Super Rugby preview – Round 12

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

Keo.co.za’s fine run culminated in a six from six return last week. In round 11, however, one of our writers is set to come short in the first match, as Vrede has picked the Lions to extend the Blues’ misery while JC expects Pat Lam’s black sheep to bank a rare win.

The Bulls should be too good for a mediocre Waratahs side in Sydney, and the Sharks will pick up another valuable win in Saturday’s clash with the Force. The big derby in Cape Town will be won by the hosts, although there is some doubt as to whether the Stormers can score four tries and surpass the Bulls at the top of the South African conference.

KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 50/72 (68%)
JC: 50/72 (68%)

BLUES vs LIONS, AUCKLAND, FRI 09:35

VREDE’S CALL: I could think of better ways to start a weekend, one of which involves hot needle torture. These sides have been absolutely woeful to date and their clash promises to produce a string of rudderless expansive attacks, slipped tackles and fundamental handling errors. I think the Lions’ pack, particularly their back row, is better, and they will give them the momentum they need to to trouble their hosts. A couple of tries will separate these sides, with the Lions coming out on right side of the result. Surely they won’t lose against the only side in the comp who are worse than them? Surely?! Lions by 5
JC’S CALL: Keep hoping Vrede, that kind of optimism wouldn’t be out of place on the Jozi Shore. Mitch’s mob are set to leave New Zealand with a 0 from 2 record, while the Blues will finally end their seven-game losing streak. Why? Because they’re the best of a bad pair, even though best is probably too kind a word. Gareth Anscombe is back at pivot and will provide the Blues with more stability in general play, and also goal-kicking security. The set pieces will be a mess, and I don’t expect either side to triumph via a structured approach, but I do think the Blues will convert more of their opportunities into points. Home ground advantage hasn’t helped the Blues to date, but a young and inexperienced Lions side will feel the pressure if they concede points early in the piece. That’s not to say the Blues have the killer instinct to finish off a flailing Lions outfit. Yes, it’s going to be an ugly scrap to the last whistle, but I’m giving it to the Blues, not because they have more to gain, but because they have more to lose. That desperation could be the difference. Blues by 5

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

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

WARATAHS vs BULLS, SYDNEY, FRI 11:40

VREDE’S CALL: The Bulls’ defence shifted into sharp focus in recent matches. They’ve placed an emphasis on remedying these deficiencies this week, and I expect them to improve. There have been no such struggles on attack, their efficient territory-based method achieving the desired result of forcing their opponents into risky counters from deep in their territory, upon which they have capitalised. I don’t believe the Tahs have the personnel to dominate the Bulls physically or to out-kick them in a tactical duel. The Bulls will gradually erode the Tahs’ resistance with their patient approach, then pounce on lapses in concentration, with Morné Steyn playing a central role in victory through his goal-kicking. Bulls by 9
JC’S CALL: Tatafu Polota-Nau is the poster child for overplayed superstars, and a struggling Waratahs pack will struggle further now that the doctor has finally convinced the punch-drunk Polota-Nau to sit this one out. Expect the ignorant boos to rain down from the stands as Morné Steyn and Berrick Barnes battle for territory and the two packs clash for front-foot supremacy. The Tahs may have some exciting players in their back division, but it’s clear they are going to attempt to match the Bulls in a forward-oriented tussle. Michael Foley has picked five forwards on the bench, as well as the physical albeit limited Tom Carter. Despite the Bulls’ injury situation, I reckon they’ll supply the halfbacks with enough front-foot ball to dominate the territorial battle. An ordinary looking Tahs back three is in for a tough night as Steyn and Francois Hougaard will surely launch a number of garryowens for Bjorn Basson to chase. And as past form has shown, Basson is nigh-on unbeatable in the air. Bulls by 7

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

Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.

HIGHLANDERS vs HURRICANES, DUNEDIN, SAT 09:35

VREDE’S CALL: The conference title is just about still within the Highlanders’ reach but they cannot drop any more points. The Canes are still in the play-off mix, although they are probably a defeat or two away from missing out. There is therefore much riding on the result and that will reflect in the tightness of the match. Defence will be the difference and in this regard the Highlanders are vastly superior. Their gainline challenge has been immense and this has amplified their breakdown contest, making it difficult for their opponents to get any momentum into their attacks. The Canes will become increasingly loose as their attacking avenues are systematically blocked and the Landers will be presented with a clutch of broken field opportunities. Highlanders by 10
JC’S CALL: It’s a tough one to call. The Highlanders have been on the decline while the Hurricanes look to be on the rise. The fact that this match will be played in the ‘Greenhouse’ will give the Highlanders an advantage, but I’m not sure if the home support will be enough to rattle the attacking intentions of the Hurricanes. In Beauden Barrett they have an outstanding playmaker and a reliable goal-kicker, and any one of those backs has a magical ability to turn counter-attacking opportunities into tries. The Highlanders will look to retain as much possession as possible, but as good as they are at the defensive breakdowns, they haven’t been accurate enough at the attacking rucks, and are thus vulnerable to counter-attacks. It won’t be a classic arm-wrestle and I’m sure both defences will be guilty of errors, but the Hurricanes have more from an attacking perspective to suggest that the final spoils will be theirs. Hurricanes by 5

Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Siale Piutau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Chris King.
Subs: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kendrick Lynn.

Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Charlie Ngatai/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 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Brad Shields, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Tusi Pisi/Daniel Kirkpatrick, Bateman/Alapati Leiua.

REBELS vs CRUSADERS, MELBOURNE, SAT 11:40

VREDE’S CALL: The Rebels profited from the Bulls’ defensive generosity last week, but the Crusaders won’t be as charitable. Kurtley Beale will dazzle occasionally at flyhalf but will never have the platform to be a constant threat. The Christchurch franchise is on a roll and will be superior in every facet of play, recording a comfortable victory. Crusaders by 18
JC’S CALL: Let’s not waste too much time shall we: The Crusaders have the forwards, the game plan and the finishing ability to crush this Rebels side. They’ve made a few changes which may dilute their potency, but I reckon anything less than a bonus-point win will be considered a failure. Crusaders by 15

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 (c), 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Tim Davidson, 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 Nic Stirzaker, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Stirling Mortlock.

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

SHARKS vs FORCE, DURBAN, SAT 17:05

VREDE’S CALL: The Sharks won ugly last weekend but they needed to in order to get impetus into their season. There was a level of grit, physicality and intensity that had been sorely missing in the bulk of their matches to date and they have to build on that performance at Kings Park. Their second row remains an area of concern but the strength in their front and back rows somewhat circumvents whatever they lack in the engine room. They must resist the urge to play wide too early in an attacking manoeuvre, ensuring they earn the right to do so through purposeful phase play. The Force have the players to hurt them from broken field and restricting such opportunities will be key. Bullying the Force at the gainline is imperative to their cause and through the likes of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee they have players capable of achieving that. Pat Lambie will have the space and time to orchestrate matters at flyhalf. With that platform I think the Sharks’ backline will open the Force up en route to banking an important win. Sharks by 10
JC’S CALL: It’s clear John Plumtree and the Sharks have settled on a more conservative yet effective game plan, and now they need to start implementing that pattern with more accuracy. The Force’s lowly log position doesn’t do them justice, they are by no means a winning team but they have the ability to dominate the forward exchanges and niggle at the opposition. They will have the edge at the lineout, with Nathan Sharpe set to disrupt the inferior Sharks second row. But the Sharks have the potential to win the collisions, and will need to do so to nullify the threat of openside supremo David Pocock. The Sharks showed the necessary grunt last week but unfortunately not the accuracy. If they fail in this regard, they could be punished on the scoreboard. The first half is going to be massive, and I believe if the Sharks can build a handy lead, they could complete a bonus-point win in the second stanza. Sharks by 14

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, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Ryan Kankowski, 21. Frederic Michalak, 22. Meyer Bosman

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.

STORMERS vs CHEETAHS, CAPE TOWN, SAT 19:10

VREDE’S CALL: The Stormers have been bolstered by the return of some key players who will improve their attack, but their victory will primarily be built on their granitic defence. The Cheetahs won’t boss the tackle fight in the manner they require to deplete the Stormers’ defensive line. Neither do they have the quality in their kicking game to consistently force the Stormers to play from deep in their territory. The Cape side will strangle the Cheetahs and feed off the errors they force through organised and physical defence. Stormers by 12
JC’S CALL: Had Johan Goosen been available, this match would have been far closer. Goosen and flanker Heinrich Brüssow were instrumental in the Cheetahs’ pre-season win at Newlands, but on this occasion the Stormers will have the edge. They may be lacking some big names in the back row, but as a collective the Cape pack still has the clout to stand up to the Cheetahs. The performance of the halfbacks will be crucial to the outcome, and perhaps Naka Drotské has erred in leaving Tewis de Bruyn on the bench. You just don’t beat the Stormers by playing a running game, and Piet van Zyl is more suited to this approach. The Stormers defence could force the Cheetahs attack to make errors, and if the hosts can capitalise on the counter-attack they may indeed score their first four-try bonus of the season. The Cheetahs’ best bet is to play a tighter game, but I fear they may try to run the Stormers off their feet. This ploy could backfire horribly. 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 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 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 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Riaan Smit, 22 Philip Snyman.

REDS vs CHIEFS, BRISBANE, SUN 08:10

VREDE’S CALL: The Reds showed good defensive resolve against the Crusaders last week but little by way of attacking penetration, and against the tournament’s second best defensive unit I fear they face another defeat. The Chiefs’ improvement in this facet of play has been the outstanding feature of their campaign and their success has been rooted in a formidable gainline fight. None of their opponents have been able to control the flow and tempo of the game as a result, and the Reds won’t have the physicality to ask them the type of defensive questions they will need to. The Chiefs have not struggled on attack either and they’ll build this victory on the dominance of their robust and highly effective forward play. Chiefs by 12
JC’S CALL: This one will be a lot tighter than most expect, and personally I’m calling this to be the match of the round. The Reds forwards have improved over the course of the season, and if they can play the way they played in Christchurch, the Reds will push the Chiefs close. However, from a Chiefs point of view, it was good to hear Dave Rennie slamming his team’s lazy effort against the Lions. Perhaps it would have been better if the Chiefs smashed the Lions by 30 points, as then the Reds may have punished a complacent side in this week’s clash in Brisbane. Unfortunately for the Queenslanders, this won’t be the case, as the Chiefs forwards will be looking to make a statement, and the all-round physicality of the Chiefs will be more pronounced. While the Reds have improved, I don’t think they will be able to go the distance. Chiefs by 5

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 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Eddie Quirk, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Rod Davies.

Chiefs – TBC