PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 12 - Part One
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Yes, that is what a trip to Christchurch and an encounter with the Crusaders feels like to most, if not all, teams.
Next ‘lambs to the slaughter’ are the Sharks.
The Crusaders have won their last 25 matches at home.
Even though they are ‘resting’ some key players, most pundits are still placing some large wagers on them equalling their home record of 26 consecutive wins.
The Sharks believe otherwise, but outside the Durban-based franchise not many are banking on the South African team to win.
In the other match on Friday, the Reds will look to keep alive their slim play-off hopes when they host the Sunwolves, a team destined for extinction and beginning to look like it is lacking motivation.
We look at Friday’s matches!
Friday, May 3:
Crusaders v Sharks
(Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.35; 09.35 SA tome; 07.35 GMT)
It will a big occasion, a match of milestones.
Matt Todd is the matchday captain, but Kieran Read will run out in front when the team takes to the pitch – in celebration of his 150th Super Rugby match.
Read made his debut for the Crusaders in 2007 against the Blues in Auckland.
He’s scored 130 points in his 149 matches (26 tries).
As if the Crusaders weren’t already dangerous enough, they’ll be determined to get another win for their inspirational leader.
The runaway leaders, the Crusaders, are looking to equal their record of 26-straight wins at home to mark Read’s record appearance.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson cautioned his team about the Sharks, who go into Friday’s match in third place, behind the Crusaders and Hurricanes – but technically in second due to the Conference playoff provisions.
The Sharks have had five wins and five losses so far this season and they’re coming off a good away win over the Waratahs in Sydney.
“They were very impressive against the Waratahs last week,” Robertson said, adding: “It shows you how physical they can be.
“When they have the ball they can hold the ball and finish [off their opportunities].
“They have obviously ben inconsistent, but when they are on, they are on.”
Sharks coach Robert du Preez was cautiously optimistic and said they will have to reproduce the intensity from last week.
“We played really well and were in control of the game, dominating them,” Du Preez said.
Ball handling might have let the side down previously, but in the match against the Waratahs there was a much-improved performance and this week, against the Crusaders, the coach will be looking for more of the same.
“The conditions are a lot better here and not as humid as in Durban, but we have been working on handling and our basics and the message this week is ‘back to basics.”
2018: Crusaders won 40-10, Christchurch (quarterfinal)
2016: Crusaders won 19-14, Durban
2015: Crusaders won 52-10, Durban
2014: Crusaders won 38-6, Christchurch (semifinal)
2014: Sharks won 30-25, Christchurch
Prediction: The Crusaders have won nine of their last 11 Super Rugby fixtures against the Sharks, including each of the last four in a row. Crusaders have won their last 25 home games, one more victory would equal their best ever run at home in Super Rugby which they set between March 2004 and April 2007. The Sharks have won in New Zealand on 21 occasions, no other side from outside New Zealand has travelled there and won as often. The Crusaders have gained 494 metres and made 15 clean breaks per game in Super Rugby 2019, more than any other team. Daniel du Preez (Sharks) has carried the ball 116 times in Super Rugby 2019, the second most of any player and 34 more than Crusaders’ best David Havili (82).
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ethan Blackadder, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Tim Bateman.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Marius Louw.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, James Munro
TMO: Glen Newman
Reds v Sunwolves
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 Japan time; 09.45 GMT)
Reds assistant coach Peter Ryan says his young side is learning to seize the moment, as they target back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
The Reds have made just one injury-enforced change to their starting side to face the Sunwolves in Brisbane.
Wing Jock Campbell will replace 19-year-old Jack Hardy, who ruptured his ACL in the Reds’ breakthrough victory in Durban a fortnight ago.
Wallaby centre Samu Kerevi won’t be rested for the clash as the Reds (with a four wins and five defeats record) return from a bye just one win behind Australian conference leaders Melbourne Rebels.
The Reds turned a 5-21 half-time deficit against the Sunwolves into a 34-31 victory, their first of the season, when the sides met in Tokyo in March.
Queensland then beat the Brumbies in Brisbane, but they haven’t strung consecutive wins together since.
Encouragingly, the Sunwolves, who are set to be booted from the competition after next season, have won two and lost eight of their matches this season and lost 0-52 to the Highlanders last weekend.
But they did hammer the Reds 63-28 in Tokyo last year, have beaten NSW and Chiefs and come close against the Blues, Reds and Waratahs during this campaign.
The Reds travel to Melbourne next week then play the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium, with three wins enough to shoot them to the top of the Australian standings.
“The next three weeks is make or break in terms of our season,” Ryan said.
“And the Sunwolves can get [beat] anyone.”
While lamenting their inability to string consistent performances together, Ryan thinks their last-start defeat of the Sharks showed they were starting to figure it out.
“The players are coming to the understanding that ‘if it’s not now then when, and if it’s not you, then who?’,” he said.
Shute Shield graduate Seb Wileman has been added to the bench for a possible Super Rugby debut as outside back cover after impressing for club side Brothers since moving to Brisbane from Sydney.
2019: Reds won 34-31, Tokyo
2018: Reds won 48-27, Brisbane
2018: Sunwolves won 63-28, Tokyo
2016: Reds won 35-25, Brisbane
Prediction: The Reds have won three of their four Super Rugby clashes with the Sunwolves, a 28-63 loss in May 2018 representing their only defeat in that run. The Reds’ last seven home games have all been decided by double-figure margins, with the Queensland side winning four and losing three in that spell. The Sunwolves have won two of their four away games this season, this after losing their initial 23 games on the road in Super Rugby. The Sunwolves enjoy a goal-kicking success rate of 95 percent in Super Rugby 2019, the best of any team in the competition and 14 percentage points greater than that of the Reds. Samu Kerevi (Reds) has beaten 40 defenders in Super Rugby 2019, the most of any player and seven more than Sunwolves’ best Semisi Masirewa (33).
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Harry Hoopert.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Seb Wileman.
Sunwolves: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Gerhard Van Den Heever, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Grant Hattingh, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Tom Rowe, 20 Ben Gunter, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Jamie Henry.
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Damon Murphy
TMO: Ian Smith
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AAP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports