Preview: Super Rugby, Round Four - Part Two
HURRICANE WARNING: The Hurricanes, the last team to beat the Crusaders, will have to overcome a farcical travel schedule if they are to be victorious in the opening match on Saturday.
The Crusaders' only loss in their last 20 Super Rugby outings was against the Hurricanes in Wellington last year.
However, the Hurricanes had to fly from Wellington to Pretoria (13400km), then from Pretoria to Buenos Aires (8130km), before heading home to Wellington (9980km).
After losing 19-21 to the Bulls in Pretoria, they beat the Jaguares 34-9 in Buenos Aires.
It will take something special to overcome the defending champions after such a schedule.
After that, we head across the Tasman Sea where the Reds host the Bulls, before a long trip across the Indian Ocean where the Sharks face the Sunwolves in Durban.
That is followed by the Lions against the Blues in Johannesburg. The weekend's schedule is concluded when the Jaguares host the Waratahs in Buenos Aires.
We look at the Saturday matches!
Saturday, March 10:
Hurricanes v Crusaders
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The spotlight has been shining on brightly on Hurricanes flyhalf Beauden Barrett.
Not only is he just the 12th player to bring up 100 games for the Hurricanes, but pundits have suggested Barrett could be even better than All Black legend Dan Carter.
Barrett has been playing down the occasion and how quickly he has reached the milestone.
"I'm certainly proud of it but it's gone so quick," he said.
"I feel like I'm probably halfway through my career and I've had a good run of being injury free for a lot of it, hence why it's happened reasonably fast."
Barrett, 26, made his debut for the Hurricanes against the Cheetahs in 2011 as a substitute.
It is fitting that Barrett will get to bring up his 100th match in the very stadium where he helped lift the Super Rugby trophy when the side meets the Crusaders on Saturday.
"It will be a great occasion regardless of it being my 100th," he insisted.
"My focus is to go out there and play well for the team. Ultimately it's about winning on Saturday in front of our own fans in our first home game of the season, that's what I'm most excited about."
Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O'Gara was equally lavish with the praise, but was adamant that as a team the Crusaders can cope with the threat Barrett poses.
"You can have all the plans in the world for Beauden Barrett, but yet he could rip you apart, that's what he's good at," the former Irish flyhalf said.
"You've got to have a focus on him, but you've got to have a team focus.
"That's the strength of the Crusaders - they're very good on bigger picture stuff.
"We have a competitive squad, we have a hungry squad and we have a seriously hungry coach," he said.
"Sport is about what you can control and what we can control is our preparation for the Hurricanes. Whether it will be good enough we don't know but if it isn't you go back and retry the following week."
2017: Hurricanes won 31-22, Wellington
2017: Crusaders won 20-12, Christchurch
2016: Hurricanes won 35-10, Christchurch
2015: Crusaders won 35-18, Christchurch
2015: Hurricanes won 29-23, Wellington
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won seven of their last 10 games against the Crusaders, though only two of those 10 games were decided by double-digit margins. The Hurricanes have won their last four games at home against the Crusaders, previously they had won just two of 10 home games against them. The Crusaders will be looking to avoid back to back losses on the road in the regular season for the first time since May 2015. The Hurricanes have conceded just 15 points per game this campaign, the fewest of any team; the Rebels (18 points) are the only other team to have conceded fewer than 20 points per game. Julian Savea beat seven defenders last round, the equal second most of any player; the last time he made more in a single game was in Round Two, 2017 against the Rebels (eight). The Hurricanes are a real threat, but their travel schedule will count against them and the Crusaders could sneak ahead in the final quarter and win by 12 points.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara. 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Blade Thompson, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Vince Aso.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Chris King, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Billy Harmon, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Reds v Bulls
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - Kick-off: 18.45; 08.45 GMT; 10.45 SA Time)
The Bulls were brought back down to earth with a bang by the Lions last week, but it is with a real belief that they arrived in Brisbane this week.
Bulls coach John Mitchell admitted his team has a "long way" to go still - following a win over the Hurricanes to open their season and then last week' comprehensive loss.
"There are good fundamentals in place at this stage of the race," Mitchell said in Brisbane.
"We have not played in Brisbane since 2013, so it will be a new experience for most of the team.
"That should create some energy, but I have no doubt that the importance of a good start to our tour will also perk up the players," Mitchell said.
"We have done very well in certain areas of the game so far, but the reality is that our away record is poor. This is something we need to change if we want to become the team we want to be."
Reds assistant coach Tony McGahan confirmed that they are relying on the "new and improved" passing game of Samu Kerevi to shine - following his shift to inside centre.
There has always been a school of thought that Kerevi's best position may, in fact, be inside centre, despite the man himself "having previously said he prefers playing at No.13.
"We have a young group coming together and we are trying to find the best positions," McGahan said at Ballymore on Thursday.
"He's had a couple of weeks with Duncan and we will see where he fits.
"He has worked on his passing, he's keen to get the ball in hands and he's a great communicator.
"With the competition, we will see how he goes this week."
Reds coach Brad Thorn said that while the Bulls will be a "tough challenge", the team is looking forward to running out in front of their home fans again this weekend.
"Hopefully the team can go out and make everyone proud."
2016: Bulls won 41-22, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 43-22, Pretoria
2013: Reds won 23-18, Brisbane
2012: Bulls won 61-8, Pretoria
2011: Reds won 39-30, Brisbane
Prediction: Each of the last 11 meetings between the Reds and Bulls has been won by the home team on the day; though, this will be the first meeting in Queensland since 2013. The Reds will be hunting for consecutive Super Rugby wins for the first time since May-June 2014. The Bulls have won just two of their last 19 games outside South Africa, with their last international win coming in Round 10, 2016. The Bulls have won 16 line-outs per game with a line-out success rate of 9 percent, the best of any team in either category this campaign. Lukhan Tui has crossed for a try once in each of his last two games at home for the Reds. There is a travel factor, but the Bulls should have just enough in the tank to sneak a late winner - by seven points or less.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jono Lance, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 JP Smith, 18 Sef Fa'agase, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Duncan Paia'aua.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Duncan Matthews, 10 Handre Pollard (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Nick de Jager, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Sharks v Sunwolves
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 22.05 Japan Time)
Most, if not all, teams start as favourites against the Sunwolves.
Injuries make the Japan franchise even more vulnerable.
However, the Sharks have been vulnerable themselves and after three weeks (which included a bye for the Durban-based outfit) they are still looking for their first win.
Utility back Lwazi Mvovo, who was dropped to the bench after two starts, said there was no underestimating the Sunwolves.
"They play a pretty expansive game," Mvovo said.
"Last year we had to dig in and play right to the end when we scored a few points in the last 15 minutes.
"They're a very good side, especially with the New Zealand influence in their coaching team.
"They're going to play and we're not underestimating their ability."
Sharks coach Robert du Preez was stating the obvious when he said last week's draw with the Waratahs was disappointing.
"As I said before, we are just lacking patience," the Sharks mentor said of his team's winless start to the season.
"We are on the cusp of playing a really good game.
"It is just a matter of time."
He said it is important they have a "really good game" before they head off on a tough four-match tour - that will see them face the Brumbies in Canberra, the Rebels in Melbourne, the Blues in Auckland and the Hurricanes in Napier.
Du Preez added that it is important for his team to build pressure by "putting the phases together".
Mvovo also spoke of moving forward and not getting hung up on the poor start to the season.
"While we can't change what's in the past, our attitude going forward is very important," Mvovo said.
He admits that the players have looked deep within and acknowledged that they must put their hands up.
2017: Sharks won 38-17, Singapore
2016: Sharks won 40-29, Durban
Prediction: The Sharks have won each of the previous two meetings between these teams, scoring no fewer than 38 points on each occasion. The Sharks are now winless in three games at home; the last time they went longer without a home win was a stretch of four defeats across the 2009 and 2010 campaigns. The Sunwolves are yet to win on the road in Super Rugby and have conceded 146 points in their last two games away from home. The Sunwolves are yet to lose a scrum on their own feed this campaign, one of just three teams yet to do so (Highlanders, Rebels). Robert du Preez has scored a try in each of his two games for the Sharks thus far, pulling in a points tally of 23 across those games. It might not be the margin most expect, but the Sharks should still win easily - by 15 points.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe/Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe/Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 Sione Teaupa, 12 Michael Little, 11 William Tupou, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willem Britz (captain), 7 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Craig Millar.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Pieter Labuschagne, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Ryoto Nakamura, 23 Robbie Robinson.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Lions v Blues
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 04.15 NZ Time Sunday, March 11)
The Blues may have lost their first two games of the season, but the fact that they collected losing bonus points against the Highlanders (34-41) and the Chiefs (21-27) make it clear they are no pushovers.
In fact, they are a team loaded with All Blacks and individual stars.
That is why the Lions need to ensure they get their own game right.
Lions flank Cyle Brink said you never know what you will get from the New Zealand visitors.
"If it becomes a scrappy game, it will be a hard day at the office for us," Brink said.
"They are never an easy side to play.
"The best way for us to approach the game is to stick to our structures."
Blues coach Tana Umaga admitted his team is facing a tall order against a confident and settled Lions outfit.
"The Lions are a formidable team," Umaga said.
"We remember our last time here, two years ago, and we are keen to put that right," said Umaga said.
"They have scored a lot of tries this season off their line-out drive so we have worked hard on this aspect.
We need to be disciplined and not give them attacking chances from penalties although at the same time we need to be our usual aggressive selves at the breakdown.
"This [Ellis Park] is a magnificent stadium and conditions should be great, so if we can do well at set-piece, then we have plenty of attacking ability to enjoy the occasion."
Umaga said the travel delays were far from helpful but no excuse, while going with six forwards in the reserves is needed to cope with the altitude factor at Johannesburg.
2016: Lions won 43-5, Johannesburg
2015: Lions won 13-10, Albany
2014: Lions won 39-36, Johannesburg
2012: Blues won 25-3, Auckland
2011: Blues won 41-32, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions have won their last three games against the Blues, though they were defeated in their seven meetings prior. The Lions have won four of their last six games against New Zealand opposition; however, all but one of those games came in the post-season. The Blues have won only one of their last 10 games in South Africa, letting two half-time leads slip in that period. The Lions have scored eight tries on the back of a line-out win this season, only three other teams in the competition have scored more than eight tries overall (Crusaders, Rebels, Stormers). Melani Nanai has an average gain of 12 metres per carry this season, the best of any player (with a minimum of 10 carries). It will be tighter than most pundits expect, but when the travel factor and altitude kick in, in the final quarter, the Lions should ease ahead and win by about 16 points.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Francois Mostert, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobus Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Hacjivah Dayimani.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Ross Wright, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Michael Tamoaieta, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Murphy Taramai, 22 Jonathan Ruru, 23 Stephen Perofeta.
Referee: Nicholas Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Jaco Pretorius (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Jaguares v Waratahs
(Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires - Kick-off: 18.40; 21.40 GMT; 08.40, Sunday, March 11 AEDT)
The Waratahs are looking to break a seven-game winless streak overseas.
It has been 88 weeks since the Waratahs last won a match abroad, with their last successful outing coming against the Sunwolves in July 2016.
Since that 57-12 victory, the Waratahs have lost on the road to the Blues, Lions, Sharks, Hurricanes, Highlanders and the Chiefs, to go with last week's draw in Durban.
However, the Tahs are up against a team desperate to break their own duck - having lost all three their matches this season - against the Stormers and Lions in South Africa, as well as the Hurricanes in Buenos Aires.
Prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro said the key will be the set pieces and defence.
"We are a team that never gives up," Chaparro said.
It will be the Waratahs' first trip to Argentina.
Waratahs assistant coach Simon Cron said the team had done their homework on their South American rivals.
"The key thing for us against a team like them is to play structure, so to build pressure," Cron told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"Last week against the Sharks we probably let the pressure valve off at times through our own errors or trying to offload or going that one step too far.
"I don't think we can afford to do that against these guys otherwise they'll counterattack and run it from anywhere.
"The Jaguares love unstructured ball. They'll play from anywhere, they love an offload and they're high on energy on the field.
"We want to put pressure on that guy on the ground so he can't offload but then it's about our defensive connections so when they do offload, we can shut it down. What we don't want to do is have a disconnect in our defensive line so that when they offload we leave a hole."
2017: Jaguares won 40-27, Sydney
Prediction: The Jaguares ran out to a 40-27 win in their only previous encounter with the Waratahs. The Jaguares have lost their last four games in a row at home; they had previously never lost more than two games in a row on home turf. The Waratahs are winless in their last seven games outside Australia, failing to pick up a single competition point in five of those matches. The Jaguares have missed 109 tackles in just three games so far this campaign, more than any other team. Michael Hooper has crossed for a try in each of his two games for the Waratahs this season, and has missed just three of 25 tackle attempts in that time. It is a tough call as neither team has been consistent, so you don't really know what to expect. We feel the Waratahs might sneak this one - by five points.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Felipe Arregui.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
15 Israel Folau, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Michael Wells, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Nick Palmer, 20 Will Miller, 21 Nick Duffy, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports