Super Rugby preview (Round 2)
JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winners at the weekend.
Feel it, it is here, KE NAKO, etc, etc, etc. The Saffa and Kiwi teams join the fray this weekend to mark the real start to Super Rugby, and there are some cracking match-ups to look forward to.
In the big derby of the round, both JC and Vrede are backing the Bulls to stand firm at Loftus. There is also an agreement regarding the result in Bloemfontein, where the Sharks should be too good for the Cheetahs. The Kings will start their Super Rugby campaign with a loss to the fallible Force.
HIGHLANDERS vs CHIEFS, FRIDAY, 21 FEBRUARY, DUNEDIN, 08:35
VREDE'S CALL: This is a real toughie to call. Ordinarily I'd go with the defending champions comfortably, but they have numerous players sidelined through injury in addition to having lost the considerable talents of Sonny Bill Williams and Sona Taumalolo. Overall they don't look nearly as formidable a unit as they did in 2012. But neither do the Highlanders, despite the additions of Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu. The gainline will be decisive and I think the Chiefs have just enough artillery to edge it there on attack and defence, the latter being a cornerstone of their success last season. They'll grind out this win through their heavies, their cause aided by a superior bench. Chiefs by 7
JC'S CALL: Ma'a Nonu usually takes some time to sweat off the holiday calories and get into Super Rugby. Nevertheless, the Highlanders will want to use the All Blacks centre to soften up the Chiefs' midfield. The champs are without quality and experience in the centres, with back-three specialist Tim Nanai-Williams and debutant Bundee Aki plugging those gaps. Much will depend, however, on how the Highlanders fare up front. Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has the benefit of a strong bench, and this may be telling as the game enters the final stages. Rennie also has a reliable goal-kicker in Aaron Cruden, and in a game of small margins, this will be the difference. Chiefs by 6
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (c), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoalii.
Chiefs – 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Lelia Masaga.
REBELS vs BRUMBIES, FRIDAY, 21 FEBRUARY, MELBOURNE, 10:40
VREDE'S CALL: The Rebels showed a lot more organisation and heart in bouncing back from an 11-point deficit against the Force last week, but in the Brumbies they'll find a far superior and less generous opponent. The Brumbies' abrasive phase play and inventive work in the back division proved too much for the Reds to negotiate last weekend and will be the undoing of the Rebels as well. They'll boss every aspect of forward play, and dominate the gainline, with David Pocock sure to stifle the Rebels' attacking ambitions off the back of a strong tackle fight from his team-mates. With an excellent platform to exploit, the Brumbies' backs will thrive en route to a comfortable win. Brumbies by 10
JC'S CALL: Last week's contest between the Brumbies and the Reds was far closer than the scoreboard suggested, although the Brumbies really started to dominate the breakdowns in the second half. Jake White will be hoping for a stronger display from the outset this Friday, and he will know that when his forwards are on the front foot, the Brumbies are very hard to stop. Nic White, Matt Toomua and Jesse Mogg will be influential as far as the strive for territory is concerned. Kurtley Beale will also find the Brumbies' defence far harder to crack than that of the Force, and without the advantage of territory the Rebels may need to run the ball from deep within their own half. This will, however, play into the Brumbies' hands. Brumbies by 13
Rebels – 15 James O'Connor, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Subs: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Alex Rokobaro, 22 Tom English.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joseph Tomane, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 David Pocock, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Subs: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Colby Faingaa, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Robbie Coleman.
BULLS vs STORMERS, FRIDAY, 21 FEBRUARY, PRETORIA, 19:00
VREDE'S CALL: The Stormers have won their last three matches at Loftus. The intimidation factor the stadium used to have for the Stormers is gone. Yet it remains a difficult venue to win at – the Stormers being one of only two teams to do so in 2012. The Bulls have far more settled combinations than the Stormers, who are missing key players – most notably Juan de Jongh and Eben Etzebeth. That robs them of a game-breaker and bone breaker respectively, not discounting the latter's ever-improving lineout contesting work. Critically the Stormers have a brand new halfback pair, an axis so critical to the way they play, and a new fullback in Jaco Taute, whose tactical kicking game became stagnant at the run-obsessed Lions. Certainly they still boast plenty of grunt in the forwards and will put the Bulls under pressure at scrum time and in the lineouts. In general play their accurate, organised and brutal defence will force the Bulls to be patient and spot on with their attacking decisions. Both sides will look to 'play' only in the others' territory, and I think the three-time champs are better equipped to do so. From there it'll be a battle of the flyhalves' boots, one I suspect Morne Steyn will edge. Bulls by 7
JC'S CALL: Allister Coetzee has said that he's not a gambling man, but the decision to pair two new halfbacks in a clash of this nature screams high-risk. The Stormers have led the way as far as physicality is concerned for the past three seasons, but I wonder if they haven't got it wrong in terms of personnel on this occasion. The Bulls will target their set piece, as hooker Deon Fourie is not the strongest scrummager, nor is he the most accurate lineout-feeder in the competition. This will limit the impact of moneyman Andries Bekker, and is certainly something the Bulls' new crack forwards coach, Victor Matfield, the lineout king himself, would have taken into account. Without the guarantee of front-foot ball at the set piece, the impact of the Stormers' loose forwards may also be limited. Duane Vermeulen will be difficult to contain, but overall the Stormers won't have it all their own way. What does this mean for those new halfbacks? The pressure's on Groom to vindicate his selection in such a big game, and to prove that he has the tactical kicking skills to prevail in a contest of this nature. There will also be questions about the selection of new recruit Elton Jantjies, who is still recovering from the death of his father and may not be in the ideal headspace. I still believe that of the two teams, it is the Stormers who have a better chance of advancing in this competition, as the Bulls are still rebuilding. However, in this first match of the season, and in the cauldron of Loftus, the Stormers will fall short. It happened to the Sharks in their season opener last year, and I can see it happening again in 2013. Bulls by 6
Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morne Mellett.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter.
Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Gerhard van den Heever, 22 Joe Pietersen.
HURRICANES vs BLUES, SATURDAY, 22 FEBRUARY, WELLINGTON, 08:35
VREDE'S CALL: The Canes have benefitted from continuity in the playing and coaching staff and last season appeared to be grasping the structures and philosophies coach Mark Hammett has been pushing. I think they'll build on that and will benefit from a gentle first hit out against a Blues side that won't be much better than they were last year. Indeed, they may well be worse having lost Tony Woodcock, Gareth Anscombe and Ma'a Nonu among others. There is nothing in their pack to scare the Canes, who'll bully them in that facet of play in set and general play. It'll therefore be a long, arduous evening for the Blues' backline who'll spend more time trying to repel the Canes than they'll spend on attack. Canes by 12
JC'S CALL: The Blues are starting from scratch, and while John Kirwan has been hailed in New Zealand as the right man to steer the ship, it could be some time yet before this side's made it's way out of rocky waters. Kirwan would have installed new structures, and those are set to be tested by a Canes side that has managed to marry the pragmatic with the penetrative. The Canes will be difficult to contain at the breakdown, and this should allow TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett to make inroads into the Blues' defence. Canes by 17
Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Reggie Goodes, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 James Marshall, 22 Reynold Lee-Lo.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Brendon O’Connor, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
REDS vs WARATAHS, SATURDAY, 22 FEBRUARY, BRISBANE, 10:40
VREDE'S CALL: The Reds looked disjointed and rudderless for much of their opening match against the Brumbies but that outing would have served to refine them enough to negotiate the Waratahs' challenge. They missed the dynamism and tactical astuteness Will Genia provides, but shouldn't suffer too much this week in his ongoing absence. Their pack isn't made for a grind at close quarters, but then neither is the Waratahs'. So expect a relatively open game which will suit the hosts. This will give both sides opportunities to turn over possession at the breakdown, potentially creating broken field attacking opportunities. I think the Reds are better equipped in this regard and with a number of exciting runners in their backline, they could make the Tahs pay. If it does become a game marked by grinding forward play (highly doubt it will) the Reds will draw confidence from the fact they have a highly competent goal-kicker in Mike Harris. Reds by 8
JC'S CALL: What planet are you living on Vrede? In recent seasons, the Reds forwards have consistently troubled their robust South African counterparts, and the Waratahs are renowned for their conservative, some Sydneysiders would say boring, approach. A Queensland vs New South Wales derby is always tight, and both teams will be desperate to record their first victory of the season. It will be interesting to see how opensider Michael Hooper slots in at the Waratahs, and whether he manages to stifle the Reds sufficiently to limit their attacking momentum. I'm expecting a scrap, and I agree with Ryan when he says the Reds will be better for having played last week. The Tahs will take some time to find their groove, and it would be a lot to ask for them to topple the Reds in Brisbane. Reds by 10
Reds – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ed O'Donoghue, 3 James Slipper (c), 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Nick Frisby, 21 Jono Lance, 22 Luke Morahan.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Jeremy Tilse.
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 David Hickey, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Ben Volavola.
CHEETAHS vs SHARKS, SATURDAY, 22 FEBRUARY, BLOEMFONTEIN, 17:10
VREDE'S CALL: Even though they're facing a Sharks team without Bismarck du Plessis, Keegan Daniel and Willem Alberts, I can't see the Cheetahs getting the forward dominance they require to beat the Sharks. Du Plessis and Alberts' contributions at the gainline were central to the Sharks' success in 2012, while Daniel was very good in the loose. The Sharks would be in trouble if they were facing one of the tournament's elite teams, but will get away with this weakened line-up in Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs have thrived when faced with packs who share their lack of appetite for the rough stuff. The Sharks are no such opponent. They'll gradually erode their hosts' defensive resolve through purposeful phase play, then really open up in the final 20 minutes to cruise home. Sharks by 12
JC'S CALL: It's a testament to the Sharks' depth that they are still capable of fielding a formidable pack despite such big losses. But their physical prowess is not limited to their forwards. As seen in his few appearances in 2012, Frans Steyn lends the Sharks an edge in midfield, and will surely target the Cheetahs' lightweight flyhalf and centres in his quest to get beyond the gainline. Pat Lambie will also have a key role to play, both as a goal-kicker and as a kicker for territory. His distribution skills will come to the fore in the second stanza, and depending on the level of execution and finishing, the Sharks could be in for their first bonus-point win of the season. Sharks by 15
Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn (c), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
KINGS vs FORCE, SATURDAY, 22 FEBRUARY, PORT ELIZABETH, 19:10
VREDE'S CALL: The Kings are unique in that they come into their rookie Super Rugby season under more pressure and with more expectation than any newbie before them. The nature of their inclusion has much to do with this, as does the looming relegation play-off for the team that finishes bottom of the South African conference. I can't see them getting off to the start they hope to, even against this mediocre opponent. The Force were very good in the first half against the Rebels, then fell away badly. They'll get away with those soft passages against the Kings, who don't have the experience or quality to capitalise in the manner the Rebels did. Alan Solomons' teams has generally played an open, expansive brand of rugby and it will be interesting to see whether he tempers his approach. In Demetri Catrakilis he has a flyhalf capable of driving them into good field positions and making the opposition pay if they infringe there. I'm not sure they'll be able to give him the platform to do so with any consistency though. It'll be ugly but ultimately the Force will grab the win here. Force by 6
JC'S CALL: How awful are the Force now that Nathan Sharpe has finally called it quits and David Pocock has defected to the Brumbies? I suppose we are about to find out. Many have spoken about this clash as an ideal opportunity for the Kings to begin their Super Rugby existence with a victory. What people should remember, however, is that while the Kings dominated the Currie Cup First Division in 2012, they were soundly beaten by the Cheetahs in the ensuing promotion/relegation clash. Have they added sufficient quality to their squad to ensure they will be more competitive at an even higher level in 2013? Hardly. This region will remember the 2013 season as an important one, but I doubt they will remember it as a year where they recorded many wins. Victory against the Force, or any Super Rugby side for that matter, is going to be seen as an upset. For the Kings to rattle the Force, their forwards are going to need to front, and Demetri Catrakilis is going to need to convert every kickable opportunity into points. Do they have the defence to repel the Force? Their defence in the First Division was far better than any of their opponents, but Super Rugby will demand much more in terms of organisation and execution. They are an unknown entity having not played a Super Rugby game to date, but I'm not expecting too many surprises at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this Saturday. Force by 12
Kings – 15 SP Marais, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Luke Watson (c), 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Steven Sykes, 4 David Bulbring, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jaco Engels, 18 Daniel Adongo, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Johan Herbst, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.
Force – 15 Will Tupou, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Sam Christie, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Junior Rasolea.