JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
The boys agree that the Crusaders will edge the Chiefs in the big Kiwi derby of the weekend, while the Cheetahs will advance their cause for a play-off spot with victory over the Blues. In the showpiece South African game at Loftus, the Bulls will deal a mortal blow to the Sharks' drive for the play-offs.
2013 RECORD – VREDE: 73/113 (65%), JC: 76/113 (67%)
LAST ROUND'S CALLS – VREDE: 3/5, JC: 4/5
CRUSADERS vs CHIEFS, CHRISTCHURCH, FRIDAY, 09:35
JC'S CALL: The Chiefs have already secured the Kiwi conference title, and thus a place in the top three. There's still a lot to play for, however, as two more wins would ensure that they play a semi-final and a possible final in Hamilton. Unfortunately, they'll have to clear a significant hurdle in the form of the Crusaders in Christchurch. The Cantabrians have started to click in recent weeks, and their talismanic Dan Carter is back to his best. The fact that this game is in Christchurch and not Hamilton is also significant. The Crusaders will take the winning points away from this encounter. Crusaders by 6
VREDE'S CALL: It's all about the forwards here, and I think the Crusaders have the edge in that department, albeit a slight one. With Kieran Read restored to the starting line-up, they regain an immense strike runner who will set the tone for the other primary carriers to follow. Their dominance at the gainline on attack will dilute Sam Cane's influence at the breakdown, while their slight superiority at the gainline on defence should give Matt Todd an edge in the ground scrap. I'd like to see how the Chiefs react to not getting the momentum they are used to and I fear they'll go expansive, which would play into the Saders' hands. It will also be interesting how they respond to the Saders' territorial game. I suspect they'll feel the pressure, and be pipped to the line. Crusaders by 5
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Telusa Veainu.
Chiefs – 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
HURRICANES vs HIGHLANDERS, WELLINGTON, SATURDAY, 09:35
JC'S CALL: From a cracker in Christchurch to a dead-rubber in Wellington ... neither the Hurricanes nor the Highlanders have anything to play for in terms of play-off positions, although the Highlanders will want to move up the overall log and avoid the wooden spoon. The Canes may be wanting for motivation but they still look the classier outfit with a host of All Blacks in their line-up. And with this game being staged at the Cake Tin, you'd have to bet on the Canes. Hurricanes by 8
VREDE'S CALL: Have a sleep-in. You've earned it after a long week at the office. Get up at around 10:30am and prepare some breakfast to eat while you watch the Lions series decider in Sydney. This one holds no appeal whatsoever. The Canes will win, but you won't be watching, surely. Hurricanes by 9
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Reynold Lee-Lo, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Reggie Goodes, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Matt Proctor.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Shaun Treeby, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (c), 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
CHEETAHS vs BLUES, BLOEMFONTEIN, SATURDAY, 14:50
JC'S CALL: How lacklustre were the Cheetahs at Newlands last week? Perhaps they were saving themselves for this encounter, a home game they feel they can win? Some of those players will be dog-tired after a long season but it will be do or die in this match against the Blues. The Cheetahs' defence has been much improved and they will need to maintain those high standards if they're going to keep a ball-carrier like Steven Luatua and a dangerous outside back like Rene Ranger at bay. Having said that, they must continue to strive for balance in their approach. They overdid the kick-chase tactic last week and can't afford to be conservative this Saturday. They'll take any sort of win in Bloemfontein, but they can't afford to slip into a defensive mindset. The goal-kicking of Riaan Smit will also be important, and the Cheetahs should do enough to strengthen their bid for a play-off place. Cheetahs by 7
VREDE'S CALL: I called the Cheetahs to beat the Stormers at Newlands because I thought they would have the tactical know-how to oust the Stormers. How wrong I was. I still think they'll crack the play-offs, which should be secured with a win in this fixture, but I have reservations about them going beyond that. Still, they'll have enough in their arsenal to beat the Blues. The accuracy of their tactical kicking is key against a side laden with men who can hurt you from broken-field situations. I suspect we'll see them play through more phases than they did against the Stormers, with their heavies tasked with eroding the Blues' resolve. Engineering their scoring opportunities this way, as opposed to getting loose, will be central to any victory. Defensively, they have to force the Blues to gamble. Stifling their recycle and a hard kick-chase is important in this regard. They'll be good enough in these facets of play to win. Cheetahs by 5
Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Rynhardt Landman, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenraad Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Petrus Vermeulen, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Wayne Ngaluafe, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 George Moala.
KINGS vs STORMERS, PORT ELIZABETH, SATURDAY, 17:05
JC'S CALL: Both teams have been hit hard by injuries, although it's the Stormers that boast the better quality in depth. I've read a lot of ridiculous comments over the past week about how the Stormers have turned the corner and are suddenly in sight of a play-off spot. While I believe the Stormers will follow up their dominant performance against the Cheetahs with a win over the Kings, the Cape side will be brought to earth when they meet the Bulls next week. The Kings should produce another brave defensive performance in front of their home fans, but that resistance will not last for 80 minutes. The Stormers have built some confidence following last week's showing. Watch out for Elton Jantjies varying his play behind a strong Stormers pack and form backs such as Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon coming into the game. Stormers by 10
VREDE'S CALL: The Cape faithful suddenly have renewed hope of a play-off place and the Stormers banking five points from this one will only fuel that misplaced hope. The Kings' brutal and largely accurate defence has waned as injuries have set in and the Stormers have the muscle and class in their forwards to ensure that any resistance is short-lived. They found some synergy on attack against the Cheetahs last week, with their backline thriving when given the platform, and I think they'll be even better in this regard. The Kings don't have the personnel or patience for the tactical arm-wrestle, and will succumb to desperation the longer they're pinned in their territory. Stormers by 12
Kings – 15 SP Marais, 14 Marcello Sampson, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (c), 11 Michael Killian, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 David Bulbring, 5 Darron Nell, 4 Cornell du Preez, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Subs: 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Shane Gates.
Stormers – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Rynhardt Elstadt, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
BULLS vs SHARKS, PRETORIA, SATURDAY, 19:15
JC'S CALL: The Bulls may have lost No 5 Juandré Kruger to Racing Métro, but they still boast a lot of experience in that pack and will be favourites to win the battle at the collisions. The Sharks will have the edge at scrum time, and it is here where they must look to exert as much pressure as possible on the Bulls pack and halfbacks. If they don't succeed, Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn will dictate proceedings, using the front-foot ball to kick the Bulls into good field positions. While it won't be a case of 10 vs 10, Pat Lambie will also need to make his mark on the game if the Sharks are to have any hope of an upset. Unfortunately, the Sharks have not delivered up front with any consistency this past season, and another failure this weekend will limit Lambie's efficiency. Bulls by 10
VREDE'S CALL: This was a memorable tussle when these sides met in late May, with Morné Steyn's boot proving to be the difference. I see a replication of that result, with Steyn again the key for the Bulls. The match will take on a Test pattern, with neither side wanting to play in their territory, and the Bulls are better drilled in this regard. The Sharks' forwards should have the upper hand. The Bulls have lost their most successful ball-carriers in Arno Botha and Pierre Spies, and this will undoubtedly affect them. Their replacements are, however, competent and more than capable of ensuring the Bulls aren't completely bossed at the gainline. Despite the Sharks' superiority in the forwards, getting the territory they need to make this count is going to be the problem. Pat Lambie appears to be suffering a crisis of confidence and I wouldn't bank on him controlling the game with his boot. The Bulls should build their lead slowly through Steyn, then cut loose in the final quarter for a comfortable win. Bulls by 10
Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten,18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Jurgen Visser, 22 Morné Mellet.
Sharks – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Butch James, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Photos: Phil Walter/Steve Haag/Peter Heeger/Getty Images/Gallo Images
Kolisi’s stock soars
A rousing performance by a Siya Kolisi-inspired Springbok back row bodes well for a challenging 2017 Test season, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Rassie return would be a masterstroke
Rassie Erasmus would add immense value to a South African rugby system that finally appears to be showing signs of functioning efficiently again, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
A necessary Super Rugby cull
With South Africa set to lose two Super Rugby franchises, JON CARDINELLI looks at four possible scenarios.