S15 Preview: Round 18, Part Two
It is a weekend for BIG north-south Super Rugby derbies, both in New Zealand and South Africa. Jan de Koning reports.
It is a weekend for BIG north-south Super Rugby derbies, both in New Zealand and South Africa.
The only difference is that there is a lot more riding on the Round 18 encounter in Christchurch on Saturday, where the Crusaders host the Blues.
But it won't be any less brutal when the Stormers welcome the Bulls to Cape Town later in the day.
Now throw in the Aussie derby between the Western Force and Reds in Perth, along with the All-South African encounter between the Cheetahs and Sharks in Bloemfontein.
Then the weekend's action conclude with the trans-Tasman battle between the Waratahs and Highlanders in Sydney.
Round 18 will determine the fate of at least two of New Zealand's five teams, with all of them still in the hunt for play-off spots.
Only the South African and Australian conference leaders, Sharks and Waratahs respectively, have confirmed their places in the last six.
Bonus points are going to play a big part in determining the final order of the teams in the top six.
While the Stormers and the Reds are now out of the running, like the Lions, Rebels and Cheetahs they will have a major influence on the final order.
The Crusaders and the Highlanders are in the strongest positions to take the New Zealand conference, although any one of five teams could take the top spot.
Tie breakers - if sides are tied on competition points, the steps to break the tie are:
* Most wins from all matches
* Highest aggregate points difference
* Most tries
* Highest aggregate try difference
* Coin toss
Jan de Koning looks at Saturday and Sunday's matches!
Saturday, July 5
Crusaders v Blues
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Crusaders, who heads the New Zealand conference on matches won, are desperate to make amends for last week's big slip against the Hurricanes.
At home to the Blues, who ended a nearly two-year losing streak on the road, the Crusaders know they can't afford another defeat.
The Blues are in the same position - they have to win in Christchurch for the first time since 2004 to keep their hopes of a play-off spot alive.
Currently on 36 points, they need five points to jump the Brumbies (on 40) – while they need the Chiefs to beat the Hurricanes the reds to upstage the Western Force.
"We've been playing sudden death most of the year so we're used to the pressure," coach John Kirwan said of his team's predicament.
"We've got to keep the energy and excitement that we've had in the last couple of outings so if we can do that we'll be fine."
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder reacted to last week's loss by making a few interesting selections - including axing Tom Taylor, naming Dan Carter at inside centre and retaining Colin Slade at flyhalf.
Blackadder said Slade deserved to get a run ahead of Carter in the No.10 jersey, despite his poor kicking game against the Hurricanes.
"By putting him in the midfield it will give us a lot of experience," Blackadder said in reference to his decision to start Carter at No.12.
"I know that Sladie was disappointed in his game last week and has shown all year that he is better than that."
2014: Blues won 35-24, Auckland
2013: Crusaders won 23-3, Christchurch
2013: Blues won 34-15, Auckland
2012: Crusaders won 59-12, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 19-18, Auckland
2011: Crusaders won 23-16, Timaru
2011: Blues won 24-22, Auckland
Prediction: Only the Waratahs (28.8), Blues (28.4) and Hurricanes (28.2) have averaged more points than the Crusaders (27.9) this season. The Crusaders have conceded fewer penalties, on average, than any other side (9.2). The Crusaders have scored 25 tries in the second half of games, compared to just 10 in the first. The Blues have scored the most tries in the 20 minutes that follows half-time (15). The Crusaders know how to close out games and once they get a sniff at topping the table they all seem to grow an extra leg or two. The Crusaders by 15.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Johnny McNicholl.
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sam Prattley, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Francis Saili, 23 George Moala.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Western Force v Reds
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
The Western Force, in their last home game of the season, need to show massive improvement on last week's bitterly disappointing showing if they are to get past the Reds and keep their fast-fading play-off dream alive.
The Force are seventh on the Super Rugby standings and will be chasing their sixth successive win at home in 2014.
With wing Nick Cummins and lock Wilhelm Steenkamp having been returned to the starting line-up, there is bound to be some additional energy to a team that hardly fired a shot in anger last week.
The Reds have made several changes to the side that defeated the Rebels 36-20 last weekend, with Greg Holmes (knee), Dom Shipperley (ankle) and Anthony Fainga'a (calf) all ruled out of this week's match.
The Force holds the advantage on matches played between the two sides in Perth having won three of their five encounters, while the Reds have won six of their 12 matches, with an 11-all draw in Perth last season.
The Force claimed victory in their Week Eight clash this season, when Jayden Hayward scored in the dying stages to steal a 32-29 win in Brisbane.
Reds head coach Richard Graham said the squad continued to push for a strong finish to the season, despite the considerable disruption due to ongoing injuries.
"I am really pleased with the way we have continued to work hard and looked for ways to improve," Graham said.
"That the squad are finishing the season strongly is a good sign. Our past two performances have demonstrated a more abrasive approach around the contact and a more consistent use of the width in our attacking game.
"Whilst our run of injuries hasn't been ideal, it has presented a number of the training group with playing opportunities. That in itself is exciting for us as a squad and the energy and intensity at training has been exceptionally good.
"We are determined to finish our season in good fashion.
"The Force are a good team. They have had a solid season to date and have played a disciplined style of Rugby. They will see this game as an opportunity to get one foot into the finals campaign."
2014: Force won 32-29, Brisbane
2013: Force and Reds drew 11-all, Perth
2013: Force won 19-12, Brisbane
2012: Force won 45-19, Perth
2012: Reds won 35-20, Brisbane
2011: Reds won 24-21, Perth
2011: Reds won 21-20, Brisbane
Prediction: The Force rank last for average metres gained (339) this year, though the Reds have not fared much better in this aspect (374 metres). The Reds have conceded more metres (486) per game than any other team, while opponents of the Force have averaged a gain of 456 metres. Matt Hodgson has made at least 50 more tackles (217) than any other Super Rugby player this year. It might not be pretty, but the Force's grit should see them with a tight derby by less than 10 points.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Hugh McMenamin, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Dillyn Leyds, 23 Solomoni Rasolea.
Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Samu Kerevi , 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Tim Buchanan, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Johnson, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: James Leckie, Ian Smith (both Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Stormers v Bulls
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Bulls, with a mathematical chance of still making the play-offs, have a lot more to lose.
In 10th place on 33 points and need to win their last two round-robin matches with the full complement of points.
Even if they took the full 10 points from the two remaining games, their fate was still out of their hands as results in the other matches could leave them out in the cold.
Stand-in captain Victor Matfield, however, said the team needed little motivation when they travelled down to Cape Town to face a resurgent Stormers side.
"If you put on the Bulls jersey there should be purpose," the veteran lock said.
"We have a lot of pride and there is a lot of history in the jersey," Matfield added.
"There is still a small chance and we can only focus on what we can control, and we've got an opportunity to maybe still be in the race.
"If we don't win the game there is nothing for us, so it is a very important game for us."
When the Stormers last played the Bulls in May, the Capetonians were quick out of the blocks and ran up an early 12-0 lead but the Bulls staged a brilliant fightback.
"In our previous game against the Bulls we started off well and put them under pressure but then our exits out of our half became poor," Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said.
"As a result, they managed to pin us in our half for much of the game. But this team has improved bit by bit and it is going to be a tactical challenge. The two sides have very different styles."
Bull coach Frans Ludeke admitted his team will be driven by the desire to sneak in through the play-off back door.
"We all know the maths," Ludeke said, adding: "We need to go to Cape Town and get the full haul.
"It is a massive challenge but we feel that we can do it. Making the play-offs was one of our clear targets and we need a very positive performance at Newlands to make it happen."
2014: Bulls won 28-12, Pretoria
2013: Stormers won 30-13, Cape Town
2013: Bulls won 25-17, Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 19-14, Pretoria
2012: Stormers won 20-17, Cape Town
2011: Bulls 19-16, Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 23-13, Pretoria
Prediction: The Stormers have averaged fewer points per game (18.9) this season than any other team, but four other sides have averaged fewer tries scored than them (two). Indeed their average of 20.9 points conceded per match is bettered by only two sides (the Sharks and Waratahs). The Bulls rank bottom for average carries, breaks, defenders beaten, offloads and passes, but have maintained the best success rate at the line-out (91 percent). Opponents of the Stormers gain fewer metres (347) than against other side. Handré Pollard has landed 19 of 21 attempted goal kicks this year (90 percent), while Jacques-Louis Potgieter has kicked 47/57 (82 percent). Given the cold front and accompanying inclement weather expect in Cape Town, a solid set piece and a sound kicking game will win the day - the Bulls by about eight points.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger (captain), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Morné Mellett, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 William Small-Smith.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Cheetahs v Sharks
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
Jake White's Sharks face a big test in Bloemfontein on Saturday, to stay in the hunt for a top-two spot.
The Durban franchise were overtaken by the Waratahs at the top of the table last weekend - a direct result of a loss to the Stormers in their last match before the break, a defeat they may yet come to regret.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské turned up the heat on the Sharks by pointing to their perilous run-in to the play-offs.
"I think all the pressure is on them," Drotské said.
"They are still in the running for the title and, if they want to host a home semi-final, they need to win their next couple of games," he added.
"In South African derbies anything can happen and we look forward to the game."
The Sharks have always enjoyed travelling to Bloemfontein, winning four times in five visits.
However, White said there is no risk of complacency.
"The Cheetahs in Bloemfontein are a strong side, you can see that from their record," the Sharks' Director of Rugby, White, said.
"They have knocked over some good sides at home and despite all the Springbok players they have from the weekend, it's not really about the players they have in their roster, they're a good team.
"We just need to make sure we prepare ourselves properly.
"We have a good away record, probably better than our home record this year strangely enough, although it's not something we are really concentrating on or giving too much attention to.
"We just want to make sure we win."
2014: Sharks won 19-8, Durban
2013: Cheetahs won 12-6, Durban
2013: Sharks 29-22, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 34-15, Durban
2012: Sharks won 34-20, Bloemfontein
2011: Sharks won 23-18, Bloemfontein
2011: Sharks won 24-9, Durban
Prediction: The Cheetahs have shipped more points per game (31.9) than any other side, while the Sharks have conceded the fewest (18.3). Opponents of the Sharks have averaged the fewest passes (107) and most kicks (31.4) in the competition. Stephan Lewies has won more line-outs (66) than any other player this term, he also ranks third for steals (seven). The Cheetahs have conceded the most tries in the final quarter of matches (19) this season. Just four of the 18 tries the Sharks have conceded this season have been in the opening half. It will be tight for most of the game, with the Sharks finding just enough energy to edge an arm-wrestle by about five points.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Caylib Oosthuizen, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Thomas du Toit, 17 Bismarck du Plessis, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Lubabalo Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Odwa Ndungane, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Sunday, July 6
Waratahs v Highlanders
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 16.05; 06.05 GMT; 18.05 NZ time)
The Waratahs can ensure they have home ground advantage in the semifinals, at least, with victory over the Highlanders.
Victory, with or without a bonus point, will add pressure on the Sharks.
The Waratahs are three points clear of the Sharks heading into the penultimate regular round to decide the top-six play-off spots and are chasing their sixth straight win.
The Sydneysiders, who are bidding for their first Super Rugby title after finishing runners-up in 2005 and 2008, can lock up a top-two berth and with it a home semi if they can beat the Highlanders in Sydney on Sunday.
The Highlanders are lying fourth overall, but are joint leaders of the New Zealand conference with the Crusaders - with the latter ahead based on the strength of having won one extra game.
The Highlanders, who stormed into play-off contention with a 29 win over defending champion Chiefs last weekend, are looking to improve on their record over the Tahs - where they have won just twice in their last four trips to Sydney.
"To nullify their threats and to maintain ours, you're going to have to be working hard all the time because of the way we want to play the game," coach Michael Cheika said.
"You don't want to kick them the ball too much and if you're not going to be kicking the ball too much, you have to run with it, work hard."
The Highlanders will have to be at their very best to knock over the Waratahs where they haven't been beaten at home this season, coach Jamie Joseph said.
"We are coming into the business end of the season and all teams have to stand up," coach Jamie Joseph said.
"They are a big, strong side up front and have a lot of X factor.
"Any team that can put 30 to 40 points on the Brumbies last week must be a good side."
The Waratahs are unbeaten at home this campaign, but Cheika insists the fourth-placed Highlanders are capable of crashing the party and leaving his side under pressure to topple the Reds in Brisbane to avoid a dreaded away final.
"They're equal top of the New Zealand conference," he said.
"On Sunday, it's probably the game I'm going to ask the team to make the biggest sacrifices of the season so far."
2012: Highlanders won 18-17, Dunedin
2011: Waratahs won 33-7, Sydney
2010: Highlanders won 26-10, Invercargill
2009: Waratahs won 34-16, Sydney
2008: Waratahs won 15-12, Dunedin
2007: Highlanders won 26-25, Sydney
Prediction: The Waratahs have averaged the most carries, metres and passes this season, while the Highlanders have averaged the most tackle attempts. Indeed, the Highlanders have spent the least amount of time in possession in the competition; an average of 13 minutes 56 seconds. Thus, opponents of the Highlanders have spent more time in possession (17 minutes 46 seconds) than against any other team. No midfielder has scored more tries than Malakai Fekitoa (six) this season. Along with the Brumbies' Nic White (one try, 12 assists), Israel Folau (11 tries, two assists) and Kurtley Beale (five tries, eight assists) rank joint top for direct try involvements this term. The Waratahs have been too clinical, especially at home, and should have enough to beat the Highlanders by 10 points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements - from (two names to be omitted): Tolu Latu, Jeremy Tilse, Paddy Ryan, Will Skelton, Mitch Chapman, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbin, Jono Lance, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Cam Crawford.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Lee Allan, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees, Ed Martin
TMO: George Ayoub