SR Preview: Round Nine, Part One
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: We have reached the halfway stage of the season and with every passing week the race for play-off places are going to get more intriguing.
Friday's three games are all significant - even though there are some room for recovery.
The Hurricanes, who can't afford to lose touch with the tournaments pace-setters - the Crusaders and Chiefs - host the Brumbies in Napier.
The latter still have a reasonable lead in the Australian conference, but another defeat will open the door for teams like the reds, Western Force and Waratahs to challenge for the title of pool champions.
And the Waratahs host the Southern Kings in the very next match, an encounter in which the home team would be expected to collect a full-house five points.
We complete the day's proceedings with the Lions hosting the Jaguares in a game where 'revenge' will be high on the agenda.
Not only are the Lions keen to avenge their loss to the Argentinean franchise in Buenos Aires last month, they also know victory will put some daylight between themselves and their pool rivals.
In Part One of the preview we look at all the Friday matches!
Friday, April 21:
Hurricanes v Brumbies
(McLean Park, Napier - Kick-off: 19.35; 7.35 AEST; 07.35 GMT)
The Brumbies are circling the wagons and drawing the laager. They are still smarting from last week's loss to the Rebels.
While the pressure is mounting, Brumbies captain Sam Carter is adamant the players will continue to support each other regardless.
Carter says the side won't alter their approach.
"There always has to be a balance, but at the end of the day whatever decision we make we have 15 guys on board and we back every decision we make," Carter said in an interview on the Brumbies website.
"It's really a one in, all in mentality down here so when we make those decisions we go with it regardless of the result."
Instead of looking for excuses the skipper challenged his troops to step up and put in an 80-minute performance.
"We've been in matches for 60, 70 minutes and there's been slight lapses in concentration or something happens and we drop our heads and we end up losing by a small margin.
"It's something that we definitely have to rectify."
The Hurricanes have still only lost one game this year, despite extended spells without key performers.
That probably says as much about the quality of some opponents, as it does their own depth.
Current Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes have named Brad Shields as their captain for the first time.
Friday's match will be the 10th time the Hurricanes have played at McLean Park, but the first time against the Australian Conference leading Brumbies.
2016: Brumbies won 52-10, Canberra
2015: Hurricanes won 29-9, Wellington (semifinal)
2014: Brumbies won 29-21, Wellington
2013: Brumbies won 30-23, Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 37-25, Wellington
Prediction: The Brumbies have won five of the last six meetings between the sides, including a 52-10 win against the Canes in Round One last season, the Wellington side's second heaviest Super Rugby defeat. However, the Hurricanes have won four of their last six home games against the Brumbies which included the Canberra side's heaviest defeat in April 2009 (7-56). The Brumbies have lost their last seven away to sides from New Zealand; they've never lost eight on the bounce in New Zealand before. The Hurricanes have won their last nine at home with eight of those wins coming by margins of 10 points or more. The Hurricanes have also won their last five in Wellington against Australian sides, conceding just 12.6 points per game on average during that run. Blowouts and upsets often. Just last year the Brumbies beat the Hurricanes 52-10, before the latter went on to win the competition. However, this Brumbies side is a far cry from the class of 2016 and the Hurricanes should win - but only by seven points.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 James Blackwell, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Otere Black, 23 Ben Lam.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 James Dargaville, 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 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Waratahs v Southern Kings
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 19.45; 11.45 SA Time; 09.45 GMT)
The Waratahs are desperate to secure their third win in eight matches, as they look to stay in touch with the Australian pool leaders, the Brumbies.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said that despite the Kings going down to the Reds last week, he is aware of what they are capable of.
"They are going to come out and fight, and show real dogged determination," he said of a willing and energetic Kings team.
"They've got guys out on the wings that can really hurt you with a lot of pace and they've got guys who are really good on the ball.
"Given what is going on off the field for their side, we know they will be even more determined to put in a strong performance," Gibson said of the persistent rumours thatthe Kings are one of the teams short-listed to be axed from Super Rugby.
Kings coach Deon Davids struck a cautionary, as he spoke of the Waratahs rich history in the competition and pointed to the many international players in their line-up.
"For us it is about putting up a better performance than last week," he said of the loss to the Reds.
Davids suggested his team has been improving throughout the competition.
2013: Waratahs won 72-10, Port Elizabeth
Prediction: The Waratahs won the only previous meeting between these sides by 62 points (72-10), their biggest Super Rugby win. The Waratahs have won six of their last seven at home to South African sides, conceding more than one try in just two of those games. The Kings have recorded just two away wins in their Super Rugby history, although one of those victories did come in Australia (against the Rebels, April 2013). The Kings have averaged 99.6 carries per game this season, the only team to average fewer than 100. However, their average gain per carry of 4.5 metres is bettered only by the Hurricanes (4.9 metres per carry). The Port Elizabeth side have averaged more tackles than any other side this season (127) while only the Reds have averaged fewer than the Waratahs (89). There is a slim chance that the Kings could win, but don't put your house on it. The Waratahs will win by 20 points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Will Skelton, 4 David McDuling, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 David Lolohea, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Harry Jones.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (captain), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Justin Forwood
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Ruaan Lerm/Martin Bezuidenhout, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Lions v Jaguares
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT; 14.00 Argentina time)
The Lions are beginning to run into some impressive form, but coach Johan Ackermann is adamant that they won't be underestimating any opponent.
"The biggest hidings I received was playing in a club game or for a strong side against the Griffons in Welkom - going there with the wrong attitude," Ackermann said of Friday's showdown with the Jaguares, the one team that has beaten them this year.
"I always say to the players that we can't afford to drop down to somebody else's standards.
"If you look at the Rebels [last week], nobody gave them a chance against the Brumbies, yet they won.
He said Friday's game is vital, because they are "in competition" with the Jaguares and the Sharks for top spot in the Africa Two pool.
"They [Jaguares and Sharks] are also still playing Australian sides," Ackermann said.
"It will come down to us knocking each other out.
"This [coming] Friday against the Jaguares is going to be massive."
Ackermann rotated his front row, but it is in midfield - where Harold Vorster comes in for the injury Springbok Rohan Janse van Rensburg - where the spotlight will shine brightest.
2017: Jaguares won 36-24, Buenos Aires
2016: Jaguares won 34-22, Buenos Aires
2016: Lions won 52-24, Johannesburg
Prediction: This will be the fourth meeting between these sides; the home side on the day has won each of the previous three . The Lions have won their last nine home games, scoring at least 34 points in each of those matches. The Jaguares have won just two of their 12 away games in Super Rugby, although both victories came in South Africa. The Jaguares have recorded the lowest scrum (74 percent) and line-out (79 percent) success so far this season. Elton Jantjies has scored 73 points in his six games this season and his average of 12.2 points per game is the highest of any player. It will not be a blowout, but the Lions should win by 12 points.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Jaguares: 15 Ramiro Moyano, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Emiliano Boffelli.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports