S15 Preview: Round 12, Part One
S15 Preview: Round 12, Part OneSHARE
Can the Sharks change the trend? Can they become the first South African team this year to cross the Indian Ocean and win?
The table-topping Sharks will hope to achieve something that the Bulls, Cheetahs and Stormers have been unable to do – win in Australasia.
The men from Durban will play in Friday's feature match when they travel to Melbourne to take on a Rebels team capable of knocking over any of the big guns.
The weekend's Round 12 action starts when the Blues host another struggling outfit, the Reds in Auckland.
Their contest is in stark contrast to what follows later in the day, even though both are still in the play-off race.
Jan de Koning looks at Friday's matches!
Friday, May 2
Blues v Reds
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT, 17.35 EST)
Unlike most teams who attempt to downplay these milestones, the Reds are embracing Quade Cooper's 100 Super Rugby appearance as a motivational tool.
The Reds, who have just three wins from nine starts, are beginning to grasp any straw to resurrect their campaign.
And coach Richard Graham said the team needed little motivation to secure an important victory and mark Cooper's 100th cap with success.
"It's a special achievement for Quade," Graham said, adding: "He displays an enormous amount of pride in the Reds jersey and has thrilled Queensland fans for a number of years now."
Graham also spoke of his team's dire situation, hovering well outside the play-off zone in 12th place.
"We all understand the importance of this game in the context of our season," the coach added.
Cooper made a valiant attempt to shift focus away from himself.
"I am focussing on getting a win for the team," the mercurial No.10 said.
"I would much rather see the team's success come before my own accolades."
The Blues know they are up against a smarting Reds outfit, who have lost their last three games in a row and who will be eager to put in a strong performance for livewire Cooper.
"They'll be desperate so we can't wait, we've just got to really go in and replicate the energy and effort that we put in last week," coach John Kirwan said of his side's victory over the Waratahs.
"It's a big night for us and we feel like we're the underdogs but if we can get the same intensity we had last week it should put us in good stead.
"Last week was what we needed to do from an intensity and effort point of view and that now needs to be our minimum, we need to at least match that and make sure we step it up and add a little bit.
"I think we can improve in areas as well.
"All the games have been going right down to the wire so it's going to be a tough match but I'm confident if we can bring that attitude then we'll be in the hunt," Kirwan added.
2013: Reds won 12-11, Brisbane
2012: Reds won 23-11, Auckland
2011: Reds won 30-13, Brisbane (semifinal)
2011: Reds won 37-31, Brisbane
2010: Blues won 27-18, Brisbane
2009: Reds won 31-24, North Harbour
Prediction: The Reds and Blues have met 19 times in Super Rugby, with Queensland winning 10 and drawing one. The Reds have won their last four matches against the Blues and have limited the New Zealand side to fewer than 14 points in their last three. The Blues have lost more scrums (1.7) per game than any other side so far with their success rate (80 percent) marginally above the Brumbies (79 percent) who have the lowest success rate so far. Conversely the Reds have lost fewer scrums per game (0.8) than any other side so far, with their success rate the second best in the league (89 percent). However, the most significant statistic is that the Blues are unbeaten at home this year and we feel that record will remain – the Blues to edge the Reds by less than 10 points.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendan O'Connor, 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Ihaia West, 23 George Moala.
Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Rod Davies, 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 Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Lucas, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Sharks
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT; 11.40 SA time)
Much of the pre-match build-up has centred on whether the Sharks can bounce back from last week's bitter disappointment – a loss to a determined Highlanders team.
That loss, their first at home this year, has cast doubts over the Sharks' ability to last the pace.
And Director of Rugby Jake White has made no secret of the fact that the men from Durban let themselves down with their lack of enthusiasm in Durban.
Now, in their first match of a four-week Australasian trip, they need to overcome one of the most unpredictable teams in the competition.
"We want to bounce back," White said.
"It doesn't matter who it is, it's not the Rebels we're targeting," the World Cup-winning former Springbok coach said.
"When we lost to the Bulls [in Round Six], we won the next game against the Waratahs.
"This week we need to make sure that regardless of who we're playing, we need to be better than we were last week to get a result."
The Rebels are every bit as dangerous as the Highlanders were last week – even if most of their success has come at home in Melbourne.
Less than a month ago they knocked over the conference-leading Brumbies in Melbourne and then suffered back-to-back bonus-point defeats in New Zealand.
Then, a fortnight ago, the Rebels ended the high-flying Western Force's five-match winning streak in Melbourne.
The men from Durban are indeed a fine side, full of household name Springboks and boasting a proud history in Super Rugby.
They boast envy-inspiring roster – including an all-Bok front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis and Bismarck du Plessis.
Add in the fact that the Sharks have racked up 98 points in their two matches against the Rebels and it is obvious why bookmakers have installed the visitors as favourites.
"We must remember that although we beat them comfortably [64-7] in Durban last year, we're playing them in Melbourne," White said.
"They are a good team playing at home They've picked up some good wins this year, they beat the Brumbies in Melbourne.
"We want to get our tour off to a good start and take momentum through the tour and in order to do that we need to get a win in the first game."
White said he was hoping for a "spirited" performance after last week's loss.
The Rebels are in confident mood. Unlike the Sharks, the Rebels have played just four games on home turf this season.
They've won three of them – two against the Force and Brumbies, while their only South African opponents so far, the Cheetahs, were dispatched way back in February.
Scott Higginbotham and his boys will be looking to give the Sharks a healthy dose of that same medicine.
Coach Tony McGahan said they are up for it.
"We are ready for the challenges posed by the Sharks," he said.
"It's great to be through the first half of the season; the guys have been really keen and enthusiastic at training over the last few days to start the second half of the season, and most importantly this block now of five games which kicks off with playing the number one side in Super Rugby at this point in time.
"The guys are really looking forward to the challenge, and being back at home."
2013: Sharks won 64-7, Durban
2011: Sharks won 34-32, Melbourne
Prediction: The Rebels boast the best tackling (89 percent) and ruck success (96 percent) rates this season. The Sharks' tackling success rate (85 percent) is the worst in Super Rugby so far, though they have attempted fewer tackles than any other side. The Sharks have also conceded the most turnovers per game (18.2). However, the Sharks have conceded just 17.2 points per game on average, lower than any other side. They have also forced their opponents into Super Rugby low, 69 percent and 90 percent scrum and ruck success rates respectively. You simply can't ignore the Rebels' poor track record against the Sharks and we feel the visitors will take the points – but by little more than 10 points.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Paul Alo-Emilie, 19 Hugh Pyle, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Tom Kingston, 23 Angus Roberts.
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 SP Marais.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann, James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)