Super Rugby preview – Round 11

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

The perfect round of calls continues to elude the wise men, but at the very least we’re back in some sort of form as the competition approaches the business end.

This week, both JC and Vrede are backing the Bulls to take five log points off the Rebels and top the South African conference. The Sharks and Cheetahs should make it three wins out of four for the SA contingent, while the hapless Lions will do well just to keep the Chiefs honest.

VREDE: 43/66 (65%)
JC: 43/66 (65%)


VREDE’S CALL: I’ve backed the Blues too often this season, underestimating just how awful they actually are. Every week brings a new level of incompetence and last week’s defeat exhibited all their limitations in full measure. The Canes don’t have the pack to absolutely blow them away, but they will be tactically good enough to win comfortably. Canes by 10
JC’S CALL: I won’t even pretend to know what Pat Lam’s doing with his selections. Of all the Blues’ problems, I don’t think Gareth Anscombe has been detrimental to their cause. Michael Hobbs at flyhalf? He’s looked uncertain when he’s played there before, and now that the team is really devoid of go-forward and leadership, I can’t see him stepping up to the plate. The Blues forwards have been poor, and Piri Weepu’s service from the base has been slow. The Hurricanes should fancy a win in Welly. Canes by 7

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 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 Reg Goodes, 18 Jack Lam, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Alapati Leiua.

Blues – 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Filo Paulo, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tevita Mailau.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Daniel Braid, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 David Raikuna.


VREDE’S CALL: The Rebels are reeling after Danny Cipriani left suddenly, and with James O’Connor sidelined through injury they have no quality replacements to fill the void at flyhalf. Not that either would have prevented the Bulls from notching up a win in their first tour match off the back of a dominant physical performance, a strong set piece challenge and suffocating kick-chase method. The Rebels don’t have the personnel to counter their approach and will become increasingly expansive as the match progresses, which will simply serve to strengthen the Bulls’ challenge. The three-time champions must improve their defence, which has been uncharacteristically poor to date. I think they will to set up an easy win. Bulls by 12
JC’S CALL: The focus for the Bulls should be the collisions and the breakdowns. The Rebels are far more competitive when they play in Melbourne, and have been known to test a few of the better sides at the point of contact. If the Bulls can keep the ball away from the Rebels, that is protect the ball and keep turnovers to a minimum, they will ensure that the game remains structured. And in a structured game, you’d back the Bulls to bulldoze an inferior Rebels pack. If the Bulls establish a good lead in the first half, the bonus point should be a formality in the second. Bulls by 17

Rebels – 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Tim Davidson, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Subs: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Ryan Hodson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Stirling Mortlock

Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Johann Sadie.


VREDE’S CALL: Mitchell’s Touring Circus will roll into Pukekohe, but will lack the acts to convince the residents of the blink-and-you-miss-it town to tear themselves away from their Saturday evening activities and pay to watch their team demolish the hopeless tourists. Even with a number of key players rested the Chiefs will be vastly superior in every facet of the game. The Lions’ rudderless and impotent expansive approach will be easily repelled, with the Chiefs striking from broken field and general play alike. Chiefs by 18
JC’S CALL: To build on the circus theme, the Lions lack a ringmaster of any real conviction. In Elton Jantjies they have a capable goal-kicker and a flyhalf who is dangerous when fed with front-foot ball, but that sort of momentum has not been forthcoming. The leadership in the pack is lacking, and while Mitchell has spoken about plans to negate the Chiefs’ presence it will be up to the Lions players themselves to execute the ploy. And once the Lions are on the back foot, it will be open gates as Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui rush at that fragile midfield defence. Chiefs by 20

Chiefs – 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Arizona Taumalolo, 18 Alex Bradley, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Tawera Kerr- Barlow, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Maritino Nemani.

Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Josh Strauss (c), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen/JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Cobus Grobbelaar, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 James Kamana, 22 Michael Killian.


VREDE’S CALL: The Brumbies have been impressive under Jake White, building their success on physical and accurate defence and the erosive phase play that was a hallmark of their most successful teams. They haven’t lost their ability to enthrall with ball in hand, though, and their all-round quality will be too much for the Tahs to cope with. The Sydney side were competent on attack against the Crusaders last week but their defence was easily breached as a result of the line-depleting phase play that preceded the Kiwi side’s wide attacks. The Brumbies will work from that blueprint and while they don’t have the players of the Saders’ calibre to shred the visitors to ribbons, they will have the tools to ensure their rise continues. Brumbies by 7
JC’S CALL: The Waratahs are suffering from an identity crisis, they can’t decide if they want to be entertainers or a successful rugby team. That once intimidating pack is no longer as effective, and the lack of synergy in the backs continues to cost them. By comparison, the Brumbies are less experienced but importantly they play as a collective. The better team will prevail over the superior individuals in Canberra. Brumbies by 6

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.

Waratahs – 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Atieli Pakalani, 13 Tom Kingston, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Jono Jenkins, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (c).
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Rocky Elsom, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Daniel Halangahu.


VREDE’S CALL: The Sharks have been decidedly ordinary this season but surely – with the return of Beast Mtawarira and Ryan Kankowski, and against a Highlanders side who should have been put away comfortably last week – they will register the win they so desperately need? I pose this as a question because there is no certainty about anything with this Sharks side. They have yet to craft a polished performance – one marked by synergy, fluidity, power and precision. However, they’ll settle for an ugly win given their desperation to stay in the mix in the South African conference. That desperation must be reflected in the gainline contest and if they stifle the Highlanders’ attack and aid their own in this manner they will have a good base for victory. The return of Mtawarira will help them in this regard but they need their locks, in particular, to front in order for their forward challenge to be an adequate one. The inclusion of Paul Jordaan at outside centre, with JP Pietersen shifting back to the wing and Louis Ludik to fullback gives the backline a more formidable look. If they can be serviced consistently well they will unhinge a fragile Landers defence in the manner the Cheetahs did last week. Sharks by 10
JC’S CALL: John Plumtree has shown his hand by including five forwards on the bench: the Sharks will be aiming for a more consistent and complete effort up front. They need to play in the right areas of the field this Saturday, and a rabid forward effort will also be needed to guarantee ball security. Desperation will fuel their intensity, as they cannot afford to drop another game at home. As brilliant as the Highlanders were in their comeback win against the Cheetahs, their overall effort has flagged in recent rounds. It will be another forward-oriented scrap, but the Sharks will emerge with an important victory. Sharks by 10

Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis / Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira,
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst / Jannie du Plessis, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Frederic Michalak, 22 Meyer Bosman

Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Siale Piutau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Doug Tietjens, 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/Jacob Ellison, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kurt Baker.


VREDE’S CALL: The Cheetahs’ capitulation last week won’t have lasting psychological effects and they’ll have enough quality to down the Force. Their attack has never been a problem against teams of this calibre, but defensively they have to shore up to ensure that they address the fundamental flaws that marked their defeat to the Highlanders. Part of their struggles has been Heinrich Brussow’s failure to impose himself at the breakdown consistently. The Cheetahs need a vintage performance from their previously irrepressible opensider and his team-mates can aid his cause with an improved tackle fight. The Cheetahs must rise to this challenge and I think they will. Cheetahs by 7
JC’S CALL: Let’s talk about psychological effects. How will the Cheetahs respond to losing a playmaker and goal-kicker of the calibre of Johan Goosen? How will Sias Ebersohn respond after missing a kick in front of goal that effectively lost the Cheetahs the game against the Highlanders? Naka Drotske would have torn into his charges during the week, and no doubt defence would have been a talking point. The Force aren’t the most dangerous attacking side, but they have some individuals in their pack who have the means to generate turnovers. Brüssow will be itching for a crack at his old mate David Pocock, but he will need his fellow forwards to help. If the Cheetahs can subdue the Force pack, they will win comfortably. I feel they may struggle to maintain their effort as the did last week, and this will ensure the Force stays in touch. Cheetahs by 5

Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 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 Andries Ferreira, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Riaan Smit, 22 Philip Snyman

Force – 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Sam Wara, 13 Nick Cummins, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 10 David Harvey, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Salesi Manu, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Lachlan McCaffrey, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Ben Seymour, 22 Rory Sidey.


VREDE’S CALL: The Reds are slowly getting back the squad that won them the tournament last year after a horror run with injuries and they will be tough opponents for the Crusaders. However, the hosts are white-hot at present and will be too good across all facets of play to be put under pressure from the defending champions. Their kicking game has been excellent, driving them into positions where they can pressure their opponents into errors through a committed chase and unforgiving and accurate defence. From there they have either built their lead through the boot of the impressive Tom Taylor or struck from set phase or turnover ball with routine efficiency. The Reds don’t have the pack to trouble the Saders and will be made to live off scrappy ball in general play. Their desperation will increase, leading to risky attacks from deep in their territory. At this point the Saders will simply tighten their grip and register another comprehensive victory. Crusaders by 12
JC’S CALL: It was at this point last year where I was growing rather bored with Super Rugby when BOOM! a Reds vs Crusaders spectacular restored my faith in the regional showpiece. Unfortunately for those hoping for a similar Super Rugby pick-me-up, the sides are not as evenly matched as they were in 2011. The Reds have started to improve and will be boosted by the return of a couple of Wallabies, but playing against the form team of the competition, they are lacking the tactical and attacking means to prevail. Quade Cooper played such a crucial role in both the Reds’ wins over the Crusaders last year, and without him the Reds have looked incomplete. The forwards will test their Crusaders counterparts at the breakdown, but ultimately the Cantabrians will be too strong. Crusaders by 8

Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland/Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruen, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Tom Marshall.

Reds – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Eddie Quirk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Rod Davies.