S15 Preview: Round 11, Part Two
In a weekend packed with drama and key matches, Super Rugby's Round 11 will conclude with a basement battle.
In a weekend packed with drama and key matches, Super Rugby's Round 11 will conclude with a basement battle.
However, the fact that the two teams in the 14th and 15th positions on the standings meet in the final encounter of the weekend will not detract from what promises to be an intriguing Saturday.
Day Two of the weekend stars with the trans-Tasman encounter between the vastly improved Hurricanes and the struggling Reds - a game in itself filled with liberal servings of machinating.
Then we head to Perth for an almost all-South African derby. Yes, the Western Force may be an Australian franchise, but the high number of imports from the Republic has prompted Bulls coach Frans Ludeke to label them an Aussie team playing like a SA side.
Then finally we head across the Indian Ocean for the only real derby of the day - the bottom-placed Cheetahs hosting the Stormers (14th on the standings) in Bloemfontein.
Jan de Koning looks at Saturday's matches!
Saturday, April 26
Hurricanes v Reds
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT; 17.35 AEST)
The Hurricanes are determined continue their impressive mid-season form and record their fourth successive win against an erratic Reds team.
Coming off a 39-20 victory over the Blues last Friday, the Hurricanes are confident of taking the points off a Reds team currently struggling in a lowly fourth on the Australian conference table and 12th overall.
The Hurricanes have shown adaptability and commitment to win under pressure.
They beat the Crusaders 29-26, the Bulls 25-20 and then pulled clear of the Blues in the second half to win by the margin of five tries to two.
In contrast, the Reds enter this contest having lost three of their past four matches.
After losing to the Lions in Johannesburg (20-33), they returned home to defeat the lowly Stormers in Brisbane (22-17), but then lost to the Force in Perth (29-32) and to the Brumbies at home (20-33).
Another loss against the Hurricanes would make the Reds' quest of reaching the play-offs for a fourth successive year a really tall order.
Reds head coach Richard Graham, well aware of his own team's limitations, admitted the Australian outfit is with its collective backs to the wall.
"The squad has a clear picture of where we sit and we understand that it will take a collective effort to get the results we need in New Zealand," Graham said.
"The Hurricanes are in good form.
"The game will be high paced and we'll need to manage it well to get the right outcome.
"All of the squad will have a responsibility to that end."
The Hurricanes may be on a hot streak, but All Black prop Ben Franks warned them to stay grounded or run the risk of their season imploding.
Franks,, back in the starting side after having recovered from a groin injury, warned that the recent three-match winning streak could turn out to be just another "false dawn" if the Canes don't remain focussed.
"When you are winning everyone is getting the pats on the back and as you can see it feels good turning up to training," Franks told Fairfax NZ News.
"When you lose then you have to have a good hard look at yourself and see what's not quite going right and that's sport. It's an easy job when you win.
"We have to work as hard as when we weren't quite winning. It's easy if you are mentally weak to switch off and think, 'things are great now', and it takes a kick up the arse for things to go back to normal."
The points table remains tight and there are still eight regular season matches to play and a maximum of 40 competition points still up for grabs for both the Hurricanes and the Reds.
Heading into this weekend, just nine points separate the second placed Brumbies (25 points) and 13th placed Rebels (16).
Two key areas that could decide the outcome of this encounter is the battle of the breakdown and the clash of the halfback combinations - TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett for the Hurricanes, and Will Genia and Quade Cooper for the Reds.
2013: Reds won 18-12, Brisbane
2011: Hurricanes won 28-26, Wellington
2010: Hurricanes won 44-21, Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 37-28, Brisbane
2008: Hurricanes won 23-18, Wellington
2007: Reds won 25-16, Brisbane
Prediction: The Hurricanes and the Reds have met on seven previous occasions in Wellington. The Hurricanes have won five of those matches and the Reds two. The Hurricanes have won the last five matches at home while, the Reds have not won in the capital since 1998. The Canes have scored more points (29) and tries (3.3) per game than any other side this season. The New Zealand outfit also top the charts for carries, metres, breaks, defenders beaten, time in possession and passes. The Reds have conceded more penalty goals per game (3.5) than any other side this season. Home ground advantage and the Reds' shocking disciplinary record this season makes the Hurricanes favourites to win - but only by five to 10 points.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga'a, 23 Rod Davies.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Western Force v Bulls
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 17.40; 09.40 GMT, 11.40 SA time)
It is a game of contrasts - the Western Force aiming for a franchise record-equalling fourth straight home win and the Bulls chasing their first Australasian win of the season.
The Force - who have already beaten the Rebels, Chiefs and Waratahs in Perth this season - last have four in a row at home was in 2007.
No South African side has won overseas yet, so this will be an ideal time for the men from Pretoria to make a statement as they aim to keep their play-off hopes alive.
The Bulls will know about home ground advantage, given that they achieved three wins and a drawn in their four appearance at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria this season.
Force coach Michael Foley said his side is looking forward returning home.
"In the last three weeks the boys have tackled one of the toughest sections of the season - three consecutive derbies, with travel across the country for each match . It was a significant challenge," he said.
"While we were disappointed in aspects of our game [in the loss] against the Rebels [last week], the win against the Reds away and our first ever win against the Waratahs at home were great signs of the progress the boys have made.
"This weekend marks the first of four consecutive games against South African opponents who present a different type of challenge to Australian and New Zealand teams.
"South African sides use their set piece and kicking games as weapons and we will need to perform well in both these areas to achieve success in the next month."
World Cup-winning Springbok lock Victor Matfield, who will captain the Bulls in the absence of suspended skipper Flip van der Merwe, said the men from Pretoria are definitely still in contention for the play-offs - despite being winless on their Australasian trip so far.
He felt that they only need to change "small things" to get their campaign back on track.
"If you look at the games on tour, we could have won the all three," he said of the defeats to the Hurricanes (20-25), Highlanders (20-27) and Waratahs (12-19).
"We got a bonus point in each of those games, which could be vital at the end of the season."
He felt that if they make better decisions and are more accurate they can get that elusive win before returning home next week.
"There is no magic potion," the 36-year-old Matfield said in a teleconference call from Perth.
"We must stay positive and stay focussed, then we could get the win at the weekend.
"Yes, there is a lot of pressure on the team, but if you want to be one of the top teams you have to be able to handle the pressure."
2013: Bulls won 36-26, Pretoria
2011: Force won 26-21, Perth
2010: Bulls won 28-15, Perth
2009: Bulls won 32-29, Pretoria
2008: Force won 15-14, Perth
2007: Force won 30-27, Pretoria
Prediction: The Force have conceded fewer turnovers (12.5) per match than any other side this year. The Bulls have averaged the lowest gain (327 metres) per game in the competition this season. However, the Perth side has conceded more carries (130) per game than any other team. The Bulls have scored one and conceded seven tries in the opening quarter of games this year. The Bulls are one of only two sides to score a try from a possession which originated with a scrum steal. The Force have scored more tries (nine) than any other side when it comes to possessions that originated within their own half. You get the feeling it is just a matter of time before those passes start sticking for the Bulls and they make their set-piece dominance count. If that happens the Force could be in trouble. The Bulls to win by about 10 points.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Adam Coleman, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Chris Tuatara-Morrison.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johannes Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Jacques Engelbrecht, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Morné Mellet.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia) , Matt O'Brien (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Cheetahs v Stormers
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
This is truly a basement battle - the team in the last position on the standings host the team just above them.
However, the potential for it being one of the most entertaining games of the weekend is there.
We saw how good the Stormers can be when they play with freedom, as they did in the first half of their win over the Lions last week.
And the Cheetahs have, in small patches, showed some of the sublime touches that last year took them to the play-offs.
If the two teams can ignore the desperate desire for a win that could help them avoid finishing last, they could end the weekend on a thrilling note.
However, Stormer coach Allister Coetzee suggested the 'fear of failure' may still play a role.
"Local derbies are completely different," Coetzee told a media briefing in Cape Town.
he added that the two teams' positions on the standings are no indication of their potential.
"The Cheetahs are at home, they have got a fantastic set-piece and they have got a great driving maul," the Stormers coach said.
"They have got a stable team, the continuity is there and on the day they can beat any team.
"We know what is coming our way. As much as teams have scored against them, I think those tries only come from turnover possession and I am sure they have been looking at themselves also and backing them to keep the ball in hand."
Coetzee felt that the Cheetahs will not repeat their conservative tactics that kept them in the game for long periods against the table-topping Sharks last week.
"If we come with a wall of defence, they are going to try and go over us or around us, that is what we are expecting," the Stormers mentor added.
2013: Stormers won 28-3, Cape Town
2013: Cheetahs won 26-24, Bloemfontein
2012: Stormers won 13-6, Bloemfontein
2012: Stormers won 16-14, Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 44-34, Bloemfontein
2011: Stormers won 21-15, Cape Town
Prediction: The Cheetahs have missed the most tackles this season, on average they slip off 21.4 attempts per game. The Cheetahs have the lowest ruck success rate in Super Rugby (90 percent) and have averaged less time in possession (14 minutes per game) than any other team. The Stormers have averaged fewer points (15.4) than any other side this year, but the Cheetahs have averaged the most shipped (35.8). Only the Brumbies (eight) have scored more tries in the opening 20 minutes of matches than the Cheetahs (seven) this season, while the Stormers have scored the joint-fewest (one). The Cheetahs have conceded at least five more tries (14) than any other side in the last quarter of games this year. The Cheetahs appear to lack the confidence they need to really close out games, while the Stormers - doing what comes naturally to them - will resort to defence to sneak another win, by less than 10 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Johannes Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Walter Vermeulen, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Riaan Smith, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Devon Williams, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)