PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 18 - Part One
LAST CHANCE: For four of the teams in Friday’s matches it is literally the last chance saloon.
Given their portentous situation, the Highlanders, Waratahs, Rebels and Chiefs all have to win to keep their play-off hopes alive.
In the case of the Highlanders and Waratahs, they will rely on the results of other matches that follow their showdown – the opening match of the final weekend of league action.
The Rebels at least have matters in their own hands, but the Chiefs – their opponents – may also need some favours.
The Jaguares, who host the bottom-placed Sunwolves, will be looking to seal second place on the standings ahead of the play-offs – which they will host for the first time.
We look at Friday’s matches!
Friday, June 14:
Highlanders v Waratahs
(Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill – 19.35; 17.35 Sydney time; 07.35 GMT)
Both teams require favours from other matches, but what they can control is how they perform in this encounter.
The Highlanders need to win with a bonus point (to take them to 36 points) if they are to stay alive.
Then they need the Chiefs to beat the Rebels without a bonus point, or the Lions to lose to the Bulls without gaining any competition points.
The Waratahs are a long shot at best. Apart from requiring a bonus-point win, the Chiefs must beat the Rebels without a bonus point and without finishing on a better point differential, which means they leapfrog both the Chiefs and Rebels into play-off contention.
However, 2019 will forever remain a season dominated by the Folau sideshow.
Daryl Gibson can no longer deny that the controversy surrounding the Wallaby utility back has disrupted the team.
“The impact of not having him on the field is fairly obvious,” Gibson finally admitted, after trying to play down the Folau saga for months.
“His ability to score points for us over the years has been excellent.
“In terms of the personal impact: I can’t speak on behalf of the team and different players and how they’ve reacted but certainly it’s been a dominating story and one that’s taken up a lot of time.
“However, it can never be an excuse to perform.
“We still have to go out and perform our scrums and our line-outs and all the elements of the game that need to perform.
“When you look at those very close margins and the games that we just lost, it’s usually because we haven’t quite nailed a moment in the game that we’ve lapsed. So you can’t attribute Israel to those moments.”
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger admitted the conditions will determine their tactics – which might be vastly different from the style they normally play the roof at Dunedin’s indoor stadium.
“The ball is going to be wet, so we are certainly going to have to make sure we get the job done up front,” Mauger said.
“We’ve spoken about the mindset required to play wet-weather footy in the cold.
“Obviously, we have the luxury of playing under the roof which dictates a different sort of game.”
2018: Waratahs won 30-23, Sydney (quarterfinal)
2018: Waratahs won 41-12, Sydney
2017: Highlanders won 44-28, Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 30-26, Sydney
2015: Highlanders won 35-17, Sydney (semifinal)
Prediction: The NSW Waratahs picked up a 41-12 win over the Highlanders in their last regular season meeting in Super Rugby, snapping a three-game losing streak in such fixtures. The Highlanders have won their last four Super Rugby games on the bounce when hosting the NSW Waratahs, despite trailing at half-time twice in that time. The NSW Waratahs have won their last two games on the bounce away from home in Super Rugby; the last time they won more in succession was a three-game streak from March to April in 2016. Only the Hurricanes (five) have conceded fewer tries in the final 20 minutes of games this Super Rugby season than the NSW Waratahs (seven). Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) has been directly involved in five tries (three tries, two try assists) in his last five Super Rugby games against the NSW Waratahs and has crossed for three tries in his last two Super Rugby games overall.
Margin: 18 points
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 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 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Elliot Dixon.
Waratahs: 15 Alex Newsome, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Mack Mason, 9 Nick Phipps (captain), 8 Hugh Sinclair, 7 Will Miller, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Tautalatasi Tasi.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), James Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Chiefs
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.45; 21.45 NZ time; 09.45 GMT)
It has been an amazing season for the Chiefs. After starting with four defeats and a draw, nobody backed them to have a chance of reaching the play-offs.
Yet, here they are in Round 18 and Chiefs have an outside chance of sneaking in through the back door.
A bonus point win could be enough to see the Chiefs into the play-offs.
If they win without a bonus point, they can still make it if either of the Highlanders or Waratahs win without a bonus point and the Stormers either win, or lose without a bonus point.
The Rebels simply need a win or a draw to confirm their place in the play-offs.
The Round 16 40-27 win over the Crusaders gave them the belief and last week’s bye would have refreshed the Chiefs.
“It is a big week for the team and a big opportunity to get into the quarterfinals,” Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said.
“This team has been fighting and refusing to die for the last month.
“We’ve had some good wins and we’ve had some poor losses and now I think it is all about moving on from all that.
“You saw what we can do when we get it right and I guess it is trying to bottle that and take it over to Melbourne and release it,” he added.
The Rebels are determined not to make the same mistake as last year, when they also reached the final round with a chance to qualify and let it slip away.
Only three of the current Rebels team have played in play-offs before Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Matt To’omua.
“I think that what the guys are really ready for is just the fact that we’re in the position that if we win we know we’ll be in the play-offs,” Genia said.
“That’s just exciting in itself.
“For the Rebels who have never been in play-offs and for a lot of guys who were in other Super Rugby provinces in years gone by that haven’t featured in the play-offs, it’s just such an unreal experience and you can so often say things like that at the start of the year.
“If you’d told us the last round if we had a game to win we’d be playing finals we would take it,” he added.
2017: Chiefs won 27-14, Melbourne
2016: Chiefs won 36-15, Hamilton
2015: Rebels won 16-15, Melbourne
2014: Chiefs won 22-16, Hamilton
2013: Chiefs won 39-33, Melbourne
Prediction: This will be the seventh Super Rugby meeting between the Rebels and Chiefs, with the Hamilton side having won five of their previous six encounters including their last two on the bounce. The Melbourne Rebels have failed to score a first-half point in either of their last two Super Rugby games against New Zealand opposition, going into the half-time break 26-0 down on each occasion. The Chiefs have won 10 of their last 11 Super Rugby games against Australian opposition, losing only to the Brumbies (54-17) in that time. The Chiefs have made 12 offloads per game in Super Rugby 2019, more than any other team in the competition and four per game more than the Rebels (eight). Marika Koroibete (Rebels) has scored five tries and provided two try assists in his last five Super Rugby games and crossed for a try in his only previous game against the Chiefs in 2017.
Margin: Five points
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Reece Hodge, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Matt To’omua. 23 Campbell Magnay.
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 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 Tumua Manu.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Jaguares v Sunwolves
(Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires – Kick-off: 19.10; 22.10 GMT; 07.10, Saturday, June 15 Tokyo time)
The Jaguares require a draw or better to secure second place on the standings.
Coach Gonzalo Quesada clearly opted to rest his frontline players with a view to the play-offs – having made 12 changes to the team that defeated Sharks last week and secured the place in the quarterfinals.
With the South African conference win having been secured, it makes sense not to risk injury.
And they should have enough depth to account for a Sunwolves team that lacks consistency since they have heard they are being kicked out of Super Rugby in 2021.
The only players from last week who are back are Juan Manuel Leguizamón in the forwards, along with Santiago Carreras and Sebastián Cancelliere in the backs.
Matías Orlando will be the captain.
The Jaguares have won 10 of their 15 matches this season, with two of their five defeats in Buenos Aires against the Lions (16-25) in Round One and the Chiefs (27-30) in Round Seven.
The Sunwolves lost their eighth straight match against the Stormers at Newlands last week, but at times played with a tempo and energy.
2017: Jaguares won 46-39, Buenos Aires
2016: Sunwolves won 36-28, Tokyo
Prediction: This will be just the third meeting between the Jaguares and Sunwolves in Super Rugby, with each of the previous two games between them won by the home side on the day (one win apiece). The Jaguares have won eight of their last nine Super Rugby games, including their last four on the bounce; only once in their history in the competition have they won more in succession (seven wins from April to June in 2018). The Sunwolves have won only two of their previous 30 games away from home in Super Rugby; however, both of those wins have come in the 2019 campaign. Only the Crusaders (8.6) have conceded fewer clean breaks per game than the Jaguares (8.7) thus far in Super Rugby 2019. Semisi Masirewa (Sunwolves) has made an average gain of 8.7 metres per carry this Super Rugby campaign, the most of any player to have made at least 100 carries.
Margin: 22 points
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Matias Orlando (captain), 12 Santiago Gonzales Iglesias, 11 Santiago Carreras, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Rodrigo Bruni, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Lucas Paulos, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Francisco Gorrissen, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Juan Cruz Mallia, 23 Matias Moroni.
Sunwolves: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Gerhard Van Den Heever, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Ben Gunter, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Ryota Hasegawa, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Conan O’Donnell, 2 Nathan Vella, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Shogo Miura, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Yuya Odo, 20 Masakatsu Nishikawa, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Takuya Yamasawa, 23 Jason Emery.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Juan Pablo Federico (Argentina)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports