S15 Preview: Round Four, Part Two
Jan de Koning looks at the four Saturday matches in Round Four of the Super Rugby season.
There is a storm brewing and while some of it is related to the unseasonable weather in New Zealand, most of it is about the fiery action likely to be unleashed on the playing surfaces.
The Stormers, accustomed to training and playing in severe winds and heavy downpours in the home city of Cape Town, was caught off guard by the once-in-a-100-years storm that caused such devastating floods in Christchurch.
And while the weather has lifted somewhat in the last day or two, strong Southerlies will be developing during the day on Saturday, bringing a few more showers.
That will turn their game against the Crusaders into a real lottery.
In the second of four Saturday outings, the struggling Western Force - one of just teams without any points (the Crusaders being the other) host the high-flying Rebels in Perth.
The Bulls and Blues, fresh from impressive wins last week, go head-to-head in Pretoria, before the top two sides in the South African Conference - the Sharks and Lions conclude the weekend's action when they clash in Durban.
The match at Kings Park is the only local derby scheduled for the fourth round of Super Rugby action.
Jan de Koning looks at Saturday's games!
Saturday, March 8
Crusaders v Stormers
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT; 08.35 SA time)
The Crusaders have lost the services of one of their most valuable warriors, Richie McCaw. The Stormers have gained the muscle of one of their most battled-hardened players, Schalk Burger.
And while the loss of one player can be overcome, given the Crusaders' rich resources among the loose forwards, the return of Burger is seen as crucial to the visitors' cause.
"It is a vital game, against a strong Crusaders side," Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said of his team that has one win (by a single point) from two starts this season.
While the loss of McCaw (with a fractured thumb) is a loss, Coetzee was quick to point out that the still have a tried-and-trusted combination with a big forward pack.
"[The] experience [of a player like Burger] will be crucial," Coetzee said in a teleconference call from Christchurch.
"It is great to also have Peter Grant in the mix," he said, adding: "That is what we will be needing.
"We have been talking about creating opportunities, [but] our conversion rate is not good at this stage.
"That comes because of the inability to stay calm, because of a lack of composure."
Coetzee said his players were "a bit frantic" with ball in hand in previous weeks.
"That is what we need to have this weekend [calmness and composure]," he said, adding: "You have to take your opportunities and that comes with the experienced players on the field ."
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is no doubt frustrated about his team's defeats to the Chiefs and Blues, which left them second from bottom with no points.
"I don't like losing at all," he told Fairfax NZ News.
"I hate losing and we have got a team that is better than the performances we have put on the track," Blackadder added.
"We have high expectations from everyone, most of all ourselves. We are pretty pissed off."
He said this week was not just about taking responsibility, but working on executing the game plan.
"And bringing a bloody physical mindset and now the next task is having the ability to deliver it. There's no point talking about it - I'm over talking about it."
2013: Crusaders won 19-14, Cape Town
2012: Crusaders won 31-24, Christchurch
2011: Crusaders won 29-10, Cape Town (semifinal)
2011: Crusaders won 20-14, Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 42-14, Cape Town
2009: Crusaders won 11-7, Christchurch
Prediction: No doubt the conditions will be a factor. Some feel it may suite the Stormers' conservative game plan, but it is well documented that New Zealand teams kick more, and more effective, than another country. Territory will be vital, because there is likely to be plenty of errors. If you make them in the opposition half they are unlikely to be as costly as those in your own red zone. We feel the Crusaders will be better suited to the conditions and win by 10 to 15 points.
Crusaders: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)
Western Force v Rebels
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 16.40; 08.40 GMT; 19.40 ACT time)
The struggling Western Force, stuck at the foot of the competition table, will look to mark Matt Hodgson's 100th Super Rugby match with their first win of the season.
The Western Australian captain becomes the first player to represent the franchise in 100 tournament matches, having begun his career in the Force's first Super Rugby match against the Brumbies in 2006.
Force coach Michael Foley says his team is focused on a performance worthy of such an achievement.
"Saturday is significant and fitting milestone for Matt and his family," he said.
"The commitment Matt has made to the franchise over its relatively brief history has earnt him the respect of every member of the Force family.
"Our focus is to be stronger from the start of the match.
"While we've identified the things that are costing us, the challenge is to ensure we nail those areas for Matt and our supporters on Saturday"
The Force will be looking to bounce back following last weekend's loss to the Brumbies and have promoted flyhalf Sias Ebersohn, fullback Jayden Hayward, prop Pek Cowan and lock Wilhelm Steenkamp to the starting line-up.
Towering lock Adam Coleman and outside back Marcel Brache are also in line to make their Super Rugby debuts for the Western Force off the bench.
Matches between the two sides have always been close, with a converted try the greatest margin in their previous six encounters – with three decided by a solitary point.
The Rebels will be looking to continue their strong start to the season, following last weekend's 35-14 win over the Cheetahs in Melbourne.
The Rebels have made six changes to their starting XV - with Paul Aloe-Emile and Max Lahiff helping form a new front row; Cadeyrn Neville at lock; Colby Faingaa at openside flank; while flyhalf Angus Roberts and winger Tom Kingston are the new faces in the backline.
The Rebels teams boasts three former Force players in Luke Jones, Mitch Inman and Paul Alo-Emile, while Heath Tessmann will line up against his former Melbourne teammates.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan said they haven't spoken about the Rebels strong win-loss ratio against the Force.
"What we have spoken about is that every game that has been played in the history of the franchise has been decided by no more than seven points, and that is what we are concerned with," McGahan said.
"We are not at a stage where we worry too much about the opposition, we've got a lot of respect for what they can do and what they have done in the past, but really it's about us backing each other up and us protecting each other.
"We've got enough things to learn and do better at ourselves, and we're not really interested in the Force's motivation in regards to where they are at, and where they need to get to.
"We know that they are a really resilient group, with the ability to grind out results."
2013: Rebels won 30-23, Perth
2013: Rebels won 30-23, Melbourne
2012: Rebels won 32-31, Perth
2012: Rebels won 30-29, Melbourne
2011: Force won 27-24, Melbourne
2011: Rebels won 26-25, Perth
Prediction: The Rebels, along with the Lions, have been the surprise packages of the season. They are both likely to lose more games than they win, but early season form suiggests the Rebels will simply be too good for a struggling Western Force outfit. The Rebels to win by about 15 points.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacement: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Lachlan Mitchell , 10 Angus Roberts, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Colby Fainga'a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Telusa Veainu.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Bulls v Blues
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - 17.05; 15.05 GMT; 04.00, Sunday, March 9 NZ time)
It is likely to be two very contrasting styles, as the Bulls hope to rain on the Blues' parade.
In their four-try demolition of the Crusaders last week the Blues showed just how dangerous they can be.
However, the weather predictions suggest conditions may not favour their free-running game - mostly cloudy, with a couple of showers and a thunderstorm late in the afternoon.
The Bulls' set pieces have been solid - a 92 percent success rate at scrum time and 90 percent in the line-outs.
In stark contrast, the Blues have not started the season well in the set pieces – 57 percent in the scrums and 78 percent in line-outs.
However, the men from Pretoria have scored only two tries in three matches and the Blues seven in two.
"Defence will definitely be very important," Bulls coach Frans Ludeke told this website in an interview.
He pointed out that against both the Highlanders in Round Two (even though they lost after leaving the charge a bit late) and the Crusaders last week the Blues came back strongly after trailing by some margin early in the game.
"They may have left it a little late in that game against the Highlanders, but against a quality team like the Crusaders they showed just how dangerous they can be in broken play," Ludeke said.
"We have to control possession, tactically we have to be very good - play in the right areas and ensure we have good defensive lines."
The Bulls mentor spoke of requiring "an enormous team effort".
Blues coach John Kirwan said that after playing two games against New Zealand opposition this season, the Bulls would pose a completely different challenge and that his team needed to brace themselves for a bruising encounter.
"The difference when you play in South Africa is the brutality of the contact," Kirwan said.
"They're big men, they drive sometimes in twos, when they've got the ball they love the physicality of the rucks so they'll fly into them and you just need to be ready for that.
"They play a very simple game that they know very well - lots of mauling, lots of high kicks and lots of pressure underneath that so we just need to be ready and make sure we can combat that.
"I think the game plan and the way we play will challenge them, we just need to be up for the physical battle."
2013: Bulls won 28-21, Auckland
2012: Blues won 29-23, Pretoria
2010: Blues won 32-17, Auckland
2009: Bulls won 59-26, Pretoria
2008: Blues won 23-21, Auckland
2007: Bulls won 40-19, Pretoria
Prediction: The bookmakers suggest there will be just one score between the teams in the end and they may well be right. It is going to be a close affair and if the Bulls reproduce that tactical masterpiece that upstaged the Lions last week the men from Pretoria will again be on the winning side - by about five points.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe (captain), 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Chris Noakes, 23 Pita Ahki.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Sharks v Lions
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The Lions can make a big statement to their detractors this week, as they look to leap-frog the Sharks on the South African Conference standings.
The Sharks, despite their bye last week, remained the conference pace-setters courtesy of the Bulls' win over the Lions.
The men from Durban have looked the most settled and organised unit in the competition, which may have something to di with the arrival of Jake White as a Director of Coaching,
They even managed to score a four-try bonus point against the Bulls in the humidity last month.
However, the Lions feel they also have the game to cope with the additional moist that will be around.
"We were [tactically] very good against the Stormers, which shows that we can do it [play a tactical game]," Lions coach Johan Ackermann told this website.
"Our attitude last week was perhaps not attuned to it [wet conditions]," he said of the Lions' loss to the Bulls.
"This week we know that we are playing in a city with high humidity and testing conditions.
"We must have the ability to play both [types of games] - we must run when it is on and we must be tactically better when it is required of us."
The Lions received high praise from the Sharks' 2007 World Cup winner Frans Steyn.
"The Lions have been playing really well and I'm happy for them," the Springbok centre said.
"They've been through a tough time last year when they weren't playing, but we're looking forward to playing them."
However, it is the influence of White that keeps pooping up.
"Everybody knows what a good coach Jake is, he has a proven record with the South African Under-21 team, the Springboks and Brumbies," Steyn said.
"He's been doing well and we've won our first two games with him, we're all looking forward to the season ahead."
2012: Lions won 38-28, Johannesburg
2012: Sharks won 32-20, Durban
2011: Sharks and Lions drew 30-30, Johannesburg
2011: Sharks won 27-3, Durban
2010: Sharks won 32-28, Johannesburg
2009: Sharks won 25-10, Durban
Prediction: The romantics will want the underdog (Lions) to win, but the reality is that the Sharks have too much class all over the park and should win by at least 10 points.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 S'bura Sithole.
Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Chrysander Botha, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Jacobus Jonker, 23 Coenie van Wyk.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)