JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
Lions fans will be ecstatic, as this round sees a guaranteed four points for the battling side from Johannesburg. It will be a lot tougher for the teams that will be actually be playing, especially in Brisbane and Durban where the Stormers and Sharks will be scrapping to pick up some vital wins.
Vrede has gone with his heart for the second week running and picked the Stormers to down the Reds, while JC feels the Queensland pack could make a statement similar to the one made at Newlands in 2011 and set the platform for victory. In the Shark Tank, the hosts are going to battle to repel a Chiefs side on a roll.
KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 32/54 (59%)
JC: 33/54 (61%)
HIGHLANDERS vs BLUES, DUNEDIN, FRIDAY 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: I’ve backed the Blues on occasions when I probably shouldn’t have, believing, stupidly, they would click. My (misplaced) faith in them has depleted, which is what their defensive line will be after the forward battering the Highlanders will give them. The Blues lack the defensive structure, accuracy and mongrel needed to consistently repel the Highlanders in general play and will feed them with enough broken-field opportunities to further complicate their cause. On attack the Auckland franchise is sterile, lacking the cohesion, invention and purpose of their opponents. Highlanders by 10
JC’S CALL: The Highlanders have been without a number of first-choice players in almost every game this season, but have still managed to get some good results. Playing at home against the battling Blues, they must be favourites despite their current injury situation. Pat Lam is under immense pressure to stall the Blues’ losing run, and while the Blues won’t be playing at Eden Park they are under the cosh to produce a victory. Keven Mealumu hasn’t done particularly well as a leader this season, but the team will miss him in the tight and around the park. The Blues’ set-phase problems run deep, and I can’t see them besting the Highlanders in these facets, or at the breakdown. Highlanders by 7
Highlanders – 15 Tamati Ellison, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Subs: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Ma’afu Fia, 18 Doug Tietjens, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kurt Baker.
Blues – 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 George Moala, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Benson Stanley, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Daniel Braid, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 David Raikuna.
REDS vs STORMERS, BRISBANE, FRIDAY 11:40
VREDE’S CALL: I don’t believe the Reds have the personnel to blunt the Stormers like the Crusaders did last week. The Christchurch boys’ tactical kicking game was mostly superb and their physicality at the gainline and breakdown contest, as well as their exploitation of lock Andries Bekker’s absence at the lineout, ensured the Stormers were never able to impose their will and settle into their groove. The Crusaders forced the Stormers into errors in general play and numerous breakdown infringements and always looked in control. Will Genia is undoubtedly adept at probing for the corners and launching accurate box kicks but there is very little by way of high class support in this regard. Furthermore, their tight five, while mobile and athletic, are not the intimidating unit the Stormers fronted last week. Expect the Cape side to boss the tackle fight on attack and defence as well as have the edge at the set phases. The pressure they create through the latter will offer them enough scoring opportunities to win the match. Their method is well known, but the Reds won’t have a telling counter. Stormers by 7
JC’S CALL: The Stormers are down to their fourth-choice captain after Jean de Villiers and Andries Bekker were recently ruled out. While not as experienced or prolific as Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp has shown in the past two seasons that he can do an adequate job at No 5. The real issue is in the midfield, where Juan de Jongh and Bryan Habana pair up as a result of De Villiers’s injury. The Reds may identify this as a chink in the Stormers’ defensive armour given the combination is new, but I don’t think the hosts will stray from what worked against the Cape franchise at Newlands last year. The only difference between the pack that started against the Stormers in 2011 and the one that will start on Friday is that Radike Samo and Scott Higginbotham have switched positions. Playing at home, the Reds will be up for the physical challenge, and again they will look to their halfbacks to make the right calls with that front-foot ball. It’s a big ask for Sam Lane, the rookie flyhalf, and even though they have good tactical kicking options in Will Genia and Mike Harris, Lane will need to make an impact in this department for the Reds to win. In Harris, the Reds have a great goal-kicker, which means any opportunity will result in points. The Reds may not have the likes of Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane and Anthony Faingaa in their backline on this occasion, but they do have a team capable of playing a pressure game against the Stormers. It’s going to be another tight contest and while Peter Grant’s boot may keep the visitors in touch, the Reds could win the territorial battle and ultimately the game. Reds by 3
Reds – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Sam Lane, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Van Humphries, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Nick Frisby
Stormers – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Bryan Habana, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Nick Koster, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 JP du Plessis.
HURRICANES vs CRUSADERS, WELLINGTON, SATURDAY 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: The Crusaders looked like they have finally hit their stride, easing past the Stormers last week. They’ll win comfortably in Wellington as well, their kicking game, dominant set piece and threat from broken field combining to down the Canes. The Tom Taylor-Dan Carter 10-12 axis opened up the field tactically for them against the Stormers, Carter’s accurate left peg complementing Taylor’s impressive right. Add Andy Ellis and Israel Dagg’s appreciable skill in this regard and you have a kicking quartet able to force the Canes to play from deep in their territory. The Canes don’t have the patience to engage in a kicking duel and their cavalier spirit will be terminal. Crusaders by 10
JC’S CALL: The biggest problem for the Canes is their discipline. They have struggled for continuity due to an erratic breakdown approach. They don’t have the heavies to combat the Crusaders’ set-piece challenge, and they don’t have the tactical game either. Beauden Barrett has been impressive at times and if the match is tight in the final quarter you would feel that the Canes’ broken-field runners will fancy an upset. But I’m expecting an even more controlled showing from the Crusaders this week, a performance where they play for territory and deny the opposition possession. Crusaders by 10
Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara/Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 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 Jack Lam/Mark Reddish, 20 Eaton/Frae Wilson, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Alapati Leiua.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willie Heinz, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Tom Marshall.
WARATAHS vs REBELS, SYDNEY, SATURDAY 11:40
VREDE’S CALL: The Waratahs’ consistency in selection (this is the fourth-successive game their starting line-up has gone unchanged) seems to be achieving the desired results. There was greater all-round synergy in their victory over the Force than there has been at any stage of the season and, provided they don’t allow the game to open up, they will have too much class across the park to lose to the Rebels. Waratahs by 12
JC’S CALL: The Rebels don’t play well away from home, and I don’t see the trend changing this Saturday. The Waratahs would have taken heart from that showing against the Force, especially up front, and will attempt to subdue the Rebels in a similar manner. James O’Connor may be a rugby genius and Kurtley Beale makes metres every time he touches the ball, but when teams cut down these players’ opportunities at source, they effectively render the Rebels impotent. Waratahs by 15
Waratahs – 15 Bernard Foley, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (c).
Subs: 16 Rocky Elsom, 17 Daniel Halangahu, 18 Jono Jenkins, 19 Sarel Pretorius, 20 Paddy Ryan, 21 Lopeti Timani, 22 Sitaleki Timani, 23 John Ulugia.
Rebels – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Lloyd Johansson, 12 James O’Connor, 11 Mark Gerrard, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Subs: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Julian Huxley, 22 Cooper Vuna
SHARKS vs CHIEFS, DURBAN, SATURDAY 17:05
VREDE’S CALL: The Sharks were good without setting the world alight against the Blues last week. They profited from the Blues’ fundamental errors and woeful defence. They haven’t put together a performance befitting their potential and that has much to do with their pack’s impotency. The Chiefs won’t be nearly as charitable as the Blues and have the arsenal to beat the Sharks, which I think they will do. Gone are the days when the Chiefs used to attempt to blitz defences from anywhere. They have added a pragmatic dimension to their game – an appreciation for the value of erosive phase play and tactical punts – which has amplified their threat. They will have the edge at the gainline and at scrum time, which will provide their back division – many of whom are among the leaders in key performance areas on attack in the tournament – to thrive. The Chiefs’ strengths now also extends to their defence – the most try-stingy in the comp. They have built this success on an immense gainline and breakdown challenge and the Sharks simply don’t have the physicality in their heavies to trouble them. Chiefs by 8
JC’S CALL: The Sharks have to win this game, but will be tired after a testing tour to Australasia. The Chiefs have looked better with each outing, and while they didn’t blow the Cheetahs away they made the most of their opportunities. It’s hard to see how the Sharks, who have struggled for consistency, are going to build an attack and penetrate this Chiefs defence. And on attack, the men from Hamilton have the ball-carriers up front and finishers out wide to punish the Sharks if they continue to fall off tackles. Pat Lambie gave the Sharks more direction in last week’s match, but the forwards will need to produce their most complete performance of the season if the hosts are going to win the game. Based on recent performances and the fact that the Sharks have just got back from New Zealand, it may be too much to ask. Chiefs by 5
The Sharks - 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jacques Botes, 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 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Frederic Michalak, 22 Meyer Bosman.
Chiefs – 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Leila Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clark (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Robbie Robinson.
BULLS vs BRUMBIES, PRETORIA, SATURDAY 19:10
VREDE’S CALL: Jake White’s prediction that he would be kidnapped by a group of Bulls supporters and crucified on the halfway line at Loftus pre-match while the Bulls Babes spat at him appears to have been exaggerated. Nobody really cares that you’ve left, Jake. Indeed most of us are pleased that you’ve made the Brumbies a force once more. White has achieved this by blending the Brumbies’ natural attacking skill with South African-like traits: intense physicality on defence, a solid set piece and pressure-creating kicking game. I, however, don’t believe they have the refined kicking game and physicality in contact to record a win at Loftus. They may test the Bulls in the scrums and if they can exploit the Bulls’ chronic ill-discipline they could have a chance. But it will probably take their best performance of the tournament to achieve the win White will privately covet more than most. Bulls by 12
JC’S CALL: The Stormers feel that playing at Newlands increases the level of expectation and thus adds to the pressure, but the Bulls are a side that draws on the energy of 50 000 mad fans at Loftus Versfeld stadium. Forget the fact that Morné Steyn is in a slump from a goal-kicking perspective, the Bulls’ forwards will do enough to win the collisions. While Steyn’s radar in front of goal has been off, his tactical punting has been excellent and this will also prove decisive in a match between two sides looking to play a pragmatic, territorial game. Bulls by 9
Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Johann Sadie
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen (c), 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Subs: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.