SR Preview: Round 11, Part One
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: Two South African teams desperate to end their respective losing streaks, will have to do so against two of New Zealand's best.
It can only end badly.
The Stormers, having conceded and alarming 143 points and 21 tries in their last three matches, face the Hurricanes in Wellington.
It is not a surprise bookmakers have installed the home side as outright favourites.
The other game on Friday sees the Cheetahs, on a six-match losing streak, take on the Highlanders.
Again the contrasts are alarming. The Cheetahs have conceded 89 points and 13 tries in their last two matches against New Zealand opposition. The Highlanders put 57 points (nine tries) past the Stormers last week.
In Part One of the preview we look at the Friday matches!
Friday, May 5:
Hurricanes v Stormers
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19.35; 09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said it would be a big mistake to take the South African Conference One leading Stormers lightly despite recent heavy losses to the Crusaders and Highlanders.
"It was only a few weeks ago that they beat the Chiefs in Cape Town and were on a six-match winning streak, so we know they are a very good side," Boyd said.
"They've had a couple of results they'll be disappointed with, in the past two weeks in New Zealand, and I think they will be highly motivated to put a good performance on the park against us in Wellington."
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck - who was happy with the underdog tag - suggested his team will need to take a leaf out of the Hurricanes playbook, because of the testing conditions.
"I have spoken to other coaches who have been here before, like [Lions coach Johan] Ackermann, and it is pretty tough to play here when the weather comes in," Fleck said of the notorious Wellington weather that comes in off the Cook Straight between the North and South Islands.
"The Barretts [Jordie and Beauden], as well as [Thomas] Perenara, are used to these conditions and they are tactically very smart - especially with their kicking game," the Stormers coach added.
"We will have to be very smart and make good decisions.
"We have trained in those [wet and windy] conditions all week and the guys are prepared for it."
The Stormers are also hoping the inclusion of Kobus van Dyk on the flank will give their loose trio a better balance.
"We needed someone to do the dirty work," Fleck said of Van Dyk, whom he described as an "honest, hard-working" player.
2015: Hurricanes won 25-20, Wellington
2014: Stormers won 19-18, Cape Town
2013: Stormers won 18-16, Palmerston North
2012: Stormers won 39-26, Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 37-13, Cape Town
Prediction: The Hurricanes earned a 25-20 win in their last game against the Stormers, snapping a four-game losing streak against them. The Stormers have won six of their last eight games against the Hurricanes, though each of the last three meetings has been decided by a margin of no more than five points. The Hurricanes have won their last 10 games in succession on home turf, their longest such streak in Super Rugby history. The Stormers have conceded exactly 57 points in each of their first two games of this three-game tour of New Zealand, losing both matches; the last and only time they lost three games in a single tour of New Zealand was in April-May 1998. The Hurricanes have won eight of their last nine regular season games against South African opposition, but will be looking to avoid back-to-back losses in such fixtures for the first time since February 2014. The Stormers will be better, that is a given. But we doubt they will be good enough and the Hurricanes should win by 15 points.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Michael Kainga, 19 James Blackwell, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Ben Lam.
Stormers: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Oliver Kebble, 19 John Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Bjorn Basson.
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Ben O'Keeffe
TMO: Glenn Newman
Cheetahs v Highlanders
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 GMT; 05.00, Saturday, May 6 NZ time)
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith's biggest job is to keep the players positive, given the losing streak his team is on.
Smith felt, despite having lost their last six matches, the team is still showing progress.
However, for that progress to reflect on the scoreboard, they will need to eliminate the "soft moments" that have cost his team so dearly this season.
"Once you are behind [on the scoreboard] against the New Zealand teams, it is tough [to get back]," he said.
"I work hard on keeping the players positive and set short-term goals for them.
"The big disappointment is that we have had real chances to win in so many games, but conceded too many soft tries in situations that we could have controlled."
The Cheetahs coach also spoke of the need to be "more clinical", especially o attack in the opposition's 22-metre area.
Highlanders coach Tony Brown was cautiously optimistic, making it clear that you underestimate the hapless Cheetahs at your own peril.
"The Cheetahs are an adventurous side who play an attacking brand of rugby and we're anticipating a good battle," Brown said.
2015: Highlanders won 45-24, Bloemfontein
2013: Cheetahs won 36-19, Invercargill
2012: Highlanders won 36-33, Bloemfontein
2011: Highlanders won 24-21, Dunedin
2010: Highlanders won 31-24, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Highlanders have won eight of their last nine games against the Cheetahs, though six of those eight wins have been by margins of no greater than seven points. The Cheetahs have scored 20+ first half points in four of their last five games at home, taking the lead into the break in each of those four games, though they've managed to win only two of them. The Highlanders have now won five games on the bounce; the last time they won more was a stretch of six victories in 2005. The Cheetahs have piloted 89 percent of their goal kicks successfully through the uprights, a higher success rate than any other team in the competition. Aaron Smith crossed for a brace of tries in his last game against the Cheetahs, and has been involved in six tries in his last three games for the Highlanders overall (one try and five try assists). If the Cheetahs can put on an 80-minute show, they could cause an upset. However, the more likely scenario is the Highlanders taking it away in the last quarter and winning by 18 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Niel Marais.
Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Richard Buckman.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports