Former Springbok prop Robbie Kempson and keo.co.za’s Ryan Vrede analyse the key match ups and pick the likely winners at the weekend.
CRUSADERS V WARATAHS, CHRISTCHURCH, FRIDAY 8:35
Kempo’s call: The scrum will be the crucial area of the game for the Crusaders, and I suspect they’ll absolutely kill the Waratahs in that facet of play. They rely heavily on scrum time dominance to give their dangerous backline front foot ball, and when that happens they’re an irresistible force. Stephan Brett is a high quality player and his loss will be a big one. But the calibre of players around his replacement, Tim Bateman, means his introduction will cause minimal disruption. The Waratahs have generally done well in Christchurch, but this time, with the Crusaders back to full strength, I think they face a team of far superior quality. Crusaders by 13 or more
Vrede’s call: The Crusaders were never required to shift from third to fourth gear against the Cheetahs last week, but the Waratahs will be a sterner test for them. The Crusaders, however, edge every head-to-head contest, including a tasty battle of two talented back rows. The Waratahs big hitters have failed to fire this season, which has made life difficult for coach Ewan McKenzie. They’ll need the likes of Lote Tuqiri – who’s been more chump change than six million dollar man – to hit their straps. Their young backline will struggle against a superbly organised Crusaders defence, while they’ll eventually be worn down trying to repel waves of attack from the home side. Crusaders by 15
Crusaders - 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Richard McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i, 21 Hamish Gard, 22 Sean Maitland.
Waratahs - 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Alfi Mafi, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Matt Dunning, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Will Caldwell, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Josh Valentine, 21 Sam Harris, 22 Rob Horne. 23rd Man: Benn Robinson
BRUMBIES V CHEETAHS, CANBERRA, FRIDAY 10:40
Kempo’s call: The Cheetahs will be gutsy after their heavy defeat to the Crusaders last week, but they still won’t be good enough to beat the Brumbies at home. The return of some of their first choice players to the run-on side will be welcomed, but you have to question their mental state having not won a match in the tournament. There will be parity in the scrums and in the loose play, but the Brumbies’ backline flow has been impressive and I think this is where they’ll edge the contest. Brumbies by 20 or more
Vrede’s call: The Cheetahs were schooled in Christchurch last week by a side who are light years ahead of their nearest challengers. They’ll get some respite against a young Brumbies side, and could even cause an upset if they are able to capitalise on their superiority at scrum time. Their backline has shown glimpses of brilliance over the last five weeks but need to be more clinical to trouble the Brumbies, while defensively they need to keep their shape and be accurate, or run the risk of being mauled again. With Meyer Bosman, Falie Oelschig, Duanne Vermeulen, Heinrich Brussouw, Barend Pieterse, Rory Duncan, Adriaan Strauss and Wian du Preez returning to the starting XV, and with CJ Van der Linde and Jacques-Louis Potgieter set for runs off the wood, they’ll be better but still not good enough. Brumbies by 10
Brumbies - 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Peter Playford, 13 Sanualio Afeaki, 12 Tyrone Smith, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joshua Holmes, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith (captain), 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Nic Henderson.
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Julian Salvi, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Matt Toomua.
Cheetahs - 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Conrad Barnard, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Duanne Vermeulen, 7 Darron Nell, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 Rory Duncan (captain), 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs - 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 David de Villiers, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Hendrik Meyer.
HIGHLANDERS V FORCE, DUNEDIN, SATURDAY 03:30
Kempo’s call: This will be a close one, but I think the Force will take it. The key is the set phases, where I expect the Force to struggle in the scrums but counter that by dominating the lineouts. Force captain Nathan Sharpe has been in outstanding form and he’ll be a key player for his side in the lineouts and in the loose. The Highlanders are good in the tight-loose, and the Force have to be vigilant in their defence here. But if the game gets loose and unstructured, like I predict it will, the Force with Matt Giteau pulling the strings at pivot, will have to much class out wide. Force by 7
Vrede’s call: The Force showed good patience in their win over the Blues in Albany last week, absorbing early pressure then striking when Nick Evans was forced off the field. The excelled in the lineout, where they’ll target the Highlanders, and looked dangerous when they got some width on their game. If conditions allow, expect them to play expansively – looking to get strike runners like Ryan Cross into the mix often. The Highlanders will be solid in the scrums, but don’t have the ability to repel the Force for 80 minutes, or the quality to player to trouble them on attack. Force by 15
Highlanders - 15 James Wilson, 14 Paul Williams, 13 Niva Ta’auso, 12 Aaron Bancroft, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Daniel Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan (vice-captain), 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Craig Newby (captain), 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Keith Cameron, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Brett Mather.
Force - 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Lachlan MacKay, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Chris O’Young, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Tamaiti Horua, 5 Nathan Sharpe (capt), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 AJ Whalley, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan. Reserves: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Troy Takiari, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Scott Fava, 20 James Stannard, 21 Scott Daruda, 22 Nick Cummins.
BLUES V STORMERS, AUCKLAND, SATURDAY 06:30
Kempo’s call: I have to back the Blues to come out with a win from this one, but it’s going to be close. Their defeat to the Force last week would have had a lot to do with the fact that they just came off a longish tour to South Africa and the that they were playing in Albany – away from traditional home ground of Eden Park. They’ll have a point to prove this week, and unfortunately it will come at the Stormers’ expense. The Blues will tighten up their game and be very direct. The contest will take on a Test match feel, where the set phases take on added importance, and you look to your big ball carriers for go forward. In this regard, you always look to your physical players to make an impact and Troy Flavell will be that man for the Blues. He’s been outstanding this season and the Blues will want him to stamp his authority on the match. If for some reason the Blues decide to opt for a more expansive approach, it’ll play to the Stormers’ favour. The likes of Schalk Brits and Peter Grant thrive in matches like those, and given their performance last week when the game got looser, the Stormers backline will relish an opportunity to counterattack. Blues by 3 to 5
Vrede’s call: The Stormers have a swagger about them that suggests they could pull off an upset. Their breakdown work was superb last week, and if they can replicate that in Auckland, it’ll give a steadily improving backline – whose back three have been impressive – the opportunity to run at an unset defence. Nick Evans will be crucial. The Blues fell to pieces when he was replaced against the Force, but with him marshalling the back division on Saturday, the Blues will be a significantly stronger side. The Stormers will need to front in the set phases to limited the amount of clean, quick ball he receives. In this regard the lineouts, where Andries Bekker has impressed, is a crucial facet of play. If they can dominate in the tight early on, and take their scoring opportunities, they’ll always be in with a chance. Stormers by 7
Blues - 15 George Pisi, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Lee; 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Nick White.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Ben Atiga, 22 Joe Rokocoko.
Stormers - 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Gcobani Bobo, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 JD Moller.
Subs: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Gio Aplon, 22 Tony Brown.
CHIEFS V BULLS, ROTORUA, SATURDAY 08:35
Kempo’s call: The Bulls have proven emphatically that they can’t travel. They are a completely different side on tour than they are in South Africa, and away from Loftus specifically. They have neither the quality of players or the experience to pull this one off. The Chiefs will look to play expansively against them and will probably succeed. They have some dangerous runners from broken field, and given the opportunity they’ll cut you to pieces, so the Bulls tactical play will have to be spot on. Bryan Habana’s loss is a blow, but you have to question his effectiveness in recent weeks as a result of the poor service he’s received. I’m also not convinced that he’s mind in the competition anymore. There seem to be a couple of peripheral issues that are dominating his thoughts at present. Chiefs by 15
Vrede’s call: How the Bulls have regressed from their record-breaking tour run last year to losing to the Reds on their first tour match is perplexing. They were awful in Brisbane last week, but have come out with fighting talk – insisting that they will improve. The Chiefs have some serious backline concerns with Sosene Anesi and Sitiveni Sivivatu out of contention, and Dwayne Sweeney not completely recovered from injury. This may give the Bulls a chance, as the Chiefs’ replacement players are nowhere nearly the quality of their first choices. If they find some attacking form and make dramatic improvements to their defence, the Bulls could get four points out of this match. They’ll achieve the latter, but with a backline that has never threatened to fire this season, expect more dull, ineffective bash-ups from JP Nel and co. Even with a depleted squad the Chiefs will have too much firepower for the battered Bulls. Chiefs by 10
Chiefs - 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Vili Waqaseduadua, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tom Willis, 1 Simms Davison.
Subs: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Ben May, 18 Jay Williams, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 David Bason, 21 Murray Williams, 22 Roimata Hansell-Pune.
Bulls - 15 Morne Steyn, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JP Nel, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Derick Hougaard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Hilton Lobberts, 20 Dewald Potgieter, 21 Heini Adams, 22 Stephan Dippenaar.
LIONS V REDS, ELLIS PARK, SATURDAY 17:00
Kempo’s call: The Lions have created opportunities to win, but have just not been clinical enough. Last week against the Sharks was a prime example of this. I think that they’ll finally get it together against the Reds, though. They’ll trouble the visitors in the scrums and if they can capitalise through incisive phase play, they’ll do well. Lions by 5 to 10
Vrede’s call: The Reds will come into the match buoyed by victory over the Bulls. They are, however, notoriously poor travellers and must expect a reverse in results when they meet the Lions. The Jo’burg franchise have been diabolical at times this season, but have hinted that they could be a competent unit. For them the set phases will be crucial, as will the breakdown, where Cobus Grobbelaar’s battle with David Croft will be one of the key determinant to who wins this match. Lions by 5
Lions - 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Dusty Noble, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Ernst Joubert (captain), 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Gerhard Mostert, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Rudi Vogt, 22 Jannie Boshoff.
Reds - 15 Chris Latham, 14 Clinton Schifcofske, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Sam Cordingley (c), 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 John Roe, 5 James Horwill, 4 Van Humphries, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Greg Holmes.
Subs: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Ed O’Donoghue, 19 David Croft, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Brando Va’aulu, 22 Scott Higginbotham