S15 Preview: Round 10, Part Two
S15 Preview: Round 10, Part TwoSHARE
Pole position in the South African Conference will be on the line when the Sharks welcome the Cheetahs to Kings Park on Saturday evening.
The race for the South African Conference title and coveted home play-off heated up last weekend with the Stormers and Bulls closing the gap thanks to victories over the frontrunners.
The stakes are high and with both teams coming off losses, they will share a hunger to bounce back and cement their place in the upper echelons of the South African Conference.
The Bulls, lurking in the shadows, travel to Port Elizabeth to face a Southern Kings side fresh off a fruitful maiden tour of Australasia.
The first of Saturday’s four derbies gets underway in Christchurch where the Crusaders will entertain the winless Highlanders before Brisbane plays host to the blockbuster Australian Conference clash between the Reds and the Brumbies.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at Saturday’s matches.
Crusaders v Highlanders
(AMI Stadium, Addington Christchurch – kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Crusaders will hope their return to Christchurch is the catalyst to a turnaround in fortunes when they host the Highlanders.
It’s the big Southern derby with a twist, with the two teams rooted at the bottom of the New Zealand Conference.
The Crusaders crashed to their fourth loss in seven matches this season against Australian also-rans the Western Force in Perth last weekend, which left them languishing in fourth place in the New Zealand Conference and ninth overall.
They looked lethargic in the 14-16 defeat, their second in as many weeks after succumbing to the Sharks in Durban, made several uncharacteristic errors that stifled their momentum and conceded 10 penalties.
Lock Luke Romano, who stood head and shoulders above his teammates at Nib Stadium, believes the Crusaders have been their own worst enemies this season.
“The last two games have been there to win and we just haven’t been able to finish them off. It’s our own mistakes letting us down, that’s the sad thing,” he said.
Romano could easily have celebrated a hat-trick, having crossed the whitewash on three occasions. Instead, he was left to digest another narrow loss.
“A few calls didn’t go our way with those two tries, but you can’t blame that. It’s disappointing – games are there for us to win, we’re just not taking our chances,” said Romano.
“We’ve shown our structure works, it’s just that last five percent. If we can execute right up to the 15th or 16th phase we’ll put teams away and put 50 or 60 points on them. But when we don’t do that, we end up on the wrong side of the ledger,” he added.
The Highlanders are caught in a downward spiral and team morale is at an all-time low following another loss at home (16-30 to the Brumbies) last weekend.
They have the personnel to make waves in the competition but their inability to produce an 80-minute performance sees them entrenched at the bottom of the log.
Prediction: It’s a must-win for the Crusaders while the Highlanders essentially will be playing for pride. Given it’s a big derby clash there will be plenty of intensity and early resistance from the visitors, but the hosts will be the stronger side over 80 minutes. Crusaders by 10.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Reds v Brumbies
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
The stakes can’t be higher when Australian powerhouses the Reds and the Brumbies square off at Suncorp Stadium.
First place in the Australian Conference as well as the Rod Macqueen Cup (held by the Reds) hang in the balance in this blockbuster, which will double as a Wallaby trial ahead of the forthcoming three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
Topping the list of mouth-watering positional battles is the duel between Liam Gill and George Smith at No.7. Gill and Waratahs ace Michael Hooper are among coach Robbie Deans' preliminary 30-man squad, while Smith has become eligible for selection after being granted an extended stay at the Brumbies by Japanese club Suntory.
Gill said he’s relishing his first ever tussle with the 110-Test veteran.
"You test your own football against the best players in the world, and this will be another example," Gill told The Daily Telegraph.
"He is an all-round player. He is strong at the breakdown, strong in defence, a great link player, a great attacking player. We'll have to focus on what impact he will have on the game, but we know that will be big.
"He offers a different aspect to the other sevens I've played so far, so I'm excited about playing him."
Elsewhere, Nic White could strengthen his case for a place in the Wallaby squad against former captain and first-choice No.9 Will Genia, as could Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg, while Quade Cooper will be determined to make another strong statement as he did against the Chiefs last weekend.
The Brumbies eased to a 24-6 win in Canberra but much has changed since that Round One encounter between the sides. The Reds have since come into their own and are the form team of the competition having won six out of their last seven games.
Their record at Suncorp Stadium is immaculate; they have won 24 of their past 28 matches at the venue, however, they did slip up last month when they were beaten 12-19 by the Western Force at their Brisbane fortress, which would have instilled more confidence in the Brumbies.
Prediction: Australian derbies have come under criticism this season for being drab affairs – this won’t be one of them. There will be a Test match-like atmosphere in Brisbane with little to choose between the sides. It could go either way, but based on current form, the Reds should emerge as narrow victors. Reds by three.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 22 Dom Shipperley.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 George Smith, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Jordan Smiler, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Pat McCabe, 22 Clyde Rathbone.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)
Sharks v Cheetahs
(Kings Park, Durban – kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Cheetahs will fancy their chances of breaking their Sharks bogey when they face the South African Conference leaders in Durban.
Their record against the Durban side is poor; their 22-29 loss in the teams’ Round One meeting in Bloemfontein was their fifth straight defeat against the Sharks, with their last victory dating back to February 2010.
However, history will be cast aside and the Cheetahs will be looking to pounce on what is a depleted Sharks outfit on Saturday. Indeed, the Sharks teamsheet tells the story of an injury-ravaged side.
Injured stars such as Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts, JP Pietersen and Louis Ludik are conspicuous in their absence while Frans Steyn and Ryan Kankowski are struggling with form, the former dropped to the bench along with Jannie du Plessis and the latter axed from the matchday 22 altogether.
They still boast seven Springboks in their starting line-up – compared to the three of the Cheetahs – but one sense that if ever there was an opportunity for the Cheetahs to put one over the Sharks it’s this weekend.
The timing could not be better for the men from Bloemfontein considering they have had the luxury of making just a solitary change to their run-on side – with Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen replacing the injured Trevor Nyakane – and the fact that the winners of this match will top the South African Conference.
With heavy rain forecasted on game day, the contest that promised to produce high-octane running rugby will be reduced to a tactical arm-wrestle and it’s in this regard that the Sharks should have the edge.
Pat Lambie has been in fine form in the No.10 jersey this season and the onus will fall on him to steer the ship at a wet Kings Park on Saturday.
The 22-year-old’s game management has come a long way, he’s displaying a much-improved tactical kicking game and has been unerring when kicking at goal – all factors that will hold added significance in this match.
Burton Francis is no slouch in these departments, just ask the Stormers, but Lambie has been the most consistent flyhalf in the country this season, which is sure to boost the Sharks’ confidence.
Equally important will be the gainline battle as the contest could be won in the trenches by the team who roll up their sleeves and do the donkey work up front.
The introduction of Oosthuizen and demotion of Du Plessis should make for an even contest at scrum time while the Cheetahs’ line-out has always been one of their strong suits.
Prediction: With it being the Sharks’ final home game before they embark on their Australasian tour, they can ill afford a loss in the context of their season.
The Cheetahs have done a sterling job this season to edge matches they previously would have lost but this is one close game in which they will be tactically outplayed and end up on the losing side. Sharks by five.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Sean Robinson, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Francois Steyn, 22 Andries Coetzee.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Rynhardt Landman, 19 Frans Viljoen, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa),Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Southern Kings v Bulls
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth – kick-off: 19.10 17.10 GMT)
Both teams will be in unfamiliar territory when the Southern Kings and the Bulls collide in Port Elizabeth in the final match of Round 10.
The Bulls will make the trek to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for the first time in Super Rugby where they will be met by a large crowd of ardent Kings supporters who will be especially vocal as they welcome back captain Luke Watson from a lengthy injury lay-off.
The Kings, in turn, will experience what the travel factor in Super Rugby is all about for the first time as they return to their backyard after their maiden tour of Australasia that saw them pick up seven log points thanks to a draw with the Brumbies and historic win over the Melbourne Rebels last weekend.
The Bulls returned to winning ways against the Cheetahs last weekend to make inroads in the South African Conference and edge closer to a place in the top six and will want to build on that performance against the newcomers.
“We had to work very hard for the win against the Cheetahs and we want that momentum carried over into the Kings match,” said Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
“I am pleased with the way the combinations worked on the night and decided to stick with that. We will need to be very structured and cohesive against the Kings, who will be fired up and spurred on by a sell-out crowd.”
Pierre Spies, ahead of his captain’s clash with Watson at No.8, said it will be imperative to get out of the blocks swiftly.
“We had to dig deep and needed all 22 in the squad to beat the Cheetahs, something that will work in our favour when facing the Kings for the first time.
“We need to focus on our own game and not allow the crowd to get into the match, so need to have a strong start and keep up the effort,” said Spies.
Watson’s return has broken up the loose trio of Devin Oosthuizen, Wimpie van der Walt and Cornell du Preez, who have been outstanding for the Kings, and necessitated a reshuffle with Du Preez shifting from the back to the side of the scrum. How this will impact the efficiency of the Kings back row remains to be seen.
The Bulls have also made a change to their back row after Ludeke initially named an unchanged line-up with Arno Botha replacing Dewald Potgieter, who was forced to withdraw with a knee injury, and Jacques Potgieter called up to the bench.
Prediction: Despite the four changes in the pack, the Kings will be feeling the effects of their recent travels and will therefore be unable to match the physicality of the big Bulls pack over 80 minutes. They will put up a solid fight, but the Bulls will leave Port Elizabeth with the points. Bulls by 12.
Southern Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Ronnie Cooke, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, Luke Watson (captain), 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Hannes Franklin, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 Rynier Barnardo, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Scott van Breda, 22 Siviwe Soyizwapi.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morne Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Rudi Paige, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Bjorn Basson.
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwessen (South Africa)