PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round Six - Part One
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Round Six of Super Rugby kicks off in Christchurch on Friday when the defending champions Crusaders host the Bulls at AMI Stadium.
The Bulls enter the match on the back of a three-match losing streak, while the defending champions Crusaders have lost their last two matches to New Zealand rivals the Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Friday's other match sees the Sharks take on the Rebels in Melbourne.
The Rebels suffered their first defeat last Sunday against the Waratahs while the Sharks have been heavily criticised for their poor performance in their defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra in Round Five.
We take a look at all Friday's matches!
Crusaders v Bulls
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT; 08.35 SA Time)
If the Bulls are to have any chance of winning on Friday, they will need to put in a full 80-minute performance.
For two weeks in a row, the Bulls threw away winning positions in the second half after dominating play in the first half.
Last week the Bulls had a 28-14 lead against the Chiefs at half-time. However, they failed to score a single point in the second half and they eventually lost 28-41.
Bulls head coach John Mitchell has a strong message to the team if they want to return victorious from Christchurch.
"To beat the Crusaders, you need to outwork them," said Mitchell.
"That will not be easy, as they have a tremendous work ethic as a team. We are not on this journey to become a better team because it is easy, so we must be prepared to play for all 80 minutes and play every big moment to the best of our ability."
Bulls captain Burger Odendaal pointed to his team's desire to win and their attitude as guidelines to success in Christchurch, a venue the Bulls have not been very successful in the past.
"We need the right attitude as that will drive our efforts. We have a saying that winning together is better than winning alone. This will require a massive team effort, but we can do it," Odendaal said.
The Crusaders have struggled with injuries since the beginning of the season and although they would not admit it, it has played a big role in their defeats to the Highlanders and the Hurricanes.
However, with Samuel Whitelock and Ryan Crotty back in the team from their respective concussions, the Crusaders should be a lot stronger.
Despite all the injury setbacks, Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson believes his side had enough chances to beat the Highlanders last weekend.
"I thought we generally had chances to win," said Robertson.
"We just didn't take our key moments. The scrum went well, the line-out was good for the majority of it."
2017: Crusaders won 62-24, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 31-19, Pretoria
2013: Crusaders won 41-19, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 28-13, Christchurch
2012: Bulls won 32-20, Pretoria
Prediction: The Crusaders have won four of their last six games against the Bulls, including a 62-24 win in their last encounter; the second biggest win in the history of the fixture. The Bulls won their first ever meeting against the Crusaders in New Zealand (1996). However, the Canterbury side have won all 10 such iterations since by an average margin of 22 points. The Crusaders come into this game on the back of consecutive defeats, the last time they lost more regular season games in succession was a three-game stretch in April-May 2010. The Crusaders have won their last eight regular-season games against South African opposition, scoring an average of 48 points per game in that span. The Bulls have lost their last eight games in New Zealand, a stretch which began with a 22-point loss to the Crusaders. The Crusaders will win by 14 points.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8,Jordan Taufua, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock(captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Tim Perry
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Braydon Ennor,
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Divan Rossouw, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Hendre Stassen, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Johnny Kotze.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Melbourne Rebels v Sharks
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kick-off: 19.45; 08.45 GMT; 10.45 SA Time)
The Sharks were awful in their 17-24 defeat to the Brumbies and they will have to improve drastically if they are to come close to the Rebels on Friday.
The Sharks have not met expectations this season so far. In terms of a game plan, Robert du Preez's side have often looked clueless and directionless on the field of play.
So far, the Sharks have only won one match and that was against the Sunwolves.
"This team is a team with a lot of character," said Du Preez.
"Super Rugby is a tough competition so you have to take the good with the bad and move on from disappointment, which we have.
"There's really a good feeling and energy in the camp, our preparation has been on target, although it has been a short turnaround for us, given that the two games are only six days apart and we also have to factor in travel.
"But the spirit amongst the team members is high."
Meanwhile, the Rebels are expecting a highly physical encounter and they have brought in some big bodies in their starting line-up.
Melbourne Rebels head coach Dave Wessels has named lock Geoff Parling, flanker Colby Fainga’a and centre Billy Meakes for their first starts of the 2018 Super Rugby season for his side's return to The Stockade on Friday.
The injuries have forced a shuffle to the backline with the Fijian flyers Sefa Naivalu and Marika Koroibete to occupy the wings in tandem for the first time this season while Jack Maddocks has been shifted to fullback.
"The Sharks are a big and strong physical pack, so we've added freshness and experience to our starting line-up with Geoff [Parling], Colby [Fainga'a] and Gus [Cottrell]," Wessels said.
"Sefa [Naivalu] and Marika [Koroibete] give us some genuine speed out wide.
"We were pleased with Billy’s work rate and intensity off the bench last week as an early substitute for Dane so he’s earned the opportunity to start."
2017: 9-9 all draw, Durban
2015: Sharks won 25-21, Durban
2014: Sharks won 22-16, Melbourne
2013: Sharks won 64-7, Durban
2011: Sharks won 34-32, Melbourne
Prediction: The Rebels picked up a 9-all draw in their last game against the Sharks, ending a run of four defeats in their other clashes with the South African side. The Sharks have won on each of their previous two visits to Melbourne to face the Rebels, those wins both coming by fewer than seven points though. The Rebels have won their last two games on home turf, the last time they won more was a four-game glut from April to June 2015. The Rebels have scored seven tries after forcing a turnover this campaign, two more than any other team in the competition. Four of the Sharks' last six tries on Australian soil have been scored by forwards, with each of their last two such games seeing props cross for a five-pointer. The Rebels will win by 12 points.
Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman (captain), 4 Geoff Parling, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Mahe Vailanu, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Michael Ruru, 22 Tom English.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Wian Vosloo, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jacobus van Wyk, 23 Garth April.
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant referees: Nicholas Berry (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports