Preview: Super Rugby, Round Nine - Part One
FINALLY THEY MEET: Four weeks ago the Crusaders and Highlanders were scheduled to meet in Dunedin. The Christchurch massacre resulted in that match being cancelled.
This much-anticipated southern derby will finally take place, a game that always promises much and mostly delivers plenty on the entertainment scale.
That is one of two intriguing encounters on Friday.
The other sees the Australian pacesetters, the Rebels, host a Stormers team looking for their first win in the last outing on a four-match Australasian tour.
Friday, April 12:
Crusaders v Highlanders
(Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
Record-breaking All Black fullback Ben Smith is going to be key if the Highlanders have any hope of causing an upset and record their first win since February.
Playing his 150th game might be grabbing the headlines, but the Highlanders will hoping his calm demeanour proves to be the decisive factor.
The Highlanders enjoy playing a high-tempo game, especially at their indoor stadium in Dunedin.
However, April in Christchurch brings with it colder, wetter and windy days
That is why the Highlanders have managed just one win in their last seven outings in Christchurch, which requires the clear and composed thought processes of their captain – Smith.
“Under the roof [in Dunedin] to a dewy Christchurch Stadium is a little bit different,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson told stuff.co.nz.
“[Highlanders coach] Aaron [Mauger] and quite a few of the boys down there are local boys and understand how it works up here when autumn starts to kick in and it’s Friday night footy.
“It’s a little bit different, you have to play to suit the conditions.”
* Continue reading below …
Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett said there are other challenges awaiting them in this encounter.
“We know we are up against one of the best forward packs in world rugby this week so it is a really big challenge for us – a great benchmark for us,” Hammett told superrugby.co.nz.
“It is a great challenge against the Crusaders because they are the trendsetters at the moment.
“They are leading out – always great to play the best so we are going to have to be on our game,” he said.
“We know how strong they are at set-piece, we know that they are good decision-makers so we all just have to be in the on for the full 80 minutes.
“At times we have been right on that knife edge and we’ve played that pretty well so far.
“Now we are midway through this competition, and we are going to have to be really smart in how we manage that and every player is different.
“It is not like, here is five young players, we have to treat them all the same.
“They are all different and have different playing loads. Sometimes that load is mental, not physical,” he added.
2019: Crusaders and Highlanders drew 0-all (match cancelled)
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 four of their last five completed Super Rugby games against the Highlanders, picking up a 45-22 triumph in their last complete encounter. Each of the Highlanders’ last eight completed Super Rugby games have been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer; however, they’ve not won since Round Two. The Crusaders and Highlanders have each scored seven tries within the opening quarter of games in Super Rugby 2019, the joint-most of any teams in the competition. The Highlanders have conceded five tries after defending for seven or more phases this Super Rugby campaign; only the NSW Waratahs (six) have conceded more after such lengthy possession. The Highlanders’ Ben Smith is set to play his 150th Super Rugby game; he’s crossed for two tries and provided one try assist in his last four away games against the Crusaders.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Braydon Ennor, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Will Jordan.
Highlanders; 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Patelesio Tomkinson.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Stormers
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.45; 11.45 SA time; 09.45 GMT)
The Rebels are gunning for a third successive victory, to push out their seven-point Australian conference lead over the second-placed Waratahs, who have a bye.
Rebels coach Wessels cautioned his team not to underestimate the Stormers, despite their winless run on tour.
Wessels, who has close ties to Cape Town, home of the Stormers, from his university years in South Africa and knows that coming off a loss to the Reds last week, the visitors will be keen to end a difficult Australian tour with a win in Melbourne.
“I don’t think the Stormers played particularly well against the Reds last week and I think they will be frustrated by that, which is dangerous for us,” he said.
“The talent that comes out of Cape Town is just unbelievable.
“They have two of the top universities in the country there, they probably have eight of the top rugby schools in the country.
“Although some of the names in that squad are not the most recognisable, they still have a huge amount of talent and a huge amount of potential.
“They very nearly beat the Hurricanes and played well in large parts against the Blues so they’re a good side.”
Melbourne face the Waratahs in Sydney next week, but Wessels said they couldn’t afford to look ahead – with the Stormers more of a danger than their run of three losses suggested.
“We haven’t given much thought to the Waratahs as we’ve got a huge game this week.”
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said that his team is determined to end their tour on a high in Melbourne.
“Our focus this week is on being as accurate as possible in everything that we do in order to make the most of our opportunities,” Fleck said.
“The players have worked hard again this week as we look to end our tour on a high note,” he added.
2018: Stormers won 34-18, Cape Town
2016: Stormers won 57-31, Melbourne
2015: Stormers won 31-15, Cape Town
2013: Rebels won 30-21, Melbourne
2012: Stormers won 26-21, Cape Town
Prediction: The Stormers have won five of their previous six Super Rugby games against the Rebels including their last three on the bounce by an average margin of 19 points. The Melbourne Rebels have won their last three Super Rugby games on the bounce on home turf; the last time they won more was a four-game spree in mid-2015. The Stormers have gone into the sheds level at half-time of each of their last two Super Rugby games in Australia but have gone on to lose both of those fixtures. The Rebels have conceded the most penalties per game of any team this campaign (13) and average nearly one yellow card per game. Only the NSW Waratahs’ Michael Hooper (102) has made more tackles in Super Rugby 2019 than Stormers’ Pieter-Steph du Toit (89).
Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Semisi Tupou, 134 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Angus Cottrell (captain), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Esei Ha’angana, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Campbell Magnay.
Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Ernst van Rhyn (Stormers debut), 5 Cobus Wiese, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Johan du Toit, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Josh Stander, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Stats courtesy of Opta Sports