Super Rugby preview: Round 13

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

Hands up everybody who picked the Rebels last week? At this point one can imagine a sea of virtual hands shooting up, but we know you’re lying. Nobody in their right mind would have picked the Rebels to beat the Crusaders. Nobody. It will go down as one of the biggest upsets in Super Rugby history.

But having said that, and while we’re on the topic of madness, JC has picked the Rebels to…wait for it… win away from home this weekend. Both writers expect the Bulls’ winning run Down Under to continue, while the Sharks and Stormers should also extend their winning streaks.

The Cheetahs will be brought to earth and the Lions should be dealt another harsh lesson in Brisbane.

VREDE: 54/79 (68%)
JC: 55/79 (69%)


VREDE’S CALL: The Canes are unpredictable, beating the Highlanders last week but having lost games they were expected to win comfortably. Coach Mark Hammett has brought greater structure to their play, while not compromising their natural attacking instincts. Still, they’ve shown vulnerabilities against sides who play directly and pin them in their territory, forcing them to take risks. The Brumbies will certainly have the pack to dominate in general play, but the loss of both their frontline flyhalves will seriously compromise their tactical kicking game. Expect to see the Canes hurt them from broken field situations. With the impressive Michael Hooper patrolling the deck, the hosts must guard against getting too loose in their attacking play. They did this well last week and if they replicate that performance, as well as continue their improvement on defence, they will take another step closer to the play-off spot they covet. Hurricanes by 5
JC’s CALL: Mark Hammett has made an odd decision to bench Beauden Barrett for this clash, as he not only kicks for goal but is the spearhead of that dangerous backline. Tusi Pisi showed some great touches for Samoa at last year’s World Cup, but has not been afforded a great deal of game time for the Canes. However, what will even things out in the halfback stakes is that Jake White has also made an interesting decision to start rookie Zack Holmes alongside Ian Prior. In Nic White, the Brumbies look to have found a player with a kicking game not unlike that of Fourie du Preez. It will be interesting to see if the Brumbies can suffocate the Canes without White’s accurate boot. The visitors have the superior pack, but they will need to translate dominance into points and know that no lead is safe against a Canes side that specialises in end-to-end try-scoring. If the Brumbies were fielding a more settled halfback combination I’d pick them in a heartbeat, but I have a feeling that given the selections and the fact that this match will take place in the Cake Tin, I’m going with the Canes. Hurricanes by 7

Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 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 James Broadhurst, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Jayden Hayward.

Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Ian Prior, 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 Nic White, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.


VREDE’S CALL: In their defeat to the Hurricanes last week, there were undoubtedly signs that the Highlanders’ impressive run was about to come to an abrupt halt. They struggled with the Canes’ physicality at the tackle point in particular, and any Bulls win must be built on dominance in this facet of play, particularly on defence. The Landers seldom kick the ball, with Nasi Manu and Adam Thomson used to generate attacking momentum that their backline thrives on. But robbed of such a platform, they look impotent. I think the Bulls will win this critical battle, while their attacking method will put them into positions to pressure the Landers into errors. They’ll build their lead through Morne Steyn’s boot but are also adept at scoring tries Bulls by 9
JC’S CALL: The Bulls have a fantastic opportunity in the next two weeks, as two more wins will heap the pressure on the Stormers who are chasing that top spot in the South African conference. But in denying their fiercest rivals, the Bulls would do well to replicate the Stormers’ previous performance against the Highlanders. An enclosed stadium may have eliminated the Dunedin weather factor that had become so debilitating, but the Highlanders are still tough to beat at home. The Bulls must overpower the Highlanders at the point of contact, and an improved defensive effort is non-negotiable. As seen in the game against the Cheetahs, a brief lapse and this Highlanders outfit can score three tries in no time at all. They may be on the slide in this competition, but they aren’t a beaten side until the final whistle. It’s going to be tight. Bulls by 3

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 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Hoani MacDonald/Josh Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kenny Lynn.

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


VREDE’S CALL: The Blues’ joy after a win over the Lions will be short-lived, with the Crusaders set to give them a reality check. The Christchurch franchise played poorly in defeat to the Rebels last week, but they’ll show that to be an aberration with a physically dominant performance from their forwards in general and set play which will set up the back division to rip the Blues to ribbons. Crusaders by 10
JC’S CALL: For once Todd Blackadder has lived up to his name: The Crusaders coach was as mad as a snake following the ‘worst-ever’ performance by a Christchurch side last week. All the stars have since been reinstalled, and Dan Carter resumes his successful halfback partnership with Andy Ellis. The back row includes three players that can play to the ball, suggesting the Crusaders are expecting a big breakdown assault by the Braid brothers. The Blues’ brief reprieve is over, and they’ll do well to avoid a drubbing. Crusaders by 12

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

Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Brendon O’Connor, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Tom Marshall.


VREDE’S CALL: I backed these lame Lions against the tournament’s worst side last week but that mantle has now been passed on to them. They are incompetent in most facets of play and won’t live with a resurgent Reds side, who will be buoyed by the return of Quade Cooper. There is not an area of the game the Lions can match the Reds in, and Mitchell’s Travelling Circus will roll on to Perth next week without having threatened to thrill on tour. Reds by 15
JC’S CALL: This match couldn’t have arrived at a better time for the Reds. They pushed the Crusaders close, collected five log points from the match against the high-flying Chiefs and are now poised to bank another five from this encounter with the Pussy Cats. Expect the Reds to dominate the collisions and Liam Gill to punish the errant Lions at the breakdown via some telling turnovers. The Reds will be a force on both attack and the counter, and watch out for the dazzling skills of their halfbacks and the brute force of Digby Ioane. Playing on the front foot, the returning Quade Cooper will have a ball. Reds by 20

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

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 Derrick Minnie, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Pat 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.


VREDE’S CALL: The Sharks have struggled in Bloemfontein in the past but I think a combination of their desperation to hold on to their play-off place and the Cheetahs’ lack of a quality flyhalf will see John Plumtree’s men win a game that is critical for them in the context of their season. The Cheetahs looked rudderless in the face of the Stormers’ robust and organised defence and the Sharks will have to base their challenge on such defence. They showed improvement in this regard in recent weeks, while their attack has had more synergy than it had in the early part of the season. There must be a marriage of the two and I think there will be. Sharks by 7
JC’S CALL: Discipline is going to be crucial in this encounter. Both teams have been guilty of poor discipline in the past, and so the side that loses its cool this week is going to be at a disadvantage. Both have also been inconsistent when it’s come to their respective defensive lines. What will Saturday bring? The Sharks have improved as the season has progressed while the Cheetahs have struggled in the last month. The hosts will find the Sharks attack more difficult to repel than that of the Stormers, and will miss the accurate goal- and tactical-kicking of Johan Goosen. If Goosen was still around, you’d have to say the Cheetahs would be in with a shout. Despite their shaky defence, they have a strong pack and an attack that can strike from any part of the field. Unfortunately for the Free State faithful, the Cheetahs won’t do enough to deny the Sharks another valuable win. Sharks by 10

Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Heinrich Brussouw, 5 George Earle, 4 Izak van der Westhuizen, 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 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.

Sharks – 15. Riaan Viljoen, 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. Willem Alberts, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Ryan Kankowski, 21. Frederic Michalak, 22. Meyer Bosman.


VREDE’S CALL: The Waratahs have offered nothing on attack to suggest they can trouble the Stormers’ brilliant defence. They have made a number of positional changes in the backline, and introduced players they believe have game-breaking qualities, but they won’t have the forwards to build the platform they need to give those players the time and space they need to be effective. There is no reason to expect the Stormers’ sterile backline play to improve, but they’ll kick their way to another victory, although their home play-off hopes fade with every match that passes where they fail to register five points. Stormers by 10
JC’S CALL: The Stormers smashed the Waratahs twice in 2010, and on both occasions they won the match via a powerful showing up front. Their loose forward stocks are depleted which suggests they won’t be as dominant at the gainline, and the synergy between forwards and backs may thus be slightly compromised. The Waratahs were competitive against the Bulls last week, and coach Michael Foley has picked halfbacks with strong kicking games. With wet weather set to dictate a more conservative approach from teams that are already conservative by nature, it should be a massive arm-wrestle at Newlands. Both teams also possess excellent goal-kickers, and you have to feel that the team that dominates territory and creates the most scoring opportunities, be they tries, penalties or drop-goals, is going to win the game. Despite their attacking failings, I reckon that at home the Stormers will be favourites to win this battle and ultimately the game. Stormers by 6

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 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

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


VREDE’S CALL: The Rebels were very good against the Crusaders last week but they’ve struggled for consistency and their away record is awful. The Force will boss the gainline and set phases setting up their attacking base in this manner. From there they’ll exploit a fragile Rebels defence for victory. Force by 8
JC’S CALL: I’ve learned the hard way that you don’t pick the Rebels when they play away from Melbourne. And yet there’s been something in their forward play, as well as the flyhalf performances of Kurtley Beale that have got me thinking. This also isn’t just another game away from home, it’s a game between the Rebels and the Force, the fourth and fifth-placed teams in the Aussie conference. The Force are also returning from a poor tour to South Africa. They’ve made changes, but if the Rebels can maintain their physical intensity, the Force will struggle to make an impact. Rebels by 5

Force – 15 Dave Harvey, 14 Sam Wara, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Matt Hodgson, 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 Winston Stanley, 22 Alfie Mafi.

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 Hugh Perrett, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Stirling Mortlock.