S15 Preview: Round 18, Part One
S15 Preview: Round 18, Part OneSHARE
In the home straight, do-or-die, must-win. Those are all the clichés bandied about this week.
But it is much more than that when Round 18's action gets underway on Friday with an all-New Zealand derby between the Hurricanes and the Chiefs in Hamilton.
To stay alive in the competition the absolute minimum requirement, for both teams, is victory.
The Hurricanes will be playing in their last regular season match – they have a bye in Week 19 – and will most likely also require a four-try bonus point, given the manic nature of the run-in to the play-offs.
Heading into this weekend's penultimate round, there is just six competition points separating the five New Zealand teams. The Crusaders and the Highlanders are on 42 points, the Hurricanes are on 41, and the Chiefs and Blues are on 36.
There is one other match on Friday, when the Lions host the Rebels in Johannesburg.
It could be an entertaining affair, but both teams are already out of the running and just desperate to stay away from last place on the standings.
Jan de Koning looks at Friday's matches!
Friday, July 4
Chiefs v Hurricanes
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The two teams have the same goal – victory. But they arrive at this juncture with vastly differing fortunes.
The Hurricanes are coming of an impressive 16-9 win over the Crusaders in Wellington last Saturday, the first time they have beaten the Crusaders twice in a season.
The Chiefs lost their third match in a row last Friday, going down 25-29 to the Highlanders in Dunedin.
For Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, who will take over as boss of the Cardiff Blues in Wales when he leaves his Hurricanes post at the end of the season, is determined to give his franchise a very big parting gift – their first Super Rugby title.
Despite the desperate nature of the situation, Hammett still believes preparation over emotion is the way to get the desired result.
It is an approach that got his side past the Crusaders last week and his players will believe it can also secure them a victory against the Chiefs.
"One of the big things is we need to plan around their structures," Hammett told The Dominion Post newspaper.
"They know our A game, we probably know their A game. It's the little subtleties that decide the games week in week out."
In stark contrast Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith fanned the flames of passion, knowing his team requires at least nine points in their last two games in order to keep alive their fast-fading dream of a third consecutive Super Rugby title.
Having lost their last three matches and sitting ninth overall (last in the New Zealand Conference), the Chiefs will have to dig deep into their mental resolves.
"It's somewhere we don't want to be, but we've got to show that on Friday,'' Smith told the Waikato Times.
"We can talk all we like about it but we just need to do, to get out there and prove to everyone that we've still got it. There's still the belief there.''
The Hurricanes and the Chiefs have met 23 times previously in Super Rugby, the Hurricanes having won 12 of these, the Chiefs 10, and one draw.
2014: Hurricanes won 45-8, Wellington
2013: Chiefs won 34-22, Hamilton
2013: Chiefs won 17-12, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 28-25, Wellington
2012: Chiefs won 33-14, Hamilton
2011: Chiefs and Hurricanes drew 18-all, Hamilton
2011: Hurricanes won 29-26, Wellington
Prediction: The Hurricanes will have to do without four of their leading players – captain Conrad Smith (thumb), fullback Andre Taylor (ankle), Alapati Leiua (ankle) and Victor Vito (calf). The selection merry-go-round continued at the Chiefs this week – with only captain and flyhalf Aaron Cruden retaining his place in a revamped backline. Try-scoring is not a problem for either side – the Hurricanes top of the table with 48 in 15 outings and the Chiefs with 41 touchdowns in 14 matches. The Hurricanes have averaged more breaks (9.4) and defenders beaten (23.5) per game than any other side, while the Chiefs have made more off-loads per match (13.9) than anyone else. The Chiefs' defence has been sound and the Hurricanes have been slightly better than average. However, the big issue is the set pieces – the Chiefs' line-out success rate (79 percent) is the worst in the competition, while they have also averaged the most penalties conceded (13.1). The Hurricanes have looked the more assured of the two outfits and should take the win, by eight to 10 points.
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Agustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Bundee Aki.
Hurricanes: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jack Lam, 5 Blade Thomson, 4 Jeremy Thrush (captain), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Cardiff Vaega, 23 James Marshall.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Lions v Rebels
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT; 03.10 Saturday AEST)
The Rebels are hoping to end a three-match losing streak, while the Lions broke a two-month-long victory drought just before the June Test window.
There was no hiding the disappointment within the Rebels camp after succumbing to a third straight loss to an Australian conference rival in Round 17, with a late try flattering the Rebels' score – as the Reds comprehensively outplayed them to win 36-20 in Melbourne last Friday.
However, their disappointing run in recent games will not convince Lions coach Johan Ackermann that this will be an 'easy' game.
On the contrary, the wily Lions mentor believes the Australian outfit remains as dangerous as any side in the competition when they switch on.
"They have knocked over a few big teams," Ackermann told rugby365 – pointing to earlier victories over the Reds, a much-improved Western Force, the Brumbies and the a hammering of the Cheetahs.
"They have a few international players, like [prop] Laurie Weeks, [lock] Luke Jones and [loose forward] Scott Higginbotham.
"They do have a good team and we'll have to be on top of our game."
Ackerman said that while the Lions have long since dropped out of the play-off race, in terms of their own season this is an important game.
"Our goals remain unchanged," he told rugby365, adding: "We want to play well and finish as high as possible in the competition."
The Lions, who already have five wins, could make this the Lions' best season since the split from the Cheetahs if they knock over the visitors.
"People will suggest that if you are 13th on the table you haven't had a great season," he said.
"Maybe that is true to some extend, but go look how many players made their Super Rugby debut [for the Lions] this season and think back to when some people suggested we would not even win one game.
"If we finish with seven wins it will be a great season."
The Lions mentor pointed to his front row of Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe, loose forwards Warwick Tecklenburg and Jaco Kriel that came through, as well as players like new Springbok flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff and scrumhalf Francois de Klerk – all member of the squad that left their mark on the season.
"We brought many players through and maybe we'll reap rewards in years to come," Ackermann added.
For the Rebels it is all about avoiding finishing last in the competition – as the unpredictable Cheetahs are the only team between them and the foot of the table, with just one point separating the two outfits.
That means their season is far from over and there is plenty to play for.
South Africa is an increasingly difficult place to travel and win, as results show with New Zealand and Australian teams heading there in 2014.
The advantage is that Rebels head to the Republic without pressure, expectation or prior achievements to stack up to.
They have not won on this side of the Indian Ocean, or indeed outside of Australia, and not many would expect them to this time around.
The feeling inside the camp may be very different.
The coaching staff and players will be determined to gain back some respect and get that monkey off their collective backs.
2012: Lions won 37-32, Johannesburg
Prediction: Despite the Lions boasting the best goal-kicking success rate in the competition (85 percent), they have averaged the second fewest points per game (19.5) this year, while the Rebels' record is the third worst (19.9). These two sides rank joint-top for turnovers won (9.1) per game this season. The Lions have averaged more line-outs per game than any other side this year, but have the third-worst success rate on their own throw (80 percent). However, they boast the best scrum success rate (92 percent). Of players to kick 20+ successful goals this year, Marnitz Boshoff has the best success rate (54/61 – 89 percent). The Lions have scored just 20 tries this season, with just four of them coming in the first half. Eight of the Rebels' 26 tries this season have come in the first half. As the statistics may suggest, the Lions are slow starters and the Rebels tend to fade after the break. We believe that trend will continue, with the Lions coming from behind to win by 10 to 15 points.
Lions: 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen/Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Lionel Mapoe.
Rebels: 15 Jack Debreczeni, 14 Tom Kingston, 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 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa,17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Jason Woodward, 23 Telusa Veainu.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Johan Greeff