, but only four points adrift the leading Hurricanes and two points away from a top six spot.
The Brumbies are well aware that, despite their slow start, the Crusaders remain a formidable force.
"Playing the Crusaders away is a big challenge for everyone," Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said ahead of their trip across the Tasman for Saturday's early game.
"We haven't had a very good record over there," he said of seven consecutive away defeats against the Crusaders, adding: "No-one in this side has ever beaten the Crusaders in New Zealand."
Then there is the more significant fact that the Crusaders have strung some impressive results together before last week's bye.
"They've had three-straight wins now, including two in South Africa, which is never easy.
"After a shaky start to the season they've found some form and will be further boosted by the return of Richie McCaw.
"We've been building over the last three years, not just against the Crusaders, but at rising to challenges and overcoming those challenges.
"Our attack is much better now than what is has been and we feel internally like we are a better side than we have been over the last couple of years."
McCaw, who is confident his thumb fracture has healed sufficiently to withstand the physical rigours of Super Rugby, described the Brumbies as a "smart" side, well organised and with a good set piece.
"They're pretty good at building pressure and taking their chances and we saw that against the Chiefs last week," McCaw said.
"It's about who holds their nerve and if you make mistakes at the wrong end of the field they'll punish you."
2013: Crusaders won 30-23, Canberra
2011: Crusaders won 52-10, Nelson
2010: Crusaders won 40-22, Christchurch
2009: Brumbies won 18-16, Canberra
2008: Crusaders won 34-3, Christchurch
2007: Brumbies won 15-6, Canberra
Prediction: The Crusaders have won their last three against the Brumbies, averaging over 40 points per game in this run. The Crusaders have missed more shots at goal than any other side this year, their goal-kicking success rate of 67 percent is the lowest in the competition. The Crusaders have won fewer turnovers per game (6.4) than any other side this year, but have conceded fewer penalties (9.3), on average, than anyone else. The Brumbies boast the best line-out success rate (94 percent) in the competition, but the worst scrum success rate (79 percent). Set pieces will be vital and the Crusaders use theirs to strangle the opposition, before striking the killer blow in the final quarter. Tough call, but we are going with as home win - the Crusaders by less than 10 points.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (captain), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Nafi Tuitavake, 17 Tom Taylor, 18 Willi Heinz, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Luke Romano, 21 Tim Perry, 22 Nepo Laulala, 23 Corey Flynn.
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, Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ruaidhri Murphy, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Chiefs v Lions
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT, 09.35 SAST)
Neither team has any form to speak of, with the Chiefs managed just one win in the last six weeks and the Lions nothing in the victory column in the same period.
However, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie put it succinctly when said they remain in control of their own destiny.
"This is a defining match for us," Rennie said.
"We have boxed ourselves into a corner with recent results and now we need to come out fighting."
Lions coach Johan Ackermann, who has been careful not to overstate his team's early-season success or create too much expectation of his inexperienced outfit, admitted they could be on the wrong end of a big backlash.
"Our luck hasn't changed much," Ackermann said, adding: "We hit the Bulls after three losses, so they were quite desperate. Then we went down to the Stormers and they were under the cosh and media pressure. The same with the Crusaders going to South Africa - they were under the pump.
"We have just seen the media reports that the Chiefs are under pressure after losing a few games in a row now, and they have made it quite clear that they want to put things right in Hamilton.
"It does not come tougher than playing the defending champions at home, but we are looking forward to the challenge."
He said his charges - most of whom are on their first tour - are "excited" to play in New Zealand.
"We have seen it in training, there is a lot of excitement and energy and hopefully we can maintain that," Ackermann added.
"The thing is about this team is that they haven't got the bad experience or memory of losing two or three years in a row or all the things that the guys have carried in the past.
"So if we can start well and perform well and get some belief in the team then hopefully we can do well on tour.
"Obviously it is still a big challenge as the guys will experience a New Zealand crowd and weather for the first time, but we are quite confident that they will go out and play with a lot of passion and a lot of pride and maybe that will surprise some of these teams."
Chiefs assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge also hinted of a backlash awaiting the Lions, saying they respond best when their backs are against the wall.
"Right from day one a couple of years ago, when we were written off before the competition had started, we enjoyed trying to prove people wrong," said Strawbridge.
"We find ourselves in that position again because of our own lack of results. I think they [the players] are going to respond pretty positively."
2012: Chiefs won 34-21, Pukekohe
2011: Chiefs won 34-30, Johannesburg
2010: Chiefs won 72-65, Johannesburg
2009: Chiefs won 36-29, Hamilton
2008: Lions won 33-27, Johannesburg
2007: Chiefs won 34-7, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs have won their last four matches against the Lions, averaging 44 points per game in this run. That run includes the highest scoring game in Super Rugby history; in 2010 the Chiefs beat the Lions 72-65 in an 18-try thriller. The Chiefs have the worst line-out success rate (76 percent) in Super Rugby. The Lions' scrum success rate of 91 percent is the best in the competition this year. The Lions have the best goal-kicking success rate in the competition (91 percent) but have averaged a Super Rugby low of 1.2 tries per game. The most significant factor for the Lions is that Springbok Elton Jantjies is starting at flyhalf - so perhaps they are ready to concede some goal-kicking accuracy to be a bigger threat on attack. This game could get ugly for the Lions if they are not focussed and accurate for the entire 80 minutes. The Chiefs to win by about 20 points.
Chiefs: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Mike Fitzgerald, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Bundee Aki, 23 Andrew Horrell.
Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Jacobus Jonker.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Waratahs v Hurricanes
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT; 21.40 NZ time)
It is extremely congested at the top of the Super Rugby standings, where just seven points separate the teams in the top half of the table.
The Hurricanes, New Zealand's leading side, and the Waratahs (third on the Aussie conference) are caught up in this mad rush for points ahead of the looming June break.
After a slow start to the season - a winless tour of South Africa - a string of wins has seen the Hurricanes surge to the top of the New Zealand conference.
"They're certainly playing some really good football," the Waratahs' Wallaby centre Adam Ashley-Cooper told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"They've changed their style of attack and how they go about things and it seems to be working for them," Ashley-Cooper added.
"For us, it's a really big game.
"We're at home, we need to win. Obviously it wasn't the result we wanted last week [a 13-21 loss to the Blues] and I feel this game could define our season."
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett also spoke about the significance of the occasion and how important momentum is going to be in the next four weeks.
"I'm not sure if that's a pressure." Hammett told The Dominion Post, when asked about leading the New Zealand conference.
"If it is, then that's a good one.
"If you want to make the play-offs, you've got to live with that.
"A week in this competition can change things immensely."
2013: Hurricanes won 41-29, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 33-12, Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 32-16, Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 26-22, Wellington
2008: Waratahs won 20-3, Sydney
2007: Waratahs won 38-14, Wellington
Prediction: Just one of the last six clashes between these sides has been settled by a difference of 10 points or fewer. The Waratahs have averaged more carries (128) and offloads (13.4) per game than any other side this year, as well as the fewest kicks from hand (17.3). Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have averaged the most metres (519), clean breaks (8.6) and defenders beaten (25.6) so far. Both sides have averaged 162 passes per game, a joint high. The NSW side have conceded more penalties/free-kicks per game (13.2) than any other team but have also won the most turnovers, averaging 9.3. Both these sides have struggled to challenge the opposition scrum this year. The Tahs produced 14 dropped balls last week, more than any other side has managed in a single match this season. Indeed, they have produced 59 over the course of 2014; at least seven more than any other side. The statistics suggest the Hurricanes should win this one with ease, but we feel the Waratahs will bounce back and win an arm-wrestle by less than 10 points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Jacques Potgieter, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements - from: Tolu Latu, Jeremy Tilse, Sekope Kepu, Will Skelton, Pat McCutcheon, Stephen Hoiles, Brendan McKibbin, Jono Lance, Cam Crawford, Alofa Alofa.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia) , Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Stormers v Highlanders
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT; 01.00, Sunday, May 4 NZ time)
Desperate is a word that epitomises the Stormers in more ways that one.
Not only are they desperate for a win that could possibly lift them off the bottom of the standings, but they have been desperately poor all season in terms of the quality of their game.
In fact so poor are the Stormers at present - their lengthy injury list aside - that most pundits suggest it is a given the Highlanders will end a seven-year drought against the men from Cape Town.
And it shouldn't be a surprise if the Highlanders rout the Stormers, given that the New Zealand franchise have won their last three matches (against the Rebels, Bulls and Sharks), while they have lost just once since mid-March.
Stormers coach Alister Coetzee, who is fast running out of reasons for his team's dramatic slump in form, admitted they are in a dire situation.
"The Highlanders have a lot of confidence and they're playing very well," Coetzee said.
"Their key men - such as Ben and Aaron Smith, who are top All Blacks - are really on top of their game and it will be a tough game for us against a tactically sound team.
"They attack well and they've got two centres who are good runners with ball in hand.
"Their No.10 has settled nicely and is making good decisions.
"We will have to be at our best against a side like this."
2012: Stormers won 21-6, Dunedin
2011: Stormers won 18-6, Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 33-0, Cape Town
2009: Stormers won 18-11, Dunedin
2008: Stormers won 26-16, Cape Town
2007: Highlanders won 35-24, Dunedin
Prediction: The Stormers may have won their last five matches against the Highlanders, but they have scored fewer points (16.1) per game than any other side this season, while the Highlanders have averaged the second most (27.3). The Highlanders have averaged the least amount of time in possession (14 minutes and five seconds) this season. This is another game that could get ugly for a South African team, but we expect the Stormers to put up a fight at home and the Highlanders to win by about 15 points.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Trent Renata, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Jason Emery, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Bulls v Cheetahs
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
In the only derby match of the weekend there will be a touch of revenge on the cards.
When the two teams met back in Round Two, in February, the Cheetahs recorded their first-ever Super Rugby win over the Bulls since the Cheetahs went solo in 2006.
Despite being unable to replicate last season success, the Cheetahs showed last week against the Stormers just how devastating they can be when they do get it right.
While the Cheetahs against showed they have the ability to score tries, Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie felt they first need to win the battle up front before thinking of any expansive play.
"Against the Bulls the set pieces are always vital," Fourie said.
"You need quality possession to attack effectively," he said of their encounter with a team whose strengths are their scrums and line-outs.
"They compete very well in the line-outs, with Victor Matfield, on the opposition's throw," Fourie added.
"Against the Bulls you always have to be ready for their kicking game. They make use of contestable kicks a lot.
"Then, on defence you have to ensure they don't get momentum, especially from first phase, otherwise those forwards that run off their No.9 will get into the game."
Despite a five-match winless streak Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said they still have their sights set on reaching the play-offs.
However, that dream will be shattered if they come unstuck against the visitors from Bloemfontein.
"We have to be at our best this weekend," Ludeke said, adding: "It will have to be our best game of the year, that is what we are working for.
"The play-offs are still reachable for us and we know the immediate goal is this weekend."
2014: Cheetahs won 15-9, Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 30-25, Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 26-20, Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 40-24, Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 51-19, Bloemfontein
2011: Bulls won 32-21, Pretoria
2011: Bulls won 25-23, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Bulls have made fewer metres (332), offloads (5.4), passes (96) and beaten fewer defenders (12.2) per game than any other team in 2014. The Cheetahs have missed more tackles than any other side this year, averaging 22.3 (also a competition high) in their 10 games so far. They have also shipped more points and tries than any other team, despite their opponents kicking just 69 percent of their goals. They have shipped 34.4 points and 3.9 tries per game on average. They have seen more metres, breaks, defenders beaten and offloads against them than any other outfit. This is a tough one to call, but apart from home ground advantage there is not much going for the Bulls. You have to back the Cheetahs to edge another arm-wrestle - by less than 10 points.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Wimpie van der Walt, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Johannes Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Rynhardt Landman, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)