Super Rugby preview – Round 18

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

JC and Vrede called all of last week’s results correctly, and there’s a strong feeling at HQ that another full house is on the cards.

Both writers are expecting the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers to pick up wins and qualify for the play-offs. JC reckons the Chiefs should win the league by hammering the Hurricanes on Friday, a result that won’t please the Stormers, but won’t stop the Cape side from advancing. Vrede thinks the Chiefs will win in Wellington, but without a bonus point, and that will allow the Stormers to seize an opportunity against the Rebels and top the league.

The Sharks and Bulls will be under pressure to bank bonus-point wins in their respective matches after the Reds whip the Waratahs in Brisbane. The play-offs will only start next week, but this round could almost be likened to the Fifa World Cup’s Round of 16. It’s do or die, and we’re expecting the Bulls and Sharks to do the necessary and join the Stormers in the play-offs.

VREDE: 80/112 (71%)
JC: 82/112 (73%)


VREDE’S CALL: The Hurricanes need to win to keep hope of participation in the play-offs alive. The Chiefs need to hold the Stormers at bay and book an easier route to a final. The match clearly doesn’t lack for incentive for either side, but the Chiefs’ all-round superiority will reflect in the result. Their success has been built on their pack’s potency. The heavies were outplayed against the Crusaders again last week, but the Canes don’t have the calibre of forwards to test the Chiefs (in general play or at scrum time) in the manner they were tested in Hamilton. This will lend the Chiefs attacking impetus, with their back division allowed space and time to plot the Canes’ demise. Defensively I suspect the Chiefs’ dominance of the gainline will ultimately force the Canes into expansive, cavalier attacks that will be terminal to their cause and season. Chiefs by 10
JC’S CALL: The Hurricanes are a competitive side, but for every steal and game breaking play there is an instance of indiscipline or sloppy defence. The Hurricanes’ desperation to score a bonus-point win should play into the Chiefs’ hands. The Chiefs boast the second-best defensive record in the competition and are especially dangerous from turnover ball. Expect them to play a more structured, territorial game and feed off the Hurricanes’ mistakes. Unfortunately for the Stormers, I feel the Chiefs will secure the five points from this fixture and win the league. The Hurricanes may score some tries, but they won’t do enough to win or get a consolation bonus point. Chiefs by 9

Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 15 Cory Jane/Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Eaton/Frae Wilson, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 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 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Wilson/Jamie Nutbrown, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Jayden Hayward

Chiefs – 15 Andrew Horrel, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Robbie Robinson, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.


VREDE’S CALL: The Brumbies only need a point to capture the Australian conference but will be eyeing the bonus point and the Stormers in second, hoping the Cape franchise somehow blow it against the Rebels. Their structured, accurate and powerful forward play will be the root of their success against a Blues side that’s already mentally on holiday. Their multi-phase approach has depleted much better defensive units than the Blues, and they will again lay the platform for their talented backs to exploit the Blues’ numerous defensive vulnerabilities. Brumbies by 10
JC’S CALL: There isn’t much incentive for the Brumbies to alter their approach and push for a four-try bonus point. The Stormers are likely to beat a weakened and rudderless Rebels side in Cape Town, and so what the Brumbies rather need to focus on is a win that will keep the Reds at arm’s length. They have the forwards and the general at No 9 to ensure their game plan is successfully implemented, and will want to keep the game tight to prevent some of the dangerous Blues individuals from getting into the contest. Expect another ugly but effective performance by Jake White’s men. Brumbies by 11

Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 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 Fotu Auelua, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Robbie Coleman.

Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Steven Luatua, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Andrew Van der Heijden, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai’i, 22 Sherwin Stowers.


VREDE’S CALL: The Crusaders showed their class in defeating the Chiefs last week in a match they had to win to control their own play-off destiny. They cannot win the New Zealand conference but can still finish fourth, which would secure them a home tie, probably against the Bulls – a match they would be favourites to win. They are one of the few teams in the tournament you would back to win a semi-final on the road. In light of this, the benefits of finishing fourth are self-evident. They’ll beat the Force comfortably, building that result on an intelligent kicking game in their half and a blend of grunt and industry through their forwards and panache in the backline. Crusaders by 15
JC’S CALL: The Force are without David Pocock and this will limit their success at the breakdown. An injury to Kieran Read has forced the Crusaders to pick Richie McCaw and Matt Todd in the back row, and while this could impact on their gainline ambitions it will ensure that they are well equipped to win the game on the ground. It isn’t the most intimidating starting pack, with the unimpressive Tom Donnelly named in the second row, but the Crusaders do have some class on the bench to ensure they finish strongly. The performances of their halfbacks as well as that of Israel Dagg will be important as far as their kicking game is concerned, and in this regard the Force will struggle to compete. Crusaders by 10

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

Force – 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Subs: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Will Tupou.


VREDE’S CALL: The defending champions have no alternative but to bank a bonus point win and hope that one of the minnows does them a favour at some stage in the day. They should achieve the former, with Will Genia and Quade Cooper controlling territory with their boots, and forcing the Tahs into risky 22m exits. From there they’ll back their defence to pressure the Tahs into errors and launch strikes from broken field or keep the board ticking over via Mike Harris’ boot. The Tahs have gifted backs, but their forwards’ inability to impose themselves will mean they won’t have the platform to exhibit their skills fully. Reds by 10
JC’S CALL: Not that Wycliff Palu has been particularly good this season, but his injury has forced a few telling changes to the Waratahs pack. There’s not much balance or continuity in that side, not much confidence and quite frankly not enough of a reason to win. The Reds have hit form late in the season and will have Digby Ioane and Liam Gill available for this match. Traditionally, this is tight fixture but I expect the Reds forwards will be too powerful and clinical at the tackle point and the backs will use that platform to win territory and score tries. This result will certainly spice up the later fixtures as the Sharks and perhaps the Bulls will need a bonus-point win to deny the Reds a play-off place. Reds by 13

Reds – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 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 Beau Robinson, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Ben Tapuai.

Waratahs – 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Dave Dennis, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (c).
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Lopeti Timani, 19 Jono Jenkins, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Tom Carter, 22 Tom Kingston.


VREDE’S CALL: By kick-off the Stormers will know exactly what they require to top the log. They will be cheering for the Canes earlier in the day, hoping they beat the Chiefs or restrict them to four points in defeat. The latter scenario is more likely and if ever the Stormers had a better motivator to escape their attacking mediocrity this will be it. The Rebels don’t have the game breakers of tactical intelligence to trouble them on attack. They’ll be blunted at the gainline and systematically forced deeper and deeper into their territory. The Stormers have built their victories on penalty-inducing pressure and Peter Grant’s goal kicking but they will have to find an attacking dimension that has been sorely lacking if they hope to take the full haul of points they so desperately need. The players are certainly there, but they have to deliver in this the most crucial of matches. It is the responsibility of the forwards to give them the best possible launchpad, and you have to think that against the powder-puff Rebels pack they will do so. Stormers by 15
JC’S CALL: The Rebels are not to be underestimated. Ask the Crusaders, who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Melbourne franchise earlier in the season. I don’t think there’s any point talking about a bonus point, as the Chiefs should secure top spot following their match against the Hurricanes. The Stormers will stick to script, building the pressure and taking any points on offer in the first half. There is a chance that it will rain on Saturday, so it is probably not the best time to play expansively when the game is still in the balance. Once they have built a decent lead, they may cut loose in the second half when that notorious Rebels defence begins to tire. Stormers by 12

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

Rebels – 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Cooper Vuna/Lachlan Mitchell, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Hugh Perret, 6 Tim Davidson, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Rodney Blake.
Subs: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Ryan Hodson, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Cooper Vuna/Lachlan Mitchell, 22 Richard Kingi.


VREDE’S CALL: The Sharks’ victory over the Bulls last weekend was their best performance of the season, but the Sharks’ campaign has been marred by inconsistency. However, you sense they are peaking at the right time and they should be too strong for the Cheetahs. Expect Bismarck du Plessis, Ryan Kankowski, Beast Mtawarira, Keegan Daniel and later Willem Alberts, to be prominent with ball-in-hand, gradually wearing down the Cheetahs’ resistance. The backline, bolstered by Pat Lambie’s return and displaying an added dimension with Frans Steyn at inside centre, will be too good for one of the weakest defences in the tournament. Provided they don’t get too loose in their approach (thereby granting Heinrich Brussow and co chances at stealing or stifling the ball) the Sharks will get the bonus-point that will probably see them through to the play-offs. Sharks by 12
JC’S CALL: The Sharks need to replicate their performance of last week, simple as that. They will, in all likelihood, go into this match needing five log points, but they mustn’t let this lead to a more frantic approach. The back row was outstanding last week, and will need to win the battle at the gainline once again. It will be a big game for Craig Burden as he fills in for the irrepressible Bismarck du Plessis, but he also has the potential to be dominant in contact and boasts a unique turn of speed. The Sharks need a strong first half, and they need to be clinical in taking points on offer and building a big lead. In the second stanza when the Cheetahs are less direct and more expansive, there will be more opportunities to score from turnover ball. Sharks by 14

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

Cheetahs - 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Philip Snyman, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Andries Strauss.


VREDE’S CALL: There has been so much talk of this Gauteng derby being close. On what basis? The Lions are by some distance the weakest team in the South African conference and one of the weakest in the tournament. If the Bulls lose this one it must be considered their worst result in recent years. They won’t. The Lions don’t have the personnel or appetite for a forward brawl and will look to attack in the wide channels at most opportunities. This will play into the Bulls’ hands. The Pretoria franchise have been as adept at crafting their own scoring chances as they have been at capitalising on their opponents’ errors and their victory in this fixture will hopefully see the third South African franchise enter the top six. Bulls by 15
JC’S CALL: Like the Sharks, the Bulls will need to produce a special performance to advance to the play-offs. And like the Sharks, they will be fortunate enough to play at home against one of the weaker defensive sides in the competition. The Lions so nearly blew it last week, and their inability to play for 80 minutes will cost them in this their final game (of the season? for the next couple of years?). The Bulls will need to lift their efforts at the breakdowns and collisions, as these were areas where they were clearly outplayed in last week’s battle with the Sharks. The Lions aren’t a good side, but the Bulls would be foolish to expect an easy ride. The Lions will try to spoil and force the Bulls to play as loose as possible. The Bulls must ensure they stick to their game plan and execute efficiently. It’s time for the forwards and the halfbacks to step up in this regard. Bulls by 12

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 (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 12 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.

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 Ruan Botha, 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.