S15 Preview: Round 12, Part One
S15 Preview: Round 12, Part OneSHARE
The Stormers and the Sharks bring the New Zealand leg of their tours to a close this weekend as Super Rugby hits Week 12.
The Stormers will get the action underway when they take on John Kirwan's Blues in Albany on Friday, which will be followed by the clash between the Rebels and the Chiefs in Melbourne.
On Saturday the Sharks will be aiming for their first win on the road when they take on the winless Highlanders in Dunedin ahead of the Australian derby between the Force and the Reds in Perth.
We look at the first four matches this weekend:
Friday, May 3
Blues v Stormers
(North Harbour Stadium, Albany – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Stormers will have their work cut out for them against a competitive Blues side if they are to make it two wins from two games in New Zealand.
The Cape side managed to edge a misfiring Hurricanes side in Palmerston North last weekend, but they are aware that they will have to lift their game considerably if they are to get the better of John Kirwan's team in Albany on Friday.
The Blues have shown that they have what it takes to beat any side in the competition this season, and they will be determined to get back on track after their narrow defeat to the Reds in Brisbane last week.
As with all matches involving the Stormers, the set-pieces will be key, and if the Blues are to challenge them in this area then veterans Keven Mealamu and Ali Williams will have to lead the charge.
Blues flanks Steven Luatua and Luke Braid have been very impressive this season, and they will be tasked with preventing the visitors' physical forward pack from dominating the gainline.
The creative spark in the Blues backline is Rene Ranger, and he has been put on the wing, with Francis Saili taking his place at outside centre, so it will be interesting to see if he can unleash lethal outside backs Frank Halai and Charles Piutau.
Another player who has turned his form around under the mentorship of Kirwan is All Black scrumhalf Piri Weepu, and if he is allowed too much space then the Stormers will battle to keep the home side in check.
The Stormers missed quite a few attacking opportunities last week, and coach Allister Coetzee commented during the week that they will have to be far more ruthless against the well-rounded Blues.
Eben Etzebeth and Elton Jantjies have returned from injury to take their place on the bench, and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact they make when they are introduced.
Prediction: On paper the teams seem to be quite evenly matched, and this one could go either way so we are backing the Blues to win at home by a few points.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Lolagi Visinia.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Eben Etzebeth, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Rebels v Chiefs
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
After giving the Crusaders a bit of a scare in Christchurch last week, the Rebels return to Melbourne to take on another strong Kiwi side in the defending champion Chiefs.
The Chiefs blew hot and cold against the Sharks last week, racking up 24 unanswered points before letting the Durban side back into the game, so they will be keen to deliver a more consistent performance on Friday.
When the Chiefs turn it on they can make any team look ordinary, but they have not been able to sustain that edge this season so it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their focus against the Rebels.
The Melbourne team are a gutsy outfit that will do their utmost to hang in there and rely on stars like James O'Connor and Scott Higginbotham to provide flashes of brilliance.
They will have taken note of how the Sharks were able to put the Chiefs under pressure in their own half last week, so the challenge for them will be getting over the gainline consistently on attack.
If the Chiefs can establish dominance up front then the Rebels' defence will be up against it as the visitors have a number of dangerous runners out wide who will make them pay.
Prediction: The Rebels will give it everything at home, but the Chiefs have too much firepower and should win this one by about seven points.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Lachlan Mitchell.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Richard Goswell (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)
Saturday, May 4
Highlanders v Sharks
(Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
There will be more than a hint of desperation in the air when the embattled Highlanders take on the wounded Sharks in Dunedin on Saturday.
The home side have not yet won a game this season, and they will see the Sharks, who have lost their last three games, as the perfect opportunity to get off the mark.
The Durban side have lost a host of stars to injury, and although they managed to break their three-game try drought against the Chiefs last week the pressure continues to mount on coach John Plumtree and his charges.
Whilst there were some encouraging signs in the defeat to the defending champions last week, most notably the four-try bonus point, the Sharks showed a worrying lack of composure in the final stages which has brought their ability to close out tight matches away from home into question.
Plumtree did his best to focus on the positives this week, such as the competitive performance of the pack in the set-pieces and the way they managed to take their opportunities, but they will need to find far more consistency if they are to stop the rot in Dunedin.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph's decision to sign a number of ageing All Blacks appears to have backfired on him, so they will have a few points to prove after their bye last week.
Although their chances of challenging for a play-off place seem to have gone, Joseph and the Highlanders have their pride to protect and there are more than a few players in the team who will be looking to impress the All Black selectors.
If they are able to match the Sharks' physicality in the collisions and get some continuity on attack then the Highlanders should be able to cause a few headaches for the visitors, but they will need veterans such as Andrew Hore, Brad Thorn and Ma'a Nonu to fire.
Prediction: Both sides will feel they have something to prove after their struggles this season, so this is another tough call but we are backing the Sharks to come good and sneak it by a few points.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Phil Burleigh, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Fumiaka Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Jason Emery.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Wiehahn Herbst.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Piet Lindeque, 22 Odwa Ndungane/Derick Minnie.
Force v Reds
(NIB Stadium, Perth – Kick-off: 17.40; 09.40 GMT)
The Force will be out to make it a season double over the Reds when they face Ewen McKenzie's side in Perth this weekend.
Michael Foley's team played out of their boots to beat the Reds in Brisbane earlier in the season, and they will have to be on top of their game once again if they want to repeat that result.
Whilst the Reds have not been completely convincing in recent weeks, they have showed an valuable ability to grind out results which could prove crucial against a gritty Force team.
The Reds cannot afford to let the Brumbies get too far away from them at the top of the Australian conference, so expect them to come out firing and target a four-try bonus point.
The Force were outclassed by the Brumbies in Canberra last week, with their limited attacking ability exposed badly, so they will be keen to show that they can be more competitive in another tough derby.
The home team's strength is in their forward pack, so they will look to draw the Reds into a battle at close quarters rather than swinging the ball wide too often.
This means that the territorial duel will be key, as if the Force allow the Reds to gather momentum in their half then it could be another tough outing for the home side.
Prediction: The Force will not roll over at home but the Reds have too much class and should win this by about ten points.
Force: 15 Sam Norton-Knight, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Matt Hodgson (captain), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Junior Rasolea, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 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 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Albert Anae.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 James Slipper, 18 Ed O’Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Chris Feauai-Sautia.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner, Ed Martin
TMO: Peter Marshall.
By Michael de Vries