JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the Super Rugby matches in round 15 of the competition.
SHARKS vs BULLS (Friday, 19:00)
The Sharks look well-placed to end their winless run against the Bulls. According to Opta, the Bulls are undefeated in their last four games against the Sharks (won three, drawn one). This season, however, the Bulls' overall record reads three wins in 12 games, and six straight losses on the road.
The Bulls go into this game with Springboks Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein and Rudy Paige in tow. Warrick Gelant looks to be in form after scoring two tries in the recent clash between the SA A side and the French Barbarians in Soweto. On paper, it's a dangerous backline.
The big question is whether the Bulls forwards have what it takes to unsettle their Sharks counterparts at the set pieces and breakdowns.
The Sharks are ranked second in the tournament for lineout success and third for scrum success. Beast Mtawarira (rested) and SA A lock Ruan Botha (suspended) will miss this week's match, but the Sharks will have some capable tight-forward replacements in Thomas du Toit and Stephan Lewies.
The Bulls are ranked fifth for lineout success and will compete strongly in that department. At the scrums and rucks, however, the Bulls are ranked at the other end of the spectrum (16th).
The Sharks may look to target the visitors in these areas and force them to concede penalties. The hosts boast one of the best goal-kickers in the tournament in Curwin Bosch (83%).
The Bulls attack may feel that it has a point to prove. The Bulls have averaged a mere 20.5 points (rank 15) and 2.3 tries (rank 16) per match this season.
They will have it all to do against one of the best defences in the tournament. André Esterhuizen's return to the midfield should bolster the Sharks team, especially on defence. The Sharks are ranked second for tackle completion and have conceded 30 tries this season (only the Lions, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Brumbies have conceded fewer).
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Sbusiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tera Mtembu, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Marius Louw.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Kefentse Mahlo, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Nic de Jager, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad Van Vuuren, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Johnroy Jenkins, 19 Shaun Adendorff, 20 Renaldo Bothma, 21 André Warner, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Tian Schoeman.
JAGUARES vs KINGS (Saturday, 01:05)
Both of these teams will be playing for pride. The Kings will be aiming for a first win in Argentina. The Jaguares will be looking to avoid their third straight loss at home. Never before have they lost three consecutive games in Buenos Aires.
According to Opta, the Jaguares have made an average of 127 carries per game, more than any other team and 20 more per game than the last-ranked Kings. Interestingly, the Kings have scored more tries and points per game, despite employing more pragmatic tactics.
The Kings are ranked second in the tournament for kicks from hand. They should be looking to test the Jaguares with a few high balls this weekend.
No player has won more turnovers than Chris Cloete (26), while the Kings as a unit have used turnover ball to great effect this season. If they find themselves in a counter-attacking situation on Saturday, they will fancy themselves against a Jaguares side that is not known for its tackling prowess (the Argentines are ranked 12th for tackle completion).
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo (c), 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Julián Montoya, 1 Lucas Noguera.
Subs: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Gonzalo Bertanou, 22 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 23 Santiago Cordero.
Kings – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Mzamo Majola.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Masixole Banda, 23 Yaw Penxe.
CHEETAHS vs STORMERS (Saturday, 15:05)
The Cheetahs conceded eight tries and 50 points the last time these two sides met (at Newlands in April). Since then, their defence has gone from bad to worse. The central franchise is currently ranked 16th in the tournament for tackle completion and 17th for missed tackles per game.
The Stormers have already won the Africa 1 conference and qualified for the playoffs. They should, however, be looking to record emphatic victories against the Cheetahs, Sunwolves and Bulls over the next three weeks with the aim of taking momentum into the knockouts.
The Cape side is coming off a disappointing 22-10 loss to the Sharks in Durban. The Stormers have lost their last four games away from home, their longest losing streak on the road since a stretch of seven away losses in 2014.
What should encourage them, though, is their recent record against the Cheetahs. The Stormers have won their last four games against the Cheetahs, restricting them to 12 points or fewer on three occasions in that span.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Elandré Huggett, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jo Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Ruan van Rensburg, 23 William Small-Smith.
Stormers – SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Dillyn Leyds (vice-captain), 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Frans Malherbe (c), 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 EW Viljoen, 23 Seabelo Senatla
LIONS vs SUNWOLVES (Saturday, 17:15)
The Lions need to win their remaining two matches – preferably with bonus points – to increase their chances of finishing the conference stage at the top of the overall standings. At this point, they have 56 log points after 13 games, while the top-placed Crusaders have 63 points after 14 games.
They should fancy their chances against the Sunwolves, a team that looks set to finish with the wooden spoon for the second year running. The Sunwolves are still searching for their first win away from home, having lost all 13 such games to date.
The Lions will be without skipper Warren Whiteley, who aggravated an existing injury while on duty for the Springboks in the series against France. Regardless of Whiteley's absence, a strong Lions side should be expected to rack up some big numbers against a side like the Sunwolves, especially at altitude.
The Lions will be favourites to dominate the set pieces and to expose the Japanese side's frail defence. As has been the case all season, the Lions will look to up the tempo in the second stanza.
The Lions’ 20 tries in the final quarter is the second most of any team behind the Hurricanes (26), They’ve also conceded a league-low three tries in the same period.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Sylvian Mahuza
Sunwolves – 15 Yasutaka Sasakura, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Ryohei Yamanaka, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Teruya Goto, 10 Jumpei Ogura, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz (c), 7 Shokei Kin, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Kotaro Yatabe, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Hino, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Malgene Ilaua, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Kotaro Matsushima.
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images