SR Preview: Round Nine, Part Two
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: Closing out games has become a popular catchphrase for coaches.
It is because the final quarter of games that have proven to be the most fruitful for teams looking to pile on the points - either to shut out the opposition or catch up when they are behind.
Nearly 30 percent of all points scored this season have been scored after the 60-minute mark, three percentage points more than any other quarter.
The South African contingent have been the main proponents of this scoring trait towards the latter point in the game, with their six sides scoring 31 percent of their total tries in the final quarter of games.
Interestingly the Australian and New Zealand teams have needed some time to warm up.
They've scored 20 percent and 21 percent of their tries respectively in the opening quarter of games this season, notably less than the South African and Argentine/Japanese groups (both 24 percent).
The Bulls (47 percent) have scored nearly half of their total tries in the final quarter of games this campaign, significantly more than any other team in the competition, while the Lions and Sunwolves (both 39 percent) rank in at equal second in that category.
In Part Two of the preview we look at all the Saturday matches!
Saturday, April 22:
Highlanders v Sunwolves
(Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill - Kick-off: 17.15; 14.15 Japan Time; 05.15 GMT)
Tony Brown is one of several coaches who will move on at the conclusion of the Super Rugby season.
He will link up with Japan head coach and his predecessor at the Highlanders, Jamie Joseph, at the end of the season to assist with the Cherry Blossoms.
Just as it has done at the Chiefs (Dave Rennie has signed with the Glasgow Warriors) and Lions (Johan Ackermann is moving to Gloucester) the initial media hype appears to have died down.
Brown feels he is now able to focus on what his side needs to do to get a win against the Sunwolves in Invercargill on Saturday.
''For me I'm just 100 percent committed to make sure the Highlanders perform as well as they can against a pretty good Sunwolves team,'' Brown told the Otago Daily Times.
His team will certainly go into the game as overwhelming favourites.
In two games so far against New Zealand sides, the Sunwolves have conceded 135 points.
However, Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler said they will not underestimate the visitors, because no games in Super rugby are easy.
"I think the Sunwolves, what they have shown over the last few weeks, is they are a team that is improving," Wheeler told the Otago Daily Times.
"They tested the Crusaders in a few areas and if we let them play to their strengths then they can be dangerous like any team in this competition.''
Wheeler spent a year playing in Japan for the Suntory side and know what to expect.
"They play a similar brand. They like to play unstructured and throw the ball around. It is different to us - they are really good tacklers, they chop you round the ankles and bring a lot of line speed."
These teams have never met before.
Prediction: This will be the first meeting between these sides in Super Rugby; the Sunwolves have lost both previous games against New Zealand opposition. The Sunwolves' two previous games against New Zealand sides saw them concede 133 points in total and score just 20 in return. The Japanese side are yet to win away from home in Super Rugby, losing their previous 10 such matches by an average margin of 30 points. The Highlanders have won 11 of their last 12 home games against teams from outside New Zealand, with their only defeat in that run coming by a single point exactly a year ago (v Sharks). Four of the Highlanders' last six games have seen the defeated team come away with a losing bonus point. Both these sides have scored just three tries in the opening quarter of their games so far this season, no side has scored fewer in that period (Brumbies & Rebels also three). The Highlanders have recorded the best scrum success this season (98 percent), losing just one scrum on their own feed in 2017. The Sunwolves have averaged just 14 minutes 20 seconds in possession per game so far this season, lower than any other side. Kenki Fukuoka has scored four tries in his last five games, with three of those scores coming away from home. Marty Banks has landed all 19 of his kicks at goal this season, no other player has attempted more than 10 without missing at least one. The Sunwolves can't seem to cope with the pace and intensity of New Zealand sides. On top of that they will experience the testing climate of the deep south for the first time. The Highlanders will win by at least 35 points.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Sio Tomkinson.
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 William Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Yuhimaru Mimura, 6 Edward Quirk (captain), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Hayden Cripss, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Crusaders v Stormers
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 09.35 SA Time; 07.45 GMT)
The Crusaders' toughest opposition to date has been fellow New Zealanders, the Highlanders, who were beaten 30-27 with two late tries - after the Christchurch-based side had trailed 6-27 at one point.
Although the Stormers arrived in New Zealand off the back of a 16-29 defeat to the Africa Two conference leaders the Lions, their sole loss of the year, coach Robbie Fleck said they have already put that behind them.
"Every week we start from scratch, that is what we have been good at this year," Fleck said.
"Whether it is a win or a loss we have got to come back and work hard all over again," he added.
Crusaders' strength revolves around star lock Sam Whitelock - who this week signed on for another three years - and their All Blacks-laden pack.
Stormers assistant coach, New Zealander Paul Feeney, acknowledged it will take a big effort to contain them.
"They are very good at set-piece, very physical, very organised," Feeney said.
"It is the best forward pack going around in Super Rugby, it's as simple as that."
The Crusaders have never lost to the Stormers at home, although a quirk of the Super Rugby system means the two sides have not played each other since Tom Taylor kicked the Crusaders home 14-13 in Christchurch three years ago.
Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth takes over the Stormers captaincy from Siya Kolisi - who stayed behind in Cape Town for a few days - before joining his teammates towards the end of the week.
It is the first of three tour matches in New Zealand for the Stormers and Kolisi will be available to play next wee.
2014: Crusaders won 14-13, Christchurch
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
Prediction: The Crusaders are the only unbeaten team in Super Rugby this season after the Stormers' 100 percent winning run ended against the Lions in the last round. The Crusaders have won 13 of the last 15 meetings between these sides, including the last five in a row. The Stormers have never won away to the Crusaders; they drew their first such meeting in 1996 and have lost all nine since. The Crusaders' last three home games against the Stormers have all been won by seven points or fewer. The Christchurch-based side have won 37 of their last 38 home games against South African opposition, with the Sharks' five-point victory in May 2014 being the only negative result during that run. This will be the Crusaders' first game against South African opposition this year; they lost their last such game (v Lions, July 2016) but have not lost consecutive matches against South African sides since losing three on the bounce in 2010. The Crusaders are the only side yet to concede a try in the final 20 minutes of a game this season, while only the Lions and Hurricanes (both 12) have scored more in that period than the Crusaders (11). Only the Hurricanes (24) have scored more first half tries this season than the Stormers (17). Crusaders' Manasa Mataele made five clean breaks last weekend, no player made more in Round Eight. SP Marais has assisted six tries this season, the third-most of any player behind Beauden Barrett and Joe Powell (both seven), and the most of any non-halfback. It will be a testing three weeks for the Stormers in New Zealand and it is likely to start with a loss. The Crusaders by 12 points.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Western Force v Chiefs
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 17.45; 21.45 NZ Time; 09.45 GMT)
The Western Force have gone on a massive publicity drive to get spectators to the game in the hope that they can prove to the Australian Rugby Union they need to stay in Super Rugby.
Force coach Dave Wessels said they also need to show up and perform on the field, as that is where they can make their biggest statement.
"We feel like we're making good progress as a team and to be able to test ourselves against the Chiefs, who have been one of the standout teams in Super Rugby for a few years now is exciting," the Force's South African coach said.
"We want to see as many people out at the ground as possible for what should be a really exciting game."
In form Force prop Ben Daley also spoke of the need to make a statement - both on and off the field - the ARU.
He admitted that because the Chiefs never let up, even when they are behind - like last week when they came from being 0-24 down against the Cheetahs - the home team will have to put in a massive effort for the full 80 minutes.
"We have to make sure we start well," Daley said.
"They [the Chiefs] are also coming back from a two-week tour of South Africa and we need to make sure we put the m in the 'hurt' locker."
2016: Chiefs won 53-10, Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 35-27, Hamilton
2014: Force won 18-15, Perth
2013: Chiefs won 22-21, Pukekohe
2012: Chiefs won 20-12, Perth
Prediction: The Chiefs have won eight of the 10 meetings between these sides, however the Force won the last time they hosted the Chiefs. The Force have won their last two home games, the first time they've won consecutive matches in Perth since winning five on the bounce in 2014, a streak that included victory over the Chiefs. The Chiefs have won four of their last five games away to Australian sides, each by margins of 12+ points, this after losing four in a row in Australia before that. The Chiefs have recorded the best line-out success rate of any team this season (94 percent), losing just five of their 82 throws. Damian McKenzie has gained more metres than any other player this season (673) and is one of just two players to make 100+ carries (110, Samu Kerevi – 101). The Force will be competitive for the first half, but after the break the Chiefs should ease clear and win by 15 points.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Curtis Rona, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Luke Burton, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Isi Naisarani, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Lewis Carmichael, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois Van Wyk, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Onehunga Havilli, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Alex Newsome.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Toni Pulu.
Referee: Nicholas Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Bulls v Cheetahs
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
Any hope that the Bulls would bring some continuity and momentum into this game was dealt cruel blow when Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard injured his ankle at training on Thursday.
Pollard will be sidelined for about 10 weeks.
Both coaches spoke of the importance of winning - as they sit outside the top 10 (the Bills 11th on 10 points and the Cheetahs 14th on nine points) with just two wins each.
One of the Cheetahs' victories were over the Bulls in Round Tow.
"It is a very, very important match for us," Bulls coach Nollis Marais said.
"We need to keep on building from last weekend, not only on improving on the good things we did, but also to make sure that winning feeling becomes an addictive one.
"We need to prove that the win over the Jaguares was the tipping point for us.
"We always believed we were a better team than the results showed, but we now have another opportunity to go out and prove it."
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith said he expects a "very physical" encounter with the Bulls - who have "big players" and a host of Springboks.
"They are very motivated at the moment [after a poor start to the season]," Smith said, adding: "The set pieces will be crucial.
"The Bulls have the tallest line-out players [in the competition]. Their scrum is also solid.
"We saw how the media wrote about the performance of [Springbok prop] Trevor [Nyakane].
"The other key is for us to match their physicality.
"They are a team that carries the ball towards you and dominate you physically, so we will have to be at our best in that aspect."
Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss is also not expecting any favours from the Cheetahs, whom he represented 97 times in Super Rugby.
"This will be a massive game," Strauss said.
"They have the belief that they can beat us and to be honest, have the players to do that if we don't pitch.
"Any South African derby match is huge, and I know how much it means for them to beat the Bulls."
2017: Cheetahs won 34-28, Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 43-17, Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 23-18, Pretoria
2015: Cheetahs won 42-29, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 39-20, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Cheetahs won the last meeting between these sides but have never won back-to-back matches against the Pretoria side. The Bulls have won seven of their last eight at home to the Cheetahs, although five of those seven victories came by single figure margins. The Cheetahs have lost their last nine away games, including their last five away to South African opposition. The Cheetahs have averaged more carries per game than any other side this season (130) and have kicked from hand less often than any other team (15.3 per game). Bulls' pair Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismaiel have played every minute for their side this season, no other side has more than two players to play every possible minute this season. In Pretoria the smart money will be on the Bulls, but it is unlikely to be by more than seven points.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Marnus Schoeman/Jacques Potgieter, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Franco Naude.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Uzair Cassiem, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Sharks v Rebels
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 19.30; 17.30 GMT; 03.30 AUS Time Sunday, April 23)
Two teams coming off impressive wins.
The difference is that the Sharks had a bye since they beat the Jaguares, while the Rebels had to travel 16,000 kilometres over the Indian Ocean since their win over the Brumbies last week.
Sharks lock Etienne Oosthuizen, who knows what to expect from the visitors from his time with the Brumbies, cautioned his teammates that the Australian outfit are much better than what their record of just one win in six starts suggest.
He admitted that after the physical, confrontational match against the Jaguares a fortnight ago, they expect something different from the Rebels.
"They are typical of Australian sides in that they like to throw the ball around, so our challenge will be to stop their momentum and also to play to our game," Oosthuizen said.
That doesn't make them any less dangerous and despite sitting bottom of the log, they beat the Brumbies - who were top of the log.
"It is really down to what happens on the day," the lock said, adding: "One team was probably more up for it on the day, and the two teams have quite a rivalry going, matches between them are always quite tough.
"The Brumbies have struggled against the Rebels in the past, so this was nothing new and not totally unexpected."
Rebels centre Tom English believes last week's win in the dying minutes against the Brumbies has given the Rebels plenty of confidence for their trip to South Africa.
However, the Sharks pose a serious threat - especially as they are notoriously physical.
"We need to look to tick the scoreboard over at every opportunity we get," English said in Durban.
"South Africans are generally good kickers and they're going to take those penalties and before you know it they're nine points ahead so for us it's taking those opportunities.
"We saw what our set piece can do on the weekend with that scrum in the last minutes of the game so we need to back our set piece, the South Africans pride themselves on that so it will be a good challenge up front."
2015: Sharks won 25-21, Durban
2014: Sharks won 22-16, Melbourne
2013: Sharks won 64-7, Durban
2011: Sharks won 34-32, Melbourne
Prediction: The Sharks have won all four previous meetings between these sides, with their 57 point win (64-7) against the Rebels in March 2013 representing their biggest Super Rugby victory. The Sharks have won their last seven home games, their best run since winning eight on the bounce from 2013 to 2014. The Rebels have won just twice outside of Australia (L25), and have not won in South Africa in 11 attempts. The Sharks have conceded just two tries in the opening quarter of games so far this season, no side has conceded fewer, while the Rebels have scored the joint-fewest in that period (3). Ruan Botha has won 37 line-outs this season (including steals), more than any other player and 16 more than the Rebels' top line-out winner Steven Cummins (21). The Rebels seldom travel well and the Sharks have had a break. We feel the Sharks should win by 12 points.
Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Lubabalo Mtembu (captain), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (captain), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Will Miller, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Siliva Siliva, 1 Fereti Sa'aga.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Tom Moloney, 19 Esei Haangana, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Ben Volavola.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports