Super 14 preview: Round three

Jon Cardinelli and Ryan Vrede analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.

Vrede’s won the right to gloat (not to mention an in-house bet) while last round’s seven from seven sees JC back in the contest much like a batsman who only recently discovered he’s been holding the wrong end of the bat. With that little embarrassment aside, let’s get on with the innings.

Round two rewarded seven easy calls with the scorelines the only variable. This week, Vrede and JC acquiesce on every call except the last. Only the most dedicated will cancel their Sunday morning snooze for this clanger, but JC is backing the Cheetahs to come right and break their long-standing Australia duck. Say hallelujah.

VREDE: 93% (13/14)
JC: 64 % (9/14)
Round two
JC 7/7
Round one
VREDE: 6/7
JC: 2/7


Vrede’s call: The Crusaders will inflict their second defeat of the tournament and their seventh in succession over the North Islanders. The Canes have struggled when the opposition play directly and kick well tactically, as this nullifies their backline’s threat from broken field. The Saders have hardly been impressive, but they’ll have identified their opposition’s fallibility and have enough skill to exploit it. In addition, the Christchurch boys will be bolstered by the return of inspirational skipper Richie McCaw. If the Canes runners isolate themselves, the omnipresent McCaw will pounce and supply his side with the turnover ball they thrive on. Crusaders by 10
JC’s call: Last year you’d have picked this as one of the games of the competition, but the Canes have offered more of the insipid than the inspired over the last two weeks. Rodney So’oialo’s back but I’m not sure he’ll have such an impact with his tight-five being mauled and his fellow loosies disrupted at the tackle point. Don’t discount the influence of McCaw in this fixture, and even though the Canes will be better off with Piri Weepu at 10, Ma’a Nonu at 12 and Conrad Smith at 13, they will battle on the back foot. The Saders defence will also prove difficult to breach. Crusaders by 10

Crusaders – Stephen Brett, Jared Payne, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Kade Poki, Colin Slade, Kahn Fotuali’i, Thomas Waldrom, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Ross Filipo, Brad Thorn, Ben Franks, Jason Macdonald, Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: Daniel Perrin, Bronson Murray, Isaac Ross, George Whitelock, Tyson Keats, Ryan Crotty, Adam Whitelock

Hurricanes – 15 Cory Jane, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Piri Weepu, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Karl Lowe, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 John Schwalger.
Subs: 16 Jacob Ellison, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 21 Tamati Ellison, 22 David Smith.


Vrede’s call: The Highlanders can’t even win at The House of Shame so it would be foolish to back them against an unbeaten Waratahs in Sydney. The Tahs boast the tournament’s best defensive record and I just can’t see the rudderless, mullet-sporting bunch from Dunedin cracking their well drilled defensive line. The Tahs have been disappointed from an attacking perspective thus far, but have shown enough to suggest they are on the verge of clicking. Don’t be surprised if that happens against a vulnerable looking Highlanders defence. While winger Fetu’u Vainikolo’s return will boost the visitors, his threat is nullified if the ball doesn’t travel that far. The Tahs will ensure this through set phase and breakdown dominance. Compounding the Highlanders’ troubles is the continued absence of skipper Jimmy Cowan. This all points to a successful 100th Super Rugby match for Tahs captain Phil Waugh. Tahs by 15
JC’s call: The Tahs backline gets better every week and despite the absence of Timana Tahu they should prove difficult to contain. Kurtley Beale will have space to move given his forwards are certain to lay a fine platform while the incisive running of Rob Horne and the finishing of Lote Tuqiri and Lachie Turner should make for a comfortable win. Bonus-point time. Tahs by 15

Waratahs – Sam Norton-Knight, Lachie Turner, Rob Horne, Tom Carter, Lote Tuqiri, Kurtley Beale, Luke Burgess, Wycliff Palu, Phil Waugh (c), Ben Mowen, Will Caldwell, Dean Mumm, Al Baxter, Adam Freier, Benn Robinson. Subs: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Dan Palmer, Chris Thomson, Scott Fava, Brett Sheehan, Daniel Halangahu, Timana Tahu.

Highlanders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jason Shoemark (c), 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Daniel Bowden, 9 Sean Romans, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 David Hall, 1 Chris King.
Subs: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 George Naoupu, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Scott Cowan, 21 Mathew Berquist, 22 Kendrick Lynn.


Vrede’s call: For all their supposed attacking prowess, the Chiefs have been diabolical to date. Two losses on the bounce will become three against a Sharks side who have come through two testing local derbies without having to shift into fifth gear. They’ll be pumped for the first tour match and that will be evident in their performance. Last year these two produced a high scoring game at King’s Park and the Sharks have to learn their lesson if they are to avoid being breached as often as they were that evening. They’ll have to be patient in their phase play and kick accurately if they hope to avoid being stung on the counterattack by the likes of Lelia Masaga and Sitiveni Sivivatu. But if they do remain patient, the Chiefs should present few problems. Sharks by 7-10
JC’s call: I can’t understand why Keo has picked the Chiefs to win this bout. The Sharks have the might and the mettle to best the cream of the crop, and you’d expect them to dispatch pretenders like the Chiefs. Sione Lauaki will be a handful from the back of the ruck, but the bruising Sharks defence should be up to task. Maybe Stephen Donald will find inspiration in the clamour of a cowbell, but it’s going to be hard to ignite his backline off the back foot, and even harder to resist the likes of Frans Steyn and Adi Jacobs busting up midfield. I can’t see how the Sharks, if they are true contenders for the crown, could lose in Hamilton. Maybe if it was the end of a long tour, but not in their first hit-out abroad. Sharks by 5

Chiefs – 15 Sosene Anesi, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard; 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 James McGougan, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Sona Taumalolo. Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben May, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Serge Lilo, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Jackson Willison.

Sharks – 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Deon Carstens.
Subs – 16 John Smit, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Riaan Swanepoel, 22, Luzuko Vulindlu.


Vrede’s call: The Brumbies will be buoyed by the last-gasp victory over the Crusaders and should be too good for a Force side that stuttered to victory over a distinctly ordinary Cheetahs unit. You can’t help but think that all the off-field nonsense is affecting the Force’s performance. The Brumbies, with two late fightbacks, have hardly been inspiring but they should improve in Canberra. The set phases should be evenly matched, but George Smith’s experience will see him edge David Pocock in the breakdown battle, which could be the decisive facet. Brumbies by 5
JC’s call: Can Matt Giteau carry the Force to yet another win they don’t really deserve? Methinks Kid Dynamite will come under too much fire in this encounter with the Brumbies loosies likely to run riot. There’s also too much class in that Canberra back division to be denied for long – ask the brave Crusaders, who defended manfully until Mark Gerrard crossed the whitewash on the hooter. Repelling a Mortlock, an Ashley-Cooper and a Rathbone will take its toll, and the Force defence is certainly not up to Crusader standard. Brumbies by 12

Brumbies – Mark Gerrard, Clyde Rathbone, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock, Francis Fainifo, Christian Lealiifano, Patrick Phibbs, Stephen Hoiles (c), George Smith, Julian Salvi, Mark Chisholm, Ben Hand, Guy Shepherdson, Stephen Moore, Nic Henderson.
Subs: John Ulugia, Ben Alexander, Sitaleki Timani, Peter Kimlin, Josh Holmes, Matt Toomua, Tyrone Smith.

Force Cameron Shepherd, Ryan Cross, Junior Pelesasa, Nick Cummins, Matt Giteau, Josh Valentine, Richard Brown; David Pocock, Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sharpe (c), Tom Hockings, Ben Castle, Tai McIsaac, Pek Cowan. Res: Luke Holmes, Kieran Longbottom, Richard Stanford, Tamaiti Horua, Chris O’Young, James O’Connor, Haig Sare.


Vrede’s call: The Lions were singing their own praises after an opening round win over the Cheetahs, but normal service was restored with defeat to the Sharks in week two. The Lions should have been hammered by more than 15 points at King’s Park, such was the impotence of the display. I don’t think the Bulls will massacre the hosts, but they will prove far too good across all facets of play for Loffie’s ordinary lot. Bulls by 12
JC’s call: The loose trio battle will be an interesting one with the Lions welcoming back Ernst Joubert, as in partnership with Baywatch Grobbelaar the duo can be devastating. That the Lions have the individuals is hardly in dispute with Jaque Fourie and Willem Alberts also set to make their mark at Ellis Park. The Bulls, on the other hand, look to be a well-oiled unit that are yet to be truly pushed. Their tighthead side may be susceptible and all eyes will be on Chiliboy Ralepelle at lineout time, but they will still beat the Lions, even if they play poorly. If they click, it’ll be another one-sided affair. Expect them to bag the bonus point and the No 1 log standing. Bulls by 20

Lions – Louis Ludik, Ashwin Willemse, Jaque Fourie, Doppies la Grange, Henno Mentz, Earl Rose, Jano Vermaak, Willem Alberts, Ernst Joubert, Cobus Grobbelaar (c), Gerhard Mostert, Anton van Zyl, Gert Muller, Willie Wepener, Lawrence Sephaka.
Subs: Hans van Dyk, JC Janse van Rensburg, Franco van der Merwe, Todd Clever, Chris Jonck, Andre Pretorius, Jannie Boshoff.

Bulls – Zane Kirchner; Akona Ndungane, Jaco Pretorius, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana; Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez (c), Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Danie Rossouw, Bakkies Botha, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Gurthrö Steenkamp. Subs: Derick Kuün, Rayno Gerber, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Pedrie Wannenburg, Heini Adams, Burton Francis, JP Nel


Vrede’s call: I almost backed the Blues here after watching Rassie’s beautiful letdowns hang on against the rubble Reds. The Blues have obviously targeted the Stormers match as one they fancy themselves winning. And with the return of The Rocket Man, Jerome Kaino, Tasesa Lavea, Taniela Moa, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock, they should be a wholly more difficult proposition than they were in Pretoria. Expect them to attack the Stormers at scrum time. The Cape side have done nothing over the first two rounds to shatter the widely held perception that they are vulnerable in that facet. If the Blues exert sufficient pressure here the Stormers’ back division will be reduced to little more than passive observers, while dominance on their own ball gives a dangerous backline a solid platform to attack. But the Stormers will at least attain parity here, after which they’ll gradually wear down the Blues. If the Stormers kick poorly they’ll be punished, as they will if they are ineffective at the collision points and breakdown. But one senses they’ll just do enough and come away with another narrow win. Stormers by 5
JC’s call: Percy Montgomery is going to be a key figure in this clash as the Stormers look to play a smarter territorial game. The Stormers defence will also be under pressure with the return of Kaino at the rucks and fleet-footed Joe Rokocoko out wide, but it’d be a bit much to expect them to dramatically transform what has been a lacklustre start to the competition. The Stormers have produced two poor second half showings and will need an improved effort to deny a Blues fightback, but with the support of the Newlands faithful, they should edge a tight encounter. A firing Blues outfit would warrant a different prediction, but this undercooked unit is set to slump. Stormers by 7

Stormers – Percy Montgomery, Tonderai Chavhanga, Gcobani Bobo, Jean de Villiers (c), Sireli Naqelevuki, Peter Grant, Ricky Januarie, Luke Watson, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Andries Bekker, Adriaan Fondse, Brian Mujati, Schalk Brits, JD Moller.
Subs: Deon Fourie, Wicus Blaauw, AJ Venter, Francois Louw, Bolla Conradie, Nick Koster, Willem de Waal.

Blues – 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Paul Williams, 10 Tasesa Lavea, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Josh Blackie, 6 Justin Collins, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu/Chris Lowrey, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock. Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, Lowrey/Dean Budd, 18 Peter Saili, 19 Chris Smylie, 20 Michael Hobbs, 21 Winston Stanley.


Vrede’s call: There’s no chance I’m dragging myself out of bed on a Sunday morning for this rubbish – enjoy JC. But for what it’s worth I think the Reds will edge the Battle of Bollocks. No use in over-analysing this one – both packs are equally crap and both back divisions have been overhyped. The match will be decided by a moment of individual brilliance, probably from Quade Cooper or Digby Ioane. Reds by 7
JC’s call: It’ll be ugly, but it’ll be effective. The Cheetahs will slow it down and limit the Reds allowing their own brutal physicality to come to the fore. That’s the aim at least. The Cheetahs have to be more clinical at the breakdown and have the players to hurt the Reds, who have been rudderless in the past two weeks. If the Cheetahs can cut out the errors and take their opportunities they will walk away with the spoils. Nokwe and Corne Uys will thrive when coming off the bench but the visitors may do well to keep it tight for the entire 80 minutes. Cheetahs by 5

Reds – Mark McLinden, Brando Va’aulu, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes (c), Peter Hynes, Quade Cooper, Ben Lucas; Leroy Houston, Daniel Braid, Scott Higginbotham, Hugh McMeniman, Van Humphries, Laurie Weeks, Sean Hardman, Greg Holmes.
Subs: Saia Faingaa, Dayna Edwards, Adam Byrnes, Tasi Luafutu, Will Genia, Anthony Faingaa, Blair Connor.

Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Danwel Demas, 13 Piet van Zyl, 12 Jaques–Louis Potgieter, 11 Fabian Juries, 10 Meyer Bosman, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Frans Viljoen, 7 Juan Smith (captain), 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 Jacobus Roux, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Kobus Calldo, 18 Wayne van Heerden, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Corne Uys, 22 Jongi Nokwe.

By Jon Cardinelli and Ryan Vrede