SR Preview: Round 10, Part Two
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: Can the minnows upset the pace setters? We have two games where this question will be answered.
The Western Force, well outside the Top 10 and the Super Rugby axe still hovering above their collective heads, host the second-placed Lions. Complacency is a dangerous animal and one the Lions would dearly want to avoid as they start their three-match Australian tour.
The Cheetahs, another team with the Super Rugby axe a constant companion, host the table-topping and unbeaten Crusaders. Avoiding complacency is also the catchphrase for this match.
The Southern Kings, fresh from their Australian tour that ended with a victory, host a Rebels team badly out of form and in dire need of some inspiration.
The Jaguares, who lost all three matches on their South African tour, will hope to exact some revenge when they host the Sharks - one of the three teams that beat them.
Then we end the weekend's action with a trans-Tasman derby on Sunday - the Brumbies at home to the Blues.
In Part Two of the preview, we look at the last five matches of the weekend!
Saturday, April 29:
Western Force v Lions
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 19.55; 13.55 SA Time; 11.55 GMT)
The Force is looking to continue their six-game winning streak against the Lions.
There is extra spice to the encounter as South African-born James Verity-Amm - who played Varsity Shield for the University of the Western Cape and Western Province age group teams - is set to make his Super Rugby debut on the right wing.
The Highvelders' only victory over the Force came in their second meeting, back in 2007, while their clash in 2006 ended in a draw.
The men from Johannesburg won their last two matches in Australia and a victory in Perth will give them their best-ever winning streak on Aussie soil.
Force coach Dave Wessels, having also made his coaching mark with the University of Cape Town before his move to Perth, said the Lions are a different animal from past years and another exciting challenge for his side.
"The Lions are obviously a very well balanced side with the ability to mix up their attack," Wessels said.
"They've been together a long time as a team and we'll need to be at our best if we hope to break them down."
Lions coach Johan Ackermann said they will 'respect' the Western Force, despite being name outright favourites by pundits, but they have their goals.
Even though people expects his team to win, it is not just a case of just turning up.
"It is like when Usain Bolt runs a race," Ackermann said, adding: "Everybody expects him to win, but he must still run to the best of his ability, or he will get beaten.
"We need to perform to get the result."
Ackermann said it is "unrealistic" to expect his team to win all three matches on tour.
"To travel and beat teams in their own back yard will take a massive effort," the Lions coach said.
He felt the Lions are also a very different side from 2016, with at least eight players that played in the Final against the Hurricanes last year are not available for the tour.
"It is a different year and a different team, so we can't get ahead of ourselves."
2014: Force won 29-19, Perth
2012: Force won 17-11, Perth
2011: Force won 27-15, Johannesburg
2010: Force won 33-12, Johannesburg
2009: Force won 55-14, Perth
Prediction: The Force have won each of the last six games between these teams, with the Lions' only victory coming in the second meeting between these franchises in Round 4, 2007. The Lions have won on their last two excursions to Australia; a third straight win would be their best ever streak in the country. The Force earned a five-point victory against the Kings in their last fixture against South African opposition, their first such victory since a 29-19 win against the Lions in Round 15, 2014. The Lions have won 15.1 line-outs per game so far this season, more than any other team in the competition. The Force could be without Dane Haylett-Petty who has scored two tries in his last three games for the Western Force, and gained over 100 metres twice in that period. Of course the Force have a chance. But the Lions have too much class and should win by 15 points.
Western Force: 15 Marcel Brache, 14 James Verity-Amm, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Luke Burton, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Lewis Carmichael, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Onehunga Havilli, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Peter Grant.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Albertus Smith, 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 Cyle Brink, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Amy Perrett (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Cheetahs v Crusaders
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 03.15 NZ Time Sunday, April 30)
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has desperately been trying to get his players to break the shackles brought on by the threat of being axed from Super Rugby.
The Cheetahs will have a tough time achieving that against the unbeaten Crusaders.
This may well be the Crusaders last visit to Bloemfontein for a rugby match.
Despite the favourable odds, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson is doing his best to avoid complacency and has sent his big guns into battle.
And he has encouraged his team to play with the same freedom that saw them demolish the Stormers last week.
"We try not to inhibit the guys, and if it is on, to back themselves," Robertson said in reference to some of the spectacular offloads on display in Christchurch last week.
"Probably in the second half we threw a couple that weren't quite earned and we pushed it, but in general they have licence [to throw passes in contact]."
The Cheetahs are having a season to forget.
They have lost six of their eight games.
However, there were glimpses of their potential when the Chiefs beat them 41-27 a fortnight ago - a game in which the Cheetahs held a 24-0 lead in the first half, before the fear of failure choked them up and the got overrun by their New Zealand opposition.
"It has been mentioned," Crusaders flank Matt Todd said in reference to that fast start against the Chiefs.
"They really flew out of the blocks. So we know we have to start well.
"If you give them too much ball in a good position, they will make you pay."
2015: Crusaders won 57-14, Christchurch
2014: Crusaders won 52-31, Bloemfontein
2012: Crusaders won 28-21, Christchurch
2011: Cheetahs won 33-20, Bloemfontein
2010: Crusaders won 45-6, Christchurch
Prediction: The Crusaders have won eight of their past 10 games between these teams, including the last three, and have scored in excess of 50 points in their last two games against the Cheetahs. The Cheetahs have scored just three second-half tries in their last four games on home soil, taking just two wins from four half-time leads in that period. The Crusaders have won their last three regular season games in South Africa, never before have they won more in succession. The Crusaders enjoy 17 minutes 59 seconds with the ball in hand this season, more than any other team in the competition and 109 seconds per game more than the Cheetahs. Fred Zeilinga has scored 72 points this campaign, the third most of any player and the most of any player who is yet to cross for a try. The Cheetahs can upset the Crusaders, but the smart money is on the Crusaders to win by about 20 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 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 Henco Venter, 21 Niell Jordaan/William Small-Smith, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Clinton Swart.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Southern Kings v Rebels
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - Kick-off: 19.30; 17.30 GMT; 03.30, Sunday, April 30 AEST)
The Rebels will play in Port Elizabeth for the first time in the franchise's history.
The Kings claimed a three-point win in the only previous meeting between the sides, in Melbourne in Round Nine, 2013.
The Rebels have claimed six points in the last two weeks - after their first win of the season against the Brumbies in Melbourne before a penalty after full-time against the Sharks in Durban last week secured the franchise's first draw.
The Kings will play their fourth consecutive Australian team, following their three-week tour of Australia - where they averaged 33.6 points per game against the Force, Reds and Waratahs.
The Kings come off a win over the Waratahs in their final tour match.
Coach Deon Davids said his side was expecting a tough encounter against a Rebels side that has shown some good form in the past fortnight.
"We have been speaking about the Rebels and they are a side we have plenty of respect for," the Kings coach said.
"They played well against the Sharks and the Brumbies. We are expecting a very tough and hard match."
Davids sung the praises of his charges for the manner in which they have played with the ball in hand over the past few weeks.
"We believe that we owe our home crowd a good performance, and that is our biggest drive this weekend - to come out and play some very good rugby," said Davids.
"We enjoy playing with the ball in hand, and I am obviously excited at seeing these guys with the ball in hand. I think the way Louis Schreuder and Lionel Cronje are directing the play at this point in time is very good, and creates opportunities.
"I think with just a bit more better communication and more time with ball in hand, I believe we can strike at any occasion with the pace that we have on the outside.
"It's exciting to see the guys starting to gel and getting a better feel for each other after the past three weeks. Hopefully the ball will stick a bit longer in our hands this weekend."
2013: Kings won 30-27, Melbourne
Prediction: The Kings earned a 30-27 victory in their only previous meeting with the Rebels after the teams were locked at 17-all at the half-time interval. The Kings have conceded 13 tries in their only previous two home games against Australian opposition. The Rebels have earned a win and a draw in their last two Super Rugby fixtures; never before have they gone three games in the competition without loss. The Kings have won 10.6 turnovers per game this season, the only team to average more than 10. Reece Hodge has scored three tries and 50 of the Rebels' 65 points in his last four games for the franchise. It does not happen often, but the Kings go into this game as favourites and we feel they will win by six points.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Justin Forwood.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Stefaan Willemse, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nic Stirzaker (captain), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga'a, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Siliva Siliva, 1 Fereti Sa'aga.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Will Miller, 21 Hugh Sinclair, 22 Mick Snowden, 23 Jackson Garden-Bachop.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Jaguares v Sharks
(Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires - Kick-off: 16.40; 21.40 SA Time; 19.40 GMT)
It is a crucial game for both teams - as they chase the one wildcard slot available in the Africa conference.
With just four points separating them, this game could be decisive.
The men from Durban are yet to lose in this fixture, after winning all three previous games between the two sides.
However, the Jaguares have won their last four games on home turf, three of which were against South African opponents.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has made a number of changes, despite the importance of the match.
"The idea has always been to give the other guys a chance," he said, adding: "I spoke to the guys who didn't start [in the draw with the Rebels last week] and told them they would be getting an opportunity this week.
"It's right to start them and there is very little to choose between the guys on the bench and those who are starting.
"We need to give them a start, it's good for their morale and for their well-being as part of the squad."
Du Preez admitted his team is facing tough odds.
"They [the Jaguares] haven't lost at home this year," the coach said.
"It's going to be a very physical encounter.
"We know that and we know how tough they are at home.
"But having said that, we're going with a very positive mindset.
"We beat them there last year and we want to go there to get the win.
"It's going to require a massive performance from every single Sharks player - from Mo.1 to No.23."
2017: Sharks won 18-13, Durban
2016: Sharks won 25-22, Buenos Aires
2016: Sharks won 19-15, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks have won the three previous meetings between these teams, though each game has been decided by between three and five points. The Jaguares have won their last four games on home turf, three of which were against teams from South Africa; in fact, their last home loss to a South African squad was against the Sharks in Round 12, 2016. A five-point win against the Brumbies in Round Two this season means that the Sharks are aiming for consecutive wins outside of South Africa for the first time since Round 15, 2014. The Sharks have conceded just two tries in the opening quarter of games this campaign, fewer than any other team in the competition. Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias has kicked nine goals so far this season, the most of any player who is yet to miss a single attempt at the sticks. The Jaguares are fancied to win, by nine points.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 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 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Benjamin Macome, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Juan Martin Hernández, 23 Matias Moroni.
Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (captain), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Lubabalo Mtembu, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 Johan Deysel.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Damian Schneider (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Sunday, April 30:
Brumbies v Blues
(GIO Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 16.05; 18.05 NZ time; 06.05 GMT)
The Brumbies will be aiming to get their season back on track as they return home, following two tough loses at the hands of the Rebels and Hurricanes.
Rory Arnold insists they need to be "persistent" as look to break that losing streak against the Blues.
It will mean the Brumbies will become the first Australian team to beat a New Zealand team this season.
Arnold admits that it's always a tough ask to beat a New Zealand team, but is adamant that his team has what it takes to get back in the winning circle this Sunday.
"They've just got good skills, they are dangerous when they go to counter attack and have a pretty good set pieces as well," he said in an interview on the Brumbies website.
"We just need to be persistent. We are capable of putting points on we just got to stay confident and back our skills."
The Blues and the Brumbies both have 17 competition points after winning just three of their opening eight games.
Yet the Brumbies sit at the top of the Australian conference whilst the Blues find themselves at the bottom of the New Zealand table - indicative of the cast chasm between the quality of the two trans-Tasman conferences.
With a lot riding on this game, the Brumbies' lock has identified this weekend's clash as one of the biggest games of the season for his franchise.
"It's a massive game for us. We need to bounce back and this weekend is going to be one of our biggest games."
2016: Blues won 40-15, Auckland
2015: Blues won 16-14, Auckland
2014: Brumbies won 26-9, Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 20-13, Auckland
2012: Blues won 30-16, Canberra
Prediction: The Brumbies have won four of their last six home games against the Blues, including a 26-9 win against them when they last met in the ACT in Round Eight, 2014. The side from the Australian capital have lost their last four home games against New Zealand opposition, though; the last and only time they lost more such fixtures was a five-game drought from 1998 to 2000. The Blues have won just four of their last 34 games away from home, though three of those four wins came in Australia. The Brumbies are the most effective tackling team in the competition this season, boasting a tackle success rate of 87 percent. Rieko Ioane scored a hat-trick, gained 144 metres, and laid on a try assist in his last visit to Australia. You know the Blues have a great chance of stretching the New Zealand teams' winning streak over their Australian rivals, but there' this nagging feeling that the Brumbies will sneak a late winner - by three points.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lolo Fakaosilea, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Nic Mayhew.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Aidan Toua.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Melani Nanai.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ed Martin (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports