JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
The keo.co.za team has enjoyed two good weeks of predictions, but that streak will be put to the test this weekend. The number of injuries and crises afflicting the various franchises need to be taken into account, as does the timing of the respective tours. It’s not an easy round to call.
Three South African sides will be in action this week, and Vrede has only picked the Stormers to win. While JC isn’t holding his breath for a Lions victory at the Coke Can, he’s got the Stormers to sneak past the Force and the Cheetahs to rediscover that winning feeling in a clash with the Highlanders.
KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 38/60 (63%)
JC: 38/60 (63%)
BLUES vs REDS, AUCKLAND, FRIDAY 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: Little to choose between these two mediocre sides. Neither has any outstanding advantage in set or general play although Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is expectwed to instruct his charges to play a little more pragmatically than his counterpart Pat Lam will. I don’t think the former has the quality of player to succeed with this approach, although they could win it on penalties if it becomes a scrap. Both sides field two fetchers in their back rows and this will ensure a consistently slow recycle given that neither side are expected to dominate the gainline in a manner that would nullify those fetchers. So tries will probably come from defensive errors and broken field opportunities and in this regard I have a suspicion the Blues are better equipped to take advantage. Blues by 3
JC’S CALL: That’s a pretty big call Vrede. The Blues have discovered new ways to lose on a weekly basis, and the coming match will see them without both Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock. The sideshows in Auckland have distracted critics from the real problems in the pack, as well as the overall leadership. The Reds have been savaged by injuries, but there’s still a structure in their playing pattern that suggests they can be successful, especially against a rudderless outfit like the Blues. McKenzie won’t care if the win is ugly. He has an accurate goalkicker, a strong pack of forwards and a bench stacked with five heavies. The Reds are going to Eden Park to outmuscle the Blues, and I believe they will succeed. Reds by 6
Blues - 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 George Moala, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Daniel Braid, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tevita Mailau.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Chris Lowrey, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 Benson Stanley.
Reds - 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Beau Robinson, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Ed Quirk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Faingaa.
LIONS vs BRUMBIES, JOHANNESBURG, FRIDAY 19:10
VREDE’S CALL: The Brumbies were comprehensively outplayed for the bulk of their match against the Bulls last week, but they’ll rebound with a victory over inferior opponents. Jake White has forged his side into an organised and efficient defensive unit who are able to repel rudderless, expansive attacks, the kind the Lions have become renowned for, with ease. Expect them to boss the gainline and force the Lions into taking gambles off the back of a slow ruck recycle. They’ll feed off their hosts’ errors and edge this one. Brumbies by 7
JC’S CALL: Gamble? That’s the way the Lions roll baby. John Mitchell’s charges are going to have to do something special to fracture that Brumbies defence. Meeting the forward challenge is non-negotiable, but I wonder if at this stage of the season they have the calm heads to play a more pragmatic game. The pressure is building on South Africa’s last-placed team, and with the Super Rugby axe looming they need to produce something special. It’s a tough ask with so many frontline players crocked. Expect the Brumbies to feed off the Lions desperation. The visitors will cash in on the Lions’ mistakes. Brumbies by 10
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Van Rensburg, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Christo le Roux, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Butch James, 22 Michael Killian
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 Peter Kimlin, 5 Leon Power, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 3 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Ruaidhri Murphy.
Subs: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Sam Carter, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.
CHIEFS vs HURRICANES, HAMILTON, SATURDAY 09:35
VREDE’S CALL: There’s a sense that the Chiefs will implode in typical fashion and blow what promised to be a successful season. If that implosion happens I don’t think it will be this weekend. They are a superior side to the Canes in all facets of play and the more intelligent one tactically. I think the latter factor will be significant – if the Chiefs play with a measure of tactical conservatism they will win comfortably. I think they will – wearing down the Canes through brutal defence and erosive phase play for 60 minutes then unleashing their dangerous attackers and injecting a superior bench into the contest in the final quarter. Chiefs by 8
JC’S CALL: It doesn’t get any easier for the Canes. After taking a vicious beating at the hands of the Crusaders, they will be up against the Chiefs in Cowbell Country. What will encourage them is that the Chiefs have just returned from a tour to South Africa. Will this be enough of a gap for a side that is so clearly outmatched? It will ensure a competitive contest for much of the game, although they won’t have the power to overtake the Chiefs. It promises to be an interesting battle between the two diminutive flyhalves, but Beauden Barrett will not be as much of a factor unless his forwards provide him with a steady supply of front-foot ball. That Chiefs defence is just too good to leak soft tries. Chiefs by 7
Chiefs - 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliott, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Subs: Mahonri Schwalger, Toby Smith, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Jackson Willison, Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Hurricanes - 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 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 Mark Reddish, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Alapati Leiua.
FORCE vs STORMERS, PERTH, SATURDAY 11:40
VREDE’S CALL: This was supposed to be the Stormers’ easiest tour match but a string of injuries to senior players sees them fielding numerous fringe players. But I’m backing them for an ugly win built on desperate defence and the accumulation of points through penalties. Their defensive structure is so good and the incoming players competent enough to blunt the Force. On attack the Force don’t have the personnel to consistently win the tackle fights and certainly not the gamebreakers to create something out of nothing. The Stormers’ primary concerns are diluting David Pocock’s potency at the breakdown and Nathan Sharpe’s at lineout time. They’ll do just enough to ensure neither are match-shaping factors and grind out a narrow win in Perth. Stormers by 5
JC’S CALL: The Stormers will miss Duane Vermeulen’s physicality and the second row lacks balance, but the Cape side is fortunate that this game will be played at a time when the Force franchise is in turmoil. Coach Richard Graham has left, and as we saw with the Brumbies last year, that can have a negative impact on the team’s performances. The Force have struggled regardless, although they will test the Stormers at the lineout. It is here where Andries Bekker will need to show his class. If he can outplay Nathan Sharpe and deny the Force their favourite attacking platform, the Stormers’ job will be far easier. Finally the Stormers management has made a decision on their first-choice goal-kicker, and they’d back Peter Grant to cash in on scoring opportunities. It won’t be the most convincing of wins, but the Stormers will do enough to record their third victory on tour. Stormers by 6
Force – 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Rory Sidey, 13 Nick Cummins, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 David Harvey, 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 Richard Brown, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Ben Seymour, 22 Samu Wara.
Stormers – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Bryan Habana, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker (c), 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Don Armand, 19 Deon Fourie, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 JP du Plessis.
CHEETAHS vs HIGHLANDERS, BLOEMFONTEIN, SATURDAY 17:05
VREDE’S CALL: There always seems to be a sense of expectation about the Cheetahs at home but I think this one will be tougher than most expect. Like the Chiefs, most expect the Highlanders’ impressive start to the season to end any time now. But I believe their success can be sustained because they have a good squad, their structures are sound and their coaching staff has shown tactical intelligence thus far. They’ll have the physicality on defence and at the breakdown to ensure that the Cheetahs’ expansive approach is compromised as well as the strike runners to exploit the Cheetahs’ defensive vulnerabilities. Highlanders by 7
JC’S CALL: The return of Johan Goosen and Adriaan Strauss for the Cheetahs will be significant. I’m expecting a battle royale at the breakdown with the Highlanders’ various ploys of overloading and counter-rucking set to test the Cheetahs. But the Bloemfontein side are nothing if not plucky, and have shown on various occasions that they have the physicality to counter the top teams. In Goosen they not only have a player who can boot the ball a mile but also a flyhalf who makes excellent tactical decisions, be it to unleash the dangerous outside backs or kick for territory. The selection of Tewis de Bruyn indicates that the Cheetahs will look to play a more territorial game and pressure the Highlanders into mistakes. While the Dunedin outfit has been physical and boast a sound defence, they are not the most adventurous or penetrative attacking side. Cheetahs by 6
Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 George Earle, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali’i, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 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, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Doug Tietjens, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Siale Piutau.
WARATAHS vs CRUSADERS, SYDNEY, SUNDAY 07:10
VREDE’S CALL: The Crusaders are looking ominous and will ease past an injury-depleted Waratahs side. Expect them to employ a territory-based approach, then pressure the Tahs into errors or turnovers through their brutal and highly efficient defence. From there they have the backs to rip the Tahs to ribbons. Crusaders by 12
JC’S CALL: The Aussie media would have you believe that the Waratahs are more dangerous when they play day games. Look out Crusaders! Seriously, I remain unconvinced about the quality of this Waratahs side. They have some good players but consistency continues to elude them, and the pressure applied by the Sydney public to play a more expansive brand has had an adverse effect. The Crusaders have always had the right formula, and it’s always been a question of when or if they start hitting their stride. They’ve been impressive in the last few weeks, and will record another valuable win on the road this Sunday. Crusaders by 10
Waratahs – TBC
Crusaders - 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Dan Carter, Zac 11 Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willie Heinz, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Tom Marshall