PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round Nine - Part Two
COURTING CONTROVERSY: The Waratahs is one of three teams on a bye this week, but it is one of their players that dominated the headlines this week.
Israel Folau stole the limelight as a result of his decision to again share his religious views publicly – which may result in his decorated Wallaby career coming to a premature end.
Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle suggested Folau has been missing in action since his latest public declaration of his faith.
Folau, who last Saturday became Super Rugby’s all-time leading try-scorer, only two months ago recommitted to Australian Rugby until the end of 2022 in a deal that would have made the 30-year-old a decade-long stalwart.
But he had threatened to walk away from the game after first being hauled over the coals last year.
Now there are murmurs that it may be a deliberate ploy to get out of his contract and take up an offer at a cash-flush European club.
Either way, the build-up to the weekend’s action was dominated by this off-field storm.
We now take a look at the Saturday matches!
Saturday, April 13:
Chiefs v Blues
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
While the resurgent Blues are still reeling from the shock of star midfielder Sonny Bill Williams having to undergo surgery, the Chiefs are looking to build on the successes they achieved on their two-match tour of South Africa and Argentina.
Wins over the Bulls (56-20 in Pretoria) and Jaguares (30-27 in Buenos Aires) follow after a winless opening five rounds.
Chiefs coach Colin Cooper pointed to ‘keeping the ball, building pressure and building phases’ as key aspects in the Auckland-based team’s game.
Cooper said the Blues had threats “all across the park”, but those wins on the road had given the Blues the belief they required.
He described the Blues as a “sleeping giant”.
“It looks like they’ve finally woken up and they’re playing to their strengths,” Cooper told superrugby.co.nz.
“They’ll be really tough.
“I think our bye [last week] came at a good time for us to reset from the journey and we’re having a good week to take on a really tough opponent,” he added.
Despite the loss of Williams, the Blues brought two heavyweight All Blacks back into their starting line-up.
Props Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe have been given starting roles up front, after being used as impact players off the bench in the Auckland side’s recent run – which has seen them win four straight after dropping their first three matches of the season.
The pair replace Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo, who drop to the bench. Dalton Papalii also replaces Blake Gibson, who has a bad cut to a knee.
Gerard Cowley-Tuioti will start alongside Patrick Tuipulotu in the second row and the backline is unchanged.
Cooper warned that despite the absence of Williams, the Blues have in veteran All Black Ma’a Nonu a very different threat.
2018: Chiefs won 21-19, Hamilton
2018: Chiefs won 27-21, Auckland
2017: Chiefs and Blues drew 16-all, Auckland
2017: Chiefs won 41-26, Waikato
2016: Chiefs won 29-23, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs are undefeated in their last 14 Super Rugby games against the Blues; though, only one of the previous eight clashes between the teams has been decided by a margin of greater than seven points. The Chiefs are winless in their last four New Zealand derbies in Super Rugby, despite having led at half-time twice in that time. The Blues have won their last four Super Rugby games on the bounce; the last time they won more was a seven-game glut in the 2011 campaign. The Chiefs have made a competition-high 12 offloads per game this Super Rugby season, two more per game than the Blues. Rieko Ioane (Blues) has made 16 clean breaks this Super Rugby season, the most of any player in the competition, while his try tally of seven is the joint second-most of any player.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick (captain), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Angus Ta’avao.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman, (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Lions
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.45; 11.45 SA time; 09.45 GMT)
The Brumbies’ play-off hopes look in tatters, following their 14-36 loss to the table-topping Crusaders in Christchurch last week.
Despite a Round Two demolition of the Chiefs (54-17) and an impressive (19-13) victory over the Waratahs in Round Five, the Brumbies have been erratic.
However, they remain a real threat, as their first-half performance against the Crusaders last week suggested.
However, the loss means they are not thinking about the play-offs at the moment.
“We’re not too worried about the points table and the Australian conference at this point in time,” coach Dan McKellar said after the Brumbies fell 12 points adrift of the Rebels.
The Lions are at the start of a three-match Australasian tour – having won four of their first seven matches.
For the visitors, Lionel Mapoe will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance for the Lions.
The Springbok has 116 competition caps – which also includes appearances for the Bulls and Cheetahs.
Coach Swys de Bruin continued his rotation policy, as he rebuilds the team.
“We are both coming off defeats and are desperate to get our campaigns back on track,” De Bruin said from the team’s base in Canberra.
Lions captain Malcolm Marx said his team is determined to kick off their away leg on a positive note.
“We are all very disappointed with last week’s result, but we have to put that behind that and rectify our mistakes,” Marx said.
“We want to show what we’re capable of but we also know the Brumbies will be a very difficult opponent, so we have to be accurate on defence.”
2018: Lions won 42-24, Johannesburg
2017: Lions won 13-6, Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 30-20, Johannesburg
2012: Brumbies won 34-20, Johannesburg
2011: Lions won 29-20, Canberra
Prediction: The Lions have won their last two games on the bounce against the Brumbies in Super Rugby; they had never previously won back-to-back games against the Canberra-based side. Despite leading at half-time in six of their last eight Super Rugby games, the Brumbies have managed to accrue only three wins in that time. The Lions succumbed to a 27-22 loss to the Reds in their last Super Rugby game in Australia, snapping a six-game winning run in the country. The Lions are one of only three teams (Melbourne Rebels, NSW Waratahs) to boast a line-out success rate (92 percent) and scrum success rate (94 percent) above 90 percent. Malcolm Marx (Lions) has won 11 turnovers this season, with eight of those coming from jackals, no other player has won as many jackal turnovers.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Tom Wright, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Jahrome Brown, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Irae Simone, 23 Andy Muirhead
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Stephan Lewies, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Nathan McBeth.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Gianni Lombard, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia
Sharks v Jaguares
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 10.05 Buenos Aires time)
It is not often a coach admits the opposition scares him.
However, Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada ordered his team to stop watching TV coverage of the Sharks playing the Lions last weekend – because he feared they would become “scared”.
“I instructed the guys to stop watching the match after 10 minutes, because I thought what we were seeing [from the Sharks] would just scare them,” he admitted to reporters.
The Sharks gave their best performance this season to score six tries in a 42-5 mauling of the Lions in Johannesburg.
The Jaguares shocked the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend and can draw some comfort from the inconsistency of the Sharks, who have lost two of four home matches this season.
Despite this inconsistency, the Sharks feel a ‘big’ performance was a long time coming.
And they will look to continue that form Sharks assistant coach Jaco Pienaar said.
“It’s been coming,” he said.
“We played some good rugby against the Bulls the week before, although the result didn’t go our way, so we knew it was coming, and it did.”
Despite the demolition of the Lions, but Pienaar said the key is to not let the foot off the pedal.
“We always feel that win or lose, there are things we can always do better at,” he said.
“We acknowledge that there are things we did do well.
“So the plan is always to try to keep the momentum going for the things we’ve done well at, but also working on the areas you need to improve on.”
2018: Sharks won 20-10, Durban
2018: Jaguares won 29-13, Buenos Aires
2017: Sharks won 33-25, Buenos Aires
2017: Sharks won 18-13, Durban
2016: Sharks won 25-22, Buenos Aires
Prediction: This will be the seventh Super Rugby meeting between the Sharks and Jaguares, with the Durban squad picking up five wins from their previous six encounters. The Sharks are undefeated in their last 13 Super Rugby games at home against teams visiting from outside South Africa. The Jaguares have won five of their last 10 away games in Super Rugby, including a 22-20 win over the Bulls in Round 8; however, four of those five wins came after trailing at half-time on the day. The Sharks have conceded just six clean breaks per game this Super Rugby campaign, the fewest of any team in the competition. Pablo Matera (Jaguares) and Daniel du Preez (Shark) have each made 11 offloads this Super Rugby campaign, more than any other forwards in the competition.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Aphelele Fassi.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Javier Ortega Desio, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Juan Cruz Mallia, 23 Santiago Carreras.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Bulls v Reds
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 01.15, Sunday, April 14 Brisbane time)
The Reds will arrive at Loftus on Saturday in a buoyant mood after their impressive win over the Stormers last week.
It is the start of a challenging two-match tour, with the Queensland outfit continuing their South African when they travel to Durban for next Friday’s match against the Sharks at Kings Park.
In contrast, the Bulls have suffered a couple of disappointing losses in recent weeks – last week’s 20-22 capitulation to the Jaguares and that massive 20-56 hammering at the hands of the Chiefs, both in Pretoria.
The Australian team will fancy their chances in this outing.
“Playing at Loftus is always a great and challenging experience,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said.
“The Bulls will be highly motivated playing at home.
“After a couple of results haven’t gone their way, they’ll be putting in a good performance in front of their fans.”
Bulls coach Pote Human said he expected a ’15-man’ approach from the visiting side.
“They will come with the forwards, and they have good quality and skilful backs, so they will try to run us off our feet,” Human said.
“We have to finish; there were so many opportunities last week that we didn’t take.”
After their recent slump in form, the Bulls need the victory to keep them on track in the South African conference and in the running for a possible play-off spot.
Human included Springboks Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Marco van Staden and Rudolph Snyman in his starting XV.
However, Duane Vermeulen is rested for this game.
2018: Reds won 20-14, Brisbane
2016: Bulls won 41-22, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 43-22, Pretoria
2013: Reds won 23-18, Brisbane
2012: Bulls won 61-8, Pretoria
Prediction: Each of the last 12 Super Rugby games between the Bulls and Reds have been won by the home team on the day. The Bulls have won only one of their last five Super Rugby games at home against teams visiting from outside South Africa, despite leading at half-time on four occasions in that period. The Reds are on the hunt for back-to-back Super Rugby wins outside Australia for the first time since 2013 after securing a 34-31 win over the Sunwolves in Round Five. The Reds have beaten 29 defenders per game in Super Rugby 2019, the most of any team in the competition. Duane Vermeulen (Bulls) has won 12 turnovers in Super Rugby 2019, more than any other player, with seven of those turnovers coming from successful jackals (2nd most in the competition).
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Jack Hardy, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Aidan Toua, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Jock Campbell.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Compiles by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports