SR Preview: Round 12, Part Two
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: It will be a day of intriguing matches, but none will be more significant than the all-New Zealand derby in Christchurch.
The table-topping and unbeaten Crusaders host the defending champion Hurricanes, who themselves have lost just once.
If the Hurricanes upstage their compatriots, it will open the door for the chasing pack to creep up on and perhaps even overtake the tournament's pace-setters.
There is some reprieve after that when the all-Australia derby between the Rebels and Reds take place.
But it is followed by the encounter between the Bulls and Highlanders, with the hosts reeling from a record hiding at the hands of the Crusaders last week.
The much-improved Southern Kings then host the Sharks in a game that could have a big impact on the play-off positions as the June break approaches.
The weekend concludes with an encounter between the Jaguares, desperate to get back into the play-off race, and a Western Force team that looks like it is ready to claim a big scalp.
In Part Two of the preview we look at the Saturday matches!
Saturday, May 13:
Crusaders v Hurricanes
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
If you wanted to know how big this game is, then look at the ticket sales. They have build in additional, temporary, seating.
The sub-plot to this intriguing show is that Crusaders coach Scott Robertson was an assistant to Hurricanes mentor Chris Boyd at the New Zealand under-20.
The two men will know exactly how the other thinks about the game.
"I understand their [the Hurricanes'] philosophy about the game and how they want to play," Robertson told stuff.co.nz.
"I think the skillset of their players has shown how they want to play.
"They just play what is in front of them, and take opportunities that are given. So it has got to be on."
The Hurricanes, who have made a habit out of scoring with sublime crossfield kicks this season, are going to stick to their all-action approach.
"We've had some discussions and the coaching group will have some discussions before the game, but the players will make the decision on the field," Boys told stuff.co.nz.
He admitted the game will go down to the wire and the team winning the big moments will take the spoils.
"It's unrealistic to expect a team to play for 80 minutes right through, so there will be times when the Crusaders will be on top and there'll be times when we're on top and I think it'll come down to some critical moments."
2016: Hurricanes won 35-10, Christchurch
2015: Crusaders won 35-18, Christchurch
2015: Hurricanes won 29-23, Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 16-9, Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 29-26, Christchurch
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won six of their last eight games against the Crusaders, though only one of those victories came by a margin of greater than seven points. New Zealand derbies have seen an average aggregate points total of 49.6 points per game this season, the highest since 2012 (50.3 points per game). The Crusaders have won 11 of their last 12 games at home by an average margin of 27 points per game; however, their only loss in that span came against the Hurricanes in Round 17 last season. The Crusaders have won three of their last five games, including each of their last two, against New Zealand opposition despite having never lead at half-time in that period.The Canes have scored 24 tries in four away games this season, including 13 against Sunwolves in Round One. The Crusaders have conceded just 340 metres per game this campaign, fewer than any other team in the competition. The Crusaders have scored 10 tries when beginning possession with a kick return this season, more than any other team in the competition. The Hurricanes (17) and Crusaders (10) are two of just three teams (Lions, 12) to have scored 10+ tries in the opening quarter of games so far this season. David Kaetau Havili's 745 metres gained is the second most of any player in the competition and 141 more than any Hurricanes player. Ngani Laumape (22) is one of just two players (Courtnall Skosan, 25) to have made more than 20 clean breaks so far this season, Laumape is the top try scorer so far (11). To say it is a tough game to call is stating the obvious. We are going rogue and suggest the Hurricanes will sneak a late winner - by five points.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Peter Samu, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ben May, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Toa Halafihi, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Wes Goosen.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Reds
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kick-off: 19.35; 09.45 GMT)
Neither team is in contention for a play-off spot, unless the Brumbies have a massive meltdown and there are a series of extraordinary results.
However, there is still plenty at stake - especially for the Rebels, with their future in the competition on the line.
Rebels and Wales international lock Dominic Day said Australian derbies have their attraction.
He will play in his third derby and Day has seen first hand how much these games mean to his teammates.
"There's a lot on the line when you play against the Aussie teams and now, in the conference so it's huge for us," Day said in an interview on the Rebels website.
"You do sense it in training when you go out and the boys are really up for it.
"But for me, I don't want to let those guys down."
Day's first cameo in an Australian derby lasted just 30 seconds when he came off the bench against the NSW Waratahs but was substituted after a head knock.
His brief Australian derby debut didn't go unnoticed among his friends and teammates.
"[I got banter] from all over the world, my mates in England and the guys here.
"You just got to take it on the chin, I was expecting it to be honest."
His second derby appearance was a little more enjoyable with a 52-minute performance in the Rebels maiden victory of the season against the Brumbies in Round Eight.
Day acknowledged the demands of the competition every week - especially for crucial points against the franchise's Australian rivals.
"It doesn't get any easier every week is a tough game," Day said.
"There's a lot on the line when you play against the Aussie teams and anyone in your conference."
2016: Rebels won 31-28, Brisbane
2016: Rebels won 25-23, Melbourne
2015: Reds won 46-29, Brisbane
2015: Rebels won 23-15, Melbourne
2014: Reds won 36-20, Melbourne
2014: Rebels won 30-27, Brisbane
Prediction: The Rebels have won four of their last six games against the Reds, including each of their last two, after having never defeated them in their first six clashes from 2011 to 2013. Each of the Rebels' last eight games at home against Australian opposition have been decided by a margin of eight points or fewer, with four wins going to the Rebels in that span. The Reds have lost their last 10 games against Australian opposition, including three losses this season despite not trailing at half-time once in those three (one lead, level twice). The Reds have won 7.7 scrums per game this season, more than any other team in the competition and nearly three more per game than the Rebels (4.9). Sefanaia Naivalu has scored six tries in his last seven games against Australian opposition, including a brace against the Reds in Round 14, 2015. The Rebels have the ability to drag better teams down to their levels and make life decidedly unpleasant for them. With the reds both teams are already stuck in a mire of mediocrity and there the Rebels are at their best. They should win by about 12 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 Sean McMahon, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Will Miller, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Campbell Magnay, 13 Samu Kerevi (captain), 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 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 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Izaia Perese.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Bulls v Highlanders
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 01.05 NZ time, Sunday, May 14)
The Bulls are desperate to avoid back-to-back losses at home for the first time since 2015 and coach Nollis Marais revealed that he asked for 'advice' from former Springbok and Bulls Super Rugby-winning coach Heyneke Meyer in an attempt to arrest the slide.
"I phoned Heyneke [last] Sunday [after the record loss to the Crusaders]," Marais said.
"He [Meyer] has always been my mentor and he gave me an opportunity in coaching.
"We had a discussion about the same situation he was in before 2007 - on how they changed from battling [a winless season in 2002] to a winning side.
"We've had a number of discussions this week and gave me a lot of advice."
Marais said he had no qualms about speaking to somebody that has been through the mill.
"He helped me with a lot of decisions I have to make and gave me some guidance," Marais added.
The Highlanders, who have won six straight games, are looking for their seventh win in succession in a season - a mark yet to be achieved by the southern franchise.
However, Highlanders defence coach Scott McLeod warned his team about the threat posed by the embattled Bulls.
In their past three games, the Highlanders have played a team which the week before had been belted by the Crusaders.
''In terms of what we are coming up against this week, they are a different beast to the Cheetahs," McLeod told the Otago Daily Times.
"We are still trying to find our game and still trying to perfect that. We're still trying to find the right balances.''
Even though the Bulls lost to the Crusaders by more than 50 points, they remain a threat - as they look to evolve from a predictable to a more expansive game.
''They are doing a lot more offloading and attacking a lot more - kicking a little less,'' McLeod added.
2014: Highlanders won 27-20, Dunedin
2013: Bulls won 35-18, Pretoria
2012: Highlanders won 16-11, Dunedin
2011: Highlanders won 35-28, Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 50-35, Pretoria
Prediction: The Highlanders have won four of their last six games against the Bulls, though the last time they beat them by more than seven points was in Round Seven, 2009. The Bulls will be looking to avoid back-to-back losses at home for the first time since the opening fortnight of the 2015 campaign. The Highlanders' last four games in South Africa have seen an average aggregate score of 73 points. The Bulls boast a line-out success rate of 92 percent, the best of any team in the competition and four percentage points higher than the Highlanders. Waisake Naholo beat a round-high 12 defenders in Round 11, the last time any player made more was Digby Ioane's 13 defenders beaten in Round 12, 2013. There is a temptation to back the Bulls, as they will be charged up and desperate to bounce back. But their lack of experience and the class of the Highlanders suggest the New Zealand outfit will win by 15 points.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (captain), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Coenraad van Vuuren, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Nick de Jager, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Teihorangi Walden.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Southern Kings v Sharks
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
The Southern Kings have made a massive statement on the playing field in the last month.
On Saturday they hope their success - back-to-back victories for the first time - will reap rewards in the stands.
There was a massive campaign to fill the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but coach Deon Davids said it is more important that they continue to deliver on the pitch.
"I think our guys are quite focused on what we want to achieve and do - we spoke about it," Davids told a media briefing.
"There is quite some excitement in terms of getting better support and getting the fans here at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
"We are glad that we could pull off a win in our last two games. We just want to build on that feeling and energy we received from all the support.
"Yes, we are aware of the campaign [to lure more spectators], but we are very focused on what we have to do and we will zone in on that focus until Saturday."
Sharks coach Robert du Preez admitted the trip to Port Elizabeth presents his team with a proverbial banana skin.
"The Kings have been talking this match up and are a tough prospect at home," Du Preez said.
"They look to capitalise on unstructured play and feed off errors.
"We need to be more clinical with our approach on Saturday and there is no room for complacency."
He spoke of the need for "patience on attack and "cutting down the error rate".
"Our players are up for this match and we've had a good training week.
We are going down to PE, focussed on the task at hand and that is to win."
2017: Sharks won 19-17, Durban
2016: Sharks won 53-0, Durban
2016: Sharks won 43-8, Port Elizabeth
2013: Sharks won 58-13, Durban
2013: Sharks won 21-12, Port Elizabeth
Prediction: The Sharks have won all five previous meetings between these teams, winning by an average margin of 29 points per game. The Kings have won their last two games, a franchise best, and will now look to go three games without loss for the first time in their Super Rugby history. The Sharks have won only one of their last four away games within South Africa, conceding 30 points or more three times in that period. The Sharks look to the sticks more than any other side this season, kicking a league-high 3.8 penalty goals per game for the campaign thus far. Makazole Mapimpi gains an average of 10.9 metres per carry this season, the most of any player to have made more than 10 carries this season. The Sharks will arrive in Port Elizabeth as favourites, but this Kings team has a big win in them. This is out 'wild card' for the weekend - the Kings win by five points.
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 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt/Tango Balekile, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Stefan Willemse, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 23 Nicolaas Hanekom.
Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie (captain), 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Lubabalo Mtembu, 21 Jacobus Reinach, 22 Garth April, 23 Sibusiso Nkosi.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Jaguares v Western Force
(Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires - Kick-off: 18.40; 21.40 GMT; 05.40 AWST, Sunday, May 14)
The Jaguares are hanging on, by their fingernails, in the play-off race - as they look to grab the Africa conference wildcard spot.
However, their winless tour to South Africa and the loss to the Sharks in Buenos Aires a fortnight ago has left them eight points shy of the men from Durban.
It means they can't afford to slip up against the Western Force - who are desperate for very different reasons.
The Force need to knock over a few teams to show they deserve a place in Super Rugby, but the wins over the Reds and Kings won't do the trick.
The Jaguares have lost just once at home this season.
Force captain Heath Tessmann said the Argentinean franchise is an exciting team to watch and pose threats all over the park - providing a massive challenge for the men from Australia's West Coast.
"We're really excited to be playing the Jaguares in Argentina, but we know that we need to improve on last weekend's performance.
"The Jaguares play a dangerous style of play and we will need to play a full 80 minutes to take the four points."
Veteran loose forward Juan Manuel Leguizamón, one of seven changes to the team from last week's win over the Sunwolves, warned about underestimating the Australian outfit.
"It will be very intense and we must be focused on executing our own game," said Leguizamon, who will make his first start of the season after a lengthy injury lay-off.
"They are like all Australian teams, very unpredictable," he said, adding: "They have good skills and many variations on attack.
"We have to be good on defence and press hard, to create doubt and gain confidence in our own game. "
These teams have never met before!
Prediction: This will be the first meeting between these teams, though the Argentinian squad boast a 100 percent win rate against Australian teams after a 22-8 win against the Reds in Round 5 this season. The Jaguares have won seven of their last 10 games at home, losing only to the Highlanders and Sharks (x2). The Force have won just one of their last 14 games outside Australia, with that win coming against the Sunwolves in Round 11 last season. The Force are the least disciplined team in the competition, conceding a league-high 11.9 penalties per game this season. The Argentinian side have averaged more carries per game than anyone else so far in this campaign (132). Have a punt on the Jaguares. They should win by about 20 points.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Juan Martin Hernández, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Felipe Arregui, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Manuel Montero.
Western Force: 15 Peter Grant, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Onehunga Havili, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann (captain), 1 Francois van Wyk.
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Isireli Naisarani, 22 Mitchell Short, 23 James Verity-Amm.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Juan Sylvestre (Argentina), Jose Covasi (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports & sportguru.info