S15 Preview: Round 19, Part Two
Jan de Koning looks at Saturday's action in Super Rugby's final round of league action before the play-offs commence.
Derby day. Super Saturday. These are just two of the cliches that perfectly describe the drama that awaits us as Super Rugby's league phases draws to a dramatic conclusion.
In the wake of Friday's shoot-outs, Saturday will have four derbies - one in New Zealand and Australia each, with two all-South African encounters.
It all starts when the Crusaders and Highlanders go head-to-head in Christchurch in one of the day's must-win encounters.
The match between the Reds and Waratahs is a stark contrast - the Tahs having already secured first place on the standings and the Reds out of the running. There is still pride and Aussie bragging rights at stake.
The Lions and Cheetahs, who meet Johannesburg, are also both out of the running, but could still produce one of the weekend's most entertaining matches.
It all comes down to a boil when the Stormers host Sharks in Cape Town in the final league match of the competition - the Sharks facing the prospect of having to secure a bonus-point win and beat the Stormers by nine points more than what the Crusaders' winning margin in Christchurch was (if the latter won).
Spare a thought for the fifth-placed Hurricanes, who have a bye this week and can only sit and watch the drama unfold - hoping for a few favourable results that will see them slip in the back door of he play-offs.
Jan de Koning looks at Saturday's action!
Saturday, July 12
Crusaders v Highlanders
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 17.35; 7.35 GMT)
Strap yourself in, as this could be a wild ride.
The Crusaders, currently in second place, have already qualified for the play-offs. However, they need the win, probably with a bonus point, to ensure they have direct passage into the semifinals and enjoy a bye next week.
However, the Highlanders need a comprehensive win over the Crusaders to secure the New Zealand conference trophy and a home play-off match. In short, the Highlanders need to earn five competition points and deny the Crusaders any points.
If the Crusaders and Highlanders are tied on points on the leaderboard, the Crusaders will go ahead because they will have won more matches.
If the Highlanders are to advance directly to the semifinals they will need to secure the five competition points against the Crusaders and then hope the Stormers stop the Sharks from earning any points. A tie with the Sharks would see the South African side go ahead because they've won more games.
While bonus points will play a crucial role this weekend, the Crusaders have made it clear they need to get the win first and only then worry about the extras.
The Crusaders know their destiny is in their own hands.
"We are not looking too far ahead, we are just looking at this one game,'' Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told the Christchurch-based The Press newspaper.
"We have been guilty of doing that in the past and that is why we are talking about the performance and wanting to be better than last week.
"If we do that [win first] then it will take care of all the other things that are going on in the background.''
2014: Crusaders won 32-30, Dunedin
2013: Crusaders won 40-12, Dunedin
2013: Crusaders won 24-8, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 51-18, Christchurch
2012: Highlanders won 27-24, Dunedin
2011: Highlanders won 26-18, Nelson
2011: Crusaders won 44-13, Dunedin
Prediction: The Crusaders have shipped fewer penalties (9.3) per game than any other team. The Highlanders have attempted more tackles per game than any other side, thus spending the least amount of time in occupancy of the ball; just 13 minutes and 46 seconds on average. The Highlanders have induced the lowest tackling success rate (82 percent) from their opponents in the competition. The loss of star fullback Ben Smith - the competition's top metre-maker - is a huge blow. The Crusaders' Fijian import Nemani Nadolo has made 23 breaks and scored nine tries this season. Only Israel Folau (25 breaks and 12 tries) has bettered him in these facets. Malakai Fekitoa has beaten more defenders (55) than anybody else this year. The Crusaders, who have reached the play-offs for the last 12 consecutive years - will sneak a win by less than 10 points.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Johnny McNicholl.
Highlanders: 15 Trent Renata, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 JP Koen, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)
Reds v Waratahs
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
The rivalry between the Queensland and New South Wales states is the oldest in Australia, with their first-ever match occurring in 1882.
Saturday's game is the 304th time the Reds (or Queensland) and Waratahs (New South Wales) have squared off.
NSW have won 187 and Queensland 98, with 18 games being drawn.
Since the inception of Super Rugby in 1996, the sides have met 21 times. In that time, Queensland have won 13, lost seven and drawn one.
For the Waratahs this dead rubber is all about putting systems in place ahead of the semifinals.
However, they have to do it without star fullback Israel Folau and coach Michael Cheika conceded the Waratahs would miss the code-hopping superstar.
Despite the loss of Folau, Cheika said they wouldn't stray from their successful attacking gameplan.
"Of course you lose a lot of attacking prowess, a lot of security under the high ball as well, and a strong defensive man," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"I know there's a lot of talk about winning and losing when Izzy's playing and not playing, but I think we've lost just as many games when he's playing as when he's not playing.
"Even though he's a very strong influence - I'm not going to pretend that he's not - we're comfortable to play when he's not playing the same style as we do normally.
"Rugby's a game of 15 men."
The Waratahs have, in fact, lost two out three games without Folau this season and only two out of 11 when the dual international has been on deck.
2014: Waratahs won 32-5, Sydney
2013: Reds won 14-12, Sydney
2013: Reds won 25-17, Brisbane
2012: Reds won 32-16, Brisbane
2012: Reds won 25-21, Sydney
2011: Reds won 19-15, Brisbane
2011: Waratahs won 30-6, Sydney
Prediction: The Waratahs lead the way in a number of stat categories; points, points conceded (fewest), tries, carries, metres, breaks, offloads and passes, while they opt to kick the ball out of hand the least often (16.3 per game). Meanwhile, opponents of the Reds have made more metres (483), offloads (13.1) and clean breaks (eight) per game than against any other side. Kurtley Beale has made at least 29 more carries than any other player (206) heading into the final weekend. The Reds have scored more tries that originated from line-outs than any other side this season. The Waratahs have scored 15 tries from possessions that have started within their own half, only the Hurricanes (17) have produced more. The Reds have conceded the most from possessions that started in the opposition half (18). The Waratahs, despite the absence of Israel Folau look to have too much fire power for the Reds and should win by 10 to 15 points.
Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Scott Gale, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Albert Anae, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Sam Johnson, 22 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Waratahs: 15 Cam Crawford, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Stephen Hoiles , 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Michael Ala'alatoa, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Pat McCutcheon , 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Jono Lance, 24 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Matt O'Brien (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Lions v Cheetahs
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Don't dare tell either of these teams there is nothing at stake. They will bark back that they are playing for a lot more than just pride - even if they are both out of the running.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann repeatedly spoke of the pride he has in the growth his team showed and said a win will put a cherry on top of a successful return to Super Rugby - after being unceremoniously and controversially dumped by the South African Rugby Union last year.
"It is very important that we play great rugby and end the season on a high on our home ground," Ackermann said of what has been the Lions' most successful campaign (six wins) since their split from the Cheetahs almost a decade ago.
"Regardless of what happens this weekend, we are very proud of how the guys grew as a team and pulled together as a team through some tough times," Ackermann told rugby365.
"We have a group of players who were prepared o work hard. When individuals show this much growth and take their chances you can only be proud of them.
"There were a few games where we could so easily have won and that would have made it a great season."
The Lions mentor said no team will ever be happy when they are 13th on the standings, but he is happy with the growth shown by the group.
"The Chiefs and Blues [currently eighth] have seven wins and we have six victories. The difference is the bonus points. The Bulls [in 10th place] have the same number of wins that we have, but are well ahead because of bonus points [seven to two]."
The Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs arrive in Johannesburg on the back of their impressive victory over the Sharks at home last weekend and will take much confidence from their performance in the hope of ending their campaign on a high note.
Coach Naka Drotské said he was determined to improve his side's discipline this week.
"There were a lot of penalties in the match against the Sharks, especially in the first 40 minutes, and we put ourselves under a lot of pressure because of it," Drotské said.
"Good discipline is something we pride ourselves on and we have to be better at it against the Lions."
2014: Lions won 21-20, Bloemfontein
2012: Cheetahs won 26-5, Welkom
2012: Lions won 27-25, Johannesburg
2011: Cheetahs won 53-19, Johannesburg
2011: Lions won 25-20, Bloemfontein
2010: Cheetahs won 59-10, Welkom
Prediction: There are two aspects of the Lions' - goal-kicking (84 percent success rate) and scrum (91 percent) that sets them apart. The Cheetahs' ruck success rate (91 percent) is the worst in the competition; they have won the fewest and lost the most. The Cheetahs have shipped more points (31.1) and tries (3.4) per game than any other team. Marnitz Boshoff needs 11 points for 200 this year. His goal-kicking success rate of 87 percent is a joint-high amongst players to notch 20+ successful goals. Thirty-seven percent of the Lions' points have come in the final quarter of games. They have scored 113 of 307 points after the hour-mark. This is a tough one to call, but we'll go for a home win, the Lions by less than 10 points, and then just sit back and enjoy the fun.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Courtnall Skosan.
Cheetahs (revised): 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Stevens, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Jaco van Heerden
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
Stormers v Sharks
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The goal is simple and clear, the road there is fraught with pitfalls.
The Sharks are targeting second place on the Super Rugby standings in order to get a bye in the first round of play-offs and then have home ground advantage in the semifinals.
Already confirmed as the South African Conference winners, the Sharks needs to get a bonus-point win against a Stormers team that seems to have their number.
By the time they take to the field, Jake White's team will know exactly what is required if they are to claim that desired second place.
No doubt the Sharks face an uphill task against a Stormers team that has made winning derbies at home a habit. They have won their last seven appearances at Newlands and have lost only once there since 2011.
However, the Stormers' last home defeat against a South African team was in the semifinal of the 2012 season, when the Sharks travelled back from their qualifying win in Brisbane to upset the log-leaders in Cape Town.
That was one of only three home defeats in South African derbies for the Stormers going back 20 matches to the start of the 2009 season.
The Stormers are on a hot streak at present, after four victories in succession - including an away win over the selfsame Sharks at the end of May - and having not tasted defeat since May 10.
However, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has warned against any form of complacency on Saturday as the Sharks will have a lot to play for.
"We need to focus on ourselves, and not [on] the Sharks," Coetzee said.
"The important thing for us is to pitch up like we have the past few weeks - like we did against the Bulls [last week] - and to show that same kind of intensity.
"Like I said at the start of last week, these last two games are very important for us - but this last one is probably the most important one because that is where you leave your last impressions.
"We definitely would like to end the 2014 season on a high. If we don't get the result it will be a bit of a setback [for us]."
Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White said the Stormers, with nothing to gain or lose, will have a lot of freedom.
"At the beginning of the year, people said the Stormers and the Sharks had amongst the two strongest squads in the competition, and that hasn't changed," White said.
"It doesn't matter what they say about the injuries, they still have a great squad and they always had the worst draw in their eyes.
"We always knew at the back end of the competition they were going to be a threat and that's exactly what's happened."
2014: Stormers won 21-19, Durban
2013: Stormers won 22-15, Cape Town
2013: Sharks won 12-6, Durban
2012: Sharks won 26-19, Cape Town (semifinal)
2012: Sharks won 25-20, Durban
2012: Stormers won 15-12, Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 32-12, Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 16-6, Durban
Prediction: The Stormers have scored fewer points per game (18.7) than any other side, while the Sharks have averaged the fewest conceded (18.9). The Stormers have the lowest line-out success rate (77 percent) in Super Rugby. Despite the Sharks producing more kicks from hand (31.1) per game than any other side, they have also produced the most turnovers (17.1). Opponents of the Sharks also produce more kicks from hand (31.1) than against any other team. The Sharks' try tally (26) is the second lowest in the competition this year. Fear of failure may well be the Sharks' biggest enemy. If they play to their potential they should win by 10 points or more.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger (captain), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sibusiso Sithole , 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)