JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
A marginally improved showing by the Keo boys last week and that trend should continue into the fourth round. JC and Vrede agree on all results, including the Reds to turn over the Sharks at Kings Park.
KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 12/21 (57%)
JC: 12/21 (57%)
CHIEFS vs BRUMBIES, TAURANGA, FRI 08:35
JC’S CALL: The Chiefs have made some massive strides over the past two weeks. They’ve always had the firepower out wide and the finishing ability to be a threat in broken play, but what’s impressed me in recent matches is the forwards’ controlled aggression at the point of contact. It will be interesting to see how the change to the back row effects the breakdown dynamic, but playing in front of their home crowd you’d expect them to beat a Brumbies side that is punching above its weight. If their forwards replicate their previous showing against the Crusaders, then watch for Sonny Bill Williams barging his way over the gainline and bringing team-mates into the game with that trademark offload. Chiefs by 12
VREDE’S CALL: I’ve always lamented the Chiefs’ stubborn refusal to add a more pragmatic string to their bow, but having done that in the form of an greater willingness to keep the ball in the heavies, they are looking an accomplished side. There are shades of the 2009 group that made it to the final. I don’t see the Brumbies’ forwards blunting their counterparts sufficiently for the Hamilton boys’ dynamic backs to be nullified. How often have you heard this about the Chiefs: The forwards, superior across all facets, will lay the platform for this victory. Chiefs by 10
Chiefs – 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Richard Kahui, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Subs: 16 Marcel Cummings-Toone, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Maritino Nemani.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Joseph Tomane, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Peter Kimlin, 4 Leon Power, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Subs: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Sam Carter, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Nic White, 21 Zack Holmes, 22 Cam Crawford.
STORMERS vs BLUES, CAPE TOWN, FRI 19:10
JC’S CALL: It’s a good time for the Stormers to be making attacking promises: the Blues have suffered significant losses in their pack and are coming off a successful yet bruising encounter against the Bulls. The Stormers traditionally enjoy attacking success against the Blues, and providing their forwards continue to fire, the scoring opportunities will be there for the taking. The re-introduction of Peter Grant will help in terms of their go-forward but that 10-12 axis of the Stormers needs to do more than just take the ball to the gainline; they need to create space for devastating runners like Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon to exploit. I’m not advocating an adventurous approach and I’m sure the Stormers will still play for territory before upping the ante on attack, and in this regard the tactical kicking performance of Dewaldt Duvenage and Joe Pietersen will be influential. The hosts should win comfortably and produce an improved attacking performance, but I reckon it could be another couple of games before they really hit their try-scoring stride. Stormers by 10
VREDE’S CALL: Wasn’t it just typical of the Blues to defy expectations and produce a high quality performance to beat the Bulls at Loftus last week? Despite being inferior in the territory and possession stakes, they were so clinical with the chances they created through pressure-building phase play and granitic defence. In Gareth Anscombe they seem to have a highly competent pivot, skilled at all disciplines of his position and he could be influential if allowed to be. However, I think the Stormers are too experienced and too well drilled to get themselves into the desperate position the Bulls did last week. They must retain faith in the territory-based approach that has brought them success. If they open the game up the Blues will be in business. This needs to be a purposeful suffocation not a quick stab to the jugular. In this regard their primary strike runners in the pack must dominate the gainline, their tactical kickers must pressure the Blues with accurate punts and their famed defence must front. I sense all these thing will come together to make for a comfortable win. Stormers by 10
Stormers – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Skara Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Blues (revised) – 15 Lachie Munro, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Sherwin Stowers, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Filo Paulo, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Brad Mika, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Hadleigh Parkes, 22 Francis Saili.
HURRICANES vs HIGHLANDERS, WELLINGTON, SAT 08:35
JC’S CALL: The Canes may have enjoyed a surprisingly good start to the season, but they’re in for a reality check this weekend. They don’t have the forwards to match the mongrel of the Highlanders, and without quick ball they will battle to penetrate what is an organised defensive line. While territory will be important, the Highlanders may be reluctant to kick too much on that mercurial Hurricanes back three, and will instead look to starve the hosts of possession. The form book suggests a win is on the cards for the Highlanders, but the Hurricanes will push them close. All it takes is a couple of defensive lapses for the men from Wellington to complete a 14-point turnaround, so the Highlanders will know that no lead is safe and that this is one of the fixtures where the phrase ‘maintaining the intensity for 80 minutes’ takes on a literal meaning. Highlanders by 5
VREDE’S CALL: The Canes had six try-scoring opportunities against the Force last week and took them all. Whether they will be granted as many by the stingy Highlanders is unlikely and the Landers certainly won’t be as wasteful as the Force were with the chances they create. Like the Chiefs, the Landers have added a measure of controlled aggression in their forward ranks. This has been at the heart of their success. The Canes have looked vulnerable when asked to counter abrasive, direct surges, and this is what the Landers will build their victory on. With a shaky set piece, the Canes won’t trouble the efficient Landers in this area. Their biggest strength lies in broken field situations, but the Landers are too organised to feed them as often as the Force, or indeed the Lions, did. Highlanders by 5
Hurricanes - 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben May.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Michael Bent, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Charlie Ngatai.
Highlanders - 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Bureligh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Subs: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Cullum Retallick, 19 James Haskell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Buxton Popali’i.
WARATAHS vs FORCE, SYDNEY, SAT 10:40
JC’S CALL: No need to spend much time mulling over this dud. The woeful Western Force are in for a whack. Waratahs coach Michael Foley has made the right call to go with five forwards on the bench, as this contest will be particularly physical. The Force backline has battled to make an impression thus far, and will be further limited with their pack set to cop a beating. I don’t expect this to be a particularly entertaining game, but the Waratahs will view it as a good opportunity to build some momentum. Waratahs by 12
VREDE’S CALL: I backed the Force last week and they subsequently produced a performance that reminded why I had so seldom done so. They can only improve, but not by a margin nearly significant enough for them to beat the Tahs. The hosts are vastly superior across all facets of the game and the Force’s casualty list, which includes three first-choice backline players, will further undermine their cause. Hammering on the cards for the feeble Force I’m afraid Waratahs by 15.
Waratahs – 15 Bernard Foley, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Daniel Halangahu (c), 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Tevita Metuisela, 7 Jono Jenkins, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Tom Carter.
Force - 15 David Harvey, 14 Samu Wara, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 James Stannard, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Justin Turner, 21 Ben Seymour, 22 Winston Stanley.
SHARKS vs REDS, DURBAN, SAT 17:05
JC’S CALL: Ewen McKenzie’s selections indicate the Reds are going after the Sharks pack, with five lineout options in the starting eight and as many as five forwards on the bench. The Sharks haven’t been consistent at the lineout, and will be vulnerable now that Ross Skeate has been ruled out of this clash. Their scrum hasn’t fired although this may not be as decisive given it’s an area where the Reds are not especially proficient. The Brisbane boys will instead use their lineout as a launchpad, and from there employ the breakdown skills that won them the 2011 trophy. The Sharks haven’t been accurate enough in this department and may struggle to handle the pressure. And in Mike Harris, the Reds have a reliable means of translating Sharks transgressions into points. Reds by 6
VREDE’S CALL: Gone are the days when the Reds were a soft target on the road. The defending champions believe they can win anywhere, and will do so in Durban off the back of a dominant physical display. Ewen McKenzie’s selections indicate that the Reds are willing to win ugly – building their success on erosive phase play that will seek to open holes in the defensive line or force the Sharks into infringements at the breakdown. The Sharks didn’t have a telling rebuttal to this method against the Bulls or Stormers. Reds No 12 Mike Harris has kicked 15 of his 17 penalty attempts to date and will build their lead with his boot. There’s little to inspire confidence about the Sharks on attack. The synergy of their pack has been compromised by injuries. They have therefore struggled to provided their back division with a platform and there is no reason to believe that that situation will improve at Kings Park. The Sharks won’t be walkovers, but the Reds have the game to ensure their indifferent start to the season continues. Reds by 7
Sharks – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Frederic Michalak, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Louis Ludik.
Reds - 15 Rod Davies, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Van Humphries, 4 James Horwill (c), 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Luke Morahan.
REBELS vs CHEETAHS, MELBOURNE, SUN 07:10
JC’S CALL: How do you choose between the chokers and the unpredictables? The Cheetahs held a commanding lead against the Brumbies but poor decision-making and a drop in intensity saw them relinquishing the advantage. Some will remember this match for the referee’s poor calls, but the bottom line is that it was another close game the Cheetahs should have won. Then there’s the Rebels, who took a hiding in their first match and then so nearly upset the current champions at home in their second. What will happen this week? I don’t think anybody knows for sure. They may be one of the worst teams in this competition, but they’re playing in Melbourne against the lowest-placed team in South Africa. It’s one of the few times this season you’d back them for a win. Rebels by 7
VREDE’S CALL: I’ve never seen either of these sides produce good performances back-to-back, so I can’t predict this one with any certainty. I sense that, on their home patch, the Rebels have an edge. Expect a free-running pattern, with the winner coming from the team who shows more appreciation for earning the right to play that way by allowing the heavies a touch of the ball. Rebels by 5
Rebels - 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mark Gerrard, 12 Lloyd Johansson, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Richard Kingi, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Tom Chamberlain, 6 Tim Davidson, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Nick Henderson.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nick Phipps, 21 Danny Cipriani, 22 James Hilgendorf.
Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 George Earle, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Justin Downey, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Rayno Benjamin.