PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 11 - Part One
FINAL RE-RUN: The Lions, having lost to the Crusaders in the last two finals, will look at cause an upset of astronomical proportions.
In the first of two Friday games, the Johannesburg-based franchise will look to win at a venue they have never won before – Christchurch.
There is also the lingering doubt around departed coach Swys de Bruin, who is back in South Africa after suffering a mysterious medical condition – rumoured to be a nervous breakdown.
The Lions may come off an impressive win over the Chiefs in Hamilton last week, but the Crusaders are fresh off a bye – with seven wins in eight starts, including victories in their last three matches.
In our other Friday game, the Sunwolves will look to record their third win of the season, when they host a Highlanders team that ended a seven-week winless streak when they beat the Blues last week.
We look at Friday’s matches!
Friday, April 26:
Crusaders v Lions
(Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.35; 09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
The Crusaders are outright favourites with the bookies, but they have toned down expectations ahead of their encounter with a Lions team that upstaged the odds against the Chiefs in Hamilton last week.
The key ingredient to a successful recipe for the Lions was the return from injury of Lions captain Warren Whiteley.
“I think you can see his influence, whether you are on his team or not,” Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar said when asked about the Springbok No.8’s influence on the Lions.
“He’s even developed a wee kicking game for them,” Mooar said, adding: “He put in a grubber for a try [in the win over the Chiefs last week].”
Mooar said they saw enough in last week’s win over the Chiefs to know just how dangerous the Lions can be.
“They’re on tour and they look like they’ve gotten really close as a group.
“They are certainly enjoying playing a running game,” he added.
The Crusaders feel that discipline will be key against the Lions’ strong set-piece game – their solid line-out maul and scrum.
“You don’t give a penalty, they don’t get the opportunity,” Mooar said.
“We’ve done a bit of both sides of the game against them in the past where our discipline has been outstanding and they haven’t had the opportunities, and then also the likes of the Final last year, when we didn’t get our exit game right and a few penalties against us and they had plenty of opportunities early,” he said.
However, penalties had been a big concern after the 18 penalties conceded in their last outing against the Highlanders and were something that had been addressed in preparation.
“Our guys are smart people and players and they understand that that’s far too many [penalties]. At one stage there, it was six-all in the penalty count and then we had a run of 12 penalties.
“They weren’t all for the same thing, that’s clearly one box ticked. It’s for various things, a few at set piece and then a few in general play. It’s really up to us to get that right and not give teams opportunities to get a roll on there,” he said.
The Crusaders will be without stalwarts Scott Barrett and Matt Todd, who are rested as part of the All Blacks World Cup program.
However, the Lions’ stand-in coach Ivan van Rooyen said the Crusaders in Christchurch is always a “tough” challenge.
“There are still a number of All Blacks in the team,” Van Rooyen said.
“They are the defending champions.
“We have a youngish team and it will be an awesome learning experience.”
2018: Crusaders won 37-18, Christchurch (Final)
2018: Crusaders won 14-8, Johannesburg
2017: Crusaders won 25-17, Johannesburg (Final)
2016: Lions won 42-25, Johannesburg (quarterfinal)
2016: Crusaders won 43-37, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 11 matches against the Lions in Super Rugby, the sole Lions victory coming in a 2016 Super Rugby quarterfinal (42-25). The Lions’ victory a week ago against the Chiefs was their first in New Zealand since Round Two 2016, the Lions have never won consecutive Super Rugby matches in New Zealand. The Crusaders will be playing for 25 consecutive Super Rugby victories at home, their club record is 26 straight wins on home soil stretching from 2004 to 2007. No side has scored more tries this campaign after winning a turnover than the Lions (eight, level with the Hurricanes), while no team has scored more tries following kick returns than the Crusaders (six, also level with the Hurricanes). The Crusaders’ Will Jordan has scored a joint-high eight tries this year, level with Jack Maddocks and Rieko Ioane, crossing the try line once every 44 minutes on average, the best rate of any player to cross more than twice this campaign.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Quinten Strange, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Ere Enari, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Ngane Punivai.
Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Elton Jantjies, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Sti Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Franco Naude, 23 Tyrone Green.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), James Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Sunwolves v Highlanders
(Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo – Kick-off: 19.00; 22.00 NZ time; 10.00 GMT)
The Highlanders can go from the also-rans group to the play-off spots with a win in Tokyo.
Despite having just ended a seven-week winless streak and in 13th place, the Highlanders are just two points behind the Waratahs (seventh) and Blues (eighth).
It means a win could put the Highlanders right back in the hunt.
The Sunwolves have struggled since their admission into Super Rugby three years ago – winning just eight of their 55 outings, as they’ve struggled to balance homegrown talent with a rash foreign imports.
However, they have entertained with their off-the-cuff brand of rugby, but currently sit at the bottom of both the Australian conference and the overall standings with two wins and 11 points from nine matches.
There is something riding on the game for at least one Sunwolves player.
Former Highlander Hayden Parker has been mentioned as a possible replacement for the injured Damian McKenzie in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad.
Parker has been in strong form for the Sunwolves, especially with the kicking tee, and will be just one of the Sunwolves players the Highlanders are familiar with.
Against the Hurricanes last week, the Sunwolves also fielded former Highlanders Dan Pryor, Fumiaki Tanaka and Jason Emery, while Sunwolves outside back Josh Timu trained with the Highlanders throughout the pre-season.
2017: Highlanders won 40-15, Invercargill
Prediction: This is only the second Super Rugby encounter between the Sunwolves and the Highlanders, the side from Dunedin winning the first meeting in Round Nine, 2017, by a score of 40-15. The Sunwolves are still chasing their first victory at home in Super Rugby 2019, they’ve never lost more than five games in a row on their own turf. The Highlanders have lost their last four away games, they’ve not lost more consecutive games on the road since a run of eight such defeats spread across 2012 and 2013. The Sunwolves (95 percent) and Highlanders (89 percent) boast the best goal-kicking success rates in Super Rugby this year, the Sunwolves missing just two shots at goal in total and the Highlanders missing just four. Semisi Masirewa (Sunwolves) gained 148 metres in Round 10, over 40 metres more than the next best player last weekend (Rieko Ioane – 105).
Sunwolves: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Gerhard Van den Heever, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Dan Pryor (captain), 6 Grant Hattingh, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Nathan Vella, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Tom Rowe, 20 Ben Gunter, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Jason Emery.
Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Sio Tomkinson, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Luke Whitelock (captain), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Dillon Hunt.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports