S15 Preview: Round Seven, Part Two
The Stormers will have a golden opportunity to exorcise their psychological demons against the Crusaders at Newlands on Saturday.
The Christchurch side have had the Stormers’ number at Newlands in recent years, but with the visitors missing key trio Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Kieran Read, the Stormers will be confident of claiming their first win over the Crusaders since 2010.
The Cheetahs are back in Bloemfontein after their highly successful Australasian tour and they will be eager to add to the Rebels’ woes when they welcome the embattled Melbourne franchise to the Free State Stadium.
Round Seven concludes with the all-Australian derby between the Waratahs and the Western Force in Sydney on Sunday, where the Tahs will want to build on their last-gasp win over the Blues last weekend.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the weekend’s final three fixtures.
Saturday, March 30
Cheetahs v Melbourne Rebels
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – kick-off: 17.05; 02.05 Sunday, March 31 AEST; 15.05 GMT)
The Cheetahs will have to overcome an unfamiliar challenge if they are to ensure their homecoming is a positive one.
The Bloemfontein side have become used to having little to no momentum in Super Rugby as they have perennially struggled with consistency. A brilliant win one week would usually be followed by a disappointing defeat the next.
This week, however, the Cheetahs are brimming with confidence and riding a wave of momentum, coming off their most successful Australasian tour in their history.
It is only the third time in the franchise’s history that they have managed a hat-trick of wins, and on Saturday they will have an opportunity to equal a franchise record with a fourth successive victory.
Everything points to a Cheetahs triumph; they are in a rich vein of form, have continuity in team selection and have never lost to the Rebels, who enter the match fresh from their worst ever loss.
The rare challenge the Cheetahs face this weekend come in the form of complacency. They are clear-cut favourites and they know it. The question is whether or not that will have a psychological impact on their preparation and performance.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské is confident complacency won’t creep into his side and believes the Rebels’ humbling at the hands of the Sharks will make them especially dangerous.
“The Sharks certainly did us no favours with their 60-point win last weekend and I know the Rebels will want to bounce back,” said Drotské.
“We just need to keep our guys grounded and work hard at sticking to the basics instead of trying to force “magical” things. We will not make the mistake of underestimating the Rebels.”
Drotské contributed the team’s fruitful tour to the tight-knit nature of the squad. “Our superb team spirit was probably the biggest factor in the three wins on tour,” he said.
“It’s always positive to win overseas, but now we are back and we have to win our home games. In this competition, if you want to make the play-offs, you have to win at home.
The Rebels, in contrast, are in disarray following an altercation between Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna after the 64-7 hiding that saw the duo being sent home and Beale standing down to battle his off-field demons.
Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie is wary that the Rebels still possess potent attacking options like James O’Connor and Richard Kingi and said they will need to be up for the challenge defensively.
“The biggest difference between this year and previous seasons, is the way in which we defend. The guys are sticking to the plan and although I think our attack can still improve, it’s important to keep up the good defence if we are going to be successful,” said Fourie.
“We’ve picked up a lot of confidence from the last three games, and that came with defending well. We know we can beat any team at home and if we can improve our attacking play, we will be a force to be reckoned with,” he added.
Prediction: It would be quite the turn-around should the Rebels be able to somehow recover from last weekend’s humiliation and pull of an upset in Bloemfontein.
Rain is forecast, which would take the sting out of the free-running Cheetahs’ attack and keep the scoreline respectable. It won’t be a repeat of last weekend but the Cheetahs will come away win a comfortable win, by at least 14 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johan Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuisen, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Richard Kingi, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Angus Roberts, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Jordy Reid, 6 Gareth Delve (captain), 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Rory Sidey, 23 Tom English.
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Johan Greeff
Stormers v Crusaders
(Newlands, Cape Town – kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
If ever the term bogey team was apt it’s in the case of this rivalry, in which the Crusaders have been a consistent thorn in the Stormers’ side.
The men from Christchurch regard Cape Town as a home away from home. They have a large local following that have become known as the Cape Crusaders, who they reward with wins more often than not.
The Crusaders have won five of their nine matches at Newlands, including the last two encounters between the teams at the famous venue.
Touching on the support they receive in Cape Town, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder on Thursday said, "It is really fantastic isn't it? I just really hope they haven't deserted us now that Sonny Bill [Williams] isn’t in the team.
"We have always had fantastic support and I think it has more to do with the type of rugby that the guys play. We love playing at Newlands, it is a fantastic atmosphere and a great pitch so it is everything you dreamed about doing and these are always great occasions.”
The Stormers won’t get a better opportunity to snap their losing streak than on Saturday, when they come up against an understrength Crusaders side.
With an all-All Black tight five, they remain a force to be reckoned with, but from six to 15 they have just one proven Test calibre player in fullback Israel Dagg.
Carter is such a key component in the Saders side and the direction and composure he brings will be sorely missed. Tyler Bleyendaal is a hot prospect who captained the Baby Blacks to IRB Junior World Championship glory in 2010 but he’s still cutting his teeth at Super Rugby level.
Blackadder, however, has complete faith in the youngster. "I don't think that we really lose anything in our kicking game. Tyler is a really good kicker, he has got really good tactical awareness.
"It is a good opportunity for a young guy like Tyler, it is his third season with the Crusaders, so we back him; we know that he is a quality boy and that he will do his best.”
Blackadder said having faced a South African team last weekend – in newcomers the Southern Kings – helped in terms of preparing for the two-time South African Conference winners.
"As far as planning and preparation goes it has actually been quite easy. The Stormers are quite different in some things that they do really well but they are still very South African so for us it has been easier to prepare,” he said.
"Like slotting Tyler into 10 with virtually the same gameplan as last week. It doesn't make them easy to stop, but it makes it easier because of the similar sort of style or brand of rugby that you are going to be facing.”
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee earlier this week said the Crusaders’ success against his team was largely due to their tactical nous and ability to adapt their gameplan.
Whether they will have the personnel to execute the gameplan successfully on Saturday remains to be seen, but it’s clear Blackadder and his coaching staff have done their home work.
"It is always a tough contest, the Stormers have got the best defensive record in the competition, they know how to stop teams and not many teams are successful at scoring tries against them," he said.
"They also like to batter you, so you have just got to be ready for the physical challenge here.
"We know what a good defensive side they are. They are a team that although it looks like there is space, it is just really hard to get around them, they just bring such good line-speed and physicality.
"It is one of those games where if you make too many mistakes in your own half or are ill-disciplined, they will punish you for it.
"The Bulls will rather put up a lot of contestable kicks but the Stormers normally look for territory and then try and pin you in your own half,” he concluded.
Whereas Blackadder has made four changes to the side that despatched the Kings last weekend, Coetzee has made two injury-enforced changes to the team that handed the Brumbies their first loss of the season.
Coetzee’s alterations will have a major bearing on the match as both are in the front row – an area the Crusaders have consistently targeted against the Cape side.
Loosehead Steven Kitshoff’s suspension and hooker Tiaan Liebenberg’s elbow injury could not have come at a worse time for the hosts.
Their replacements, Pat Cilliers and Deon Fourie, are highly gifted players, the former a six-Test Springbok and the latter a Currie Cup-winning captain.
However, they lack the scrummaging prowess (with Cilliers being a specialist tighthead) and size of the men they replace, both of which are crucial against the formidable Crusaders scrum.
Replacement prop Brok Harris is also more adept at tighthead, leaving the Stormers extremely vulnerable at scrum time.
Cilliers will undoubtedly have a bullseye on his chest and if he’s unable to hold his own against All Black veteran Owen Franks, Bleyendaal will look to put the boot into the Stormers.
Prediction: On paper, this looks like a mismatch but the Crusaders remain the Crusaders; a proud and uncompromising unit who are masters of converting opportunities into points.
They’re building solid momentum and are improving every week, but the same can be said for the Stormers, who won’t have jetlag weighing them down.
A Crusaders win is not out of the question, but we expect the Stormers will be too good for the depleted Crusaders. Stormers by seven.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Pat Cilliers.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Damian de Allende, 22 Jaco Taute.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Adam Whitelock, 22 Shane Christie.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Linston Manuel (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Sunday, March 31
Waratahs v Western Force
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney – kick-off; 16.05; 05.05 GMT)
Buoyed by an extraordinary come-from-behind victory, the Waratahs will be a tough nut to crack when they face the Western Force on Sunday.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of last weekend's 30-27 win over the Blues was the assured performance of flyhalf Bernard Foley.
He offered the Tahs direction, his decision-making was sound and his goal-kicking ultimately decisive. A confident pivot will be as good as gold for the new-look Waratahs, whose leadership group are still coming into their own.
The Force were mediocre in last weekend’s loss to the Cheetahs and will have to earn the respect of the Waratahs early on if they want to make a fist of it.
Prediction: The Force will draw inspiration from their recent upset of the Reds but we can’t see the Tahs losing this one. Waratahs by eight.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Pat McCutcheon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Matt Lucas, 21 Ben Volavola, 22 Tom Kingston.
Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Junior Rasolea, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Sam Christie, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)