PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round Five - Part Two
The Highlanders host neighbours the Crusaders in a mouth-watering encounter at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The Crusaders enter the match on the back of their defeat to the Hurricanes last week and things will not get any easier for them against a powerful Highlanders side.
Also on Saturday, the Sharks open their Australasian tour with a match against the Brumbies.
The Stormers are back home after their horror Australasian tour and they face a Blues side who are brimming with confidence after their victory against the Lions in Johannesburg.
The Lions will be looking to bounce back against the Sunwolves, before the Jaguares host the Reds in Buenos Aires.
There is also a match on Sunday where the Waratahs host the high-flying Rebels in Sydney.
We take a look at Saturday and Sunday's matches!
Saturday, March 17:
Highlanders v Crusaders
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
And Aaron Mauger's side will be confident of keeping their perfect record intact against a Crusaders side that looks ripe for the picking.
The Crusaders are still without a number of players due to injury and another two was added to the list ahead of Round Five when Ryan Crotty and Samuel was ruled out because of concussion.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson says the absence of Crotty will be a big loss when the champions face the Highlanders in New Zealand's fierce South Island derby on Saturday.
"He is huge for us," Robertson said of the New Zealand international, who left the field early in last week's chastening 19-29 loss in Wellington after a collision with a teammate.
"He is an on-field coach, passionate and plays well in every big game that we have had. So, we will miss him."
The reigning Super Rugby champions only lost one match in the whole of last season, but are looking to avoid a second defeat in a row when they face the 2015 champions in Dunedin.
Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett well is aware of the magnitude of a South Island derby.
"It must be a big match . . . I've had about 20 interviews," Hammett told Stuff.
"It's fantastic. We've just about sold out, it's massive. To be part of that, that's what the players play for. It will be a brilliant environment to play in. Bring on Saturday."
2017: Crusaders won 17-0, Christchurch (Play-offs)
2017: Crusaders won 25-22, Christchurch
2017: Crusaders won 30-27, Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 34-26, Highlanders
2015: Highlanders won 25-20, Christchurch
Prediction: The Crusaders have won nine of their last 11 games against the Highlanders, including each of their last three meetings. The Highlanders have won their last eight games on home turf; the last time they won more in succession at home was a 13-game glut from 2000 to 2002. The Crusaders will be out to avoid consecutive losses in the regular season for the first time since April 2015. The Highlanders have made 15+ offloads in four of their last five games on home turf, making an average of 16 offloads per game in that time. Waisake Naholo has scored eight tries in his last five games against the Crusaders, with each coming in the form of a brace. It should be another tightly contested affair with the Highlanders edging this clash by seven points or less.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tulioma, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Chris King, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Billy Harmon, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Sharks:
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.45; 08.45 GMT; 10.45 SA time)
The Sharks will be looking to get their road trip underway on a good note when they face the Brumbies in Canberra.
After a loss to the Lions and a draw with the Waratahs, the Sharks finally got their opening win of the season with a 50-22 victory over the Sunwolves in Durban.
"The Brumbies are a very good team," said Sharks head coach Robert du Preez.
"Their pack of forwards is really strong and that is where the game is going to be won or lost. We have to cancel that pack of forwards to be dominant and be in the game.
“We enjoy touring and there’s a great vibe in the team.
"Our training sessions this week have been good with some great intensity. It’s important for us to start this tour off on a positive note."
Meanwhile, the Brumbies have made six changes to their side for the clash and Christian Lealiifano his happy with the decisions his head coach Dan Mckellar has made.
The Brumbies are coming off two straight defeats to the Reds and the Rebels.
"I'm glad Dan has had confidence to do that (the changes)," Leali'ifano said.
"The depth in our squad is good enough for us to do it, so the changes that have been made will be pretty seamless,"
2017: Sharks won 27-22, Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 16-9 Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 29-10, Durban
2012: Sharks won 29-26, Canberra
2011: Sharks won 34-16, Durban
Prediction: Three of the last four games between these teams has seen the away side on the day emerge victorious, including a 27-22 win to the Sharks in their last meeting. The Brumbies haven't won a home game against a team from outside Australia since Round 14, 2016 (v Sunwolves), losing six such games since. The Sharks have left with competition points from all but one of their last seven games in Australia, picking up four wins and two losing bonus points in that time. The Sharks have made 18 clean breaks per game this season, more than any other side in the competition; only two players have made more clean breaks than Makazole Mapimpi (8) this season, who has played just twice. Only Damian de Allende (55) has made more carries this season than the Brumbies' Isi Naisarani (48). The Brumbies are struggling badly and the Sharks should have too much firepower for them. The Sharks will win by 10 points or less.
Brumbies: 15 Andrew Muirhead, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga'a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Tom Banks.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Stormers v Blues
(Newlands, Cape Town – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 02.05 NZ time Sunday, March 18)
The Stormers have been severely hit by injuries this season and to compound matters the team and management have been hit by a flu outbreak that disrupted preparations for the important meeting with the visiting Blues, who last week inflicted the Lions' first loss of the campaign.
The Stormers have made a few changes to their side after their three-week horror tour came to an end against the Highlanders last week. Interestingly, Pieter-Steph du Toit returns to the side in the No.7 spot, while Cobus Wiese starts on the bench.
Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck says it is costly errors that have let his side down in recent weeks. The Stormers returned home with three losses from three matches on tour.
"It's the small, little errors that are getting us," said Fleck. "It's the detail that's letting us down I guess.
"The detail in the line-out, for example – we're building pressure and then we concede another penalty so that's another work-on. And that's something we can fix in the next couple of weeks."
Meanwhile, Blues head coach Umaga said the side is well motivated and determined to build on their winning effort against the Lions last week.
"We are naturally pleased with the result [38-35 win] and with many aspects of our performance last week, but we also realize that we must continue to improve every week.
"The Stormers have had the wood on us in recent years and we need to work very hard this week to prepare for what will be another tough encounter here in South Africa.
"There were many parts of our game that were pleasing last week but we gave away two tries and did not cherish our possession enough.
“We can’t afford to give the Stormers the same opportunities that we gave the Lions, but at the same time we want to play with the same level of commitment, aggression and belief."
2017: Stormers won 30-22, Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 27-16, Cape Town
2013: Blues won 18-17, Auckland
2012: Stormers won 27-17, Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 28-26, Auckland
Prediction: The Stormers have won five of their last six games against the Blues, with their sole loss in that time coming by a margin of just one point. The Stormers have won nine of their last 10 regular season home games, only losing to fellow South African side the Lions in that time. The Blues will be looking for a second win in South Africa in a single season for the first time since 2008 when they picked up big wins against the Lions (55-10) and Cheetahs (50-26). The Blues have made an average gain of 542m per game this season, nearly 30m per game more than any other squad. Kobus van Dyk has made 29 tackles this campaign, the most of any player who is yet to miss an attempt. The Stormers woes will continue with the Blues winning by 10 points.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Johannes Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 Craig Barry.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ross Wright/Sione Mafileo, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 George Moala.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Lions v Sunwolves
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 17.15, 15.15 GMT; 00.15 Japan time Sunday, March 18)
The Lions are out to "put things right" when they face Japan's Sunwolves on Saturday after throwing away an 18-point second-half lead against the Blues in a 35-28 defeat last week.
Despite losing some experienced players to injury, the Lions will still have a lot of firepower when they tackle the Sunwolves in Johannesburg.
Springbok Francois Mostert will lead the side from blindside flank, while the team shows several rotational changes especially with next week’s away trip to Argentina in mind.
One of these sees the return of Harold Vorster to midfield with Rohan Janse van Rensburg moving out to the wing.
Meanwhile, No fewer than five South Africans have been included in the Sunwolves’ team, all of them forwards – they are Pieter Labuschagne, Wimpie van der Walt, Hencus van Wyk, Grant Hattingh and Willem Britz.
Lions head coach Swys de Bruin explained his side have put the loss to the Blues behind them.
"That match is in the past and we are looking forward to once more playing home in front of our supporters.
"The Sunwolves showed a lot of improvement but we will focus on our goals."
2017: Lions won 94-7, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 26-13, Tokyo
Prediction: The Lions have taken wins in each of their previous two games against the Sunwolves, including a 94-7 demolition in their last meeting which stands as the second biggest win in Super Rugby history. The Lions haven't lost back-to-back Super Rugby games since they opened their 2015 campaign with a string of three defeats. The Sunwolves continue to search for their maiden away win (Lost 16), they've conceded 196 points across their last three games on the road. The Sunwolves have the best tackle success rate (87 percent) of any team so far in 2018. Elton Jantjies has provided five try assists this season, the equal most of any player (with Will Genia), as well as scoring one try of his own. The Lions will win by huge margin again. It will probably be by 50-points or more.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Francois Mostert, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Jacobus Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Sithembiso Sithole, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Shaun Reynolds.
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 William Tupou, 12 Michael Little, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Yutaka Nagare (captain), 8 Michael Leitch (captain), 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Wimpie van der Walt, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Craig Millar.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Willem Britz, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Ryoto Nakamura, 23 Ryuji Noguchi.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Stephen Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Jaguares v Reds
(Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires – Kick-off: 18.40; 21.40 GMT; 07.40 AEST Sunday, March 18)
The Reds are on a roll, but even consecutive wins against the Brumbies and the Bulls can't stop the debate raging over new coach Brad Thorn's controversial sidelining of Wallabies star playmaker Quade Cooper, who will be captaining little Brisbane club Souths this weekend while his teammates are in Buenos Aires to face the Jaguares.
Wallabies great Matt Giteau said Thursday that the talents of Cooper, 29, are being wasted and if Thorn doesn't want him, he should be allowed to go to another Super Rugby franchise.
"I think he brings so much to a team and obviously if the Reds aren't going to use him, then another franchise should still have the opportunity of getting him," Giteau, one of eight Wallabies to play 100 Tests, told foxsports.com.au.
"I think it's just a waste for Australian rugby. He should be training with the guys even if he's not going to be picked to play. He's got 70-odd Tests, I'm sure this guy has got something that he can help with."
Meanwhile, Thorn knows that it will be tough to get a win in Buenos Aires.
"It's a tough old challenge to head to the other side of the world for a game of footy, but the guys have been great this week.
"They've embraced the challenge and made the most of the opportunity to spend this time together. They know there's a job to be done this weekend. It's a long way to come for no reward," said Thorn.
The Jaguares will be looking to build on their first win of the season when they mauled the Waratahs 38-28.
2017: Jaguares won 22-8, Buenos Aires
Prediction: The Jaguares picked up a 22-8 win in their only previous meeting with the Reds. The Argentine squad have won four of their previous six games against Australian opposition, including each of their last three. The Queensland side have won just one of their last 20 games outside Australia, conceding an average of 35 points per game in that span. The Reds have gained just 350m per game this season, fewer than any other team. Emiliano Boffelli has scored four tries in his last four games overall for the Jaguares, as well has having scored four tries in his last four games at home for the Argentinian outfit. The Reds have shown sides of improvement, but we can't see them beating the Jaguares in Argentina. The Jaguares will win by 15 points.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Santiago Iglesias, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Felipe Arregui.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Botta, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Juan Martin Hernandez, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jono Lance, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Adam Korczyk, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Duncan Paia’aua.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Sunday, March 18:
Waratahs v Melbourne Rebels
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney – Kick-off: 16.05; 05.05 GMT)
The Melbourne Rebels aim to preserve the only 100 percent record in the competition when they face the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday.
Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels is in no mood to go easy on his players, despite their perfect start, promising to work them harder in training this week ahead of their showdown with Australian rivals Waratah.
"I'm probably thinking the opposite," Wessels told the team's website when asked if he would rest players who had only a six-day turnaround after travelling back from Japan for last Friday's win over Brumbies. "We're probably going to go harder."
"What we don't want to do is lose fitness during the season, we want to get fitter as the season progresses," said Wessels.
"As pleased as we are with the first three games, we know we want to be competitive come June… and this is just one part of that."
Meanwhile, after facing three teams in the South African conference on consecutive weekend, two of which were on the road, Waratahs lock Tom Staniforth is aware of the challenge that his team will face against the Melbourne Rebels in Sunday's Super Rugby match.
"It's no secret they [Melbourne Rebels] are in good form and it’s our job to stop that form and put them to the sword. It’s going to be a tough challenge," Staniforth told the team's website.
"They are a very good side but in saying that, with challenges come the awesome opportunity to take them on. It's what we play the game for: it's for those games where it’s a rivalry and a contest."
2017: Waratahs won 50-23, Sydney
2017: Waratahs won 32-25, Melbourne
2016: Rebels won 21-17, Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 18-16, Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 38-28, Melbourne
Prediction: The Waratahs have won 11 of their previous 13 meetings between these teams, managing to pick up a losing bonus point in their only two losses to the Rebels. The Waratahs have scored only five first-half tries across their last six games, failing to find the whitewash in the opening stanza twice in that time. The Rebels will be looking for back-to-back wins away from home for the first time since Round Six, 2016, which included a 21-17 win over the ‘Tahs. The Waratahs are the only team yet to miss an attempt at goal; the Highlanders (92 percent) are the only other team with a goal kicking accuracy above 90 percent. Sefanaia Naivalu has an average gain of 16m per carry this season, the most of any player in the competition to have made at least 10 carries. The Rebels will take this one by five points.
Waratahs: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Mitch Short, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Michael Wells, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Alex Newsome, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Ross Haylett-Petty, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Adam Coleman (captain), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Mahe Vailanu, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Colby Fainga’a, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Billy Meakes, 23 Sefa Naivalu.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)