Preview: Super Rugby quarterfinals
NO PLACE TO HIDE: With the one side of the quarterfinal draw New Zealand heavy, it is going to be a brutal weekend of play-off rugby.
Apart from the Crusaders and Highlanders, who open the weekend’s proceedings, the Hurricanes host South Africa’s top team, the Bulls.
The other side of the draw has the Jaguares at home to the fourth New Zealand side, the Chiefs.
And the weekend’s festivities are concluded when the Brumbies, Australia’s sole representative, host the Sharks.
It means the semifinals will be:
* Crusaders/Highlanders versus Hurricanes/Bulls
* Jaguares/Chiefs versus Brumbies/ Sharks
The highest ranked teams will host the semifinal play-offs.
* In part one of our preview we looked at the Crusaders versus Highlanders encounter!
We look at the remaining quarterfinal matches!
Jaguares v Chiefs
Reaching the quarterfinals was a remarkable feat for the Chiefs, but they accept they play second-fiddle to the Jaguares in the fairytale stakes.
Two of the competition’s form teams meet in Buenos Aires, having recovered from forgettable starts that had both residing in the bottom three after six rounds.
The Chiefs overcame a crippling run of injuries, including the absence of All Blacks Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick and Damian McKenzie for long periods, to qualify seventh.
Winning four of their last five games doesn’t compare with the Jaguares, however, who were beaten in just one of their last 10 to clinch the African Conference and set up their first-ever home play-off match.
Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes tipped his hat to the vastly-improved South Americans, who had conquered an onerous travel itinerary.
“When you look at the Jaguares, they do this [long distance flights] all the time,” Barnes told reporters.
“For them to get second in the competition when they travel every second game, they need to be congratulated.”
* Continue reading below the video …
With the Chiefs scoring 59 points and a virtual Jaguares reserve side 52 in the final round of league play last weekend, the stage is set for an intriguing quarterfinal.
“We need to draw on the confidence gained from our past couple of games,” Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said about the team’s three-match winning streak.
While demolishing the Melbourne Rebels was hugely satisfying, coming from 20 points behind to beat the defending champion Crusaders convincingly sent morale sky-rocketing.
“We have had a good week over here and there is plenty of energy in the team, especially from our leaders,” said Cooper.
“The Jaguares are a quality side. They have performed well and we have the utmost respect for them.
“We are no strangers to quarter-finals rugby, we just need to stay focused and deliver a performance our fans are proud of.”
Winger Emiliano Boffelli spoke of the motivation within the Jaguares camp ahead of a second straight last-eight appearance having lost to the Lions in Johannesburg last season.
“Great being able to play a Super Rugby quarter-final,” he said. “We did it last year, but this time we are hosting the game. We have great expectations.”
But thoughts of a first semi-final appearance for the Buenos Aires outfit are not on his mind: “We focus on this game [Chiefs] – we face a great rival.”
If victorious, the Jaguares will remain in Buenos Aires for their semi-final, against the winners of the Brumbies-Sharks showdown in Canberra on Saturday.
The Chiefs will travel again if successful, to either Canberra or Durban
2019: Chiefs won 30-27. Buenos Aires
2018: Jaguares won 23-19, Rotorua
2016: Chiefs won 30-26, Buenos Aires
Prediction: This will be the fourth meeting between the Jaguares and Chiefs in Super Rugby history, the away side on the day has been victorious in the first three encounters. The Chiefs have won only two Super Rugby finals matches outside of New Zealand in their history, both against the Stormers (2016 and 2017). This will be the Jaguares’ second appearance in the Super Rugby finals series and first on home soil, having lost to the Lions in Johannesburg in 2018 (23-40). The Jaguares have scored 21 tries in the final quarter of matches in Super Rugby 2019, the most of any team and two more than the Chiefs in second place (19). Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs, 32) and Pablo Matera (Jaguares, 22) rank first and joint third respectively for offloads in Super Rugby this year.
Margin: Five points
Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Sebastián Cancelliere, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente (captain), 11 Matias Moroni, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Tomas Lezana, 20 Francisco Gorrissen, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 21 Domingo Miotti, 22 Santiago Carreras.
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitchell Jacobson, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Alex Nankivell/Ataata Moeakiola.
Date: Friday, June 21
Venue: José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 19.05 (22.05 GMT; 10.05 NZ time Saturday, June 21)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Hurricanes v Bulls
The Hurricanes will rely heavily on the experience gained from their appearances in the play-offs for the last four years.
Champions in 2016, the Hurricanes were also runners-up in 2015 and beaten semifinalists in 2017 and 2018.
Coach John Plumtree said there was growing excitement within the squad as they looked towards potentially their last home match of the season.
“I thought the whole squad got a real lift from the way our young side performed last week [a 29-24 win over the Blues] and that energy has started to really show through,” Plumtree said.
“We all worked really hard to earn a home play-off game and we can’t wait to get out in front of our fans and meet the massive challenge the Bulls will bring.”
Bulls coach Pote Human said they are determined to extend their stay in the competition.
“We prepared to play in the final,” Human said.
“We are now three matches away from that, but realise that we cannot look past this one against a very dangerous Hurricanes team.
“They play at home, have won this competition before and have so many strike players that will keep us busy.
“We have found some good momentum in the last couple of weeks though and will back ourselves on Saturday.”
Hurricanes assistant coach Jason Holland spoke of the need to tap into that experience of previous play-off experiences.
“There’s a real temptation to try and come up with bits of magic in a playoff game, but we’ve learned in the past if you do the simple things well in big games then you get results,” Holland said.
“So we’ll tweak a few little things but basically it is around what we do well to win games and that’s what we’ve got to concentrate on all week.”
He said it wasn’t a case of coming up with something special for playoffs.
“We all analyse each other but small tweaks are probably just as good as something magic these days and that’s what we’ll be concentrating on,” he said.
Human also admitted that changing your game plan at this late stage would be a grave error.
“That’s the game, we can’t change anything about that, so we do make the best out of it and focus on ourselves,” the Bulls coach said.
“We will have to get the guys ready psychologically for this one because it is going to be a huge battle out there but we will be ready.
“If the forwards can peak like they did last Saturday [against the Lions] and be physical, and then we have very good backs with Jesse [Kriel] back it will be a boost to the side,” he added.
2018: Bulls won 21-19, Pretoria
2017: Hurricanes won 34-20, Pretoria
2015: Hurricanes won 17-13, Pretoria
2014: Hurricanes won 25-20, Wellington
2013: Bulls won 48-14, Pretoria
2011: Bulls won 26-14, Napier
2010: Bulls won 19-18, Pretoria
2009: Bulls won 19-14, Wellington
2008: Hurricanes won 50-22, Pretoria
2007: Hurricanes won 17-9, Wellington
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won three of their last four Super Rugby matches against the Bulls, three of the four matches in that span have been decided by five points or fewer. The Bulls come into this match on the back of a three-game undefeated run, the Pretoria-based side hasn’t had a longer undefeated stretch in Super Rugby since a seven-game span from March-April 2016. The Hurricanes have won the most turnovers per-game in Super Rugby 2019 (9), two more than the Bulls (7). The Bulls have recorded the best line-out success rate of any team in Super Rugby 2019 (93 percent), no team has a lower percentage than the Hurricanes (80 percent). Handre Pollard’s (Bulls) 188 points in Super Rugby 2019 is the most in the competition and 63 more than the next best player involved in the finals series (125 points -Richie Mo’unga, Crusaders
Margin: 15 points
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ben May/Alex Fidow, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Richard Judd/Finlay Christie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Salesi Rayasi.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19.35 (09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Sharks
The Brumbies enter in the clash in red-hot form, winning eight of their past nine games, and they are gunning for seven straight wins for the first time in franchise history against a team they didn’t face in the regular season.
The Durban outfit kept their season alive with an after-the-siren try against the Stormers last week and travel to Canberra as underdogs.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said he’s wary of the Sharks’ dangers, but remains confident his men can justify their favourites tag.
“When you get to this stage of the season the opposition is always going to be quality, and they’re a dangerous side with threats across the park and a game that can win finals footy,” McKellar said.
“They’re the only team that has come out of Christchurch with points for a long time. In a one-off game, they’re going to be dangerous.
“They’re a typical South African side with big men and a good set-piece and speed on the edges. We’re well aware of their threats but we’ll continue to focus on us.
“We just have to play our game well. If we start worrying about outcomes now we’ll get ourselves into trouble.
“It’s a play-off game with a bigger crowd and a lot more interest which is great, and you’ve got to embrace that but also don’t get too far ahead of what’s important.
“It’s about being excited but not letting emotion and finals fever get the better of you.”
While the Sharks have not played the Brumbies this year, their form on the road suggests they have the ability to cause an upset in Canberra.
They have four wins and a draw in eight matches on the road – including beating the Waratahs (23-15) in Sydney and playing to a (21-all) draw with the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Young prop Mzamo Majola, starting in place of the injured Springbok veteran Tendai Mtawarira, said they are well aware of the importance of the forward battle.
The 24-year-old has featured in seven Super Rugby matches, starting in his first on Saturday.
However, he is not looking beyond Saturday or even pausing to bask in the glory of his ‘dream season’.
“Having watched videos of their games, we know their pack is something special to them,” Majola said.
“They have a really good driving maul, a strong set-piece, the scrum functions very well.
“They are No.1 in the competition for scrum penalties, so it’s going to be a huge challenge.
“However, we’re really up for it.”
2018: Brumbies won 24-17, Canberra
2017: Sharks won 27-22, Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 16-9, Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 29-10, Durban
2012: Sharks won 29-26, Canberra
2011: Sharks won 34-16, Durban
2010: Brumbies won 24-22, Canberra
2009: Sharks won 35-14, Durban
2008: Brumbies won 27-21, Canberra
2007: Brumbies won 21-10, Durban
Prediction: The Brumbies have won three of their last four Super Rugby matches against the Sharks, the last three matches in that span have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Sharks have lost their last five away matches in the Super Rugby finals series, the last time they won a finals match outside South Africa was in Australia in 2012 (30-17 v Reds). The Brumbies have lost their last two matches at home in the Super Rugby finals series, after winning eight of their previous nine such matches in competition history. Ruben van Heerden (Sharks) has the best tackle success rate of any player in Super Rugby 2019 to make 100+ tackles this season (95 percent -101/106). No player has won more line-outs on their own team’s throw this season than the Brumbies’ Rory Arnold (69) or Sam Carter (64, level with Guido Petti Pagadizaval).
Margin: Six points
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano (captain), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Tom Wright.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola.
Replacements: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Gio Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 20.05 (10.05 GMT, 12.05 South African time)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AFP & AAP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports