SR Preview: Round 11, Part Two
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: Can anybody stop the Crusaders juggernaut? That is the big question for this week.
The Bulls are up next and if the bookmakers are to be believed they won't come close either.
However, before the Pretoria-based franchise gets a crack at Super Rugby's most successful team, there are a host of other interesting games on Saturday.
The Lions, four points behind the Crusaders in second place, face the hapless Rebels in Melbourne. The Johannesburg outfit can go top of the table, albeit for only a few hours.
The Chiefs, also four points behind the Crusaders but outside the top four because of the ridiculous conference system, will look to keep their challenge on track when they host the Reds in New Plymouth.
The Waratahs host the Blues, a team well-and-truly in the play-off running, in Sydney.
The Sharks, chasing the Africa conference wild card, host the Western Force in Durban.
Then it is the Bulls versus Crusaders, before the weekend's action come to a conclusion in when the Jaguares and Sunwolves go head-to-head in Buenos Aires.
In Part Two of the preview we look at the Saturday matches!
Saturday, May 6:
Rebels v Lions
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kick-off: 15.00; 07.00 SA time; 05.00 GMT)
The Lions enjoy afternoon matches, as those normally suit their expansive game.
However, Melbourne is likely to throw up a curveball. There is a high (80 percent) chance of showers, most likely in the late morning and afternoon.
It is not surprising that coach Johan Ackerman has recalled scrumhalf Ross Cronje, to ensure any tactical adjustments can be made without too much fuss.
Ackermann made it clear his team can't afford to underestimate a 'desperate' Rebels team - despite the Melbourne franchise's lowly position on the standings and poor form.
"They will have their backs against the wall after their [3-44] loss [to the Kings] last week," Ackermann said.
"They will be out to prove a point and they have some quality players, including some Wallabies, in their team.
"As I said earlier this year, we have a target on our backs because of our success last year - everybody wants to beat us.
"We have to focus on our game and maintain our standards."
Rebels assistant coach Morgan Turinui pointed out the obvious, that the Lions are not your typical South African side.
"They have a hybrid New Zealand game," Turinui said of the visitors.
"They kick the third least of any team in the competition."
He was hoping for a high octane, high tempo game.
"They will play, which suits us, because we want to play as well.
"If we have the intensity and tempo that we had against teams like the Chiefs, Waratahs and Brumbies, we will be in this fight."
2015: Lions win 20-16, Melbourne
2014: Lions won 34-17, Johannesburg
2012: Lions won 37-32, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions have won all three of the previous meetings between these sides, though only one of those wins was by more than five points. It's been more than a year since the Rebels last won a game at home against a team visiting from outside Australia. The Lions have won their last three games away from without once conceding 20+ points in a game; never before in Super Rugby history have they won more games in succession on the road. The Lions have scored 11 tries in the opening quarter of games already this season, the second-most of any team in the competition and eight more than the Rebels who have scored the joint fewest in that period (three). Amanaki Mafi has made 105 carries this campaign, more than any other forward in the competition and one of only two forwards (Pablo Matera, 102) to have made more than 100. The Lions should win this comfortably - by at least 14 points.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga'a (captain), 6 Hugh Sinclair, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Fereti Sa'aga, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Will Miller, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink.
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant referees: Ed Martin (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Chiefs v Reds
(Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth - Kick-off: 19.35; 17.35 AEST; 07.35 GMT)
The Chiefs are sitting pretty in the play-off race, but by their own high standards they have not been near their best in recent weeks.
Last week's 27-20 win over the Sunwolves - when they failed to score a bonus-point try in the dying stages despite being a man up - was as underwhelming as the Chiefs have been in years.
And they face a Reds team still seething after losing to the Waratahs in a game that saw coach Nick Stiles spit the dummy over the lopsided penalty count against his team.
Normally you would not wager much money on the reds against the Chiefs, but unless the Chiefs raise the bar considerable victory for the reds will not be an outrageous thought.
The return of All Black stalwart Brodie Retallick and Japan captain Michael Leitch will give the Chiefs the energy and physicality they lacked last week.
All Black loose forward Sam Cane is another of the Chiefs;' big guns that return to action this week.
Reds coach Nick Stiles admitted that taking on the Chiefs in New Zealand provides its own set of challenges.
"We're looking forward to seeing how the side can respond after a bitterly disappointing result last weekend," Stiles said.
2016: Chiefs won 50-5, Brisbane
2015: Chiefs won 24-3, Brisbane
2013: Reds won 31-23, Hamilton
2012: Reds won 42-27, Brisbane
2011: Reds won 19-11, Hamilton
Prediction: Each of the last three games between these teams has been won by the away team on the day, with the Chiefs taking the spoils in each of the last two games, conceding just eight points in the process. The Reds have won on each of their last three away trips against the Chiefs, last losing such a fixture in Round 11, 2008. The Chiefs have won 24 of their last 28 games on home turf against teams from outside New Zealand; though, three of the four losses in that span have been against Australian teams, and two of those have been against the Reds. The Chiefs have led at half-time in only one of their last five games, though they've managed to kick on and win all but one of those five fixtures. The Reds have held the lead at half-time in each of their last two games; the last time they led at the break in more successive fixtures was a three-game stint from March to April, 2013. The Chiefs should have no trouble claiming a full-house five points. They should win by about 20 points.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 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 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Sam McNicol, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Reds: 15 Duncan Paia'aua, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sef Fa'agase.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Leroy Houston, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Waratahs v Blues
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 19.45; 21.45 NZ time; 09.45 GMT)
Both teams are chasing a spot in the play-off zone, but the Blues' task is so much more complicated.
The Blues are six points behind the Highlanders (and the last wild card slot) in the ultra-competitive New Zealand conference.
The Waratahs are just one win away from catching up to the Brumbies in the Australian conference.
Blues coach Tana Umaga said the clash against the Waratahs will be a major battle.
"We are very evenly matched in stats this year in most parts of the game so we are expecting a very hard encounter," he Umaga said.
"They are a quality side across the park with mobile forwards; they are excellent at the breakdown and have some world-class running backs.
"We've constantly said that we need to improve week by week and we will definitely need to step up again."
Umaga said he was pleased with the effort from the forwards against the Brumbies last week.
"The front five laid the platform from which the rest of the team were able to prosper. They will need to be at their very best again in all facets of the game."
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said his team has certainly been lifted after a gritty win over the Reds, but admitted they haven't eased off in terms of preparation.
"What impressed me most last weekend was our level of commitment for the full eighty minutes and that's what we're focused on as a team to deliver again this weekend," said Gibson
"The win against the Reds is a step in the right direction, with the Australian conference still open - hopefully we can build the momentum on the back that result.
"Last Saturday we showed the pride our team has in the NSW jersey and we want to do that again for our fans at home," he said.
2016: Blues won 34-28, Auckland
2015: Waratahs won 23-11, Sydney
2014: Blues won 21-13, Auckland
2013: Waratahs won 30-27, Sydney
2011: Blues won 26-13, Auckland (preliminary play-off match)
Prediction: The Blues have won four of their last six games against the Waratahs, though each of the last seven iterations of this fixture have been won by the home team. The Waratahs have lost their last three games at home, the last time they lost more home games in succession saw them round out their 2012 season with four home losses. The Blues have won each of their last three games in Australia, as many as they had won in their 15 visits prior; never before have they won more in succession in the country. The Blues are the most disciplined team in the competition, conceding a league-low 8.2 penalties per game. Israel Folau has now gone for six straight games without scoring a try; never before has he gone more games without finding the whitewash. This mat well be the most closely contested game of the weekend - with the Blues scoring a late winner - by five points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 David McDuling, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Irae Simone.
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: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Will Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Sharks v Western Force
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 15.05; 21.05 AWST; 13.05 GMT)
The Sharks are looking to build on the momentum created by last week's impressive win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
Coach Robert du Preez said his team will require a 'copy and paste' on the showing in Argentina if their are overcome a tricky Western Force team.
"The passion and courage our players showed last week to grind out an important win against a battle hardened team - littered with Test players - at their fortress was special," Du Preez said, adding that it showed the character of the team.
"The Force pushed the Lions right until the final whistle last week and we know that once they get their tails up they can be difficult to stop.
"We want to carry on from where we let off last week, be positive and more clinical with our execution.
"We let our fans down a fortnight ago [against the Rebels] at home and we don't want to do that again.
"Hopefully our performance this weekend will make them proud."
The Force are looking to get back in the winners' list after two defeats on the trot to finals contenders the Chiefs and Lions.
The men in blue were in both contests for the majority of the match and will be ruing costly mistakes.
The Force's discipline will be especially key coming up against Curwin Bosch who is the first player to surpass 100 points scored this season, thanks largely to a tally of 26 penalty goals - which is 10 more than any other player in the competition.
The Force failed to cross the line last week, with all 15 points coming off the boot of Ian Prior.
"We were very disappointed not to win against the Lions," Force coach Dave Wessels said.
"We need to learn to put 80 minutes together if we want to be consistently competitive."
2015: Sharks won 15-9, Durban
2013: Sharks won 23-13, Perth
2012: Sharks won 53-11, Durban
2011: Sharks won 39-12, Perth
2010: Sharks win 27-22, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks have won eight of the nine meetings between these sides before this round, including each of the last seven. The Sharks are undefeated in their last eight games at home; the last time they went longer at home without a loss was a stretch of nine wins across 2008 and 2009. The Force travel to South Africa for the first time since Round 15 last season; they've won just one of their last 10 games there. The Western Force have allowed their opponents just 7.8 offloads per game this campaign, fewer than any other team in the competition. Curwin Bosch is the first player to surpass 100 points scored this season thanks largely to a tally of 26 penalty goals, which is 10 more than any other player in the competition. The Force, if they play like they did last week, will push the Sharks all the way. We feel the Sharks will win by eight points.
Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (captain), 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Lubabalo Mtembu, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Patrick Lambie, 23 Johan Deysel.
Western Force: 15 Marcel Brache, 14 James Verity-Amm, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Isireli Naisarani, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polata-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Mitchell Short, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Peter Grant.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Bulls v Crusaders
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 03.15, Sunday, May 7, NZ time)
The Bulls 'believe' they can end the Crusaders' unbeaten run.
Or at least that is what coach Nollis Marais has been telling the media.
Marais said the team enters the contest with a lot of self-belief.
"Rugby is not only played on the field, but in the minds of teams as well," the Bulls coach said of his team's encounter with the competition's pace-setters.
"We lacked some belief when results did not reflect our effort earlier in the season, but that is not an issue anymore.
"The last two wins [over the Cheetahs and Jaguares] confirmed that we can indeed compete against anyone," Marais said.
"I have always said that the team is better than the results showed and the last two wins started to show that.
"We have a massive hurdle to overcome on Saturday though, as the Crusaders have been setting a number of benchmarks to other teams this year.
"They remain a classy side and despite not having [All Blacks] Sam Whitelock [suspended] and Kieran Read [injured] available for this match, remains one of the top teams in the competition."
Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss spoke of the "energy" of playing a world class opponent.
He also felt the 'Loftus factor' could come into play.
"We have certainly had some classics here against the Crusaders," Strauss said.
"We do have the ability to bring out the best in each other and these are the type of games you want to be involved in.
"We know what is at stake and everyone is very keen to deliver a performance that we all can be proud of. We enjoyed the bye last weekend, but now it is time to go out there and deliver the goods."
2015: Bulls won 31-19, Pretoria
2013: Crusaders won 41-19, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 28-13, Christchurch (preliminary play-off match)
2012: Bulls won 32-30, Pretoria
2011: Crusaders won 27-0, Timaru
Prediction: The Bulls will be looking for back-to-back regular season wins against the Crusaders for the first time since their first-ever two games against them in 1996 and 1997. The Bulls have won 15 of their last 19 home games against New Zealand opposition, with their wins in that span coming by an average margin of 17 points. The Crusaders have now won nine games in succession; only twice in Super Rugby history has any team won more games in a row in a single campaign (Crusaders - 13 in 2002; Blues - 12 in 1997). The Bulls boast a line-out success rate of 92 percent this season, the best of any team and one of only three above 90 percent. George Bridge has scored eight tries in his last four games, including a hat-trick in each of his last two; should he find a trifecta again in 2017, would become the first player ever to score three hat-tricks in a single campaign. The Bulls' amazing victory run against the Crusaders - which goes back to 2008 - is about to come to an end. It might even get ugly, but we expect the Crusaders to win by 16 points.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Pete Samu, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Referee: Nic Berry (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Jaguares v Sunwolves
(Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires - Kick-off: 18.40; 15.40 GMT; 06.40, Sunday, May 7 Japan time)
The Jaguares have put behind them their first home loss of the season and are focussed on get back on the winning track against a tricky Sunwolves team.
After last week's heartbreaking loss to Sharks - which was preceded by a winless three-match tour of South Africa - the Argentinians know that any more losses will kill off their faints hopes of staying in the play-off race.
The Sunwolves are coming off a demanding New Zealand tour - with defeats against the Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs.
"We have to correct the mistakes we made [against the Sharks]," fullback Joaquin Tuculet said.
"We are looking forward to the challenge and we know it is a very important game against Sunwolves.
"They are a very tidy team, who enjoys and expansive game.
"They also have some very interesting players.
"I believe we have to move the ball around and tire them out. We have players to make it a great game."
2016: Sunwolves won 36-28, Tokyo
Prediction: This will be just the second time that the tournament's youngest teams will face each other after the Japanese outfit nabbed a 36-28 win over their Argentine counterparts in Round Nine last season. The Jaguares have won four of their last five games at home, and only once in Super Rugby history have they lost a home game by more than eight points. The Sunwolves have scored just three points in the opening half of each of their last three games away from home. The Sunwolves have scored 27% of their tries on the back of a scrum win this season, a higher percentage than any other team in the competition. Matias Orlando has scored in each of his last two appearances for the Jaguares after having never scored in his 19 Super Rugby appearances prior. The Jaguares should win easily - by at least 30 points.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Santiago Gonzales Iglesias, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Juan Martin Hernández, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Nicolas Sanchez, 23 Matias Moroni.
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Shota Emi, 13 William Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele (captain), 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Hino , 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Takuma Asahara , 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Edward Quirk, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Damian Schneider (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports