PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 18 - Part Two
DERBY DAY: The abomination that is SANZAAR’s conference system is the most derogated part of the competition.
However, it has managed to provide plenty of entertainment for the final round of league action – in the form of dizzying range of permutations for when the play-offs begin.
The Crusaders (with a bye), Jaguares, Brumbies and Hurricanes are guaranteed home quarterfinals.
But eight teams are in a race for the remaining four berths in the most open regular season finale in recent memory.
Only the Bulls, currently fifth, are guaranteed to finish somewhere in the top eight.
It promises to be a nail-biting weekend for fans of the Lions, Stormers, Rebels, Sharks, Chiefs, Highlanders and Waratahs – who all are in the running for the other three slots.
Also read: Preview – Part One
We look at Saturday’s matches!
Saturday, June 15:
Hurricanes v Blues
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
Pride! That is all that is at stake in what is a low-key start to Saturday’s matches.
With fourth place on the overall table secured, Hurricanes coach John Plumtree has opted to rest a number of his frontline players.
That includes the front row where props Toby Smith and Jeff Toomaga-Allen have been replaced by Fraser Armstrong and Ross Geldenhuys, while lock James Blackwell, who has started every match, has been given an opportunity to freshen up.
The halfback combination is also new – with flyhalf Jackson Garden-Bachop starting outside scrumhalf Richard Judd, while there is also a new look midfield pairing with Danny Toala and Peter Umaga-Jensen combining.
Plumtree said he had considerable faith in the entire squad to maintain the form they have reached in recent weeks.
“We have a lot of guys who have worked really hard to be given an opportunity and we expect them to take their chances,” he said.
“The squad has been looking forward to getting back home and playing in front of our fans against a Blues side who will want to end their season on a high note.”
The Blues may be out of the running, but they are keen to make one last statement.
It has been a ‘so-near-yet-so-far’ situation in the last three rounds – running the Crusaders close (losing 11-19 in Christchurch), playing to a (22-all) draw with the Bulls and suffering a heartbreak (28-29) loss to the Reds.
“Clearly last week was gutting for the whole team,” coach Leon MacDonald said.
“However, it’s important we put that behind us and focus on this opportunity.
“We played some excellent rugby last week and some not-so-good, so we know that a complete performance is within our grasp.
“We owe it to ourselves, after a season of such hard work and dedication, to enjoy the opportunity to execute like we know we can.”
2019: Hurricanes won 22-12, Auckland
2018: Hurricanes won 42-24, Wellington
2018: Hurricanes won 36-15, Auckland
2017: Hurricanes won 28-24, Auckland
2016: Hurricanes won 37-27, Wellington
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won their last eight games on the bounce against the Blues; neither side has previously managed to win nine on the bounce in the history of this fixture. The Blues have won only one of their last eight games in Super Rugby, despite having held the lead at half-time in four of those fixtures. The Hurricanes have won nine turnovers per game this Super Rugby season, more than any other team in the competition. The Blues boast the best scrum success rate (97 percent) on their own feed of any team in Super Rugby 2019 and have lost just one scrum in their last 10 games. Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) has beaten 62 defenders thus far in Super Rugby 2019, the second most of any player in the competition (Samu Kerevi – 66).
Margin: 13 points
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Danny Toala, 11 Salesi Rayasi, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Richard Judd, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 Kane Le’aupepe, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Liam Mitchell, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Jonah Lowe.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 Tanielu Tele’a, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (captain), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Hisa Sasagi, 18 Lua Li, 19 Tom Robinson, 20 Josh Goodhue, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Ma’a Nonu.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Reds
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.45; 09.45 GMT)
With a play-off spot secured, the Brumbies are already looking ahead to the quarterfinals.
Dan McKellar’s men have won five straight games to move to nine wins and six defeats this season and ensure a home quarterfinal next weekend as the Australian conference winners.
The Reds (six wins and nine defeats) have faded out of calculations in recent weeks and need a win in Canberra to better last season’s record.
They will travel with fond memories though after a 36-14 victory when the Brumbies last visited Brisbane in round six.
The Reds’ scrum and maul didn’t budge in what was a comprehensive set piece performance – one assistant coach Peter Ryan was particularly proud of.
“They came up with the mindset they were going to steamroll over the top of us in the maul and scrum and that didn’t eventuate,” Ryan, a former player and coach at the Brumbies, said.
“They’ve got a point to prove towards us, we’re fully aware of that and if we don’t turn up then they will put 50 points on us.
“I hope they turn up tired from mauling all week.”
Reminded of that result, McKellar’s response might’ve disappointed Ryan.
“It’s not high on our motivation list; it’s all about putting in a good performance back at home leading into next week,” he said.
“They’re just big, physical men. I think they’ll be pretty direct.”
2019: Reds won 36-14, Brisbane
2018: Brumbies won 45-21, Canberra
2018: Reds won 18-10, Brisbane
2017: Reds won 16-15, Brisbane
2017: Brumbies won 43-10, Canberra
Prediction: The Reds have won three of their last four Super Rugby games against the Brumbies after having lost their previous five games in succession against the team from the Australian capital. The Brumbies have won their last five Super Rugby games in a row; the last time they won more successive games within a single season was a six-game streak to close the 2007 campaign. The Reds have won only two of their last nine Australian derbies in Super Rugby and have lost their last three such fixtures on the bounce. The Reds have enjoyed an average of 17 minutes and 31 seconds of time in possession per game in Super Rugby 2019, more than any other team in the competition. Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies) is the only player to have scored more than five tries (seven) and made more than five try assists (six) in Super Rugby 2019
Margin: Three points
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Len Ikitau.
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 Angus Scott-Young, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Gav Luka, 19 Caleb Timu, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Sefa Naivalu.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)
Stormers v Sharks
(Newlands, Cape Town – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT)
It is not exactly High Noon at the OK Corral, but the Stormers and Sharks are in a straight ‘shootout’ at Newlands.
The scenario is simple: The winner advances to the play-offs and the loser will watch from the sidelines.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said that his team is looking forward to what should be a classic South African derby.
“We have performed well at home this season and this is another opportunity for us to use that to our advantage,” Fleck said.
“The key in a match like this will be to remain composed and accurate while operating at high intensity.
“It should be a great game to watch,” he added.
The two teams come into the game on the back of differing fortunes.
The Stormers have won two of their last three games and have only lost once at Newlands this year – a 17-19 thriller against the Brumbies back in April.
The Sharks have lost their last two matches and have not won on the road since April.
Last week’s 7-34 blowout against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires was particularly had on the team spirit.
“The last few weeks haven’t been great for us, “Springbok veteran prop Tendai Mtawarira said.
“We haven’t picked up a lot of momentum.
“However, going into this game it is a final for us and we are looking to finish with a flourish.
“It is going to be a massive game.”
Physicality and defence will be the key factors – given that neither is a free-scoring team and are among the least productive in the try-scoring stakes.
The Stormers are second from the bottom with 34 tries scored in 15 games, the Sharks fourth from bottom (38).
The Sharks’ defence has been marginally better – having conceded 39 tries to the 44 of the Stormers.
2019: Stormers won 16-11, Durban
2018: Stormers won 27-16, Cape Town
2018: Sharks won 24-17, Durban
2017: Sharks won 22-10, Durban
2016: Sharks won 18-13, Cape Town
Prediction: The Stormers have won their last two games on the bounce against the Sharks in Super Rugby; the last time they won more was a three-game streak against them across the 2011 and 2012 campaigns. The Stormers have lost only one of their last eight games played at home in Super Rugby, and are undefeated in their last four. The Sharks picked up a 42-5 win over the Lions in their last South African derby away from home in Super Rugby, snapping a seven-game losing run in such fixtures. The Stormers have scored only 14 first-half tries thus far in Super Rugby 2019, fewer than any other team in the competition. The Sharks’ Andre Esterhuizen has scored a try in two of his last three games away from home after having not crossed in any of his 33 away games prior.
Margin: Three points
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Johannes Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Dan Kriel.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Divan Uys (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Bulls v Lions
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
This game will revolve around one factor: ‘Discipline’.
There is the emotion surround the departure of a number of stalwarts – like Rudolph Snyman, Duane Vermeulen, Jason Jenkins and Handre Pollard.
It will be the final appearance for them at Loftus, in a Bulls jersey, before they head of to France (Pollard, to Montpellier) and Japan (Jenkins, Snyman and Vermeulen).
However, it is the boot of the Bulls captain, Pollard, that holds the biggest threat to the visiting Lions.
Pollard, the competition’s leading points scorer (170 in 12 games – 37 penalties, 23 conversions, two tries and a drop-goal) was the difference between the two teams in their Round Three encounter back in March.
Pollard scored 20 of his team’s points (six penalties and a conversion) in a 30-12 victory.
Lions prop Dylan Smith admitted discipline will be key at Loftus Versfeld.
“When you give away a few penalties, you have to look at your own discipline,”the 25-year-old front row forwards said.
“Polly [Pollard] is a great flyhalf,”he said, adding: “You can’t place enough emphasis on that.”
Bulls coach Pote Human said the nice thing about this weekend is that they have their fate in our own hands.
“We do not have to worry about results elsewhere,”Human said.
“We can go out and apply our minds to the job at hand.”
For Pollard the return to Loftus Versfeld will add something to the team’s effort.
“We had some mixed performances at home this year, but the last couple of results show that we are getting into a good rhythm,”Pollard said.
“It will be fantastic if we can qualify for the knock-outs for the first time in six years and do so in front of our own fans.
“Before that though, we will need an exceptional effort on Saturday.”
2019: Bulls won 30-12, Johannesburg
2018: Lions won 38-12, Johannesburg
2018: Lions won 49-35, Pretoria
2017: Lions won 51-14, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 56-20, Pretoria
Prediction: Three of the last five Super Rugby games between the Bulls and Lions have been won by the away side on the day, with the Lions picking up four wins in that span. The Bulls are just the third side in Super Rugby history to draw two consecutive games (Force in 2006, Chiefs in 2014); no side has ever drawn three consecutive games in the competition. The Lions have won only two of their previous seven South African derbies in Super Rugby, this after having won 19 on the bounce prior. The Bulls have kicked 44 penalty goals thus far in Super Rugby 2019, nine more than any other team in the competition and 30 more than the Lions (14). Only the Hurricanes’ Ardie Savea (26) has won more turnovers than the Lions’ Kwagga Smith (20) in Super Rugby 2019.
Margin: Two points
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (captain),
9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Stefan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AFP & AAP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports