Preview: Super Rugby, Round Three - Part Two
It may seem like a low-key start, but there is plenty to look forward to in the opening match between the Sunwolves and Rebels.
The real fun starts when the star-studded Crusaders host the injury-hit Stormers in Christchurch. For most it is simply a case of 'by how much' will the Crusaders win? The Stormers may have other ideas.
Next up is the Sharks, fresh from a bye and with an opening round loss, waiting for a high-flying Waratahs team – who stole a win from the Stormers last week.
Then there is the much-anticipated trans-Jukskei derby between the Bulls and Lions – two teams just 55 kilometres apart, a short drive from Johannesburg to Pretoria. Both started with wins under new coaches.
The weekend's action is completed when the Jaguares and Hurricanes go head-to-head at Estadio José Amalfitani, in Buenos Aires. Both teams are coming off disappointing defeats.
We look at all the Saturday matches!
Saturday, March 3:
Sunwolves v Rebels
(Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo – Kick-off: 13.15; 15.15 AEDT; 06.15 GMT)
Fresh from their demolition of the Reds, the Rebels meet the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
There is some history between the two franchises, with a number of Sunwolves players having previously played for the Melbourne-based Rebels.
Hooker and fan favourite Shota Horie made 19 appearances for the Rebels in 2013 and 2014.
Fellow front row forward Keita Inagaki followed with one game for the Rebels in 2015 and Kotaro Matsushima played five games off the bench in 2016.
The Sunwolves, now coached by All Black and current Japan national team coach Jamie Joseph, are looking to improve on poor results they produced in their first two years in Super Rugby.
It appears Joseph are having the desired effect and the Japanese outfit's players showed they're not going to be easy beats in 2018.
They put up some stern resistance against the highly-fancied Brumbies in their opening game of the season last weekend.
An upset looked on the cards, when the Sunwolves led the Brumbies 19-15 at half-time, before the Australians bounced back after the break to claim a 32-25 win.
They are hoping the experienced and highly regarded Joseph can also take them to the top as he did with the Highlanders – when they won their first Super Rugby title in 2015.
Joseph left New Zealand at the end of the 2016 season to take up the role as Japanese national team coach, and now assumes the responsibility of the Sunwolves in an integrated coaching position.
2016: Rebels won 35-9, Tokyo
Prediction: The Rebels came away with a 35-9 victory when these teams met in March 2016, the only previous meeting between them. The Sunwolves have now earned competition points in each of their last two games; never before have they earned points in three consecutive fixtures. Melbourne will be looking to open their Super Rugby campaign with consecutive wins for the first time in their history. The Sunwolves managed a tackle success rate of 90 percent in their opening game, their rate last season overall was just 80 percent, the joint lowest. Will Genia provided three try assists last weekend, the first time a Rebels player had made three in a single game since James O'Connor did so against the Highlanders in July 2013. The Sunwolves will threaten and could even lead deep into the game. However, the Rebels have too much class and should win by 12 points.
Sunwolves: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 William Tupou, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Yutaka Nagare (captain), 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Willem Britz, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Craig Millar.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James Moore, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Ryuji Noguchi.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Adam Coleman (captain), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Fereti Sa'aga, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Colby Fainga'a, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Billy Meakes.
Referee: Egon Seconds (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
Crusaders v Stormers
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT; 08.35 SA Time)
Most pundits suggest it is simply a case of the margin – by how much the Crusaders will win.
However, neither team shares that sentiment – at least not publicly.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck, still smarting from the last-minute loss to the Waratahs last week, said this week his team is looking forward to the challenge of facing the defending champions in Christchurch.
"It is a good challenge for our boys," Fleck said in a teleconference call from Christchurch.
"We said at the beginning of the year that we are looking to challenge the top teams in the competition consistently, whether that is at home or away.
"This match gives us the opportunity to take on the defending champions in their own backyard and we are looking forward to it," he added.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson spoke of the importance of "maintaining" their rhythm and consistency – especially after the impressive win over the Chiefs last week.
He said the Stormers, despite their iffy start, do post a serious threat.
"They have big men," Robertson said, adding: "They have [players with] international experience.
"They have quality and play good footy.
They have a clear identity how they play.
"[Lock Pieter-Steph] du Toit is a big man and can carry. Their captain [Siya] Kolisi is a great man and he can play.
"They have a couple of wings that can score tries. They are a well-rounded team."
2017: Crusaders won 57-24, Christchurch
2014: Crusaders won 14-13, Christchurch
2013: Crusaders won 19-14, Cape Town
2012: Crusaders won 31-24, Christchurch
2011: Crusaders won 29-10, Cape Town (semifinal)
Prediction: The Crusaders have won 14 of their last 16 games against the Stormers, including each of their last six. The Crusaders have never been defeated by the Stormers when playing at home, scoring an average of 31 points per game across that time. The Crusaders have won their last 12 games at home against teams from outside New Zealand; their last such loss came in the opening round of the 2015 campaign against the Rebels. The Stormers haven't won in New Zealand since an 18-16 win over the Hurricanes in Round 11, 2013; they've lost eight games there since. George Bridge has scored six tries from his four previous games against South African teams, including a hat-trick in his only previous encounter with the Stormers. Yes, the Stormers can win, but don't bet your house on it. The Crusaders should win comfortably – by at least 20 points.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Peter Samu, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Chris King, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Stormers: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Dillyn Leyds, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 John Schickerling, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Kobus van Dyk, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 George Whitehead.
Referee: Nicholas Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Sharks v Waratahs
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 00.05 AEST, Sunday, March 3)
It can either be a blessing in disguise or a real drag.
The Sharks are coming off a bye, following their first-round loss to the Lions.
It afforded them a chance to re-assess, but it may also mean they restart the season – being a bit rusty.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez said they are over the disappointment of the loss against the Lions and will "take the positives from that game forward. "
"Training over the last two weeks have gone well with great intensity at sessions," Du Preez said.
"Emphasis was placed on areas we needed to work on and the players are committed to getting things right."
He is well aware of the strengths of the Waratahs – a team with "some dangerous players across the park".
"We need to concentrate on our game-plan and managing key areas to nullify their threats.
"Playing at home is always special and we hope that the KZN public will come out and support their team. We will do our best to make our fans proud."
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said they have taken some valuable lessons from their last-minute win over the Stormers last week.
"We focused on some key areas of our game this week, including our ability to get out of our territory quicker – while at the same time working on ways to negate the Sharks' strengths," Gibson said.
"Last week's win showed we have character and purpose as a team and even though there were some shaky moments, it was encouraging to see the team pull through a tight and physical match.
"We are looking to build on the character and positive attitude that was shown last week."
2017: Sharks won 37-14, Durban
2015: Waratahs 33-18, Sydney
2014: Sharks won 32-10, Durban
2012: Waratahs 34-30, Sydney
2011: Sharks won 26-21, Durban
Prediction: Each of the last six games between these teams has been won by the home team on the day. The Sharks have now lost their last two games at home; the last time they lost more in succession was a four-game stretch from May 2009 to February 2010. Waratahs lost both of their games in South Africa in Super Rugby 2017; however, they had won four of six games in the country prior. The Sharks have conceded just eight tries in their last six home games against Australian opposition, twice keeping their opponents tryless in that period. Bernard Foley has crossed for a try in each of his three previous games against the Sharks. This is going to be a thrill-a-minute affair, with the Sharks sneaking a late winner – by five points.
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Lubabalo Mtembu, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Michael Wells, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Nick Palmer, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Alex Newsome.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Bulls v Lions
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT)
Arguably the most anticipated game of the weekend.
You have two teams with new coaches, both established and seasoned mentors. Both coming off impressive victories.
The Bulls were the more settled of the two teams and their dismantling of the Hurricanes showed that they are no longer also-rans.
“The guys really showed a lot of courage last weekend, but that is what you expect from a Bulls player," coach John Mitchell said.
"More encouraging to me was the belief shown by the guys in how we wanted to execute and play the game.
"You need to trust the process and each other and that was what happened," Mitchell added.
The Bulls' New Zealand mentor said he expects an "element of surprise" from the Lions.
"They will continue to be innovative, so we will need to adapt," Mitchell said.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin made it clear his team will not deviate from their expansive game, despite it being a crunch match.
"We will do what we have done for the last five years," De Bruin said, adding: "We have a game that we believe in and enjoy."
He also had praise for his Bulls counterpart <Mitchell.
"The Bulls have always had great players. Look at their locks, their centres, [Handre] Pollard.
"The coach [Mitchell] just strung them together [in a unit]."
He said their focus will remain on their own game,
"It is like running a hurdles race – you approach every hurdle the same, you get into a rhythm.
"It would be fatal if a hurdles athlete changes his approach to every hurdle."
2017: Lions won 51-14, Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 56-20, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 35-33, Pretoria
2015: Lions won 22-18, Johannesburg
2014: Lions won 32-21, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions have won four of their last five games against the Bulls, including their last two meetings; they had previously never beaten them as the Lions. Each of the Bulls' last three games against South African opposition has been won by the away team on the day. The Lions have won their last six games away from home, and haven't lost on the road against South African opposition Round 12, 2015 against the Bulls. The Bulls have had one player receive a yellow card in each of their last three games at home; only once in 21 home games prior was a Bulls player on the receiving end of a yellow card. Malcolm Marx has crossed for a try once in each of his last three games away from home within South Africa. It's been a few years since this game was a 'too close to call' affair. The Bulls have homeground advantage and we think they will sneak it with a late winner – three to five points.
Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Duncan Matthews.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Francois Mostert, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques Van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobus Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Marco Jansen Van Vuren, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Madosh Tambwe.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Stephen Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Jaguares v Hurricanes
(Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires – kick-off: 18.40; 21.40 GMT; 10.40, Sunday, March 4 NZ time)
The Barrett brothers, Jordie and Beauden, will be unleashed on the Jaguares on Buenos Aires.
World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett will start at flyhalf after coming off the bench during the Hurricanes opening match '- defeat to the Bulls last week.
Jordie Barrett has been named at fullback, for his first outing of the season.
Sunday's match will be the first time Jordie Barrett has started a game since he injured his shoulder playing for the Hurricanes in last year's Super Rugby semifinal against the Lions in South Africa.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd made four changes to the starting side from last week's opening match against the Bulls – with Chris Eves coming in for the injured Toby Smith, while Ben Lam comes on to the wing to replace Wes Goosen.
There is also one positional change in the side – as Matt Proctor moves from fullback into centre with Vince Aso moving to the bench.
The Jaguares, who remain the most carded and undisciplined team in the competition, made some changes for their first home game of the season.
Marcos Kremer will start at lock ahead of Tomás Lavanini, while Javier Ortega Desio will wear the No.7 jersey.
The return of Juan Martín Hernández to the bench is also a feature of the team, while Sebastián Cancelliere takes the place left vacant by Ramiro Moyano – ruled out with a hamstring injury.
2016: Hurricanes won 40-22, Wellington
Prediction: The only previous meeting between these teams came back in Round Seven, 2016, when the Hurricanes ran out to a 40-22 victory at the Westpac. The Jaguares have lost their last three games on home turf and are currently enduring their longest ever losing streak at home. The Hurricanes will be looking to avoid opening their campaign with consecutive defeats for the fourth time in the last six Super Rugby seasons. The Jaguares have lost six scrums in their last two games, twice as many as they had lost in their seven games prior combined. Wes Goosen has scored seven tries in his last six Super Rugby games, crossing at least once in each of those fixtures. Unless they have dramatically improved their attitude and discipline on the last week, the Jaguares do not have a realistic chance to win. The Hurricanes should win by 15 points or more.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Marcos Kremer, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Felipe Arregui.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Manuel, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Juan Martin Hernández, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 James O'Reilly, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Vince Aso.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), José Covasi (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports