Super Rugby preview: Round 17

JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.

Several upsets in Round 16 have seen the stats taking a pounding. More importantly, those results have helped South African teams like the Sharks and Bulls, who are now very much in play-off contention.

The fact that the Crusaders and Blues play each other this Saturday is significant, as it will allow the other play-off contenders to make up some ground. The Stormers will also be hoping the Force do them a favour in Perth, but the Reds are unlikely to fall to such mediocre opponents.

The Sharks should do the necessary in Johannesburg, and then it’s down to Cape Town for the weekend’s big game. Vrede senses an upset is on the cards, while JC feels the Stormers will beat the Bully boys for the second time this season.

VREDE: 67/105 (64%)
JC: 72/105 (69%)
Round 16
VREDE: 3/7
JC: 3/7
Round 15
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 4/6
Round 14
VREDE: 3/6
JC: 3/6
Round 13
VREDE: 3/6
JC: 3/6
Round 12
VREDE: 5/7
JC: 5/7
Round 11
VREDE: 4/7
JC: 3/7
Round 10
VREDE: 5/6
JC: 4/6
Round 9
VREDE: 4/7
JC: 6/7
Round 8
VREDE: 5/6
JC: 5/6
Round 7
VREDE: 6/7
JC: 6/7
Round 6
VREDE: 6/7
JC: 6/7
Round 5
VREDE: 3/7
JC: 4/7
Round 4
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 5/6
Round 3
VREDE: 3/7
JC: 6/7
Round 2
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 4/6
Round 1
VREDE: 5/7
JC: 5/7


VREDE’S CALL: With all that’s gone on in the Hurricanes’ camp this week, they will do well to lift themselves for a trip to Hamilton, particularly since nothing is riding on the result. The Chiefs showed a pragmatic side of their character against the Blues last week, playing the percentages and defending solidly. Their breakdown contest was amplified as a result, and I think this is where they’ll edge the Canes. Without tempo and pace to their attack, the Wellington boys will struggle. Chiefs by 7
JC’S CALL: The log will show that the Chiefs have had a poor season, but they’ve still managed to knock over some big teams, particularly in Hickville. The Sharks and Stormers have come unstuck at the Waikato Stadium, while the Chiefs have also managed to beat the Blues away from home. You”d have to believe that they will be too good for a Hurricanes side that has had its problems on and off the field. Chiefs by 9

Chiefs – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam , 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Ben May.
Subs: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Matt Vant Leven, 19 TBC, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison.

Hurricanes – 15 Cory Jane, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Alapati Leiua, 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/Karl Lowe, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Jayden Hayward, 22 Richard Buckman.


VREDE’S CALL: The Brumbies, after a season of mediocrity, were excellent against the Reds in Brisbane, but won’t have to be half as good to beat the Rebels. They will be superior across all facets of play, and rely on their multi-phase approach to wear down the Rebels’ defensive line, before cutting them to shreds through their back division. Watch for them targeting Danny Cipriani’s channel. The Rebels’ pivot is a defensive liability, and this will provide the Brumbies with a constant source of go-forward. Brumbies by 12
JC’S CALL: This is my pick for the dud of the weekend. The Brumbies will win comfortably, and continue to improve in areas like defence, but it will be a game devoid of intensity. The Rebels failed to impose themselves on the Stormers and they will struggle to contain the Brumbies’ ball-carriers, up front and out wide. Brumbies by 15

Brumbies – 15 Pat McCabe, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tyrone Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Matt Giteau, 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 Nick White, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Andrew Smith.

Rebels – 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Richard Kingi, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Julian Huxley, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Rodney Blake.
Subs: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Adam Byrnes, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Lachlan Mitchell, 21 Peter Betham, 22 Afusipa Taumoepeau.


VREDE’S CALL: The Blues’ attacking limitations, when matched physically, have been apparent for some time now, and the Crusaders will plunge their hopes of a home play-off further into doubt off the back of a physically dominant performance. With the return of Sam Whitelock, the Saders’ pack has a formidable look about it, and even though they’re missing Richie McCaw, Matt Todd is a competent replacement and will be a menace at ruck time. Their defence and ruck contest will stifle the Blues’ attacking flow, and they have shown little capacity to effectively vary their play when under such pressure. They’ll gamble, and the Saders are the masters of capitalising on errors when this happens. Todd Blackadder’s charges hurt them in general play, certainly, but they also have the ability to punish them from broken-field and turnover ball. Furthermore, they won’t offer the Blues such opportunities to respond in kind. Crusaders by 10
JC’S CALL: Despite the Blues’ recent wobbles, I’m still expecting this to be a cracker of a contest. Both teams are likely to make the play-offs, and a win in this match will be crucial to their final standing on the combined log. I’m expecting the Crusaders to win through a pragmatic game plan. Andy Ellis has an important role to play and Dan Carter will be looking to kick the Crusaders into promising positions. The Crusaders’ forwards will have the edge although Jerome Kaino and Keven Mealamu will provide some resistance, and Carter’s goal-kicking will ensure they obtain full reward for that dominance. The Blues are lacking in this department, with neither Stephen Brett nor Luke McAlister in particularly good goal-kicking form. Crusaders by 7

Crusaders -15 Tom Marshall, 14 Brent Ward, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Wlli Heinz, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Ryan Crotty.

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 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 John Afoa.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Chris Lowery, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.


VREDE’S CALL: The result aside, the Waratahs seemed to find their groove at Loftus last week. They troubled an in-form Bulls side laden with Springboks, and could have snatched victory. Meanwhile, the Highlanders look to be faltering, with the lengthy season exposing their lack of depth. The Tahs are expected to be back to something resembling full strength, and I can’t see the ‘Landers making telling inroads into their defence. The Sydney side will build their victory on effective pragmatic play, a superior forward effort and well organised defence. This will force the Landers into attacks from deep in their territory, and the Tahs will pounce on their mistakes. Waratahs by 12
JC’S CALL: The Highlanders will miss scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan, as together with Tony Brown they may have had what it takes to compromise an impressive Waratahs defence. They will look to their forwards to do the damage, and the Waratahs will have to be clinical, especially at the breakdown. The hosts will boss the scrums and lineouts, and providing they keep their shape and convert their opportunities, they should win this one comfortably. Waratahs by 10

Waratahs – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Tom Carter, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Sosene Anesi, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Pat O’Connor, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Hugh Perrett, 21 Josh Holmes, 22 Atieli Pakalani.

Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Tony Brown, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Bronson Murray, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Subs: 16 Mo Schwalger, 17 Chris King, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 John Hardie, 22 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Telusa Veainu.


VREDE’S CALL: There’s always a good time to lose, and for the Reds that time was last week. Their performance against the Brumbies lacked the conviction, physicality and tactical smarts that have been a feature of their season. There’ll be no signs of similar complacency in Perth as they seek to secure a home semi-final. The Force will be buoyed by their victory over the Highlanders, but this week’s opponents are vastly superior across all facets of play. They won’t be allowed the momentum at the gainline that they were in Dunedin, and the Reds also won’t be as charitable with their tactical kicks. I can’t see them troubling Ewen McKenzie’s side sufficiently to cause an upset. Reds by 10
JC’S CALL: The focus in this game will be at the breakdown as the Reds field a new-look back row. David Pocock is always a threat, but when his fellow forwards lift their play to a similar standard, the Force are a tough side to beat. The Reds will be missing a few first-choice stars in the backline, but their crucial combination at halfback will remain intact. Provided the Reds boss the forward exchanges, Will Genia and Quade Cooper will dictate proceedings. Reds by 10

Force – 15 James O’Connor,14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 David Smith, 10 James Stannard, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe , 4 Sam Wykes , 3 Matt Dunning , 2 Nathan Charles , 1 Kieran Longbottom
Subs: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Tim Fairbrother, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Mark Swanepoel, 21 Mitch Inman 22 Alfie Mafi.

Reds – 15 Jono Lance, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Liam Gill, 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 Ben Coridas, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Dom Shipperley.


VREDE’S CALL: The Lions relinquished a 20-8 lead in defeat to the Hurricanes last week. Whether they will be able to attain the level of physicality they need to blunt the Sharks is doubtful. The Sharks will be acutely aware of the importance of victory in the context of their play-off ambitions, and I expect them to rise to the occasion. If the Lions get loose in their approach it’ll make the Sharks’ job significantly easier. But even if they play tight, I suspect the rigours of tour won’t allow them to do so effectively and sustainably. Sharks by 10
JC’S CALL: The Sharks have had their motivational problems and perhaps this is the ideal opportunity for them to build some momentum. John Plumtree has spoken about playing a more territorial game, and the success of this approach will hinge of the performance of the forwards and the option taking of their halfbacks. The Lions beat the Sharks at Ellis Park in the Currie Cup last year thanks to a superior forward effort. It will be a big game for Pat Lambie, but on the back of a powerful forward showing, I feel he’ll do enough to steer the Sharks to victory. Sharks by 9

Lions – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Dylan Des Fountain, 13 Doppies la Grange (c), 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Butch James, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar/Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe/David de Villiers, 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/David Bulbring, 19 Warren Whiteley, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Michael Killian.

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. Keegan Daniel, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Gerhard Mostert, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Eugene van Staden, 2. John Smit (c), 1. Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Alistair Hargreaves, 19. Marcell Coetzee, 20. Frederic Michalak, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Adrian Jacobs


VREDE’S CALL: Don’t let the certainty with which I predicted a Bulls victory on KeoTV fool you. As Mark Keohane so aptly put it to me at the time: ‘It’s all theatre’. The Bulls will have to play their best game of the season to get the win they so desperately need. And it’s that desperation that will get them home. They are not intimidated by Newlands, having won there so often in the past, and, crucially, having done so at important junctures in their season. They seem to lift themselves at these times, becoming an irrepressible force. The match will be won and lost at the gainline, and the Bulls’ primary ball carriers will call on every ounce of their strength to win the battle on attack, while the collective will be granitic on defence. It could come down to goal-kicking resulting from breakdown infringements, and in that case I’d back Morne Steyn to trump the inexperienced Kurt Coleman. Bulls by 5
JC’S CALL: The Stormers have been forced to pick Coleman at No 10 and have given the Bulls a further opening by selecting the erratic Ricky Januarie at scrumhalf. But ultimately, success for the hosts will depend on the attitude and accuracy of the Stormers pack. If they bring the same fighting spirit that proved so decisive in the previous north-south derby, they will overwhelm the Bulls. They also boast the more settled and disciplined back row. The Bulls’ tight forwards will take a hammering and Deon Stegmann, in an attempt to slow or win possession, will be penalised. The pressure’s on Coleman to convert the opportunities, as Morne Steyn will be kicking every goal at the other end of the field. It will be a tight match, but the Stormers have the benefit of a more aggressive pack as well as home advantage. They will do enough to win. Stormers by 6

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 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Stephen Kitshoff, 19 Anton van Zyl, 21 Nick Koster, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Juan de Jongh.

Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Derick Kuün, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Stephan Dippenaar.