SR Preview: Round Five, Part Two
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: There are two firsts in Saturday's Super Rugby matches.
The Jaguares will face Australian opposition for the first time - having been drawn against New Zealand teams last year.
However, the more intriguing first is that New Zealand and South African teams will meet for the first time this year, when the Blues host the Bulls in North Harbour on Saturday.
That is the game we star with, as we look at all the Saturday matches!
Saturday, March 25
Blues v Bulls
(QBE Stadium, North Harbour - Kick-off: 19.35; 08.35 SA time; 06.35 GMT)
The Blues have shown glimpses of their potential, even taking a 19-point lead against the Crusaders last week.
However, their second-half collapses are well-documented.
The big question is of the Bulls have the capability - as the Crusaders did - to come back when the Blues race into an early lead.
Blues coach Tana Umaga said while the team let a winning lead slip late in the game last wee, there were plenty of positives.
"We wanted clear progress from the week before in terms of our line-out and our error rate," Umaga said, adding: "We got that.
"The line-out was excellent, we had a stable platform, and we had much less handling mistakes.
"As a result, off the back of a stable platform, we were strong in the first half with three excellent tries.
"Overall our defence was quite good, but in the second half, we could not find a way to stop the rolling maul.
"We did not help ourselves with a number of penalties which allowed the Crusaders to be a constant threat inside our red zone.
"We are looking for further progress this week - and every week."
The Bulls admitted they have been off the pace in the opening weeks and are looking at their pre-season win over the table-topping Chiefs in Brisbane for motivation.
"We played really good rugby and that serves as motivation," Bulls loose forward Hanro Liebenberg said of the midweek triumph early in February.
"We haven't played at that level in the first three rounds of the competition, but that is what excites us - we can reach that level."
2015: Blues beat 23-18, Auckland
2014: Bulls won 38-22, Pretoria
2013: Bulls won 28-21, Auckland
2012: Blues won 29-23, Pretoria
2010: Blues won 32-17, Auckland
Prediction: Three of the last four games between these teams have seen the losing side pick up a bonus point, with each team snaring two wins apiece in those four games. The Blues have won all but one of their previous 11 home games against the Bulls, though their lone defeat came in their second-to-last such encounter, in 2013. The Bulls have won just one of their last 10 games in New Zealand, with their last win coming in round 4, 2013 against the Blues. Each of the last two South African teams to visit Auckland, one of which was the Bulls, have been defeated by the Blues by a score of 23-18. The Blues have now lost their last three games overall, the last time they suffered a longer losing streak was a stretch of nine across the 2014 and 2015 campaigns. The Bulls do have a realistic chance of a win, but it will require a dramatic improvement in form. The Blues just need to turn the first-half performances into an 80-minute show and they will beat the Bulls - which we believe they will do, by 12 to 15 points.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina/Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi/Sam Prattley, 18 Sione Mafileo/Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Ihaia West, 23 TJ Faiane.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Nick de Jager, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Rudolph Snyman, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 John-Roy Jenkinson.
Referee: Nicholas Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Highlanders
(GIO Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 19.45; 21.45 NZDT; 08.45 GMT)
The Brumbies will keep backing their style of play according to forward duo Robbie Abel and Alan Alaalatoa.
Speaking ahead of their Round Five outing at home on Saturday, both players shrugged off suggestions they would have to change their approach as the season wears on.
"It doesn't matter to us what people think, we'll stick to the things that work for us," Abel said in an interview on the Brumbies website.
"We've always felt as a group that we have something pretty special here so it's now about putting that into action. We have a lot of potential, a lot of youth and we really having nothing to lose so we're just putting it all out there."
As the Brumbies prepare to face off against 2015 champions the Highlanders, Alaalatoa affirmed his fellow front row forward's comments, saying the side will have to step up but not necessarily change its game plan.
"Doesn't matter who we play," the Wallaby prop said.
"Kiwi, Australian or South African we have to step our game up and keep building as a team. That means sticking to our guns and backing our system."
After playing the other four New Zealand sides in the first four rounds, the Highlanders finally get to play a side from outside Aotearoa.
In fact, of their next nine games, only one - the Blues in Dunedin on April 8 - is against a New Zealand team.
Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett said the side was mindful of a Brumbies outfit coming off an impressive dismantling of the Waratahs in Sydney.
''We've had a really good look at the Brumbies and they are a South African-style team with X-factor as well," Hammett told the Otago Daily Times.
"We are pretty desperate. We're not underestimating them at all,'' Hammett added.
''We have had close games against them. They're a great side who had a good win in the weekend.''
2016: Highlanders won 15-9, Canberra (first-round play-offs)
2016: Highlanders won 23-10, Invercargill
2015: Brumbies won 31-18, Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 30-19, Dunedin
2012: Brumbies won 33-26, Canberra
Prediction: The Highlanders have won their last two games against the Brumbies; the last time they won more in succession was a three-game streak from 2001 to 2003. The Brumbies have won just one of their last nine games against New Zealand clubs, with their eight defeats in that run coming by an average margin of 16.5 points. The Highlanders have won on five of their last six excursions to Australia, keeping their opponent tryless in two of their last three such fixtures. The Highlanders have won 33 scrums on their own feed this season, the most of any side who are yet to lose a scrum against the head. Tevita Kuridrani has won four turnovers so far in 2017, the most of any player who is yet to concede a turnover of their own this campaign. The Brumbies are at home and have some good form. However, the Highlanders are overdue a good game and we believe it may well be this weekend - which is why we backing them to win by eight points.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Blake Enever, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Nathan Mayhew.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Tom Staniforth, 21 Lolo Fakaosilea, 22 De Wet Roos, 23 Jordan Jackson-Hope.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Patelesio Tomkinson, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Fletcher Smith, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Matt Faddes.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Sunwolves v Stormers
(Singapore National Stadium, Singapore - Kick-off: 18.55; 12.55 SA time; 10.55 GMT)
The Stormers, keen to resume their winning start to the season after a bye last week, have been hit with further backline disruption as they head to Singapore to play an improving Sunwolves.
Centre Huw Jones is out for the year, and out of contention for the British and Irish Lions tour after tearing a hamstring playing for Scotland against Italy last week.
The Stormers' Springbok midfielders Juan de Jongh and Damian de Allende are already sidelined with leg injuries and will be out of action for another six weeks.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said that it will be vital for his team to put the sideshows out of their minds, stand together and maintain their focus for 80 minutes against the Sunwolves.
"We know it will be tough against the Sunwolves here in Singapore, but it is a challenge that excites us," he said.
"We got a lot of exciting youngsters in our squad. We are certainly developing for the future.
"We need to look after them and we need to manage them. We can't expose them too quickly and too early. We need to be able to bring them into the setup with experienced players around who can help them through the game."
Fleck described the Sunwolves as a 'hardworking' team.
"They were pretty impressive in their last two games against South African opposition at altitude," the Stormers coach said, adding: "They have run some big teams close.
"Obviously, they did not start off well against the Hurricanes [a 17-83 loss], but since then they have been improving.
"They are a side that you just can't put away, they keep working."
2016: Sunwolves and Stormers drew 17-all, Singapore
2016: Stormers won 46-19, Cape
Prediction: The last clash between these teams ended in a 17-all stalemate, though the Stormers cruised to a 46-19 win in the encounter prior. The Sunwolves return home and have scored at least three tries in five of their last seven games at their home venue. The Stormers have won each of their last seven regular season fixtures, never in Super Rugby history have they won more in succession. The Sunwolves have scored six tries in the final quarter of their games so far this season, the same amount as they've scored in the opening hour and the fourth most of any team in the competition. SP Marais (416 metres) is the only player in the competition to have gained more than 400 metres this season, he is 67 metres ahead of the next best player in the competition. Youthful enthusiasm can count for a lot and we believe the Stormers will have too much energy for the Sunwolves. They should win by 20 points or more.
Sunwolves: 15 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 14 Shota Emi, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Jumpei Ogura, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shokei Kin, 6 Ed Quirk (captain), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Shumei Matsuhashi, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Hayden Cripps, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 John Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Oliver Kebble, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan du Plessis.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Aki Aso (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
Southern Kings v Lions
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT)
The cloud of Lions coach Johan Ackerman's job offer from England is hovering ominously over the Johannesburg-based team.
To add insult the team - which suffered another devastating front row blow this week - went into hiding.
Unusually none of the normal updates or media briefings took place and it was only late in the week that some news emerged via the media manager.
It may suggest all is not well at Ellis Park.
However, Southern Kings coach Deon Davids was not prepared to take any chances, as his side look to build on last week's encouraging performance against the Sharks - a 18-20 loss.
Davids said he is expecting a challenging encounter against the Lions this week.
"We need to step up, because we are playing one of the best sides in the competition this weekend," the coach said.
"The Lions are a very talented side, no matter who they field, and they play the game at a massively high tempo.
"We need to be right up there, we need to be switched on from the start.
"This is a game that we need to take to them. We will give it everything."
Following the confidence-boosting performance last weekend, Davids reiterated the self-belief in the team.
"We did believe from the start that we can compete. We want to be competitive, and we will strive to continuously improve," he said.
"However, we can't dwell too much on last week.
"This is a new challenge. This will be a good indication for us where we are as a team."
2016: Lions won 57-21, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 45-10, Port Elizabeth
Prediction: The Lions have won the only previous two encounters between these teams, both by margins of 35-plus points. The Lions have scored just one first-half try in their last three games away from home. The Kings have scored nine tries in their last four games at home, eight of which were scored in the second stanza. The Kings have stolen an average of 2.5 line-outs per game this season, the equal most of any team alongside the Cheetahs. Rohan Janse van Rensburg has scored eight tries in his last five games against South African opposition, including a double in each of his last two such games. The Lions may have some problems at home, but they still have enough talent to account for the Kings - by 15 points.
Southern Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Lionel Cronje (captain), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Andisa Ntsila, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Kurt Haupt, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Justin Forwood, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Stefan Willemse, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 23 Luzuko Vulindlu.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Sithembiso Sithole, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Egon Seconds (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Cheetahs v Sharks
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
Neither team had the type of performance they would have been proud of last week and setting the record straight has been the main feature of the media briefings in both Bloemfontein and Durban.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez, who described their trip to Bloemfontein as a "really big game", denied that they are looking ahead to the encounter with the Lions in Johannesburg next week - a crucial match in the Africa conference context.
"We are not looking ahead," Du Preez said, adding: "The Cheetahs are a very good team and they have their regular captain, Francois Venter, back. We are focussed on this week only."
Sharks scrumhalf Cobus Reinach was born, raised and schooled in the Free State before picking up his junior rugby in Durban.
He has alerted his teammates to the threats posed by a Cheetahs side that has added a few strings to their attacking bow under coach Franco Smith.
"They have always played attacking rugby, but now they attack with different lines, so they are quite unpredictable," Reinach said.
"What we can expect is a lot of attacking rugby which will keep us on our feet; it's quite a good challenge.
"The Cheetahs team is a strong outfit with some very exciting players who can bring anything to the party."
With the two teams sitting in a similar position after last week - where the Cheetahs lost to the Jaguares and the Sharks needed a late penalty to steal a win in a scrappy encounter with the Southern Kings - Reinach expects a huge match on Saturday.
"Both teams need to put in a big performance, we're expecting a huge performance from them, as well as one from us.
"We need to lift our standards."
2016: Sharks won 26-10, Durban
2015: Sharks won 27-10, Bloemfontein
2015: Cheetahs won 35-29, Durban
2014: Cheetahs won 27-20, Bloemfontein
2014: Sharks won 19-8, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks have won eight of their last 11 games against the Cheetahs, including each of their last two in which they've conceded just 20 points combined. After a 34-28 win against the Bulls in Round Two, the Cheetahs will now be looking for back-to-back home wins against South African opposition for the first time since Round 18, 2014 against the Sharks. The Sharks have scored 14 tries in their last four games against South African opposition, nearly twice as many as they've conceded (eight). The Cheetahs have made an average of 18.3 offloads per game this campaign, more than any other team and five more than the Sharks (13.3). Sharks' Phillip Van Der Walt has made 42 tackles so far this season, the most of any player who is yet to miss an attempt. This is a tough one to call, but we believe the Cheetahs will be back to their best at home and should win by eight points.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ryno Benjamin/Clinton Swart.
Sharks: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu (captain), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Garth April.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Lourens van der Merwe
TMO: Johan Greeff
Jaguares v Reds
(Estadio Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires - Kick-off: 18.40; 21.40 GMT; 07.40 Sunday, March 26 AEST)
The Jaguares will enjoy their third successive game in Buenos Aires and will look to make the most of their home ground advantage against the Reds to retain their points differential lead over the Lions in the Africa Two group.
The odds are firmly stacked against the Reds - the loss of two senior players in captain James Slipper (torn Achilles against the Lions last week) and flyhalf Quade Cooper (banned for three weeks his foul play in the same match), to go along with a marathon trip from Johannesburg to Buenos Aires, which involved a three-hour stopover in Sao Paulo.
Reds flyhalf Jake McIntyre, however, feel the biggest threat may not be the 'unstructured' Argentineans, but rather their own inaccuracies.
"The Jaguares are very unstructured and like to throw the ball around," McIntuyre said.
"That is why, when we get the ball, we will have to look to build pressure and not give away cheap possession.
"They are also very physical, so we will have to win the battle up front.
"The biggest problem with our attack was our lack of patience.
"We didn't allow our gameplan to unfold."
He described it as a 'real simple fix'.
"It is not a skillset problem, it is just a mindset change," McIntyre said.
These teams have never met before
Prediction: This will be the Jaguares' first encounter with a team from Australia. The Jaguares have now won four of their last five games, more wins than they managed in their first 14 Super Rugby fixtures; a third straight win would set a new club record. Queensland have won just one of their last 16 games outside Australia, losing each of their last six by an average margin of 26 points. The Argentine squad have scored eight tries from possession originating in their own half, only the Hurricanes (13) have scored more from this distance. Taniela Tupou has scored a try in two of his three games away from home for the Reds, despite coming off the bench in all three of those matches. This could be another bonus-point win for the Jaguares - by at least 20 points.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Marcos Kremer, 3 Felipe Arregui, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Nicolás Sánchez, 23 Emiliano Boffelli.
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Adam Korczyk, 6 Leroy Houston, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Markus Vanzati.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Lachie Maranta, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Damian Schneider (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports