Preview: Super Rugby, Round Six - Part Two
SIMPLY THE BEST: The spectator numbers and television viewers are down, but officials still believed the competition has the best entertainment value.
South Africa-born Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels believes it is the “premier rugby competition in the world when it comes to speed and skill”.
“I do not believe there is a team in Europe that could travel to New Zealand and beat the Crusaders there.
“Unless you play New Zealand teams in New Zealand and beat them you cannot claim to be in the best competition in the world.”
The Christchurch-based Crusaders have won the competition a record nine times and lead the combined standings after five rounds this season.
The travel factor will come into play later on Saturday – when the Sunwolves and Lions travel to Singapore (both taking lengthy trips) to do battle and the Chiefs also cross the Indian Ocean to take on the Bulls in Pretoria.
The Rebels had to make that long-haul flight last week and should be in much better shape when they face the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
On Sunday the Reds host the Brumbies in an all-Australian derby in Brisbane.
We look at the last four matches of the weekend!
Saturday, March 23:
Sunwolves v Lions
(National Stadium, Singapore – Kick-off: 18.55; 12.55 SA time; 10.55 GMT)
Both teams had their preparations disrupted this week – but for vastly different reasons.
The Sunwolves had to deal with the fall-out of reports that they are about to be axed from the competition after 2020.
The Sunwolves are currently fourth in the five-team Australian conference, after losing four of their five games this season.
They joined Super Rugby – along with South Africa’s Southern Kings, subsequently kicked out, and Argentina’s Jaguares – when the competition expanded from 15 to 18 teams in 2016.
The Japanese franchise retained their spot when the tournament reverted to 15 teams last year, after the expanded format proved unpopular with fans and broadcasters.
The Lions would have been very pleased that they completed their preparations – for the most part – in Johannesburg, before only flying out to Singapore on Wednesday.
Thursday coach Swys de Bruin revealed they were not able to train because of a lightning scare.
Coach Swys de Bruin named a much-changed starting line-up on Thursday, but he confirmed from Singapore that the weather had hampered their preparations.
“It’s very humid here,” the coach said.
“[However], we couldn’t train because of a lightning scare,” De Bruin added.
“We did all of our detail under roof cover.”
The coach said there is “a good vibe” in the camp, despite the lightning scare, and they are “looking forward” to the game.
2018: Lions won 40-38, Johannesburg
2017: Lions won 94-7, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 26-13, Tokyo
Prediction: This will be the fourth Super Rugby meeting between the Lions and Sunwolves, the Lions emerging victorious in all previous meetings including a 94-7 triumph in July 2017 – the second biggest win of any team in Super Rugby history. The Sunwolves have led at half-time in three of their last four Super Rugby fixtures; however, they’ve gone on to win only once in that time. The Lions have won only one of their last five games played outside South Africa. However, that victory came in their most recent such match and they will be looking for back-to-back wins in such fixtures for the first time since May 2017. The Lions have scored five tries in Super Rugby 2019 after forcing a turnover, the equal most of any team in the competition alongside the Hurricanes. Hayden Parker (Sunwolves) has been successful with 62 of his last 63 kicks at goal in Super Rugby, including each of his last 24 consecutive attempts.
Sunwolves: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Gerhard Van Den Heever, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Ben Gunter, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Grant Hattingh, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Takuya Yamasawa, 23 Hosea Saumaki.
Lions: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Lionel Mapoe, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Ruan Vermaak, 7 Stephan Lewies, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (captain), 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Hacjivah Dayimani, 20 James Venter, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Gianni Lombard, 23 Aphiwe Dyanti
Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara
TMO: Minoru Fuji
Bulls v Chiefs
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 02.05, Sunday, March 24, NZ time)
Most coaches fear the day the Chiefs find their mojo.
Winless after four defeats and a draw, they are at the foot of the 2019 standings.
They shipped 50 points in a 17-54 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra and lost to Sunwolves in Hamilton, yet they drew with the Hurricanes last week.
Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said his side must produce an improved performance, or they will remain winless.
“Last week was frustrating for us and as a team, we want to see ourselves capitalise on the opportunities presented to us,” he said of the 23-all draw in Hamilton.
“The Bulls are a very good team and are coming off the back of a bye.
“For us to be successful we need to try to be more accurate and continue to focus on delivering our game in order to improve on last week’s performance.”
Bulls coach Pote Human is wary that the Chiefs may find form at the expensive of his side.
“I am happy with the improvement and growth we have shown so far in the competition,” the Bulls coach said.
“It is still early days, but we managed to tick some boxes in the first month of the competition.”
However, he said facing New Zealand opposition for the first time will test them in different ways.
“Their intensity is much higher than South African teams,” the coach said.
“The Chiefs have an awesome side.
“When they click it is going to be difficult.
“I am worried that they will click on Saturday.”
Bulls captain Handre Pollard also said the Chiefs remain a very tough opponent.
“They have this ability to make things look so easy at times and are very quick to turn defence into attack,” Pollard said.
“Their ability to score from anywhere is assisted by a sound first phase game, so this is going to be a huge challenge for us.”
2018: Chiefs won 41-28, Hamilton
2017: Chiefs won 28-12, Waikato
2015: Chiefs won 34-20, Rotorua
2014: Bulls and Chiefs drew 34-all, Pretoria
2012: Chiefs won 28-22, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs are undefeated in their last five Super Rugby games against the Bulls; though, the Pretoria squad had won their four meetings prior. The Bulls have won their last two Super Rugby games on the bounce, keeping their opposition scoreless in the first half each time – they had not previously kept their opposition scoreless in the first half of a game since 2013. The Chiefs are now six games without a win in Super Rugby 2019; only once in the competition’s history have the Chiefs gone longer without a success (eight games in 2010/11). The Chiefs have conceded just seven penalties/free-kicks per game in Super Rugby 2019, fewer than any other team in the competition. Handre Pollard (Bulls) is the competition’s leading point scorer thus far in Super Rugby 2019 with a tally of 74 points – 28 more than any other player.
Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Hanro Liebenberg, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuyzen, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 22 Dylan Sage.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Brodie Retallick (captain), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Jesse Parete , 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Stephan Elenchus (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Sharks v Rebels
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 02.15, Sunday, March 24, Victoria time)
The Rebels will look to bounce back from a tight loss to the Lions in Johannesburg last week, as they face the Sharks who are coming off the bye – after two straight defeats.
The Sharks’ Springbok centre Andre Esterhuizen, who watched much of the previous game from the sidelines, can’t wait to get stuck in.
“We need to get back on track and get some log points,” he said of the losses they suffered against the Stormers and Bulls.
“Obviously, we were disappointed in the last two performances, but we’ve had time to reflect and this week has been about working hard on the training pitch with the emphasis on ball retention and getting back to physicality.”
The Sharks were forced into a late change.
Craig Burden, who spent the last four years in France and was signed on a short-term deal to bolster the resources at hooker, was injured at training on Thursday.
He was replaced on the bench by Kerron van Vuuren, after the former was initially named to make his comeback for the Durban franchise.
The Rebels’ South African coach Dave Wessels acknowledged the focus this week has been to control momentum swings in the game, which hurt the side dearly against the Lions.
“We had a really good first half against the Lions, but then momentum got away from us and we didn’t control that well in the second half against them,” Wessels said.
“Our biggest challenge is to run our best race, because we want to be the best version of ourselves that we can be and we were for fifty minutes in Johannesburg, but we need to do that more consistently in Durban.”
Wessels said he’d sought out Super Rugby officials for assurance that it was likely a one-off under referee Egon Seconds.
“I don’t think in the history of Super Rugby a team’s only got one penalty in a game,” Wessels said.
“We wanted to confirm that there weren’t any systematic issues in our game with the referees and they’ve given us feedback that there aren’t.
“We’ve got Rasta Rasivhenge, who’s obviously an experienced referee and I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”
2018: Rebels won 46-14, Melbourne
2017: Sharks and Rebels drew 9-all, Durban
2015: Sharks won 25-21, Durban
2014: Sharks won 22-16, Melbourne
2013: Sharks won 64-7, Durban
Prediction: The Rebels ran out to a 46-14 triumph in their last clash with the Sharks, their first ever win against them in Super Rugby at their sixth attempt. The Sharks will be looking to avoid back-to-back home defeats in Super Rugby for the first time since their final two home games of the 2017 season. Four of the Rebels’ last five Super Rugby games have been won by the team trailing at half-time on the day, with the Melbourne squad picking up three wins in that span. The Rebels have stolen five line-outs in Super Rugby 2019, the joint-most of any team in the competition (Crusaders also five). Armand van der Merwe (Sharks) has scored four tries in his last six Super Rugby games and is coming off the back of his best performance on the throw, making 13 successful throws from as many attempts against the Bulls in Round Four.
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 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Tom English, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Rob Leota, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 TBC.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Griffin Colby (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Sunday, March 24:
Reds v Brumbies
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 15.05; 05.05 GMT)
The Brumbies have a chance to go top of the Australian conference – depending, of course, of what happens to the Rebels against the Sharks in Durban.
The Brumbies have lost two tight games to the Rebels this year, but boast a last-gasp 19-13 win the Waratahs and put 54 points on the Chiefs in the second round.
The Reds, who host the Brumbies, Rebels and Stormers in successive weeks, are wary of the Canberra-based franchise.
“I think they’re playing some really good football,” veteran Reds loose forward Scott Higginbotham said.
“They’d be disappointed with their two games against the Rebels, but their rolling maul has been a strength and so has their scrum.
“We’ll have to be on our game around the park.”
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar was full of praise for his team after last Friday’s win over the NSW Waratahs.
McKellar was pleased with his team’s display of defensive capability.
“I just said to the boys then that it was off the back of our defence,” he said of last week’s win.
“It probably wasn’t pretty at times but we just stuck at it, stuck at it,” the Brumbies coach added.
“On the back of last week we spoke a lot about dealing with pressure and momentum swings and I thought we were outstanding there.
“We stuck to what works well for us when we were under pressure and that game was off the back of our defence, and our effort.”
2018: Brumbies won 45-21, Canberra
2018: Reds won 18-10, Brisbane
2017: Reds won 16-15, Brisbane
2017: Brumbies won 43-10, Canberra
2016: Brumbies won 43-24, Canberra
Prediction: Each of the last five Super Rugby games between the Reds and Brumbies have been won by the home team on the day, with the ACT side picking up a 45-21 win in their most recent encounter. The Reds have won three of their last four Super Rugby games when hosting Australian opposition, more than they had won in their 13 such fixtures prior. The Brumbies will be looking to win consecutive Australian derbies in Super Rugby for the first time since winning 10 on the bounce from June 2015 to April 2017. The Reds have scored two tries after stealing a line-out this Super Rugby campaign, the other teams combined have scored just three in this fashion. Brumbies’ duo Rory Arnold (23) and Sam Carter (21) have won more line-outs on their own throw than any other players in Super Rugby 2019.
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Harry Hockings, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Feao Fotuaika.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Murray Douglas, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Jordan Jackson-Hope.
Referee: Paul Williams (Australia)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AFP & AAP
* Stats courtesy of Opta Sports