JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
The Bulls are back this week and should pick up a full compliment of log points against the Rebels, while down the road in Bloemfontein the Cheetahs’ mini-revival will be upset by a Crusaders’ side that has welcomed back Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.
The Stormers and Lions are Down Under this weekend, and while the Stormers will begin their four-match tour on a positive note, the Lions’ losing streak will be extended.
KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 54/80 (68%)
JC: 59/80 (74%)
HIGHLANDERS vs HURRICANES, INVERCARGILL, FRI 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: The Highlanders let themselves down against a limited Chiefs side last week, but the Hurricanes don’t possess the attacking punch to turn them over in Dunedin. The Canes were rudderless for large parts of their match against the Blues last week, showing a lack of appreciation for building an attacking platform. Notably, they haven’t exhibited the ability to play any differently, and that will be terminal against the Landers. Defensively they’ll struggle to repel the purposeful hosts, whose multi-phase approach will open up holes in their defensive line. The key for the Landers is to stifle their opponents at the breakdown and kick well to limit their counter-attacking opportunities from broken field. They should achieve both those objectives. Highlanders by 7
JC’S CALL: I’m not making this call with any great confidence, as the Highlanders have been mauled by injury in recent weeks while the Canes are an unpredictable lot. The pace of the game should determine the outcome, and in this respect the Highlanders will need to produce one of their characteristically inhibiting displays at the breakdown. It’s a big ask, as the Canes have been excellent at the tackle point in recent weeks, and they can be devastating from turnover ball. The Highlanders are missing Adam Thomson, a key component in this area, and Jarrad Hoeata has a lot to live up to. The battle between the halfbacks is also important, as Aaron Cruden will have taken a lot of confidence following the recent offerings against the Reds and Blues. Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga has shown some neat touches on attack, but a more measured and territorial approach, in conjunction with halfback partner Jimmy Cowan, could be what brings the hosts success. I’m giving it to the Highlanders on the basis that they are playing at home against a Canes side that despite scalping the Reds is still yet to gel. Highlanders by 5
Highlanders - 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Matt Saunders, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Chris King, 2 Mo Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Subs: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 John Hardie, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Ben Atiga, 22 Robbie Robinson/Tony Brown.
Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Jayden Hayward, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Jeremy Thrush, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Julian Savea, 22 Beauden Barrett.
REDS vs BLUES, BRISBANE, FRI 11:40
VREDE’S CALL: This is the match of the weekend. The Blues have shown why they can’t be called a cavalier unit any longer, with measured, patient attacks a feature of their recent performances. They’ve also shown plenty of ticker under pressure, something not usually associated with them. Still, I think the Reds are just slightly more refined across all facets of play and this will be decisive in the outcome. Their halfback pair of Quade Cooper and Will Genia will look to control field position through an ever-improving tactical kicking game, and the team will then seek to force the Blues into errors in their 22m through strong defence. I’m not sure the Blues will have the mettle to resist them for the entire match, and the Reds have the capacity to draw out their ugly alter ego. Provided the Reds don’t crumble at scrum time and are effective at ruck time – which they should be with the under-rated Beau Robinson in operation – they should take four valuable points from this one. Reds by 7
JC’S CALL: I agree wholeheartedly, this is going to be a cracker. The Blues will miss Jerome Kaino from a ball-carrying and defensive perspective. If the Reds rediscover their tenacity at the breakdown, that dangerous backline will be unleashed. The Blues’ defence has been (surprisingly) solid to date, but if they don’t limit the ball supplied to that Wallabies halfback pairing, they will succumb to the pressure. The hosts will be looking for a more complete showing by Cooper, but it is the forwards that will need to be more accurate and aggressive. The Reds’ set-piece has been shaky in recent weeks, and it’s an area the Blues will target. I think the Reds will improve enough to hold the Blues at the scrum and lineout, and with Beau Robinson leading the breakdown charge, they will deny the Blues attacking momentum. Reds by 5
Reds – 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Will Chambers, 22 Dom Shipperley.
Blues – 15 Jared Payne, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tevita Mailau.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 James King, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.
CHIEFS vs STORMERS, HAMILTON, SAT 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: The Chiefs simply don’t have the muscle and tactical intelligence to break down the tournament’s best defensive side. Certainly they have plenty of ammunition in the wide channels, but potency of those players will be undermined by their pack’s inability to dominate. The Stormers will feed off their errors, but will also craft scoring opportunities through structured play by depleting their frail defence through numerous phases. A comfortable victory to ease the pain of defeat to the Crusaders. Stormers by 12
JC’S CALL:When you talk about a trip to Hamilton, you aren’t going to be using the word comfortable a heck of a lot, if at all. The recent fixtures in Hickville have been insipid scraps with the more bloody-minded forward pack getting the upper hand and thus setting up victory. While the Chiefs have a flyhalf (Stephen Donald) who is horribly out of form from both a distribution and goal-kicking perspective, they have a forward unit that can hassle and niggle at the Stormers. Much will depend on who adapts to the referee’s interpretations quickest, and who maintains their discipline. If the Stormers don’t bring the necessary grit and mongrel, they will lose. They also need to ensure they take all of the opportunities on offer, and so Peter Grant’s goal-kicking is going to be crucial. Ricky Januarie will also be determined to show his worth, and while he’s a distant second to first-choice scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, the slow pace and aggressive nature of this particular game could suit him well. Stormers by 5
Chiefs - 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard: 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Liam Messam, 6 Taiasina Tuifua, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison.
Stormers – 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean De Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Anton Van Zyl, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Juan De Jongh.
BRUMBIES vs LIONS, CANBERRA, SAT 11:40
VREDE’S CALL: John Mitchell’s Travelling Circus will seek to entertain in Canberra, but punters will leave feeling cheated after realising there is no substance to the showmen. The Brumbies have been anything but impressive to date, but they simply can’t botch this one. I suspect they’ll make another feeble attempt at something resembling a multi-phase game. Even if they get it half right, they will be in business. Provided they stay tight on attack and defence, starving the Lions of possession in good positions, they’ll bank five points. Brumbies by 10
JC’S CALL: Ryan, you make it sound like the Canberra locals will be buying tickets just to watch the Lions. Most Lions fans don’t pay to watch the Lions, and why should they? They’re a team that’s struggled for continuity and even their own coach has had a go at them publicly. The selection of Elton Jantjies at flyhalf is another step backward, and I’m sure the Brumbies will run down his channel all night. It won’t be a convincing showing by the hosts, who have battled for synergy all season and have lost their composure at key moments (take a bow the poor leadership), but they will be good enough to beat this Lions side by a comfortable margin. Brumbies by 12
Brumbies – 15 Pat McCabe, 14 Andrew Smith, 13 Tyrone Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Colby Faingaa, 6 Mitch Chapman, 5 Ben Hand, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Subs: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Salesi Ma’afu, 18 Mark Chisholm, 19 Michael Hooper, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Henry Speight.
Lions – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Dylan des Fountain, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Josh Strauss (c), 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Kevin Buys, 18 Warren Whiteley, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Butch James.
BULLS vs REBELS, PRETORIA, SAT 17:05
VREDE’S CALL: The Bulls have spoken this week about striking wider than they usually do. They’ll achieve this by completely dominating the collisions and drawing in defenders, leaving their outside backs with mismatches in the aformentioned channels. The Rebels will present no significant challenge in any facet of play. This will be just the confidence lift they’ll need ahead of a trip to Durban next week. Bulls by 20
JC’S CALL: It’s an important clash in the context of the Bulls’ strive for a play-off place, and also in their quest to build some momentum. A five-point win here will give them some confidence as they head into clashes with the Sharks, and the Stormers at a later date, and a win in either of those clashes could see a surprise in the final conference standings. The Rebels can’t be taken lightly, as they are competitive at the breakdown and have some impressive ball-carriers in Hugh Pyle and Gareth Delve. The Bulls must avoid an overly attacking approach, as a loose game will suit the outgunned visitors. If the Bulls maintain possession and apply the pressure, the Rebels’ defence will crack. The Rebels can produce some defiant showings, but as their debut season has shown, they can lose focus as the game wears on. Bulls by 12
Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Derick Kuün, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Francois Brummer.
Rebels – 15 Richard Kingi, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Luke Rooney, 10 Julian Huxley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Hoani Macdonald, 5 Alastair Campbell, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Nic Henderson.
Subs: 16 Laurie Weeks, 17 Ged Robinson, 18 Kevin O’Neill, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Tim Davidson, 21 Peter Betham, 22 Cooper Vuna.
CHEETAHS vs CRUSADERS, BLOEMFONTEIN, SAT 19:10
VREDE’S CALL: The Crusaders will be buoyed by their victory over the Stormers despite picking up a lot of injuries, and will be too good for the Cheetahs, especially with the return of Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw. They showed last week that their fringe players can hold their own against the best in the tournament, so that won’t be an issue against a side who are determined but not dangerous. The Saders’ forwards will have the upper hand throughout the contest and with that platform established, Carter and Sonny Bill Williams will orchestrate a hammering. The Cheetahs will want to show enterprise on attack, but won’t boss the gain line and will be blunted on the deck by McCaw, making for a poor base from which to launch. They’ll go down by some distance. Crusaders by 12
JC’S CALL: It will be interesting to see how the Crusaders go about this game. The Cheetahs have built up some momentum, while the injury-hit Crusaders will field a different unit that is short on synergy. The under-done Richie McCaw will come up against a fiery Heinrich Brussow at the breakdown, while the Franks brothers will be looking to prove a point against the likes of WP Nel and Coenie Oosthuizen at scrum time. If the Cheetahs score early on it could make for an interesting contest, but if the Crusaders find their feet in the initial stages and dictate the flow of the game, the result should pan out as expected. Crusaders by 10
Cheetahs – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corne Uys, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius; 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Walti Vermeulen, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Naas Olivier, 22 Hennie Daniller.
Crusaders - 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Willi Heinz; 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Matt Todd, 20 Steve Alfeld, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Brent Ward.