Preview: Super Rugby, Round Five - Part Two
STOP THE JUGGERNAUT: The question ahead of Saturday’s matches is: ‘Who can stop the Crusaders juggernaut?’
If there is one team that can do it, it is the Highlanders.
It’s two seasons and 15 games since the Highlanders have lost at Forsyth Barr Stadium – and they were the last side to beat the Crusaders, who have extended their winning streak to 19 games.
As if that is not enticing enough, that encounter in Dunedin is sandwiched between two other intriguing encounters – the Sunwolves hosting the Reds in Tokyo and the Lions at home to the Rebels.
We look at the Saturday matches!
Saturday, March 16:
Sunwolves v Reds
(Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo – Kick-off: 13.15; 14.15 Queensland time; 04.15 GMT)
The Sunwolves will fancy their chances of a second win – to go with their upset of the Chiefs in Week Three.
The Tokyo-based franchise shocked the Reds 63-28 in the corresponding game last season and will start as favourites against the winless Reds.
The Reds are nought-from-three and bottom of the Australian conference – only above the other winless team, the Chiefs.
Brad Thorn’s side desperately needs to kick-start their season.
“Our performance was disappointing last week in Sydney,” he said of the loss to the Waratahs.
“We can’t afford another slow start,” the Reds coach added.
“The Sunwolves are a side who have improved greatly in the past two years.”
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Thorn has been frustrated by the lack of results.
“With the work we did pre-season, it felt like there’s been growth in the group,” a bitterly disappoint Reds coach said.
To complicate matters for the Reds, the Sunwolves have been bolstered by the inclusion of physical brute Amanaki Mafi – despite serious assault charges hanging over his head,
Mafi has been named on the bench.
The 29-year-old was added to the Sunwolves squad last week despite a court matter after allegedly bashing his then-Rebels teammate Lopeti Timani in Dunedin last year still being dealt with.
Mafi’s return for the Sunwolves is believed to be the first step in securing him a spot in Japan’s squad for this year’s World Cup.
2018: Reds won 27-48, Brisbane
2018: Sunwolves won 63-28, Tokyo
2016: Reds won 35-25, Brisbane
Prediction: This will be the fourth Super Rugby meeting between the Sunwolves and the Reds, with each of the previous three won by the home team on the day. The Sunwolves have earned competition points in four of their last five Super Rugby games on home turf. The Reds have lost their last eight games in a row away from home in Super Rugby, conceding an average of 39 points per game in that period. The Sunwolves’ 100 percent goal-kicking success rate continues for a fourth round; they remain the only team with a flawless record in front of the uprights (18/18). Reds’ Harry Hockins won eight line-outs in Round 4, more than any other player (excluding steals); the last time any Reds player won more in a single Super Rugby game was in June 2015 (Jake Schatz – 9).
Margin: Three points
Sunwolves: 15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard Van Den Heever, 13 Sione Teaupa, 12 Michael Little (captain), 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Ben Gunter, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Uwe Helu, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James Moore, 20 Amanaki Mafi, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi (captain), 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Isaac Lucas, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Harry Hockings, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Feao Fotuaika, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Teti Tela, 23 Filipo Daugunu.
Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Aki Aso (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
Highlanders v Crusaders
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
It is going to be brutal. Apart from the two playing records, these South Island derbies are always rugged.
Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett said they will fight hard to protect their home record – two seasons and 15 games since they have lost at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“We are proud of that record,” Hammett told superrugby.co.nz.
“We are proud of playing at home and performing how we do in front of our crowd.”
They would dearly like to end the Crusaders winning streak – now standing at 19 games.
“Obviously the Crusaders are pretty proud of their record as well, which is going pretty strong,” Hammett said.
“We’ve both got things to be proud of for this weekend. We’ve both got to be at our very best to keep those rolling.
“They are a very good team. They are the benchmark – that’s clear.
“We are excited by the challenge of coming up against the best. We won’t be telling you how we are going to do that,” he said.
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Highlanders lock Josh Dickson believes it is up front where they can overpower their South Island rivals, the Crusaders.
Rather than praising the defending champions’ All Blacks-laden scrum, Dickson said he was determined to dictate terms.
“That’s always our goal, we’ve got to go out there and dominate,” he said.
“We’re not going to say we’re not going to dominate. That’s our plan.
“We’ve just got execute everyone’s role and if we do that we will dominate.”
2018: Crusaders won 45-22, Christchurch
2018: Highlanders won 25-17, Dunedin
2017: Crusaders won 17-0, Christchurch (quarterfinal)
2017: Crusaders won 25-22, Christchurch
2017: Crusaders won 30-27, Dunedin
Prediction: The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 13 games against the Highlanders in Super Rugby, including a 45-22 win in their last meeting. The Highlanders have won 14 of their last 15 Super Rugby games at home, including wins over Australian opposition in their last two despite conceding more than 30 points each time. The Crusaders have won their last 19 games on the bounce, restricting their opposition to single figures in the first half of their last eight games. The Crusaders have won their last eight Super Rugby games away from home; however, their last defeat on the road came in Round 5, 2018 against the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Will Jordan (Crusaders) has scored three tries, made seven clean breaks, and gained 219 metres from 33 carries in his last two Super Rugby games.
Margin: 10 points
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Richard Buckman, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Dillon Hunt, 22 Folau Fakatava, 23 Marty Banks.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Braydon Ennor, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Ere Enari, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Will Jordan.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Lions v Rebels
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 00.00, Sunday, March 17 Victoria time )
The Rebels, desperate to secure their first-ever win in South Africa, arrived in two groups in Johannesburg.
Their Wallabies went via a three-day Test squad camp in Sydney.
However, their South African coach Dave Wessels said it hadn’t affected their preparation.
“If anything it’s shortened up our preparation, which has been a blessing in disguise,” he said.
“We’ve done things differently. Traditionally we’ve gone easy at the start and built into it and this time we’ve done the opposite and I think it’s really worked and the guys are feeling good.”
He said their poor record in South Africa – 14 losses and a draw from their 15 games – had barely been mentioned.
“We’re a different team than some of the Rebels teams who have come here in the past so we haven’t found it relevant,” Wessels said.
Lions scrumhalf Ross Cronje says that his team has a plan in place to deal with the threat of the in-form Rebels duo of Quade Cooper and Will Genia.
The Lions are well aware of the threat posed by flyhalf Cooper and scrumhalf Genia – who have both been key to the Rebels maintaining their unbeaten record during the 2019 Super Rugby season – which include wins over the Brumbies (34-27), Highlanders (24-19) and Brumbies (29-26).
“I think they [Genia and Cooper] manage the game well,” the veteran Lions scrumhalf said.
“They can speed it up, slow it down and obviously they both show a bit of magic,” Cronje told reporters in Johannesburg.
“I think they [Genia and Cooper] is a classy pairing. Obviously, they got a history and when the Reds were playing their best rugby the two of them were at their best as well,” said Cronje.
Cronje added that the Lions will need a team effort to beat the Rebels on Saturday and they will need to pay attention to the whole Rebels team not get sucked into only focusing on Cooper and Genia.
“We can’t focus on two players. It’s a game of fifteen against fifteen and if we stay within our defensive system and attacking system and focus on what we got to do at the end of the day I think that’s what we got to focus on,” Cronje said.
2017: Lions won 47-10, Melbourne
2015: Lions won 20-16, Melbourne
2014: Lions won 34-17, Johannesburg
2012: Lions won 37-32, Johannesburg
Prediction: This will be the fifth Super Rugby match between the Lions and Rebels, with the Johannesburg team prevailing in each of their four prior meetings. The Lions have won their last four Super Rugby games at home against teams visiting from outside South Africa, scoring 40 points or more on each occasion in that span. The Rebels have won their last three Super Rugby games on the bounce heading into this fixture; a fourth consecutive win would set a club record. The Rebels have allowed just four offloads per game this season, fewer than any other team in Super Rugby 2019. Elton Jantjies (Lions), Quade Cooper (Rebels) and Will Genia (Rebels) have each made four try assists in Super Rugby 2019, more than any other player in the competition.
Margin: 15 points
Lions: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Albertus Smith, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (captain), 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Sithembiso Sithole, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Ruan Vermaak, 21 Gianni Lombard, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Andries Coetzee.
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Marika Koroibete.
Referee: Egon Seconds (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Vos Willie (South Africa)`
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by Josh Isaacson
* Stats courtesy of Opta Sports