JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
We’ve reached the business end of the competition, and this is where the play-off picture will become a little clearer. The Highlanders will keep their slim prospects alive while the Bulls will continue their surge and simultaneously squash the Waratahs’ wildcard chances.
The Blues and Reds will solidify their respective positions while in Bloemfontein there could be heartbreak for the Sharks…
KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 64/98 (65%)
JC: 69/98 (70%)
HIGHLANDERS vs FORCE, DUNEDIN, FRI 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: After a strong start, the Highlanders’ depth is being tested and cracks in their armour are becoming more and more apparent. Will the Force be able to expose those further? They should to some extent, particularly at the breakdown, where David Pocock is growing in influence. But they won’t have the all-round game to sneak a win in Dunedin. Expect the Landers to build this victory on forward dominance. Highlanders by 7
JC’S CALL: Wow, what a clanger to start the round. I do think that the Highlanders will be better than they were against the Lions, and that their forwards will monster the Force in contact. The Force are the worst attacking team in the competition and without a forward platform, they will battle to make inroads. Highlanders by 6
Highlanders - 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Mo Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Subs: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Alando Soakai.
Force – 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13 Pat Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 David Smith, 10 James Stannard, 9 Mark Swanepoel, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Kieran Longbottom.
Subs: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Chris Cottee, 21 Mitch Inman, 22 Nick Cummins.
REBELS vs STORMERS, MELBOURNE, FRI 11:40
VREDE’S CALL: A better side than the Rebels would be able to expose the Stormers’ travel fatigue and their lack of a competent flyhalf. But the Melbourne franchise don’t have the capacity to do this. Their attacking play has been unfailingly rudderless, and against a defensive unit as accomplished as the Stormers, this will be terminal to their cause. Meanwhile, they have been defensively porous, and even the largely impotent Stormers will fancy their chances of taking five points from this contest. They’ll back their heavies to pummel the Rebels into submission, then unleash their backline to good effect. Stormers by 12
JC’S CALL: The Stormers need five points from this one, but they might have to settle for four. The Rebels have been known to get up for the odd game in Melbourne, and with their first-choice back row available they will look to challenge the Stormers at the breakdown. However, the visitors have too much class in his department, and where they may be susceptible is at the set-piece. The Stormers’ scrum and lineout has been inconsistent this season, and up against a Rebels pack that boasts a few stars, they won’t enjoy complete dominance. As was the case in Canberra, the Stormers will bank a comfortable victory, but again fail to secure the bonus point. Stormers by 10
Rebels - 15 Richard Kingi, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mark Gerrard, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Julian Huxley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Subs: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Greg Somerville, 18 Kevin O’Neill, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Sam Cordingley, 21 Peter Betham, 22 Afusipa Taumoepeau.
Stormers – 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Wicus Blaauw
Subs: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Andries Bekker 19 Nick Koster, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Earl Rose, 22 Juan de Jongh.
BULLS vs WARATAHS, PRETORIA, FRI 19:10
VREDE’S CALL: The Bulls haven’t looked like losing since they returned from tour and will keep that hot streak running at Loftus. The Waratahs don’t have the physicality to match them, even though they will attempt to dominate through a pragmatic style. It is imperative that the Bulls keep it tight and stay patient through the phases. Any loose play will bring Tahs game breakers like Luke Burgess, Kurtley Beale and Lachie Turner into play. I think they will achieve that objective and bank four points to elevate themselves into a wildcard position. Bulls by 10
JC’S CALL: I find it strange that the Waratahs are even in the running for a play-off place. Their pack has misfired, despite the intentions of everybody’s favourite individual Tatafu ‘Apocalupse Nau’. They have two experienced players in the 10 and 12 position who will attempt to match the Bulls’ kicking tactics, but very few teams beat the Bulls at their own game at Loftus. It spells trouble for a Waratahs team that relies on territory and forward dominance as the platforms for attack. Bulls by 12
Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretoruis, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 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 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Stephan Dippenaar.
Waratahs - 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Tom Carter, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Soseni Anesi, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dean Mumm (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Paddy Ryan, 17 John Ulugia, 18 Pat O’Connor, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Hugh Perrett, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Atieli Pakalani.
HURRICANES vs LIONS, WELLINGTON, SAT 07:30
VREDE’S CALL: With both sides out of contention for a play-off spot, I don’t suspect either will place a high priority on the conservative conventions of the game. The Canes are superior exponents of the high-risk, high reward approach and renowned for punishing teams from turnover and broken field ball. The Lions won’t have the goods to slug it out in this manner for 80 minutes. If, and it is a massive if, they resist the urge to go cavalier, they stand a chance. I don’t think they will. Hurricanes by 7
JC’S CALL: There is going to be a massive upset in Wellington: The Hurricanes are going to win a game. The Lions showed their forward mettle in the shock defeat of the Highlanders and the 10-12 combination of Elton Jantjies and Butch James was fantastic, but I think that pack will struggle to get up for another big performance. The Hurricanes are susceptible up front, but they will be wary after the Lions’ performance in Dunedin. While we’d like to see a good end to the Lions’ tour, I fear they may fall just short of a historic win. Hurricanes by 9
Hurricanes – 15 Cory Jane, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith/Jayden Hayward, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Jason Eaton, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Hayward/Julian Savea, 22 Richard Buckman.
Lions – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Dylan des Fountain, 13 Doppies la Grange (c), 12 Butch James, 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Josh Strauss, 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 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 David de Villiers, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Alwyn Hollenbach, 22 Michael Killian.
BLUES vs CHIEFS, AUCKLAND, SAT 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: The Reds did the Blues a favour in beating the Crusaders last week. They still top the Kiwi conference and will entrench themselves in pole position by taking a full haul against the Chiefs. The Blues haven’t played well for some time now, but they’ve exhibited the ability to win ugly, a quality that has eluded them in the past. They’ll do so again against the free-running Chiefs, backing their impressive defence to stifle the visitors’ attacking flow and capitalising on their errors in general play, as well as exposing their frail defence. Blues by 10
JC’S CALL: Another Kiwi derby? Don’t hold out for a try-fest. Rumours abound that Auckland could be as warm as 17 degrees Celsius and there’s a chance of rain. The Blues have shown, on occasion, that a tighter and more disciplined approach is within their repertoire. The decision to start Luke McAlister is a good one, and while the absence of Keven Mealamu does leave them a little light in the pack, they should still be too good for the Chiefs. Blues by 7
Blues – 15 Lachie Munro, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Alby Mathewson; 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino (c), 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tevita Mailau.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Sherwin Stowers.
Chiefs – 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Tana Umaga, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Ben May.
Subs: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Matt Vant Leven, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Dwayne Sweeney.
REDS vs BRUMBIES, BRISBANE, SAT 11:40
VREDE’S CALL: The Brumbies’ campaign will reach a new low in Brisbane. They cannot expect to achieve parity in any facet of play, and the Reds will dictate the tempo and flow on the back of their dominance of the collisions. With space and time to operate, the Reds’ halfback pair of Will Genia and Quade Cooper will orchestrate the Brumbies’ demise. Reds by 12
JC’S CALL: If you thought some Kiwi derbies were bad… The Reds should win comfortably although the Brumbies will view the absence of Beau Robinson as an opportunity to wreak havoc at the breakdown. If they disrupt the Reds’ attacking flow and thus limit Will Genia and Quade Cooper, they have a chance. But then their attack has been inconsistent, and even with Matt Giteau directing traffic I don’t think they’ll cause the kind of trouble that could lead to an upset. Reds by 10
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 Ben Coridas, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Will Chambers, 22 Dom Shipperley.
Brumbies - 15 Pat McCabe, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tyrone Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Matt Giteau (c), 9 Patrick Phibbs; 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Jono Owen.
Subs: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Henry Vanderglas, 20 Nic White, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Andrew Smith.
CHEETAHS vs SHARKS, BLOEMFONTEIN, SAT 17:05
VREDE’S CALL: The Cheetahs, on current form, are the more complete team and will dent the Sharks’ play-off ambition with a victory on their home patch. The key facet of play will be the tackle fight. The Sharks’ strike runners have been ineffective in this regard, and nothing they did against the Waratahs would have eased concerns. In contrast, the Cheetahs’ primary ball carriers have been prominent of late. They will continue their rampage, and this will give their back division an edge. In Sias Ebersohn the Cheetahs have a high calibre goal kicker who is able to convert pressure into points. This is true for Pat Lambie, but getting the field position to hurt the Cheetahs won’t be an easy task. Factor in the Sharks’ ordinary record in Bloemfontein, and the Cheetahs look the better pick for me. Cheetahs by 7
JC’S CALL: The Cheetahs are loaded with options. In Hennie Daniller, Riaan Viljoen and Sias Ebersohn, they have three fine tactical kickers who will look to play in Sharks territory. The attacking threat of Sarel Pretorius and Robert Ebersohn will be enhanced by a strong showing up front. John Smit’s selection at loosehead will compromise the visitors at the scrum, but I still feel this Sharks pack has enough to match the Cheetahs. Defence is going to be crucial, as well as the ability to close out the game. Both teams have the ability to chase the game, which makes an accurate prediction more difficult, but in Bloemfontein you have to give it to the hosts to edge a close one. Cheetahs by 3
Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Viljoen, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corne Uys, 11 Philip Snyman, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Naas Olivier, 22 Riaan Smit.
Sharks - 15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Stefan Terblanche , 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Gerhard Mostert, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Eugene van Staden, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. John Smit (c).
Subs: 16. Tendai Mtawarira, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Alistair Hargreaves, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Frederic Michalak, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Adrian Jacobs