Super 14 preview: Round six

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

Round five produced a couple of upsets. The Waratahs succumbed to a complete Brumbies effort while the Sharks were never interested in a game against the Rubble Reds. The Force-Crusaders draw was unexpected, but then again, the off-colour champs will lament squandering a healthy lead.

Opinion is divided as to whether the Sharks will fly the South African flag this Saturday, but the Bulls are sure to stutter against the Hurricanes. The Highlanders will defeat the Cheetahs to affect another winless tour for the central franchise and the Lions are unlikely to upset the Brumbies. Not even the Highveld Hoodoo can save Loffie Eloff’s charges from another characteristic implosion.

In the keo.co.za prediction battle, Vrede is out to a commanding six-call lead, a situation that sees JC short a few buffalos and a great deal of self-respect. Taunts of ‘I know this game’ echo throughout the Keo HQ with Vrede’s head expanding at an alarming rate.

This embarrassment has led to JC acquiring ‘Rugby Muse: Hugh Bladen’s Handbook For the Uninspired’ from which he’s borrowed this pearler as the ultimate retort: ‘With half an hour to go, there are still 30 minutes left’. To interpret, there’s plenty of rugby still to be played.

KEO.CO.ZA SUPER 14 SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 79% (26/33)
JC: 61% (20/33)

Round five
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 3/6
Round four
VREDE: 5/6
JC: 5/6
Round three
VREDE: 4/7
JC: 3/7
Round two
VREDE: 7/7
JC: 7/7
Round one
VREDE: 6/7
JC: 2/7

HURRICANES vs BULLS, WELLINGTON, FRIDAY 08:35

Vrede’s call: All the talk from the Bulls camp is about starting well. Unfortunately, I suspect they won’t. They were clinical against weak opposition in the Reds and a B-grade Blues, but against the Lions and Stormers they showed vulnerabilities which will be exploited by the Canes. While they possess talented personnel to offset the loss of Victor Matfield at lineout time, his on-field leadership will be sorely missed. As will Bryan Habana’s absence. The winger has been off-form, but his experience in a testing match would have been valuable. The scrums should be fairly even but the difference is the backline where the hosts boast an All Blacks midfield combination and some dangerous runners out wide. Their potency will be amplified if the Bulls lose the breakdown scrap and kick poorly. From a South Africa perspective I hope I’m wrong, but I’m backing the Canes. Canes by 7
JC’s call: Piri Weepu has looked the part at pivot while the centre-pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith is bound to cause the Bulls problems. Unless the Bulls strike an early blow, they could be chasing the Canes, and in this event, you’d have to back the hosts. Watch for Weepu and Alby Mathewson peppering Bulls rookie Gerhard van den Heever with the highball, a tactic that could prove effective given the strength of the Canes’ loosies and the speed of their chasers. The Bulls will challenge initially, but as the game becomes less-structured in the second period and the Bulls’ defence tires, the Canes will have the final say. Canes by 10

Hurricanes – Tamati Ellison, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Piri Weepu, Alby Mathewson, Rodney So’oialo, Scott Waldrom, Karl Lowe, Jason Eaton/Bryn Evans, Jeremy Thrush, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, John Schwalger.
Subs: Dane Coles, Jacob Ellison, Evans/Api Naikatini, Faifili Levave, Willie Ripia, Jason Kawau, David Smith.

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

HIGHLANDERS vs CHEETAHS, DUNEDIN, SATURDAY, 06:30

Vrede’s call: The battle of the two worst teams in the tournament (although some will argue this assertion given the Lions’ ‘spectacular’ form). This is probably the Cheetahs’ best chance of picking up a win on what has been a disastrous tour, but they’ll bomb again. The Cheetahs will show plenty of enterprise but the Highlanders will edge every facet of play and ultimately come away with a narrow victory. Highlanders by 5
JC’s call: The Cheetahs’ inconsistent approach has cost them all season. Missed tackles and poor ball retention have characterised their play, and they’ve got progressively worse since captain Juan Smith bowed out with injury. The Highlanders have lost a few close ones this season, but could sneak a victory on this occasion. It will be brutally physical and disgustingly ugly in terms of errors and decision-making, but the ‘Landers are certainly the better of this sorry pair. Highlanders by 5

Highlanders – Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Jason Shoemark, Daniel Bowden, Kendrick Lynn, Matthew Berquist, Jimmy Cowan (c), George Naoupu, Alando Soakai, Adam Thomson, Tom Donnelly, Josh Bekhuis, Clint Newland, David Hall, Chris King.
Subs: Jason Rutledge, Jamie Mackintosh, Hayden Triggs, Steven Setephano, Sean Romans, Johnny Leota, Lucky Mulipola

Cheetahs – Hennie Daniller; Danwel Demas, Corné Uys, Meyer Bosman, Fabian Juries; Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Tewis de Bruyn; Hendro Scholtz (c), Francois Uys, Heinrich Brüssow, David de Villiers, Wayne van Heerden, Bees Roux, Adriaan Strauss, Wian du Preez.
Subs: Richardt Strauss, Kobus Calldo, Nico Breedt, Kabamba Floors, Sarel Pretorius, Piet van Zyl, Hanno Coetzee.

CHIEFS vs BLUES, HAMILTON, SATURDAY 08:35

Vrede’s call: This is a tough one to call as both sides are so unpredictable. The Chiefs were ordinary against the Highlanders and not much can be read into the Blues’ emphatic win over the Cheetahs given the weakness of Naka Drotske’s charges. Whoever keeps it as structured as possible for as long as possible will win this one. Both teams have a penchant for the expansive but will have to suppress that instinct in favour of a slightly more conservative approach. In this regard, the Chiefs have superior tactical kickers in Stephen Donald, Mils Muliaina and Brendon Leonard which will give them an advantage. They also have the gamebreakers in Lelia Masaga and Sitiveni Sivivatu to punish any wayward punts from the Blues as well as hurt them in general play. Chiefs by 7
JC’s call: The Chiefs have looked the better of the two teams although the Super 14 log may dispute the point. The Blues are still off the pace as a unit, and while they would have built some momentum against the Cheetahs they could come unstuck against a Chiefs team that has the magic to complement the mongrel. Leonard is key man for the hosts while Richard Kahui and Masaga will worry the Blues’ defence. If the Chiefs can match the Blues’ tight-five they should secure the winning points comfortably. If not, they still have the quality in the loose and out wide to punish the visitors. Chiefs by 5

Chiefs – Mils Muliaina (c), Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Callum Bruce, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Sione Lauaki, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Kevin O’Neill, Craig Clarke, Ben May, Aled de Malmanche, Sona Taumalolo.
Subs: Hika Elliot, James McGougan, Toby Lynn, Serge Lilo, Toby Morland, Mike Delany, Dwayne Sweeney.

Blues – Isaia Toeava, Rene Ranger, Anthony Tuitavake, Michael Hobbs, Joe Rokocoko, Jimmy Gopperth, Taniela Moa, Jerome Kaino, Justin Collins, Chris Lowrey, Ali Williams, Kurtis Haiu, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (c), Tony Woodcock.
Subs: Tom McCartney, Tevita Mailau/Charlie Faumuina Anthony Boric/Jay Williams, Onosa’i Auva’a, Chris Smylie, Jamie Helleur, Paul Williams/Winston Stanley.

WARATAHS vs CRUSADERS, SYDNEY, SATURDAY, 10:40

Vrede’s call: I’m backing the Crusaders here but I have to concede that it is more a gut feeling than anything to do with carefully-conducted analyses. They have been a shadow of the side that won the tournament for the seventh time in 2008, but despite their second-half capitulation against the Force, they showed enough to suggest they could put one over the Waratahs. If they concentrate for 80 minutes, stay patient in their phaseplay, kick well and attack the Tahs’ flyhalf channel (where Kurtley Beale’s defensive flaws were repeatedly exposed by the Brumbies) they could break their four-game losing streak. Crusaders by 5
JC’s call: I got burned last week for picking the Sydneysiders over the Brumbies, and still maintain the result was an upset. But I’m sticking with the Tahs again due to the fact they’re at home and they’re hosting the lacklustre Crusaders. Without Richie McCaw, the Saders cannot hope to contain Phil Waugh at the breakdown. With a good platform, the Tahs’ dangerous backline will prove difficult to resist. Tahs by 7

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

Crusaders – Leon MacDonald, Adam Whitelock, Tim Bateman, Ryan Crotty, Colin Slade, Stephen Brett, Andrew Ellis, Thomas Waldrom, George Whitelock, Kieran Read (c), Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Bronson Murray, Jason Macdonald, Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: Daniel Perrin, Owen Franks, Michael Paterson, Nasi Manu, Kahn Fotuali’i, Hamish Gard, Blair Cook.

FORCE vs SHARKS, PERTH, SATURDAY 12:40

Vrede’s call: I had a hunch the Reds would pull off an upset but just couldn’t bring myself to back them given how hopelessly inferior they are to the Sharks on paper. This week, I’m backing that gut feel and going for a Force win. ‘What!? Abomination! Have you lost the plot?’ you say. Maybe, but the decisive factor will be Frans Steyn at flyhalf. The kid hasn’t played there regularly since 2006 and when he has he’s been less than impressive, displaying poor game management and an alarming propensity to crack under pressure – and he can bet on that pressure in Perth. In addition, he’s playing with an inexperienced inside centre in Riaan Swanepoel. The Force will look to circumvent their relative weakness in the forwards by playing expansively and if the Sharks get drawn into trying to match them the same fate awaits them as did in Brisbane. Similarly to the Bulls, I hope I’m wrong, but I won’t ignore my gut feel this time. It nearly cost me a lunch to Cardinelli. Force by 5
JC’s call: The Sharks have had their shock loss but should be back to good this weekend even without Ruan Pienaar. Ryan Kankowski and his fellow loose forwards have one job this Saturday, and that’s closing down Matt Giteau’s space. Victory by strangulation will be the game plan in Perth with the Sharks keeping the ball tight or kicking cleverly on the Force to ensure the game stays in that half of the field. Prior to the Reds’ howler, the Sharks had been the best defensive unit in the competition. They’ll need to be sharp on this occasion, as the selection of Junior Pelesasa suggests the Force will bash it through Steyn and Swanepoel’s channels. The Force have a chance at home, but this Sharks side is still too well balanced to fall to a mid-table outfit. Sharks by 7

Force – James O’Connor, Scott Staniforth, Ryan Cross, Junior Pelesasa, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Josh Valentine, Tamaiti Horua, David Pocock, Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sharpe (c), Tom Hockings, Ben Castle, Tai McIsaac, Pek Cowan.
Subs: Luke Holmes, AJ Whalley, David Pusey, Richard Stanford, Chris O’Young, Josh Tatupu, Haig Sare.

Sharks – Stefan Terblanche, Odwa Ndungane, Adrian Jacobs, Riaan Swanepoel, JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Rory Kockott, Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller (C), Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, John Smit, Deon Carstens.
Subs: Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira, Albert van den Berg, Justin Downey , Ross Cronje, Monty Dumond, Luzuko Vulindlu.

LIONS vs BRUMBIES, JOHANNESBURG, SATURDAY 17:00

Vrede’s call: The Brumbies have stuttered throughout their campaign but they’ll be too good for Loffie’s lethargic bunch. They’ll outsmart the Lions at the set phases and with George Smith bossing the breakdown they’ll have more scoring opportunities from turnover ball. With a Wallaby-laden backline they have the class to capitalise on those opportunities. The only thing in the Lions’ favour is that the Brumbies will still be struggling to get to grips with playing at altitude. But this will simply serve to keep the scoreline respectable. Brumbies by 10
JC’s call: How does a team bounce back from a 56-18 defeat and the loss of an assistant coach in the space of the week? The best would struggle, but the kittens are hardly the best and should get served by the mid-table Brumbies this Saturday. The Canberra outfit were impressive in their beating of the Waratahs, and although Heinke van der Merwe will take the typical honors at scrum-time, the Brumbies should dominate the other departments. The Lions have grown weaker after their great victory in the opening round while the Brumbies have grown stronger as the competition has progressed. It won’t be a bonus-point win for the Aussies, but it’ll be victory at a canter. Brumbies by 12

Lions – Louis Ludik, Ashwin Willemse, Jaque Fourie, Barry Goodes, Henno Mentz, Andre Pretorius, Jano Vermaak, Ernst Joubert, Todd Clever, Cobus Grobbelaar (c), Jannes Labuschagne, Anton van Zyl, Lawrence Sephaka, Willie Wepener, Heinke van der Merwe.
Subs: Hans van Dyk, Gert Muller, Gerhard Mostert, Willem Alberts, Chris Jonck, Earl Rose, Shandre Frolick.

Brumbies – Mark Gerrard, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock, Tyrone Smith, Francis Fainifo, Christian Lealiifano, Joshua Holmes, Julian Salvi, George Smith, Peter Kimlin, Mark Chisholm, Ben Hand, Guy Shepherson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander.
Subs: Huia Edmonds, Nic Henderson, Sitaleki Timani, Shawn Mackay, Patrick Phibbs, Matt Toomua, Clyde Rathbone.

By Jon Cardinelli and Ryan Vrede