JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
With the play-offs shifting into focus, there are some beauts this weekend. Then there are the ones you’d be best advised to miss, most notably the fixtures in Auckland and Johannesburg. JC and Vrede agree the Sharks will keep their ambitions alive with a win over the Bulls and the Stormers will secure the conference with a victory in Bloem. The Crusaders will be too classy for the Chiefs in New Zealand’s big derby.
KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 73/105 (69%)
JC: 75/105 (71%)
CHIEFS vs CRUSADERS, HAMILTON, FRIDAY 09:35
JC’S CALL: The Crusaders have struggled for consistency as far as discipline and intensity are concerned. On form, you wouldn’t give them much of a chance when they travel to Cowbell Country to play the log leaders, but on reputation, you have to believe they are capable of winning in this hostile environment. They’re fortunate in that they receive a triple boost with Kieran Read, Dan Carter and Israel Dagg returning to the starting side. Read’s presence will make a marked difference in the forward exchanges, and that back row looks more balanced with Richie McCaw moving back to No 7. Carter won’t blow important goal-kicking opportunities as Tom Taylor did last week, and the All Blacks No 10′s return will also influence a backline defence that will need to cope with that dangerous 10-12 combo of the Chiefs. The Crusaders are overdue a good performance, and this win should confirm that they are still in the Super Rugby race. Crusaders by 5
VREDE’S CALL: This is a test of the Chiefs’ title credentials but one I think they’ll fail largely because of the superiority of the Saders’ pack. Certainly the Chiefs’ heavies haven’t been found wanting this season, but in the Saders they face a battle-hardened, brutal and intelligent unit. The Chiefs will benefit from a relatively fresh tight five, but in their back row Liam Messam is seldom the same force when a game is tight and Alex Bradley’s Super Rugby inexperience will be a liability. This will heap pressure on the young Sam Cane to be their primary source of momentum in the back row. The Chiefs’ struggles here will have defensive and attacking advantages for the Saders, the former allowing them to dilute the potency of the Chiefs’ backline and force them into taking risks, while their superiority at the tackle point on attack will give Andy Ellis and Dan Carter the platform to plot the Chiefs’ demise. Crusaders by 7
Chiefs – 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 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 Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Owen Franks.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Matt Todd, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Sean Maitland.
REDS vs HIGHLANDERS, BRISBANE, FRIDAY 11:40
JC’S CALL: The Reds need to beat the Highlanders with a bonus point to keep their dream alive, and this ambition can compromise the ability to secure a result. The Highlanders are playing for pride more than anything else, and will want to give Jimmy Cowan a good send off in this his final game for the Dunedin franchise. It is also their final match of the season, so they won’t be holding back, and that attitude will be manifest in the breakdown battle. I think the Reds will still be favourites to win, but the Highlanders will spoil and smother to the point where the hosts may struggle to build a fluid attack. The game could be won by Mike Harris’s boot rather than any razzle dazzle in the backline. Reds by 6
VREDE’S CALL: The Highlanders’ challenge has predictably faltered as the season progressed and they won’t have the all-round game to beat the Reds on their home patch. The hosts looked sharp in the demolition of the Rebels last week, that performance a throwback to the ones that helped make them champions last season. Of course the Landers will be a significantly harder side to beat, but Ewen McKenzie’s men will do so off the back of a dominant forward showing and accurate tactical game that will force the visitors to play from within their territory, as well as Mike Harris’ trusty boot. The Landers will look to assert themselves physically through their loose trio of Nasi Manu, James Haskell and Adam Thomson. But the Reds will negotiate that challenge to render their opponents’ back division impotent. Reds by 9
Reds – 15. Luke Morahan, 14. Dom Shipperley, 13. Anthony Faingaa, 12. Mike Harris, 11. Chris F’Sautia, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Beau Robinson, 6. Jake Schatz, 5. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4. Rob Simmons, 3. James Slipper, 2. Saia Faingaa, 1. Greg Holmes.
Subs: 16. James Hanson, 17. Ben Daley, 18. Radike Samo, 19. Jarrad Butler, 20. Ben Lucas, 21. Ben Tapuai, 22. Nick Frisby
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Subs: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Chris King, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kenny Lynn.
SHARKS vs BULLS, DURBAN, FRIDAY 19:10
JC’S CALL: There isn’t a player in the Bulls pack that should command a starting place in the Test side (when all contenders are fit and available), and yet the Pretoria pack has proved brutally effective as a collective in this year’s Super Rugby competition. Their lineout destroyed that of the Sharks in Round 1, with Juandré Kruger proving a key player, and I expect the Bulls to take the lineout honours once again. The Bulls dominated the collisions in that first match, but I’m not so sure that they will come out on top on this occasion. The Sharks have the stronger scrum, and the back rows are evenly matched. It’s in the midfield where the Sharks look stronger, and expect Frans Steyn to use that (some would say excessive) bulk to cross the gainline and provide the Sharks with front foot ball. The Sharks will be missing Pat Lambie and there’s no doubt that Louis Ludik is less sure at the back, but from a goal-kicking perspective, Freddie Michalak has shown himself to be Mr Reliable. It’s going to be very close, and at home the Sharks would be expected to win and keep their play-off fires burning. On the other hand (Darren), is this the match where Morné Steyn shows his class as a kicker and match-winner? It’s a question that will only be answered after the 80 minutes. As this prediction is made before kickoff, I’m sticking with the call of Sharks to edge it. Sharks by 3
VREDE’S CALL: I wrote earlier in the week that the gainline battle will be the decisive facet of play, and, even in the absence of Willem Alberts, I’m handing this one to the Sharks. Their all-Springbok back row matches the Bulls’, but in Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis they trump the Bulls for bruisers in the pack. Add to that that Frans Steyn will get some purchase in the defensively vulnerable Bulls 10-12 channel and you have to think that they are favourites to dominate large passages of play and convert pressure into points. Furthermore, the Bulls’ scrum penalty count (highest in competition) will haunt them, with the Sharks keeping the scoreboard rolling with three pointers from such infrigments. The Sharks’ play-offs ambitions will be boosted come full-time. Sharks by 8
Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane
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 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip vd Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter
BLUES vs FORCE, AUCKLAND, SATURDAY 09:35
JC’S CALL: Rugby junkies will wake up from a hangover of great Friday contests to this clanger: Blues vs Force! The Blues have been diabolical, but then the Force have also been erratic. The Western Australians will be missing their star and captain, David Pocock, and so will battle to live with the Blues at breakdowns. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting an accurate and impressive showing by the Blues, who are once again showing numerous changes in their pack. But up against another mediocre side, the Blues should be favourites to take the spoils in Auckland. Blues by 9
VREDE’S CALL: I may just sleep in and miss this one. Two rubbish sides battling for supposed pride. Come on! The Blues will be the better of the two, in what is sure to be an open game marked by expansive attacks, but little quality. Blues by 5
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Andrew Van der Heijden, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai’i, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.
Force – 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffery, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ollie Atkins, 19 Anare Koliavu, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Patrick Dellit.
WARATAHS vs BRUMBIES, SYDNEY, SATURDAY 11:40
JC’S CALL: This is an Aussie derby you might actually want to watch. The Waratahs, who seem to be constantly worried about what the outside world thinks of their style and manner, are desperate to end their season on a high. Losing at home could settle the argument of whether to axe Michael Foley or not. For the Brumbies, they need to keep winning to maintain their standing at the top of the Australian conference. They’re an inferior side on paper, but like the Stormers they’ve shown themselves to be a team that is more than the sum of its parts. They’re well-drilled and disciplined, and focused on what they need to do to win. Unlike the Waratahs, they are only concerned with playing winning rugby, and are not under any pressure to play more expansively. The one area where the Brumbies are better equipped as far as experience is concerned is at halfback, and I’m sure Nic White will produce another important performance in what is a crunch game. Brumbies by 5
VREDE’S CALL: The Brumbies haven’t won in Sydney since 2002 but they will break that drought against an ordinary Waratahs side. The Tahs’ problems have been rooted in their pack’s inability to impose themself, and against the physical and organised Brumbies this deficiency will be terminal once more. And their problems will be compounded with a rookie halfback pair playing behind a losing pack. The Brumbies will erode their early resolve through powerful phase play, with the backline converting the chances this creates. Brumbies by 10
Waratahs - 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Grayson Hart, 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.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rae, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Tom Carter, 22 Tom Kingston.
Brumbies – 15. Robbie Coleman, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Andrew Smith, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Jesse Mogg, 10. Zack Holmes, 9. Nic White, 8. Ben Mowen, 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Peter Kimlin, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Scott Fardy, 3. Dan Palmer, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Ben Alexander.
Subs: 16. Anthony Hegarty, 17. Ruaidhri Murphy, 18. Leon Power, 19. Ita Vaea, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Tevita Kuridrani, 22. Cam Crawford
CHEETAHS vs STORMERS, BLOEMFONTEIN, SATURDAY 15:00
JC’S CALL: The question everybody may be asking is: Will the Stormers score the four-try bonus point? They will know by Saturday morning whether they’re in a position to secure the SA conference title (a Bulls loss in Durban would help their cause), and they will also know whether they’re capable of overtaking the Chiefs at the top of the overall log (here they will be hoping for the Crusaders to win in Hamilton on Friday). I think they may find themselves in such a favourable position before the match in Bloemfontein, but they shouldn’t expect an easy contest with the Cheetahs. The Stormers’ attitude in the first half will determine whether they set themselves up for a win and indeed a four-try bonus point. They have the backline to finish and they have the game plan to force the Cheetahs into mistakes. The Cheetahs’ looser style should play into the Stormers’ hands, but the visitors need to maintain their discipline to ensure they don’t become too fractured in their own approach. Ultimately, I reckon the Cheetahs will do the Stormers a favour in playing expansively, giving them an opportunity to counter-attack and score four tries. Stormers by 13
VREDE’S CALL: There won’t be any deviation from the formula for the Stormers – they’ll build their victory on punishing defence and Peter Grant’s goal-kicking. The Stormers will pin the Cheetahs in their half through the boots of Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage and Joe Pietersen and suffocate them from there. The Cheetahs don’t have the tactical intelligence or physicality to trouble their visitors. It won’t be pretty but when last has a Stormers win been? Stormers by 12
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Pieter van Zyl, 8 Justin Downey, 7 Lappies Labuschagné, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira/George Earle, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 George Earle/Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.
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 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
LIONS vs REBELS, JOHANNESBURG, SATURDAY 17:05
JC’S CALL: Travelling to the magnificent albeit poorly located Ellis Park requires commitment, and heading to a game where the opposition is as poor as the Rebels, well, it seems a quest that only the most ardent Lions fan would accept. That the Rebels will be without their two Wallabies stars may convince fans to rather watch this clash on TV, although the absence of Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor does increase the chances of a Lions’ victory. Come to think of it, this could be the last time Lions fans get to watch their team playing at Ellis Park in Super Rugby. And wins for the Johannesburg franchise in this competition are like hens’ teeth (I’ve heard this phrase is soon to be altered to ‘Lions’ teeth’). The Lions will need to play with more discipline than they did last week, but they certainly have the forwards to disrupt the Rebels, as well as a heavy hitter like Butch James to dominate the collisions in midfield. The locals will also hope that Elton Jantjies is on target with the boot and takes better options in that No 10 channel, but his job should be made easier if the forwards front. Lions by 7
VREDE’S CALL: I think I may turn in early on Saturday. But I know you loyal Lions supporters are dying for my insights on your poor team so here it goes: They’ll win. If they don’t, against a Rebels side without James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, I will be forced to reassess my view on how poor they actually are. And surely they can’t get any poorer? Lions by 10
Lions – 15 James Kamana, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 JR Esterhuizen, 22 Ruan Combrinck.
Melbourne Rebels – 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Hugh Perrett, 6 Tim Davidson, 5 Al Campbell, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Subs: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Hugh Pyle, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Lachlan Mitchell, 22 Lloyd Johannson.