PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 12 - Part Two
TRANS-TASMAN STREAK: The Waratahs could have done without the stag-party antics of Wallaby Nick Phipps before they try to end the drought of Australian sides against New Zealand opposition in Sydney on Saturday.
Phipps was stripped of the Waratahs' captaincy and fined AU$4,000 after drunkenly urinating on a bar while dressed as a cow during his pre-wedding celebration last week, when the franchise had a bye.
Presuming the Melbourne Rebels don't cause an almighty upset on Friday against the Super Rugby-leading Crusaders, the Tahs are eyeing a great chance of ending what will be, by then, a 37-match trans-Tasman losing streak against the struggling Blues.
No word yet on how Phipps and teammates might celebrate if they win.
We take a look at the Saturday matches!
Saturday, May 5:
Hurricanes v Lions
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington- Kick-off: 19.35; 09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
The Hurricanes will bank on their 'big game' ability in a repeat of the 2016 Final and a semifinal last year.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said the fact the Lions beat the Hurricanes in the semifinal of last year's championship had not been too much of a factor in the build-up.
Boyd had enjoyed the fact the Hurricanes had been able to enjoy a 'long week' of preparation.
They have had nine Friday games so to have a normal week and to play on a Saturday was very good.
"They [the Lions] have been a little up and down with their form, but I thought they were terrific against the Stormers, it was a great game of footy and I really enjoyed watching it," Boyd said.
"They were good against the Crusaders, but got pipped in a pretty low scoring game and they were obviously very good to keep the Waratahs to zero a couple of weeks ago - so they are more than capable," he added.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin, well known to Boyd from the time they spent together at the Sharks, said they are not going out to avenge their loss to the Hurricanes in the 2016 Final.
"The Hurricanes are a tough team to beat on their home ground," De Bruin said.
"However, we have to focus on ourselves. If we focus too much on then we won't get the desired result."
The Lions coach said "every game is important" now, as South Africa's premier team - who has six wins from 10 starts - heads towards the business end of the season.
"We would like to get some more points out of the tour and we will go flat-out in the next two games.
"We have to work on a lot of aspects of our game that were not good in the first half [in the loss to the Reds last week].
"We have focussed on our intensity and to protect the ball carrier.
"We also have to better in terms of decision-making, as we did not take our opportunities against the Reds -."
2017: Lions won 44-29, Johannesburg (semifinal)
2016: Hurricanes won 20-3, Wellington (Final)
2016: Hurricanes won 50-17, Johannesburg
2015: Hurricanes won 22-8, Johannesburg
2012: Hurricanes won 30-28, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won their last seven regular season games on the bounce against the Lions, scoring 30-plus points in all but one of those victories. The Hurricanes haven't lost a home game against South African opposition since Round 11, 2013 (v Stormers); they've picked up 10 wins on the trot since that defeat. The Lions have lost two of their last three games away from home, and will be looking to avoid back-to-back away defeats in a single regular season for the first time since 2014. The Lions have beaten 29 defenders per game this season, more than any other franchise in the competition. Jordie Barrett made a round-high five offloads in Round 11, taking his season tally to 18; only Jean-Luc de Preez (21) has made more this campaign. The Lions can win, but the smart money is on the Hurricanes to win by 10 points.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 James O'Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nicholas Groom, 8 Albertus Smith, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Richard Kelly
TMO: Shane McDermott
Waratahs v Blues
(Brookvale Oval, Sydney - 19.40; 21.40 NZ time; 09.40 GMT)
Although the Waratahs are favourites against the Blues, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson says the lack of depth in Australian teams could be exposed in the next few weeks.
"The depth of the squad is always tested and that's the most critical thing in Super Rugby," Robertson said.
"The next two to three weeks, there are some games where we'll see if there's still a gulf or if it's been bridged by the Australians.
"I know they're hungry and we need Aussie rugby to be really strong."
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has made three changes and has once again paired Will Miller with captain Michael Hooper in the back row.
Kurtley Beale will be joined by Lalakai Foketi in the centres, while winger Cam Clark is set to make his first start of the season.
The Tahs welcome back Israel Folau, who's recovered from a hamstring injury.
Paddy Ryan is set to celebrate his 100th Super Rugby cap for the Waratahs.
The Waratahs have averaged 41 points in their three home wins this season, but will play their first regular season match at Brookvale Oval
Gibson said his charges are determined to set the record straight after the horror show that saw them being held scoreless - a 0-29 loss to the Lions a fortnight ago - before the break.
"We're still working out how that happened [against the Lions], still learning lessons from it and we're still seething from it," the Tahs coach said.
"We want to make sure we respond well to that and we'll get that opportunity this weekend."
2017: Blues won 40-33, Sydney
2016: Blues won 34-28, Auckland
2015: Waratahs won 23-11, Sydney
2014: Blues won 21-13, Auckland
2013: Waratahs won 30-27, Sydney
Prediction: The Blues have won five of their last seven games against the Waratahs including their last two; the last time they won more on the bounce against the New South Wales team was a three-game streak from 2002 to 2004. The Waratahs didn't manage a single point in their last game, only once in Super Rugby history has any Australian team gone on to win their next game after failing to score a point (Rebels in Round Two, 2011). The Blues are undefeated in their last five games in Australia, including wins in each of their last four visits. The Waratahs boast a goal-kicking success rate of 88 percent this campaign, the best of any team in the competition. Bernard Foley has scored 98 points this campaign, the most of any player yet to cross for a try and the second most overall behind Robert du Preez (114). The Blues will end their losing streak with an eight-point win over the Waratahs and extend that trans-Tasman streak.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cameron Clark, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Curtis Rona, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Tumua Manu, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (captain), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ross Wright.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Ben Nee-Nee/Lyndon Dunshea, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Terrence Hepetema.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner, Will Houston
TMO: George Ayoub
Stormers v Bulls
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
With just two points separating the teams in positions two (Bulls, 20), three (Stormers, 18) and four (Sharks, 18) in the South African conference, this is a vital encounter.
However, Bulls coach John Mitchell is more concerned with the style of play, rather than the play-off race.
Mitchell is supporting his players, following media criticism that the Pretoria outfit should be kicking close-range penalties at goal and not to touch.
The three-time Super Rugby champions have consistently preferred to bang the ball into touch this season in the hope of scoring pushover tries rather than going for three points.
"I am aware of the criticism, but these decisions rest with the players and I back them," said former All Blacks coach Mitchell.
The much-anticipated North-South derby will test the Bulls, Mitchell said.
"There are more than log points to play for," the New Zealander said.
"We are always striving to improve on our previous effort and to grow as a team. That will again be the case.
"This will be as tough as SA derbies go, no doubt, which will be a good test for our discipline and game management."
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said that his team is looking forward to what should be another classic at Newlands.
"It is always a special occasion when these two teams meet at Newlands and I am sure this match will be no exception," Fleck said.
"We are focused on building on the positive aspects of our win against the Rebels last week and ensuring that we are clinical in our execution on Saturday," he added.
2018: Bulls won 33-23, Pretoria
2017: Stormers won 41-33, Pretoria
2017: Stormers won 37-24, Cape Town
2016: Bulls won 17-13, Pretoria
2016: Stormers won 33-9, Cape Town
Prediction: The Bulls will be looking to defeat the Stormers twice in a single campaign for the first time after picking up a 33-23 win when they met in Round Seven this season. Each of the Stormers' last 10 games has been won by the home team on the day; the Stormers have won four games in that time. The Bulls have won their last two South African derbies away from home; the last time they won more was a three-game streak in 2013. The Bulls have won the most line-outs per game (15) of any team this season, with the highest success rate (92 percent). Siya Kolisi has made an average gain of six metres per carry this season, the most of any forward to have made at least 50 carries (58 carries for 350 metres). The Stormers seems to keep their best for the Bulls and Newlands and will win a thriller by five points.
Stormers: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johannes Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Bulls - provisional: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Divan Rossouw/Travis Ismaiel, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Thembelani Bholi/Marco van Staden, 7 Jason Jenkins/Thembelani Bholi, 6 Marco van Staden/Roelof Smit, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Frans van Wyk/Nqobisiwe Mxoli, 18 Conrad van Vuuren, 19 Hendre Stassen/Roelof Smit, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Manie Libbok, 22-23 Divan Rossouw/Travis Ismaiel.
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds, Fhatuwani Rasivhenge
TMO: Willie Vos
Sharks v Highlanders
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT; 03.05 NZ time Sunday, May 13)
The Highlanders will look to complete a clean sweep of their South African tour, before heading home to face their third successive opponent from the Republic.
They beat the Bulls by a point last week and will be confident they can score their fourth successive win.
It will set them up nicely for the trip home, where they will meet the Lions in Dunedin.
However, Highlanders defence coach Glenn Delaney said the Sharks will not be pushovers.
"They are very direct, but they [do] tend to offload a huge amount of ball, so we have to be aware of that," Delaney said.
"That also creates opportunities for turnovers for us. That sort of ball is what we are after.
"We look at our back three and their game control, they are lethal off turnover ball."
The side won the game at Loftus Versfeld despite only having 30 percent of the ball and not having a lot of territory.
It has been a recurring theme of the side this year with many of its games played with little ball or field position.
"Sometimes the game flows a certain way and that is how it is," he said, adding: "They would have the ball and kick it down to us and eventually we would have to kick it out as the exit was not easy.
"They had a good line-out so we would just start again and you would get stuck a while doing that," Delaney said.
"We just need a little bit more ball.
"We are really happy with what we are doing on attack.
"We are looking dangerous and scoring some nice tries.
"We just want a little bit more of it."
2016: Sharks won 15-14, Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 48-15, Dunedin
2014: Sharks won 31-27, Durban
2014: Highlanders won 34-18, Durban
2013: Highlanders won 25-22, Dunedin
Prediction: The Sharks have won four of their last five games at home against the Highlanders; though, this will be the first time they've hosted the Dunedin franchise since 2014. Two of the Sharks' last three games have been won by the team trailing at half-time, with the Sharks bouncing back from a half-time deficit to win in their most recent Super Rugby game. The Highlanders have won their last five regular season games on the bounce in South Africa, though their last three have come by margins of seven points or fewer. The Sharks have made 15+ offloads in three of their last four home games; they had just so just twice in their 10 games prior. Aaron Smith has been directly involved in 10 tries this campaign (three tries, seven assists), the equal most of any player in the competition alongside Crusaders' Manasa Mataele (seven tries, three assists). The Highlanders look to have too much class in the backline for an erratic Sharks team and should win by 12 points.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patelesio Tomkinson, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Matt Faddes/Josh McKay.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Christie du Preez
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AFP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports