Super 14 preview: Round eight

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

With six games remaining a couple of South African sides are sitting pretty, but the Stormers’ play-off ambitions should come to an abrupt end this Saturday. The Bulls and Sharks should secure victories in Christchurch and Durban respectively and solidify their places in the top four. The Lions will succumb to the clanging cowbells in Hamilton, the Chiefs providing the scoreboard beating that exacerbates the crowd cacophony.

There’s some disagreement regarding the game at Vodacom Park. In his bid to become mayor of Bloemfontein (according to Vrede), JC has picked the Cheetahs to upset the bumbling Brumbies. Vrede is backing Mortlock’s mob as they attempt to salvage something from a nightmare tour.

KEO.CO.ZA SUPER 14 SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 73% (33/45)
JC: 60% (27/45)

Round seven
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 4/6
Round six:
VREDE: 3/6
JC: 3/6
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

CRUSADERS vs BULLS, CHRISTCHURCH, FRIDAY 08:35

Vrede’s call: History doesn’t favour the Bulls in this fixture. They’ve lost five of their last six matches in Christchurch by 13 points or more. But I’m ignoring history and backing the Bulls, bolstered by the return of Springboks Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana, to end the defending champs’ three-game unbeaten streak. The formula shouldn’t be any different to the one that facilitated victory in Wellington a fortnight ago – pounding defence, patient phase-play, accurate tactical kicking and clinical finishing when presented with scoring opportunities. They missed openside flank Deon Stegmann against the Highlanders last week and they’ll have to improve their breakdown contest significantly if they hope to achieve the continuity that will test the Crusaders. With Matfield’s return, they’ll dominate the lineout and his leadership under pressure will be invaluable. In Habana, they have a game breaker of the highest order (when he’s on fire). Perhaps a month-long break will have rejuvenated him? The Bulls will certainly hope so. Bulls by 5
JC’s call: The Stormers were awful last Saturday, but how bad were the Crusaders? Casey Laulala made a difference on his return from injury, but the Saders’ back division failed to unlock a sound Stormers defence more than once. The Bulls boast an arguably better defensive line and will offer the Saders precious few opportunities. The Bulls’ scrum has looked vulnerable and Wyatt Crockett should give Rayno Gerber a torrid time in the front row, but it’s in the collisions that the Bully Boys will prosper. It will be a hard fought slog much like last week’s fixture in Christchurch. Kicking could be the difference, and with Morne Steyn on song and Stephen Brett more miss than hit, the visitors should get home. Bulls by 3

Crusaders – 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Jared Payne, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Colin Slade, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Khan Fotuali’i, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 George Whitelock, 6 Kieran Read (c), 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Dan Perrin, 17 Peter Borlase, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gürthro Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Jaco Engels, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Pedrie Wannenburg, 19 Derick Kuün, 20 Heinie Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 JP Nel.

FORCE vs REDS, PERTH, FRIDAY 13:05

Vrede’s call: Expect this to be an open game with both sides keen to toss it wide. In this regard, I suspect the Force forwards will provide a better attacking platform, which in turn will allow flyhalf Matt Giteau the space and time he requires to play the role of chief puppeteer. The Reds are ordinary when the opposition stifle their attacking flow by pushing off the defensive line hard and the Force would have noted this. The breakdown will be fiercely contested between the Force’s David Pocock and Reds’ scavenger Daniel Braid. As always, whoever gains the ascendancy here will give their side a good chance of victory. I suspect it’ll be Pocock paving the way for a Force win. Force by 7
JC’s call: This game could go either way with both sets of loosies capable of forcing telling turnovers, and both teams in possession of a devastating counter-attack. It’s hard to preview a game involving two sides that shun structure, but with Giteau as the spearhead and the Force playing at home, you have to back the men in blue. Force by 10

Force – 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 James O’Connor, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 AJ Whalley, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Tamaiti Horua, 20 Chris O’Young, 21 Junior Pelesasa, 22 Haig Sare.

Reds – 15 Mark McLinden, 14 Blair Connor, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Van Humphries, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Jack Kennedy, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Ezra Taylor, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Anthony Faingaa, 22 Charlie Fetoai.

CHIEFS vs LIONS, HAMILTON, SATURDAY 08:35

Vrede’s call: If you’ve been hammered at home and embark on an Australasian tour low on confidence, playing the tournament’s most prolific try-scorers (the Chiefs have scored 13 tries in their last two matches alone) is hardly the ideal way to start. The Lions will get lashed in Hamilton – even though the Chiefs will be without hit-man Sitiveni Sivivatu. It’s a futile exercise analysing the different facets of play because the Lions will get klapped in all of them. Oh and one more thing, well done on dropping one of your best players Lofster. Who needs Jano Vermaak anyway? Chiefs by 500. Ok, Ok. Chiefs by 30
JC’s call: Despite his own team’s failings, Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus has been known to hit the nail on the head when it comes to tactical observation. ‘One team’s weaknesses complement another team’s strengths,’ Erasmus said, and the statement couldn’t be more apt when describing the coming clash in Hamilton. The Chiefs thrive off turnover ball while the Lions are known for their tendency to concede ball at ruck time and subsequently leak tries. The Lions tight five are big, but rarely effective and in a high-paced game the visitors will be run off their feet. Chiefs by 20

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

Lions – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Shandré Frolick, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Henno Mentz, 10 Andre Pretorius, 9 Chris Jonck, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Todd Clever, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Jannes Labuschagne, 3 Lawrence Sephaka, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Subs:16 Hansie van Dyk, 17 Gert Muller, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Earl Rose, 22 Deon van Rensburg.

WARATAHS vs STORMERS, SYDNEY, SATURDAY 10:40

Vrede’s call: I’ve given up on these Cape clowns and their ringmaster Rassie. The circus will roll into Sydney, entertain with their opening act (read: a promising first quarter), after which they’ll be booed off the stage for failing to deliver on what the promotional pamphlets promised (read: rubbish rhetoric from Jean de Villiers and Erasmus about how they’ll turn it around). They’ll target the Stormers’ world-class winger Wylie Human with a series of kicks. He turns slower than one of these 150m container ships I’m watching pull into Cape Town harbour right now and poses the counter-attacking threat of a piece of wet cardboard. The Tahs will keep it structured knowing that a loose game will favour the Stormers. There’ll be parity at scrums, lineouts and at the breakdown, where Luke Watson will match Phil Waugh, but don’t expect any turnaround in fortunes for the Stormers. Waratahs by 7
JC’s call: Christchurch was touted as a gunfight, but the Stormers pitched with a water pistol and the Crusaders with a potato gun. Success in Sydney requires the sharpshooter, and although the Stormers possess the weapon there’s questions surrounding their ability to use it. Axing Willem de Waal and starting Peter Grant was a step in the right direction, but there’s more questions about whether the Stormers’ best inside back combinations will fire when they’ve had precious few opportunities to settle. The Waratahs have momentum, confidence and they’re playing at home. The Stormers may click at the SFS, but it may not be enough against the Tahs’ solid defence and systematic attack. Waratahs by 5

Waratahs – 15 Sam Norton Knight, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Will Caldwell, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Chris Thomson, 19 Luke Doherty, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Timana Tahu.

Stormers – 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Wylie Human, 13 Gcobani Bobo, 12 Jean De Villiers (c), 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 AJ Venter, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 JD Moller, 18 Hilton Lobberts, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Willem De Waal, 22 Dylan Des Fountain.

CHEETAHS vs BRUMBIES, BLOEMFONTEIN, SATURDAY 15:00

Vrede’s call: I almost picked the Cheetahs based purely on the belief that no team can be rubbish for as long as they have. Then I remembered that the Lions have been, and punted for the Brumbies instead. The Sharks forced the Brumbies to play an expansive game that didn’t suit them last week, and eased to victory as a result. The Cheetahs don’t have the players nor the tactical appreciation to do this. They’ll be hammered through the phases by the Brumbies and eventually capitulate in a manner that has become all too familiar. Brumbies by 12
JC’s call: The Brumbies are struggling after two losses on tour, but have midfield mauler Stirling Mortlock back in tow, and the skinhead wrecking ball is certain to exploit the Cheetahs’ shaky midfield. However, this human missile is reduced to a paperweight if he isn’t afforded the platform to launch. On a disappointing tour, the Cheetahs’ lineout was one positive and although the scrum underperformed they should stand up to the Brumbies. Juan Smith rejoins Heinrich Brussow while George Smith is a loose forward alone when it comes to class on the visiting side. It’ll be ugly and it’ll be won by the team that takes their chances. The Brumbies have lost two, been literally robbed and are likely dying to get on that Qantas flight back to Aussie. It’ll be apparent in their performance while the Cheetahs’ desperation for any kind of victory could spark an upset. Cheetahs by 5

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

Brumbies – 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Tyrone Smith, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joshua Holmes, 8 Julian Salvi, 7 George Smith (c), 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Subs: Huia Edmonds, Salesi Ma’afu, Sitaleki Timani, Peter Kimlin, Patrick Phibbs, Gene Fairbanks, Alfi Mafi, Francis Fainifo (one to be omitted).

SHARKS vs HURRICANES, DURBAN, SATURDAY 17:05

Vrede’s call: The pick of this weekend’s matches will finish with victory to the Sharks. The Canes have an excellent record at King’s Park, winning three of their last five matches there. However, those Canes’ sides featured Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, Jimmy Gopperth and Thomas Waldrom (among others) and were up against Sharks sides that were significantly less potent than the current outfit. If the Sharks resist the urge to play expansively they’ll keep their formidable home record intact (they haven’t lost in Durban since the 2007 Super 14 final). If they are ineffective at the set phases, lethargic at ruck time and kick poorly, they’ll struggle. I suspect the Canes will target their 10-12-13 channel (Frans Steyn and Adi Jacobs are statistically among the poorest South African defenders) as well as wing Luzuko Vulindlu, should he start in place of the injured JP Pietersen. The Sharks in turn will back their Springbok-laden pack to dominate. It’ll be close but the Sharks will edge this one. Sharks by 7
JC’s call: The Bulls provided the blueprint when they bullied the Canes two weeks previously. The Sharks forwards are just as unforgiving when it comes to close combat (the Reds debacle excluded) and it’s here where they should look to literally smash the fight out of the Kiwis. Like Mortlock, Canes centre Ma’a Nonu is limited without front-foot ball, while flyhalf Piri Weepu, although an adequate stop-gap, is unlikely to seize control if his pack is being pummeled. For the hosts, all eyes will be on Steyn’s performance, his trademark slow clearance a loose forward’s wet dream. Steyn will boot for position but come under fire from Rodney So’oialo and the like. Again, if the Canes’ forwards manage parity, the visitors will be in the game. It’ll be close, but expect the hosts to hold onto top position. Sharks by 5

Sharks - 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen/Luzuko Vulindlu, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Keegan Daniel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 John Smit, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Jannie du Plessi, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Skholiwe Ndlovu, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Luzuko Vulindlu/Chris Jordaan.

Hurricanes – 15 Cory Jane, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 David Smith, 10 Piri Weepu, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Rodney So’oialo (c), 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Tim Fairbrother, 19 Api Naikatini, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Willie Ripia, 22 Tamati Ellison.

By Jon Cardinelli & Ryan Vrede