SR Preview: Round Eight, Part Two
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: It is not a derby day in the true sense, but Saturday do have two very intriguing domestic encounters.
Without a doubt, the match of the weekend is the African Conference showdown between the in-form Stormers and the equally impressive Lions.
However, before we get to that delectable course on the menu, we have an all-Australian derby between the Rebels and the Brumbies - the country's most desperate team (the Rebels, in danger of losing their place in Super Rugby) against the conference's most consistent franchise.
That is followed by another game that includes a team under threat of being axed from the Super Rugby, the Cheetahs hosting a Chiefs team desperate to bounce back from a disappointing loss last week.
Then it is the Newlands encounter, the Stormers against the Lions, before the desperate Bulls (with one win from six starts) host the impressive Jaguares (also keen to bounce back from a loss last week) to bring the weekend to an end.
In Part Two of the preview, we look at the last four matches of the weekend!
Saturday, April 15:
Rebels v Brumbies
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kick-off: 19.45; 09.45 GMT)
The dark cloud of being axed from the competition will continue to hover over the winless Rebels, and probably stifle them even more.
Rebels assistant coach Morgan Turinui this week told his side to stay focused on the task, despite the growing distraction.
As the speculation intensifies following the Australian Rugby Union's statement that the Rebels are on the culling shortlist, Turinui has reminded the players to "control the controllables" ahead of Saturday'
However, the most powerful statement came from within the player ranks.
After the hardest start to the Super Rugby season - with four New Zealand opponents in the first five games - the Rebels are preparing for the second Australian derby of the season.
Rebels utility back Reece Hodge believes the side has shown, in patches this season, what they are capable of achieving.
However, nothing less than an 80-minute performance will suffice against the conference-leading Brumbies.
"We're all hungry and working hard to put that performance together and hopefully this weekend is the weekend," Hodge said.
"We played great for the first half [against the Waratahs last month] and then we stopped playing. So, if we can play for 80 minutes like we played the first half I think we'll be in great shape.
"That's what we're all striving for here and what we've been working so hard for this week so we're all really excited to put that out there on the weekend."
The Brumbies sit seven points clear at the top of the Australian Conference with three wins from six outings, including a 43-10 victory over the Reds in Canberra last weekend.
Hodge said the Brumbies have set the standard in Australia so far during the 2017 Super Rugby season.
"The Brumbies have set the benchmark with their execution in the set pieces, they're always a physical team and last week they showed against the Reds that they've got some exciting backs to play off of," he said.
"They're going to present a really strong challenge in every facet of the game."
2016: Brumbies won 30-22, Melbourne
2015: Rebels won 13-8, Canberra
2015: Brumbies 20-15, Melbourne
2014: Brumbies won 37-10, Canberra
2014: Rebels won 32-24
Prediction: The Brumbies have won eight of their last 10 games against the Rebels, including an eight-point win when they last met in Round 12 last season. The Rebels have conceded 111 points combined in the second stanzas of their last four games on home turf, losing on each occasion. The Brumbies have won each of their last five road games within Australia, their longest ever winning streak in such fixtures. The Brumbies have conceded just 5.7 clean breaks per game this campaign, fewer than any other team. Rudolph Snyman won a round-high seven line-outs (including steals) in Round Seven, bringing his season tally to 23 line-outs wins. More misery awaits the Rebels. The Brumbies should take this by 15.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (captain), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga'a, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Fereti Sa'aga.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Ben Volavola.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Tom Banks, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Tom Staniforth, 21 Tom Cusack, 22 De Wet Roos, 23 Jordan Jackson-Hope.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Cheetahs v Chiefs
(Free State Stadium, Pretoria - Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 01.05 NZ Time Sunday. April 16)
Another game where the Super Rugby axe is hovering over one of the teams.
However, the Chiefs - in the second match of a three-game tour - have concerns of their own after last weekend's defeat against the Stormers.
Although the loss at Newlands was their first of the season - and they still sit third in the New Zealand conference, equal on points with the Hurricanes, two back from the unbeaten Crusaders - they can't afford another loss in what is becoming a tight race for play-off spots.
The Cheetahs are coming off a bye, but with just two wins from six starts they a whopping 17 points adrift of the unbeaten Stormers in the Africa One conference.
According to coach Franco Smith, their biggest problem is to shake the fear of failure which is choking them up - especially now that it has been confirmed they are one of the teams on the shortlist to be axed next year.
Smith said the past six weeks had been tough, with players increasingly jittery as rumours continued to fly about the Cheetahs being axed from the competition.
"We worked hard on getting the players' confidence back, to get them to believe again," he said.
"We just want the players not to be scared to lose, but play to win.
"Our focus this week has been to get our game right - our attack, defence and set pieces.
"We know what quality team the Chiefs is.
"I feel that against the Jaguares we gave them too much respect, playing with the wrong mindset.
"That is why having the right mindset against the Chiefs is so important, especially such a quality team."
2015: Chiefs won 37-27, Hamilton
2014: Cheetahs and Chiefs drew 43-all, Bloemfontein
2013: Chiefs won 45-3, Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 39-33, Bloemfontein
2010: Cheetahs and Chiefs drew 25-all, Hamilton
Prediction: The Cheetahs are winless in nine games against the Chiefs since they won their first ever encounter in Round Nine, 1997. However, the South African squad have taken competition points from all but one of their previous five home games against the Chiefs. Eleven of the Chiefs' last 14 games in South Africa have been decided by a single figure margin; the Chiefs will be looking to avoid back-to-back defeats in the country for the first time since May 2008. The Cheetahs (91 percent) are the only team this season to boast a goal kicking success rate above 90 percent. Damian McKenzie (578 metres) is one of just two players to have gained more than 500 metres this campaign, and he's just 14m behind league-leader Sarel Marais (592 metres). The Cheetahs are in for a world of pain - a hiding of note from a quality Chiefs team that will win by 20 points or more.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Junior Pokomela, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Taleni Seu, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Stormers v Lions
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
Both teams lashed out feverishly with bucketloads of praises at the opposition - the underdog tag seemingly just as coveted as the points for winning.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said it will be a "cracker of a game, but felt his team will have to replicate the tempo and intensity that secured them a famous win over the Chiefs last week.
"The message to the team was that last week can't be a one-off," Fleck said, adding: "We have to put back-to-back performances together."
He described the upcoming game as a big South African derby against "arguably the best team in the country".
The Stormers mentor felt the Lions had no right to claim the underdog tag, but admitted playing at home "evens it out" for the Cape Town-based franchise.
"He described it as a game between "two good teams on form".
"It will be important that we play with the same ferocity and tempo that we played last week [in the win over the Chiefs]," Fleck said.
"The Lions are a quality outfit. They scored the most tries in the competition last year and are the best attacking outfit - with lots of line-breaks and  tries [in six games this year].
"They are going to ask lots of questions of us defensively.
"If we want to beat the Lions we have to play at the same tempo we did last week, if not more."
Fleck pointed out that the Lions were able to do that week in, week out against Kiwi opposition last year and that was the reason for their success.
"One thing about Ackers [head coach Johan Ackerman] and [backline coach] Swys [de Bruin], they know what buttons to push to get their squad up and running.
"Swys is a wily old fox and knows exactly how to plan his attack against us."
2016: Lions won 29-22, Johannesburg
2015: Stormers and Lions drew 19-all, Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 22-19, Johannesburg
2014: Stormers won 18-3, Cape Town
2014: Lions won 34-10, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions are undefeated in their last two games against the Stormers after having won just one of the previous 12 encounters between these teams. The Lions have won five of their last six games, including each of their last three in a row, scoring an average of 38 points per game in that six-game stretch. The Stormers have won 25 of their last 30 home games against South African opposition, with their last three losses in such fixtures coming against the Sharks. The Stormers have scored seven tries on the back of a kick return so far this season; no other team has scored more via this method. Franco Mostert and Pieter-Steph du Toit have each stolen five line-outs so far this season, two more than any other players in the competition. There is no doubt the Stormers are South Africa's form team and Fleck is correct, it will be a cracker - which his team will edge, by six points.
Stormers: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Daniel du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Johan du Toit, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 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 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Bulls v Jaguares
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 19.30; 17.30 GMT; 14.30 Argentina Time)
Introspection was the key word in Pretoria this week.
The Bulls are hovering well outside the top 10 in the standings and are almost certainly out of the play-off race - with just one win in six starts.
However, last week's loss to the Sunwolves is the one that hurts most.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais was not hiding away from their poor performances, having earlier in the week admitted he is under pressure and his job may be on the line.
"We are not where we wanted to be at this stage of the competition and that is disappointing," Marais said.
"Yes, we had a tough schedule in the opening weeks of the competition, but good teams are supposed to overcome those.
"I still believe we have the make-up, talent and mindset to become a serious contender in the tournament this year, but reality bit hard.
"We under-performed, but there is massive determination to turn our season around."
Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss well aware of the threats the Jaguares will pose.
"They are almost a Test team and they play Test match style rugby," Strauss said.
"They minimise mistakes, take the points and put a huge emphasis on first phase. That makes them a difficult team to breakdown.
"We can do that, but will need patience on attack and discipline on defence," Strauss added.
"The team is absolutely delighted to be back home, not only in their personal capacity, but also back at Loftus, where our other family lives.
"We need to show we are a championship team and I think us coming back to our fans and support base, could just be the spark."
2016: Jaguares won 29-11, Buenos Aires
Prediction: The only previous meeting between these teams saw the Argentine squad run out a 29-11 victory in Round 15 last season. The Bulls have won their last seven games at home to teams visiting from outside South Africa, winning by an average margin of 19 points in that period. The Jaguares have won five of their last seven games against South African opposition, and have taken a losing bonus point from both defeats in that run. The Argentine squad are the only team in the competition yet to concede a try when their opponent has begun possession with a scrum. Ramiro Moyano has scored five tries in his last four games for the Jaguares, though each of those tries was scored on home turf. Another South African team likely to be hugely disappointed again. The Jaguares should win an arm-wrestle - by nine points.
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Warrick Gelant.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Santiago Gonzales Iglesias, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera.
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Benjamin Macome, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Nicolas Sanchez, 23 Ramiro Moyano.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Egon Seconds (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports