S15 Preview: Round 14, Part Two
It is indeed a weekend of the antithesis – the most out-of-form teams up against the tournament's pace-setters.
In the second part of our Round 14 preview we start with the bottom-placed Stormers host a Western Force team displaying their best form ever and sitting pretty in the play-off positions.
With their season lost the Stormers even had time for sentimentality – naming out-of-form utility back Peter Grant at flyhalf so he can run out for his 100th Super Rugby match at Newlands.
Many pundits are questioning the wisdom of axing young Kurt Coleman to 'celebrate' Grant's milestone.
Once we are done with the Newlands festivities we head to Bloemfontein where the Cheetahs (second from last on the standings) host the Brumbies (Australia's top franchise).
The we conclude the Round 14 fixtures in Sydney on Sunday, where the Waratahs host the Lions – a team that has never beaten them since the first expansion of Super Rugby almost a decade ago (2006), when the Cats split to become the Cheetahs and Lions.
The Waratahs (eighth place) and Lions (11th) may be a lot closer to each other on the standings, but their form is as contrasting as anything – the Lions without a win in eight weeks and the Waratahs boasting four victories in the same period.
Jan de Koning looks at the second half of the weekend's matches.
Saturday, May 17
Stormers v Western Force
(Newlands, Cape Town – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT; 23.05 AWST)
The Western Force, in a rare occurrence, will take to the Newlands turf as favourite – looking to record only their second win over the Stormers at the iconic venue.
The Force's only previous win at Newlands came in 2007.
In fact the Force's last win against the Stormers – home and away – was in 2010.
The Force, enjoying their best-ever season, lost just once in their last eight outings – a Round 10 reverse against the Rebels in Melbourne.
Injuries have ravaged the Stormers, but they still do have enough class across the park to ensure the Force are cautious not to fall into a complacency trap.
"There is still a fair bit of rugby to play and the closeness of the competition at the moment means that a couple of losses can put you out of the top six," Force captain Matt Hodgson told a media briefing at the team's base in Cape Town.
"This weekend against the Stormers is obviously a big one for us and can change that a fair bit.
"Lucky enough for us the season was broken into patches and we had goals set around that with winning in South Africa one of those to tick off and we have got a few [three] more [matches] to go before the June break," he added.
"I haven't watched too many of their games, but knowing the Stormers and having played against them a number of times it is surprising to see them down there [in last place on the standings]. But every game in this competition is a tough one and if you are not on your game you can easily fall away quite quickly."
The other feature of this match is the Force's South African contingent, four of whom will be involved in this game – former Stormers back Marcel Brache featuring on the right wing, former Cheetahs flyhalf Sias Ebersohn, Western Cape born-and-bred lock Wilhelm Steenkamp (his younger brother De Kock Steenkamp is currently injured but a regular member of the Stormers matchday squad) and former Sharks loose forwards Brynard Stander.
"They do add different skill-sets and a broader focus for our whole team," Hodgson said of the South African contingent's influence on the Pert team's success.
"I think Wilhelm has come in and shown us different techniques in the driving line-outs and how to defend them and stuff like that.
"Marcel [Brache] has come in and he is quite a skilful player himself, and the way he talks and loves rugby influences our young backline.
"So it is different elements they bring to us and we bring to them.
"It is a good combination we have got at the moment with influence from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia so there is not one focus that we grew up with it is all three that we have every day.
"There is no secret, it is hard work and belief in each other which has grown over the last few months. But adding those couple of players, it is pretty much their religion coming from South Africa, so instilling that in some young blokes in our side."
2012: Stormers won 17-3, Perth
2011: Stormers won 51-16, Cape Town
2010: Force won 16-15, Perth
2009: Stormers won 25-24, Cape Town
2008: Stormers won 32-16, Perth
2007: Force won 22-3, Cape Town
Prediction: The Stormers have notched up fewer points per game than any other side, possessing the worst goal-kicking success rate in the competition so far (67 percent). The Stormers' line-out success rate is the lowest in the comp (77 percent). Matt Hodgson is the top tackler in Super Rugby so far, having completed 162 of 175 attempted hits. He has made at least 36 more tackles than anybody else. Only the Sharks (15) have conceded fewer tries than the Force (18) so far. Improved defence has been a key to teams'' successes for many, many years and that is the difference between these two sides – the Stormers are no longer a defensive menace and the Force are. That is why we feel the Force will record a rare win at Newlands – by 10 to 15 points.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger (captain), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Dylon Frylinck, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Michael van der Spuy.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes, 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 Patrick Dellit.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Cheetahs v Brumbies
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT; 03.10, Sunday, May 18 AEST)
There is a good reason why the Brumbies are in the play-off zone and the Cheetahs are keeping the Stormers company at the other end of the standings.
They play low-risk game in which territory is vital, while they also work hard at dominating the set pieces and breakdown.
Add to that their very effective kicking gamer – if it does become overbearing as last week's 80-odd kicks in the encounter with the Sharks did – and the Brumbies become a tough team to beat.
The Cheetahs, in contrast, is a team that reverted to their high-risk attacking approach – with defence no longer at a premium.
They may entertain and produce some spectacular tries, but the wins are few and far between – in fact just two in 12 starts this season.
Despite their poor record this season, Brumbies Director of Rugby Laurie Fisher feels the Cheetahs will still present his with a significant challenge.
"The Cheetahs are a side we haven't beaten in South Africa since 2009 and who always put in a strong performance against the Brumbies," Fisher said.
"We are focused on getting this tour off to a good start and claiming a win over the Cheetahs on the Highveld would certainly tick a few boxes," he added.
The Cheetahs, who this week again had to deal with reports that their Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen might head abroad, have become a soft touch for teams looking for bonus-point wins.
And, as coach Naka Drotské readily admits, this week they are up against a side on top of their game.
"The Brumbies are a quality side, they showed that [in a convincing win] against the Sharks last week," Drotské said.
"They don't have many weaknesses.
"Their pack is solid and their set-piece play is really good, while they play with lots of continuity, manage to get quick ball at the breakdown and have a good defence.
"The Brumbies are amongst the front runners in the competition for obvious reasons, but having said that, we will always give ourselves a chance in Bloemfontein and we know we can win here, even though it won't be easy.
"We need to cut out the soft moments, such as the two tries the Force scored against us [last week] when we had the ball.
"If you want to win at this level, you simply have to concentrate for the full 80 minutes."
2013: Brumbies won 15-13, Canberra (preliminary play-off match)
2012: Brumbies won 24-23, Canberra
2011: Cheetahs won 47-36, Bloemfontein
2010: Brumbies won 61-15, Canberra
2009: Brumbies won 40-27, Bloemfontein
2008: Brumbies won 29-23, Canberra
Prediction: The Brumbies have the best line-out (92 percent) but the worst scrum success rates (76 percent) in the competition. The Cheetahs have shipped more points (32.8) and tries (3.6) per game than any other side and have also averaged the most missed tackles (21.1). The Brumbies have won fewer turnovers per game (6.3) than any other side so far. The Brumbies have won five of the last six matches between the sides. This included a 61-15 win in 2010, their largest ever victory in the competition since 2006. As we said earlier, there are good reasons why the Brumbies are in the top three and the Cheetahs in the bottom two. The Cheetahs are likely to give the visitors a scare and even run in a few good tries, but the Brumbies have too much class and should win – by 10 points, or thereabouts.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Johannes Prinsloo, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Willem Serfontein, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Nicolaas van Dyk, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Waltie Vermeulen, 21 Renier Botha, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Riaan Smith.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Fotu Auelua, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Sunday, May 18
Waratahs v Lions
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney – Kick-off: 16.05; 06.05 GMT; 08.05 SAST)
The tournament's most erratic team against the competition's new darlings.
The Waratahs have a perfect win-lose-win-lose record since February – with a couple of byes thrown in for good measure.
Based on that form they should lose this week, except that they have a 100 percent home record.
The Lions, who haven't registered a 'W" since their fourth win back in March, will have to produce their best performance of the season if they are going to end their five-match losing streak.
As a franchise, ever since the split of the Cats after the 2005 season, the Lions have never beaten the Waratahs – in South Africa or abroad.
If the Lions do have an edge over the home team it will be in the scrums, where they have beaten allcomers this year and will be able to put the home team under pressure.
Despite their unbeaten home run this season and the Lions' recent slump, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika believes it won't be a walk in the park against a side that came within a point of beating the Highlanders – only to be denied by a direful refereeing error.
"They were unlucky not to get the points in Dunedin and their second half was full of running," Cheika said of a Lions team that came back from trailing 0-23 at half-time and score four second-half tries, only to lose 22-23 as a result of the match official's blunder.
"The Lions have been excellent in the scrum," the Tahs mentor said.
"They've pretty much dominated nearly every opposition that they've come up against, or they've had a really good contest with them, and it's going to be a big battle for our forwards out there."
2011: Waratahs won 29-12, Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 73-12, Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 38-33, Johannesburg
2008: Waratahs won 26-3, Sydney
2007: Waratahs won 25-16, Johannesburg
2006: Waratahs won 50-3, Sydney
Prediction: The Waratahs have averaged more offloads (13.1) and passes (162) per game than any other side this year. They have produced fewer kicks from hand per game than any other side (17.2). The Sydney-based side have also won more turnovers per game than any other side (9.6). The Lions' scrum success rate (93 percent) is the best in the competition thus far. The Waratahs have won all five of their Super Rugby matches against the Lions. This included a 73-12 win in 2010, their highest ever points haul in a Super Rugby game since 2006. Unless the Lions dominate the set pieces and the breakdown, it is going to be another long day at the office for the men from Johannesburg. The Waratahs' track record at home suggest they will win this one, but probably by less than 10 points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Alofa Alofa, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Lions: 15 Courtnall Skosan, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 JW Jonker, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Rudi Matthee, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Chrysander Botha.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Lees (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)