PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 11 - Part Two
The Reds, on a four-match losing streak, host the Lions, who come off an impressive win over the Waratahs. The Lions travelled late last week, arriving only on Wednesday. They beat the jetlag factor then, but it will have kicked in this week. The question is, will they have overcome it by Saturday?
Next, the Blues are at home against a Jaguares team that are coming off back-to-back wins in Australia. The hop across the Tasman is a short one, but there is always the risk that tour fatigue could set in.
The Brumbies, having won just one of their last four matches, host and Crusaders that was unbeaten on a tour that took them from Christchurch to Johannesburg, to Buenos Aires and around the globe back home again. Despite the ridiculous travelling schedule, they managed to beat the Sunwolves last week. Again, it was a short hop over the Tasman Sea, but the players must be getting tired of airports and hotels.
We complete the day's action when the Bulls, on a three-match winning streak after a winless Australasian tour, host a Highlanders team that had made the arduous trek across the Indian Ocean.
We take a look at the Saturday matches!
Saturday, April 28:
Reds v Lions
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 15.05; 07.05 SA time; 05.05 GMT)
Young lock Izack Rodda sounded a war cry for 'aggression' and 'physicality against the table-topping Lions.
Rodda called on the Reds' forwards to match the South African franchise in every aspect in Brisbane.
The four-Test Wallaby says he knows the formula to turn around the Reds' run of four losses against the Johannesburg-based Lions, who overpowered the Waratahs 29-0 in Sydney last week – the first time in the Tahs' history they were held scoreless.
"I learned personally, as with every South African team, you've got to match them physically," Rodda said.
"If you don't they'll just bully you out of the game."
Lions coach Swys de Bruin said the Reds bring a very different threat that the Waratahs.
"Under their new coaching panel [lead by All Black legend Brad Thorn] they are more physical," De Bruin said.
"They play a pressure game, which you did not get previously from the Reds."
The Lions mentor said his team will have to capitalise on the mistakes the Reds make.
"They do concede a lot of penalties," De Bruin said, adding: "They have a very physical No.12 and No.8.:
He also spoke of the Brisbane humidity and warned that the ball will be slippery.
Veteran Reds and Wallaby flank George Smith described the Lions as a "fantastic" side.
"We know just how good they are off unstructured play," Smith said.
"They are a team that has adapted very well to the laws of the game."
2017: Lions won 44-14, Johannesburg
2015: Lions won 18-17, Brisbane
2014: Lions won 23-20, Johannesburg
2012: Reds won 34-20, Brisbane
2011: Reds won 30-25, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions have won their last three games against the Reds, including a 44-14 victory in their last meeting – the biggest win in the history of the fixture. The Reds have scored just one first-half try in their last four games at home; though, they've scored four in the second half of games in that span. The Lions have won their last six games on the bounce in Australia, winning by an average margin of 15 points per game in that time. The Lions boast a line-out success rate of 91 percent this season, the best of any team. James Tuttle has a goal-kicking success rate of 88 percent this campaign, the best of any player to have made at least five attempts at the uprights. The Reds will pose a serious threat, but the Lions' composure will see them sneak it with a late winner – by seven points.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia'aua, 23 Izaia Perese.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Francois Mostert (captain), 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Marnus Schoeman, 22 Nicholas Groom, 13 Ashlon Davids.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Blues v Jaguares
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.35;04.35 Argentina time; 07.35 GMT)
While the Blues' injury crisis has put coach Tana Umaga under pressure, it has also provided a welcome change from laying drains for wing Jordan Hyland.
The 28-year-old had a promising junior career derailed by three ligament injuries and was working with a drainage firm and playing semi-professional rugby for Northland when he received a call-up from the Blues.
He scored two tries on his Super Rugby debut against the Sunwolves and experienced first-hand the intensity of a New Zealand derby in last week's 34-16 loss to Highlanders.
Hyland said he was never ready to give up on rugby even after being sidelined for three years and was thrilled to finally have an opportunity.
"I didn't want to just hang up my boots," he said.
"I wanted to press on and make something of it," he added.
"I do enjoy the drain-laying… but this is definitely the dream."
While Hyland was celebrating his comeback, it was revealed that coach Tana Umaga may be just weeks away from hearing if he will be axed.
That was the message from Blues Chief Executive Michael Redman.
Redman said the side's run of losses made it harder to qualify for the play-offs and because of that speculation began to grow.
He said the appointment of a coach was a joint decision between the Blues board and New Zealand Rugby and they were moving through the considerations at the moment.
All of the Blues coaching group are off contract at the end of the season and the group was being looked at together.
"I think it's fair to say there's plenty of support for Tana [Umaga] within New Zealand Rugby and the Blues," Redman said in an interview on superrugby.co.nz.
"We think he's got a great rugby brain, he has the respect of the players, he has my support and the support of the board so we'll work through a process to determine what the coaching group looks like.
"The head coach is the most important appointment we make but he is one of four or five, and I think getting the coaching group right, and the support around whoever the head coach is, is important," he added.
Redman said Umaga was happy to continue in the role and was committed to the outcomes he had signed up for.
2016: Blues won 24-16, Albany
Prediction: The Blues snagged a 24-16 win in their only previous encounter with the Jaguares, after having led 15-6 at half-time. The Blues have lost their last three games on the bounce at home; the last time they lost more was a four-game drought to open the 2012 campaign. The Auckland squad have won two of their last four games against teams from outside New Zealand despite having trailed at half-time in every one of those four fixtures. The Jaguares have won four of their last six games overall, including each of their last two; the only time they won more in succession was a three-game stretch from Round 3 to 5 last season. The Argentinian franchise has failed to score a first-half try in four of their last six games against New Zealand opposition. The Jaguares are on an impressive run and with the experience of all their international players should win by 12 points.
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Tumua Manu, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu/Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor/Dalton Papali'i, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Ben Nee Nee, 20 Lyndon Dunshea, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23 Terrence Hepetema.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet (captain), 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Manuel Diaz, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Crusaders
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.45; 21.45 NZ time; 09.45 GMT)
The Brumbies last defeated the Crusaders in Canberra in 2009, with the New Zealanders having the upper hand in recent years.
However, a new-look Brumbies outfit pushed the eventual champions close in Christchurch at the beginning of 2017 and will enter the fixture in a positive frame of mind.
It is a match in which Wallaby prop Scott Sio is set to square off against family friend and junior teammate Mike Alaalatoa for the first time.
The pair grew up together in Sydney before their Super Rugby journeys took them different ways, which led to Alaalatoa moving to Christchurch to launch his career with the Crusaders.
Sio joined the Brumbies and is now teaming up with Mike's younger brother Allan as they attempt to register Australian rugby's first Trans-Tasman win in the past 35 matches against Kiwi opposition.
The Alaalatoa family have designed a "Team Alaalatoa" logo for Brumbies and Crusaders battles and Saturday's showdown will be significant for Sio.
"It's special for Allan for sure and for me too, I'm looking forward to playing against Mike if he's in there," Sio said.
"We grew up playing on the same teams.
"I'm the same age as Mike and Allan is the same age as my younger brother, Pat. I haven't had the chance to play against Mike so far, so I'm looking forward to it."
Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty said the team is starting to get "a bit of rhythm" into their season.
"Winning becomes a habit and hopefully we can continue that by preparing well," he said, adding that there's a lot history between the Crusaders and Brumbies.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson had a more cautious tone to his view.
"It is a big game for the Brumbies, considering where they are sitting on the standings," Robertson said.
"They need to get a result [win] in the Australian conference fight."
2017: Crusaders won 17-13, Christchurch
2016: Crusaders won 40-14, Canberra
2015: Crusaders won 37-24, Canberra
2014: Crusaders won 40-20, Christchurch
2013: Crusaders won 30-23, Canberra
Prediction: The Crusaders have won their last seven games on the bounce against the Brumbies by an average margin of 19 points; it's the longest winning streak of either team in the history of the fixture. The Brumbies have picked up competition points in each of their last 15 regular season games at home, picking up nine wins and six losing bonus points. The Crusaders have won their last six games on the bounce in Australia, their longest ever winning streak in the nation. Only the Chiefs (eight) have conceded fewer linebreaks per game this season than the Brumbies (10). Manasa Mataele has scored three tries and assisted one further in his last two games for the Crusaders, beating 10 defenders and making six clean breaks in that time. It won't be easy, as the Brumbies will be up for a scrap, but the Crusaders should win by eight points.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Blake Enever, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga'a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Faalelei Sione, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Andy Muirhead.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Will Houston (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Bulls v Highlanders
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 03.15 NZ time Sunday, April 29)
This is the game in which the travel factor will play the biggest role.
However, Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett is adamant they will be as well prepared as they can.
"We are feeling pretty good," when he was asked about the marathon flight from New Zealand to South Africa.
"After 20 years of coming over here [to South Africa], we acclimatise quicker that we have ever done."
He described Loftus Versfeld as one of the more challenging venues to play, but said his team is up for the challenge.
Bulls coach, John Mitchell, said he is keen to get to see how the team goes against the Highlanders.
"They have won four of their last five matches against us, so will have some confidence on how to approach this match," Mitchell said.
"They have delivered some strong performances as well during the year.
"That makes for a proper contest and a very good test of our progress.
"We are improving and that is nice, but we need to improve week by week."
Bulls captain Burger Odendaal insisted that the squad is growing in ability.
"We are getting things right more and more," Odendaal said.
"There will always be room for improvement, but we made some encouraging steps in our progress to become the best we can be.
"The Highlanders are playing great rugby and we cannot wait to go out there and test ourselves against them."
2017: Highlanders won 17-10, Pretoria
2014: Highlanders won 27-20, Dunedin
2013: Bulls won 35-18, Pretoria
2012: Highlanders won 16-11, Dunedin
2011: Highlanders won 35-28, Pretoria
Prediction: The Highlanders have won four of their last five games against the Bulls; however, the Pretoria outfit have earned a losing bonus point in each of those four defeats. The Bulls will be looking to pick up multiple home wins against New Zealand opposition in a single season for the first time since doing so twice in 2013; they escaped with a 21-19 win over the Hurricanes in Round Two this season. The Highlanders have won their last four regular-season games on the bounce in South Africa, never before have they won five in succession in the country. The Bulls have conceded just 25.6 points per game this season, the fewest of any team outside the New Zealand conference. Highlanders pair Dillon Hunt (110) and Luke Whitelock (106) have made more tackles than any other players so far this campaign. It is a tough call and the loser will most likely be in bonus-point range. We think altitude will catch up with the Highlanders in the last quarter – the Bulls to win by five points.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Divan Rossouw, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 John-Ben Kotze, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Thembelani Bholi, 7 Jason Jenkins, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Frans van Wyk, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Hendre Stassen, 20 Nicholas de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Travis Ismaiel.
Highlanders: 15 Fletcher Smith, 14 Ben Smith (captain), 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Kayne Hammington, 23 Sio Tomkinson.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AFP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports