JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the three Vodacom Super Rugby matches on Saturday involving the South African franchises.
SHARKS vs BLUES, Durban (Saturday, 3:05pm)
The Sharks were one of the best South African teams on show last season as far as performances and results against New Zealand opposition were concerned. They will have the opportunity to add another Kiwi scalp to their collection when they host the Blues – the weakest of the New Zealand franchises – on Saturday.
The Blues would have beaten the Crusaders in Auckland last week if not for two late misses on goal. That said, they mixed the magical with the mediocre over the course of that contest.
New coach Leon MacDonald has picked a dangerous starting backline for the clash against the Sharks. Sonny Bill Williams replaces Ma’a Nonu at No 12, while Rieko Ioane will present a threat from the left wing. Replacement scrumhalf Augustine Pulu has the potential to cause the Sharks defence problems when he is deployed in the second stanza.
Will those players receive front-foot ball, though? The Blues have developed a reputation for poor game management over the past few years. Their forwards have blown hot and cold, and this has impacted on their ability to put teams under pressure and bring their gun backs into the game.
The Sharks made a good start against the Sunwolves last week, particularly up front. While the Blues boast a more robust set of forwards than the side from Japan, they may struggle to live with the Sharks at the scrums and lineouts.
Expect the Sharks to heap the pressure on the Blues scrum, and to maul from the lineouts. Akker van der Merwe could get his name on the scoresheet again if the Sharks execute those rolling mauls to perfection.
The Sharks defence will do well to keep those backs in check, and to keep an eye on Akira Ioane.
According to Opta, the Blues No 8 has gained 100-plus metres in two of his last four games. Ioane’s 20 carries last week was the second most he has made in a Super Rugby match, while his 100m was the most by any forward in round one.
Stats and facts
– The Sharks have won 11 of their last 12 games against the Blues, those victories coming by an average margin of 10 points per game.
– The Sharks have won their last five games on the bounce at home, despite leading at half-time just twice over this span.
– The Blues have fallen to three defeats in their last three matches. They have not lost four or more on the bounce since April 2015.
– The Sharks were the top scorers in round one, crossing for six converted tries, they also missed fewer tackles (nine) than any other side.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Tanielu Tele’a.
STORMERS vs LIONS, Cape Town (Saturday, 5:15pm)
Round one delivered a couple of surprises as far as the Stormers and Lions were concerned. The Stormers were expected to lose to the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, but not by 37 points. The Lions – who have lost several key players to overseas clubs since 2018 – weren’t expected to beat the Jaguares in Buenos Aires and to ultimately succeed where every other Lions side has failed.
Swys de Bruin’s side will travel to Newlands on Saturday with confidence and momentum. The Stormers, of course, will be in a different mental space.
The off-field issues plaguing the franchise are well documented. The on-field problems witnessed last Saturday at Loftus, however, suggest that the Stormers may struggle to push the Lions close.
The Stormers lost five lineouts and battled to contain the Bulls from the ensuing turnovers. The lineout, of course, has been one of the Lions’ strengths over the past three seasons and they will surely look to target the Stormers in this area on Saturday.
The Lions will also fancy their chances at the rucks. Malcolm Marx and Carlu Sadie won three turnovers apiece against the Jaguares last week.
The Stormers defence will have a point to prove following a dismal showing in Pretoria. The Cape side finished round one with an 80% tackle success rate – the second worst in the tournament.
Elton Jantjies will keep the Stormers defence guessing this Saturday. The Lions flyhalf has the ability to hit his wingers with a pinpoint kick-pass and create opportunities via an accurate chip kick over the top. Jantjies may also look to put the Stormers back three under pressure with a series of up-and-unders.
The Lions may use the kick sparingly, though, if they are dominating up front and making easy metres against a passive and disorganised Stormers defence.
Given the pressure on coach Robbie Fleck this week, and indeed the Stormers franchise as a whole, the players should not want for aggression and physicality against the Lions.
The Stormers will need more than aggression to trouble South Africa’s premier side, though. It also remains to be seen if they can compete against one of the fittest sides in the tournament during the final quarter.
Stats and facts
– The Lions have won their past four matches against the Stormers, averaging 34 points per match in this span.
– The Stormers have won six of their last eight games at Newlands, but have not defeated the Lions here since April 2014.
– The Lions are undefeated in 22 of their last 23 matches against South African opposition (won 21, drawn one), with an average margin of victory of 20 points per game over that span for them.
– Marnus Schoeman (Lions) scored three tries in round one – he’s just the 10th forward to score a Super Rugby hat-trick since 2011, and the first ever forward to score one for the Lions.
Stormers – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Josh Stander, 23 Dan du Plessis.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Gianni Lombard, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
JAGUARES vs VODACOM BULLS, Buenos Aires (Saturday, 11:55pm)
The Bulls put four tries past the Stormers at Loftus last week. They were outstanding at the lineouts and breakdowns, and the effort and execution that followed each turnover was a joy to behold.
Coach Pote Human will be hoping for a repeat performance in Buenos Aires this Saturday. The Jaguares are traditionally one of the stronger lineout sides – they won 12 out of 12 off their own feed last week – and relish a scrap at the breakdown.
South African teams couldn’t buy a win in Argentina last year. All four Super Rugby franchises went down to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, while the Springboks suffered a record defeat in Mendoza.
One gets the feeling that 2019 could witness a better return for teams from the Republic.
The Lions provided the blueprint with a gutsy, pragmatic performance in the Argentinian capital last week. That said, the Jaguares appeared to miss the game management of veteran Argentina flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez – who now plays for Stade Français.
While they racked up some impressive attacking numbers in Pretoria, the Bulls’ win was built on excellent kicking and defence. This bodes well for the upcoming contest in Buenos Aires. The territorial battle will shape the outcome.
The Jaguares will have a point to prove on defence. The Argentinians completed just 83% of their tackles in round one.
Stats and facts
– Each of the previous four meetings between the Jaguares and Bulls has been won by the home team.
– The Jaguares will be out to avoid back-to-back losses on home soil for the first time since March 2018.
– The Bulls have won just two of their last 15 games away from home, despite leading at half-time in five of their last nine such matches.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de le Fuente (c), 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Tomás Cubelli , 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Mayo Vivas.
Subs: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Juan Cruz Mallía, 23 Matías Moroni.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager (c), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Dylan Sage.
Photo: Nic Bothma/EPA