PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 17 - Part One
HUNGER GAMES: As the penultimate round of the competition dawns on us, the word desperate is more frequently used.
And indeed Round 17’s opening game features two teams desperate to get a ‘victory’ in their results column.
The Bulls travel to Dunedin to face the Highlanders in a game that will have a massive influence on the standings heading into the final round next week.
The Bulls are seventh on the standings, but defeat could easily see them drop out of the play-off zone as the weekend progresses.
The Highlanders are in 12th place, but a win could easily see them rocket into the play-off zone.
The other Friday match is between two teams that have only remote, mathematical chances of still reaching the play-offs – the Reds (14th on 24 points) hosting the Blues (13th on 28 points).
We look at Friday’s matches!
Friday, June 7:
Highlanders v Bulls
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger was stating the obvious when he said the next two games were ”hugely important” for his team.
After hosting the Bulls in the Dunedin’s Lunchbox this week, the Highlanders travel to the deep south to face the Waratahs at their other home – Invercargill’s Rugby Park.
“If we want to play beyond the next couple of weeks [get into the play-offs], we need to win,” Mauger told a Highlanders media briefing.
The coach said the side was disappointed with its tour of South Africa, having come home empty-handed.
They lost to the Lions (29-38 in Johannesburg) and Stormers (22-34 in Cape Town).
Last week’s bye gave them a chance to regroup.
Mauger said they had not exploited the big forwards of the opposition in the republic.
“The Bulls are pretty similar to both packs [Lions and Stormers] we just played.
“They are pretty direct and have a good No.10 that controls their game pretty well.
“We want to play our game and impose our strengths on the Bulls.”
Bulls coach Pote Human said the tour provided some good results – a 32-17 win over the Rebels and a 22-all draw with the Blues.
However, it can only be seen a successful trip if they get the desired outcome against the Highlanders.
“This is going to be very tough for us, but this group thrives on challenges,” the Bulls coach said.
“The last loss at home, to a team from outside New Zealand, was in 2016,” he said of a 14-15 defeat to the Sharks.
“We need to be at our very best if we want to change that statistic.”
The coach added that the players are aware of the pressure that comes with the ‘must-win’ situation they find themselves in.
“We can make it a great season or we can throw it away on Friday,” Human said.
“If we don’t make it [win in Dunedin] we are out [of the play-off running],” he added.
After Friday’s outing, the Bulls travel back to South Africa to face the Lions in Pretoria in their final league match of the season.
The return of All Black hard-man Liam Squire will be crucial to the Highlanders’ cause.
”There’s only one way he knows how to play the game,” Mauger said.
”That’s to go forward and to hit things and to hit them hard.
”We’re expecting that both sides of the ball.
“We’re expecting his presence and that dynamic will be of huge benefit for us.”
Bulls captain Handre Pollard, who was flown back this week as the Bulls look to his guidance in this crucial fixture, said he is keen to get back onto the field.
“The short break was great and I am happy to be back,” Pollard said.
“This is a great venue to play at and we are determined to make our visit a productive one.
“We last won here in 2007, so it is about time we change that.”
2018: Highlanders won 29-28, Pretoria
2017: Highlanders won 17-10, Pretoria
2014: Highlanders won 27-20, Dunedin
2013: Bulls won 35-18, Pretoria
2012: Highlanders won 16-11, Dunedin
Prediction: The Highlanders have won their last three Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Bulls despite leading at half-time only once in that time. The Bulls have lost only two of their last six games away from home in Super Rugby, including a 22-all draw with the Blues in their last start. The Highlanders are undefeated in their last three games on the bounce at home in Super Rugby and haven’t lost at home to a team from outside New Zealand since Round 9, 2016 (vs Sharks). The Highlanders and Bulls have each received just two yellow cards thus far in Super Rugby 2019, the joint fewest in the competition along with the Chiefs. Hanro Liebenberg (Bulls) has scored three tries in his last six Super Rugby games – including one in each of his last two – after having not scored in any of his 26 games prior.
Margin: 10 points
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joshua Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Dylan Sage, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Johan Grobbelaar, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 JT Jackson.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), James Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Reds v Blues
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 19.45; 21.45 NZ time; 09.45 GMT)
Both teams require favours from other teams if they are to slip into the play-offs through the back door.
The Blues are 13th on the standings (with 28 points), one bonus-point win outside the top eight.
The Reds have a much tougher task, being 14th, with just 24 points.
However, they first have to win in Brisbane on Friday.
Reds assistant coach Jim McKay also said that “pride” will play a big motivation in their clash with the Blues.
“Pride is massive for us,” McKay said, adding: “The guys have been fronting up and putting in the work and the effort.
“Yes, we have come up short. [But] we have to keep pushing.
“We have been consistent with the effort we have been putting in.
“We want top get a win, we want to get a reward for all the effort we have been putting in.”
The Reds have not beaten a New Zealand team in three years – 15 matches.
They go another three years back, 2013, for their last win over the Blues.
If the Blues are to make the play-offs, they need two big wins from their final two games and hope other results go their way.
After the Reds this week, they face the Hurricanes in Wellington next Saturday.
“The whole team was disappointed with the performance last week at home against the Bulls,” coach Leon MacDonald said.
“We just did not make the best of our chances and did not use the plentiful amount of possession wisely.
“We want to put that right.
“We continue to train well and want to focus on transferring the performance on the training ground to game-day.
“We have two more opportunities to achieve that and if we do, then let’s see where that takes us.”
2018: Blues won 39-16, Auckland
2017: Blues won 34-29, Apia
2016: Reds and Blues drew 25-all, Brisbane
2014: Blues won 44-14, Auckland
2013: Reds won 12-11, Brisbane
Prediction: The last eight Super Rugby matches between the Reds and Blues saw the Queensland side win the first four games, with the Auckland side undefeated in the last four. The Reds have lost their last two Super Rugby games on the bounce at home; the last time they went longer without a win at home was a five-game stretch across the 2015/16 campaigns. The Blues succumbed to a 26-21 defeat to the Brumbies in their last Super Rugby game in Australia, snapping a five-game winning streak in the country for the Auckland side. The Blues enjoy a success rate of 97% at the scrum this Super Rugby campaign, having lost just four scrums on their own feed thus far. The Reds’ Samu Kerevi has made the most carries (187), beaten the most defenders (58) and made the second most offloads (20) of any player in Super Rugby 2019.
Margin: Three points
Reds: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 Matt McGahan, 9 Scott Malolua, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Angus Blyth, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Gav Luka, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Hamish Stewart.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Tanielu Tele’a, 10 Otere Black, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (captain), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Lua Li, 19 Tom Robinson, 20 Josh Goodhue, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Levi Aumua.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports