SR Preview: Round Seven, Part Two
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: Two unbeaten teams go head-to-head on Saturday in what will be the most telling game of the weekend.
The Chiefs and Stormers go head-to-head in a Super Rugby clash that will shake up the battle for top spot.
The Chiefs go into Saturday's game two points behind the Crusaders, who have a bye, meaning they are able to seize control of the New Zealand conference.
The Stormers 13 points clear at the top of the Africa One conference, but just two points behind the Chiefs.
A win could see the Cape Town-based franchise claim first place in the combined standings, the same spot being chased by the Chiefs.
The Brumbies have lost three games, but still lead the Australian conference. They are at home in Canberra to the troubled Reds.
The Reds, already without suspended playmaker Quade Cooper, have dropped Wallabies scrumhalf Nick Frisby as they look to stem a run of five consecutive defeats and deal with off-field disciplinary issues.
The Jaguares are in Durban to play the Sharks - with both sides on 18 points, five behind the Lions in the Africa Two conference.
The Argentinian franchise has a game in hand.
Australia's Western Force and South African franchise Southern Kings, two sides likely to be in the firing line should the competition be trimmed from 18 to 15 teams, meet in Perth on Sunday.
In Part Two we look at the last four matches of the weekend!
Saturday, April 8:
Brumbies v Reds
(GIO Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 19.45; 09.45 GMT)
The Brumbies - looking to secure their stranglehold on the Australian Conference - said they are not reading anything into the Reds poor record, which has the Brisbane side with just one win in the first six weeks.
Scott Fardy will captain the Brumbies in the absence of Sam Carter, bringing Rory Arnold into the starting side.
Former Brumby George Smith will return to Canberra when he runs out for the Reds alongside his in-form back row partners Scott Higginbotham and Adam Korcyzk.
The Reds are still without key playmaker Quade Cooper, who is serving a three-match suspension for a high tackle against the Lions.
But with Stephen Moore and George Smith in the side, the Reds have the kind of experience that make the Brumbies very nervous.
The Canberra players know they'll have to be at the top of the game to cement themselves at the top of the Australian Conference.
Andrew Smith warned the Brumbies players to avoid underestimating the Reds despite their run of five consecutive losses.
"They have class across the park and are a very skilful team," Smith said.
"They try to play an attacking game and are very dangerous.
"The Reds have been in all of their games and they've had their opportunities," Smith added.
Smith admitted it is a really big game for the home team.
2016: Brumbies won 43-24, Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 29-0, Brisbane
2015: Brumbies won 47-3, Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 23-20, Brisbane
2014: Reds won 27-17, Canberra
Prediction: The Brumbies have won each of their last four games against the Reds, the last time they won more was a 12-game streak from 2000 to 2010. Only one of the last five Australian derbies in Super Rugby has seen the same team lead at both half-time and full-time. The Reds have lost their last 11 games away from home; the last time they won on the road was in Round 16, 2015 against the Force. The Brumbies are the most efficient tacklers of any team in the competition, boasting a tackle success rate of 88 percent for the campaign thus far. Samu Kerevi has beaten 28 defenders, including four last round, which is the most of any player this season. The Reds will give the Brumbies a run for their money, but in the end, the class of the home team will win through and they will triumph by eight points.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Tom Banks, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy (captain), 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 James Dargaville.
Reds: 15 Lachlan Maranta, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Sef Fa'agase.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Izaia Perese.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Sharks v Jaguares
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 10.05 Argentina time)
It is a crucial game for the Sharks and the much-improved Jaguares - both determined to make up ground on the Africa Two conference leaders - the Lions, who have a bye this week.
The Sharks and Jaguares are both on 18 points, five behind the Lions - the Argentinian outfit with a game in hand.
The Jaguares are on an impressive run of five win from six matches, including a current winning streak of three wins in a row and they will no doubt be a hard nut to crack due to their physical and competitive approach.
Seasoned Sharks and Springbok scrumhalf Michael Claassens said his team will need to improve their discipline - after it cost them dearly against the Lions last week.
"The Jaguares are a tough side to play against," Claassens said, adding: "They are a competitive team who are made up of international players and they bring massive physicality to their game.
"Discipline is going to be important.
"We are still positive after last week's match and we will be up for this game."
Claassens said the Sharks have come a long way as a team this season and are definitely on the right track.
"Building a team requires time together and consistency. We have great respect for our coach and we have all bought into the plan and we all know what we are working towards."
For the Jaguares, it is an important three-match tour of South Africa - which will see them face the Bulls and Lions.
That is why beating the Sharks is so important, as they can't afford to lose any ground on a Lions team still smarting from the loss they suffered against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last month.
Rookie wing Bautista Ezcurra admitted the next few weeks are crucial to their play-off aspirations.
"It's a very important tour for the team, but we can't look past the Sharks," Ezcurra said.
"It is going to be a very tough game. as all South African teams are physical.
"The key will be to win the collisions and ensure our defence is solid."
2016: Sharks won 25-22, Buenos Aires
2016: Sharks won 19-15, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks have won each of their two previous meetings with the Jaguares, though at neither half-time nor full-time has either team led by more than four points. The Jaguares have won five of their last six matches including the last three in a row. The Sharks have won each of their last six games at home, conceding more than 17 points only once in that period. The Jaguares (97 percent) boast the best ruck success of any team in the competition, and lose an average of just 2.4 rucks per game so far this season. Sharks' flank Jean-Luc de Preez has made 73 tackles this campaign, more than any other player and 21 more than Jaguares' best Jeronimo De La Fuente (52). It is difficult to say how much last week's loss have damaged the Sharks confidence. The Jaguares don't always travel that well, which is why we think the Sharks will win by a converted try.
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Lubabalo Mtembu (captain), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Inny-Christian Radebe.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Marcos Kremer, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera.
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Felipe Arregui, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Rodrigo Baez, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Santiago Gonzales Iglesias, 23 Santiago Cordero.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Stormers v Chiefs
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 03.15, Sunday, April 9 NZ time)
The Stormers have denied that 'revenge' was a word bandied about in camp this week.
However, coach Robbie Fleck felt the encounter represents a chance for his team to measure how much progress they have made since the 21-60 loss to the Chiefs in the quarterfinal last year.
"We can see improvements from last year, but this is the real test," Fleck told the media at the team's Cape Town base this week.
"This is the team that put us to the sword last year. So there is a big motivation for this game," he added.
"We haven't faced a team as good as them this year and this is a great chance for us to see how far we have come."
The Chiefs headed to Cape Town without flank Sam Cane and prop Nepo Laulala due to concussion, while centre Johnny Fa'auli has been suspended for a dangerous tackle.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said they will back their high-paced game to get them over this hurdle.
"We have clarity of how we are going to play," Rennie said, adding: "It's going to be a big step up from our performances over the last couple of weeks.
"We offload the most in the competition and it's your ability to get in behind defenders to keep the ball alive."
He denied that former Blues assistant coach Paul Feeney will be able to share any trade secrets with the Stormers, as the Kiwi has never been part of the Chiefs environment.
"He won't know how we go about things, but there is no doubt the Stormers would have had a good look at us through analysis.
"They have an outstanding pack, the scrum has been dominant, have a strong line-out. We need to be really strong in those areas."
2016: Chiefs won 60-21, Cape Town (quarterfinal)
2015: Chiefs won 28-19, Cape Town
2014: Chiefs won 36-20, Hamilton
2013: Stormers won 36-34, Cape Town
2011: Chiefs won 30-23, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs have won each of their last three games against the Stormers, including a 60-21 thumping in the 2016 play-off; the biggest win in the history of the fixture. The Stormers have won their last five in a row, the last time they went on a longer run was a six-game winning streak at the beginning of the 2012 season. The Chiefs have won seven of their last eight games outside of New Zealand, including each of their last three by an average margin of 32 points. The Stormers gain an average of 641m per game this season, the most of any team in the competition and nearly 200m more per game than the Chiefs (445 metres). James Lowe has scored once in each of his last three games against the Stormers, as well as providing a brace of try assists in his last fixture against them. The Stormers have made progress, but we don't believe enough. The Chiefs should win by at least 10 points.
Stormers: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Cobus Wiese, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Mitchell Brown, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Sam McNicol, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Sunday, April 9:
Western Force v Southern Kings
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 14.05; 08.05 SA time; 06.05 GMT)
The weekend ends with two struggling teams - the Western Force at home to the Southern Kings on Sunday.
Both teams have won just once this season, while they have lost their last three games - sitting well outside the top 10.
Experienced Kings centre Waylon Murray arrived back in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, after being ruled out of the rest of their Australian tour with a hamstring injury.
Luzuko Vulindlu replaces Murray to partner with Berton Klaasen in the midfield.
Makazole Mapimpi is back to full fitness and takes the place of Alshaun Bock at left wing.
Up front, hooker Michael Willemse gets the nod in a rotational switch, while Kurt Haupt is being rested.
Reserve hooker, Martin Bezuidenhout, is set to make his 50th Super Rugby appearance should he make his way onto the field from the bench.
The Force have lost Ryan Louwrens, who ruptured his ACL in his right knee, after landing awkwardly in the first half against the Blues at Eden Park last Saturday. He will be sidelined for nine to 10 months.
However, Ben McCalman, who dislocated his thumb late in the pre-season, is available again.
He will be joined by Francois van Wyk - suffered a calf strain in January. Van Wyk has completed his rehabilitation and has played two games of club rugby. He will be available to play against the Kings.
Kings coach Deon Davids said his charges are expecting a tough challenge from a Western Force side that has shown good progress this season.
"The Western Force are playing very good rugby, despite some defeats," Davids said.
"They will have gained a lot of confidence from their last performance against the Blues in Auckland.
"They also have their captain [McCalman] returning for this game on Sunday.
"I think they will be a very difficult team to beat," said Davids.
"We have focused a lot on ourselves -the areas that we need to improve.
"We are looking forward to this challenge on Sunday."
2013: Kings won 22-10, Port Elizabeth
Prediction: The Kings earned a 22-10 win in the last and only previous meeting with the Force; though that fixture was back in their first ever Super Rugby game in 2013. The Force are looking for consecutive home wins for the first time since they won five in succession in 2014. Though they've not faced an Australian team since 2013, the Kings have lost just one of their four previous meetings with teams from the nation. The Kings have won an average of 9.8 turnovers per game so far this campaign, more than any other side. Matt Hodgson has scored four tries in his last three games against South African opposition, including a brace when the Force hosted the Lions in Round 15, 2014. Both teams have shown good intent, but lacked in execution. It makes predictions tough. We feel the Force will benefit from home ground advantage and will by eight points.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Chance Peni, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Pek Cowan , 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Richard Hardwick, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Curtis Rona.
Southern Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 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 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Justin Forwood, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Rick Schroeder, 22 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 23 Masixole Banda/Wandile Mjekevu.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports