PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round 14 - Part Two
However, their referees – unlike their players – are doing for all the wrong reasons.
Kiwi referee Ben O'Keeffe, who already has an extraordinary list of complaints on his resume, slipped off a few more Christmas card lists this past weekend.
That is probably not surprising, given his poor track record and latest blunders.
What is puzzling is the public support he received from compatriot and SANZAAR Game Manager Lyndon Bray, himself a controversial figure that is not very popular outside New Zealand.
Bray, who has overloaded the Super Rugby panel with Kiwis, appointed five New Zealanders to officiate in the seven matches this week – four of those involving Kiwi teams.
Such actions are not going to placate the growing chorus of outcries against the bumbling New Zealand officials.
If the Aussies were unhappy that O'Keeffe and company missed the moment when Joe Moody took out Kurtley Beale with his forearm 10 metres in front of the ball, they are going to be outraged to learn he was 'rewarded' for his incompetence by taking charge of another game involving an Aussie team.
Games on Saturday in which Kiwi officials will be closely watched include Waratahs versus Highlanders, Sharks versus Chiefs and Lions versus Brumbies.
We take a look at the weekend's last four matches!
Saturday, May 19:
Waratahs v Highlanders
(Allianz Park, Sydney – Kick-off: 19.45; 9.45 GMT, 21.45 New Zealand time)
The word 'revenge' has been bandied about a lot this past week.
The Waratahs, still livid about the actions of New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe, are determined to get their own back by lowering the Highlanders' colours.
Most pundits feel the Waratahs are to blame for their own demise in the 29-31 loss to the Crusaders last week – having raced into a 29-0 lead inside the opening half-hour.
Admittedly, the Joe Moody elbow – which subsequently cost him a two-week ban – came at a crucial try and shifted momentum.
Was he red-carded, as he should have been, the Crusaders would have lost momentum and the Tahs may well have scored again.
The Waratahs feel they need to prove that incident had a significant influence on the game and the Highlanders could be on the receiving end of the backlash.
Lock Alex Ainley admitted they are expecting an emotional response from the Waratahs.
"We realise they lost last week against the Crusaders and they'll be hurting from that," Ainley said.
"It's a game they should have won and they'll bounce back strongly like we did after [our loss to] the Sharks," he said.
The Waratahs had performed well against the Crusaders before seeing the home side pull of their comeback to win.
"They've got attacking threats across the park so we just need to look after all them," he said.
2017: Highlanders won 44-28, Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 30-26, Sydney
2015: Highlanders won 35-17, Sydney (semifinal)
2015: Highlanders won 26-19, Dunedin
2014: Waratahs won 44-16, Sydney
Prediction: The Highlanders have won their last four games on the bounce against the Waratahs; they had never previously won consecutive games against the New South Wales franchise. The Waratahs have crossed for four or more tries in five of their last six games against New Zealand opposition; however, they've not registered a win in that time. The Highlanders have won seven of their last eight games in Australia, including a 49-point win over the Force in their most recent visit – their biggest ever win in the country. The Highlanders have scored 10 tries after holding possession for seven phases or more; only the Lions (11) have scored more tries from such extended possession. Israel Folau has scored five tries in his last five games at home against New Zealand opposition, bagging two braces in that time. The Waratahs may just work themselves into such a frenzy, they could lose control. The Highlanders to win by 15 points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (Captain), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Bryce Hegarty
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu'u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Tevita Li.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Sharks v Chiefs
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 01.05 NZ time Sunday, May 20)
The Sharks deny they have 'cracked the code' when playing against New Zealand sides.
However, they have had the kind of success this year – with wins over the Blues and Highlanders – that suggest their preparation has been spot on.
Sharks hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, who spoke of the 'disappointment' of losing to the Bulls last week, said – a lack of discipline and not being clinical enough were some of the key aspects they need to improve on this week.
"Against a New Zealand side it is always going to be a physical battle," the Springbok No.2 said of Saturday's showdown with the Chiefs.
"It is one we always look forward to.
"In recent games against New Zealand sides, we have always done well.
"We need to bring that same intensity and energy," he said of the approach to this week's encounter.
While the Chiefs were down on experience due to injuries and All Blacks commitments, the Sharks do not see them as a soft target.
"New Zealanders can put out a side with zero Super Rugby caps and they'll still be sharp,"Sharks flyhalf Robert du Preez said.
"That's just the way they are, they churn out players.
"We can't take this game lightly at all. Whether they put out their first-choice team or their third-choice team, we've still got a job to do," he said.
2016: Chiefs won 24-22, New Plymouth
2015: Sharks won 12-11, Durban
2013: Chiefs won 37-29, Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 37-6, Hamilton (Final)
2012: Chiefs won 18-12, Durban
Prediction: The Chiefs have won six of their last seven games against the Sharks, though this will be the first meeting between the teams since a 24-22 win to the Chiefs at Yarrow Stadium in Round 10, 2016. The Sharks have won four of their last seven games against New Zealand opposition; though, they will be looking for consecutive wins in such fixtures for the first time since winning three on the bounce in 2014. The Chiefs have won five of their last six games in South Africa, including their last three in a row; never before have they gone on a longer winning streak in the nation. The Chiefs (15) and Sharks (14) have made the most clean breaks per game of any team in this campaign. Robert du Preez has successfully piloted 54 goals this season, more than any other player in the competition – he has missed just six further attempts. The Sharks are due a good showing and should edge the under-powered Chiefs – but only by a single score – three or five points.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Makazole Mapimpi.
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Charlie Ngatai (captain), 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Liam Messam, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Karl Tu'inukuafe'.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei'aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Luteru Laulala, 23 Toni Pulu.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Lions v Brumbies
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 01.15 AEST Sunday, May 20)
The Lions will look to bounce back from a three-match losing streak, facing a Brumbies also on a losing streak.
Defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin last week completed a disastrous Australasia tour for the Lions, who began with an impressive win over the Waratahs, then fell to the Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin said the defeats are not the end of the world.
"We are in the fight," he said of his team's position in the standings.
"We are the [South African] conference leaders and we are in the fight."
De Bruin said they must plug a porous defence to get their campaign back on track.
The 2016 and 2017 Super Rugby runners-up have conceded 45 tries in 12 matches, an average of nearly four per game.
Only the Stormers and bottom team Sunwolves have let in more.
"We conceded some really soft tries in the last match of our tour, against the Highlanders and I'm incredibly disappointed," admitted De Bruin.
"We want to score tries and will continue have a go," he added.
The Brumbies, who face the Lions and Bulls on their tour, also look to restore some pride in their season, after struggling in the past month – having lost to the Highlanders, Jaguares, Crusaders and Rebels.
The Australian conference race is still alive, but the Brumbies say their only focus is to start winning games again.
Wallaby star David Pocock is back in the starting XV and will be a key player.
"We're disappointed, we've had a string of losses and they've all been games which we could have won, which is the hard thing to take in," prop Scott Sio said.
"We've got to review it as honestly we can and highlight the areas we need to move forward. There are a lot of positives but also some big areas of improvement.
"It doesn't get any tougher than the Lions in Johannesburg and the Bulls in Pretoria. We've got a new team and a new challenge, you can't have your head down. You've got to pick yourself up, move forward and be ready to play the next week."
2017: Lions won 13-6, Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 30-20, Johannesburg
2012: Brumbies won 34-20, Johannesburg
2011: Lions won 29-20, Canberra
2010: Brumbies won 24-13
Prediction: Each of the last four games between the Lions and Brumbies has been won by the away team on the day (2 wins apiece); with the Lions picking up a 13-6 victory in their most recent meeting. The Lions have scored five or more tries in four of their last five games at home, including an eight-try effort in their most recent game there. The Brumbies have lost their last four games in a row, the last time they went on a longer losing streak was a five-game drought in 2011. The Lions have beaten 27 defenders per game this season, the most of any team in the competition and nine more than the Brumbies. Joe Powell has crossed for a try in two of his last three games away from home for the Brumbies and has provided a try assist in each of his last two appearances overall. The Lions are always better at home and should be too strong for the Brumbies. On the face of it the Lions should win by more than 10 points, but we feel the margin will be about eight points.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 12 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Madosh Michael Tambwe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nicholas Groom, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Francois Mostert (captain), 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Len Massyn, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga'a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nick Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 21 Tom Cusack, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Andrew Smith.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stephen Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Jaguares v Bulls
(Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires – Kick-off: 18.40; 23.40 SA time; 21.40 GMT)
The Bulls have not been very good on the road – not a stat you want bandied about ahead of a crucial conference clash.
In fact they have lost their last nine matches outside of South Africa.
Their last win in Australia was against the Western Force in 2016 and their last win in New Zealand was against the Blues in 2013.
Their only previous trip to Argentina resulted in a loss in 2016.
Bulls coach John Mitchell, instead of seeing a problem, sees an opportunity.
“That is a nice challenge for us, to change that," when he was asked about the encounter with the Jaguares.
"We have belief in what we do and where we want to go and that will motivate us on Saturday.
"The injuries are part of rugby and we need to adapt to play without those players," he said of the absence of Springbok lock Lodewyk de Jager, prop Lizo Gqoboka and regular captain Burger Odendaal.
"Rugby is a team effort anyway and this gives the likes of Manie [Libbok], JT [John Jackson] and Hendre [Stassen] a nice opportunity to express themselves."
2017: Bulls won 26-13, Pretoria
2016: Jaguares won 29-11, Buenos Aires
Prediction: This will be the third meeting between the Jaguares and Bulls, with each of the two previous encounters being won by the home team on the day (one win apiece). The Jaguares are currently enjoying a four-game win streak, their best ever in Super Rugby; however, they've won just two of their last eight games at home. The Bulls have lost their last nine games outside South Africa, picking up just two losing bonus points in that time. The Jaguares have a scrum success rate of just 85% this campaign, the lowest of any team in the competition. Jesse Kriel made a joint round-high five clean breaks in Round 13, taking his season tally to 18, more than any other South African player. The Bulls do have a chance, but it will take a special effort against the high-flying Jaguares – who should win by nine points.
Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Sebastian Sanchez, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Manuel Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia.
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Handre Pollard (captain), 11 John-Ben Kotze, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Nqobisizwe Mxoli, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Hendre Stassen, 20 Nicholas de Jager, 21 Andre Warner, 22 John Jackson, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports