JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the first three Vodacom Super Rugby matches in round nine, including the Rebels-Stormers clash.
CRUSADERS vs HIGHLANDERS, Christchurch (Friday 9:35am)
The last game between these teams was cancelled due to the terrorist attacks in Christchurch.
Scott Robertson’s men finished strongly to claim a bonus-point win against the Brumbies last week. Meanwhile, the Highlanders lost a close game against the Hurricanes in Dunedin.
One can’t see the Highlanders upsetting the Crusaders in Christchurch this Friday – especially without All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith.
According to Opta, the Highlanders rank 10th in the tournament for tries scored and 14th for points. They may struggle to pressure a Crusaders defensive line that is currently ranked second for tackle success rate (87%).
The Highlanders’ own defence has been poor this season. They may battle to contain the Crusaders this Friday, a side that is averaging four tries per match.
Stats and facts
– The Crusaders have won four of their last five completed games against the Highlanders, picking up a 45-22 triumph in their last played encounter.
– Each of the Highlanders’ last eight completed games have been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer; however, they’ve not won since round two.
– The Crusaders and Highlanders have each scored seven tries within the opening quarter of games in 2019, the joint-most of any teams in the competition.
– The Highlanders have conceded five tries after defending for seven or more phases this Super Rugby campaign; only the Waratahs (six) have conceded more after such lengthy possession.
– Highlanders fullback Ben Smith is set to play his 150th Super Rugby game; he’s crossed for two tries and provided one try assist in his last four away games against the Crusaders.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Braydon Ennor, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Andrew Makaio, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Will Jordan.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Sio Tomkinson.
REBELS vs STORMERS, Melbourne (Friday, 11:45am)
Can the Stormers get any worse? Robbie Fleck’s side have lost all three of their tour matches to date. They produced a particularly poor performance in their most recent game against the Reds.
The Stormers will go into their final fixture in Australasia as underdogs. They’re missing Springboks such as Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi – as well as several others. Their awful attacking record – they’re ranked 15th in the tournament for tries and points scored – doesn’t inspire confidence of an upset win in Melbourne.
The Rebels have been the best Australasian side on show this season. Only the Crusaders (34) have scored more tries than Dave Wessels’ charges (30) in 2019.
One would expect the Rebels to use their excellent lineout as an attacking platform. The Melbourne-based side has scored 14 of its tries from first phase this season.
The Rebels also have the means to punish opposition defences in the wider channels. Tom English (five tries this season) and Reece Hodge (four) have proved potent.
The Stormers have proved susceptible when defending in those outside channels. They will be hard-pressed to keep the Rebels honest on Friday.
Stats and facts
– The Stormers have won five of their previous six games against the Rebels, including their last three on the bounce by an average margin of 19 points.
– The Rebels have won their last three games on the bounce on home turf; the last time they won more was a four-game spree in mid-2015.
– The Stormers have gone into the change rooms level at half-time of each of their last two games in Australia, but have gone on to lose both of those fixtures.
– The Rebels have conceded the most penalties per game of any team this campaign (13) and average nearly one yellow card per game.
Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Semisi Tupou, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Angus Cottrell (c), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Esei Ha’angana, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Campbell Magnay.
Stormers – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Cobus Wiese, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (c).
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Johan du Toit, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
CHIEFS vs BLUES, Hamilton (Saturday, 9:35am)
The Blues are in a great position to end a 14-game winless run against the Chiefs. They’ve gathered some momentum after winning their last four games on the bounce, and should fancy their chances against a Chiefs side that’s ranked last in the New Zealand conference.
Poor defence and discipline have cost the Chiefs dearly in 2019. They’ve lacked the necessary grunt at the gainline, and their lineout play has been shambolic.
That said, they’ve shown an improvement in their most recent matches against the Bulls and Jaguares. They’ve picked up two valuable wins away from home, and will go into the next clash against the Blues with some confidence.
What’s more, they’ve had an extra week to prepare for this derby. They shouldn’t want for intensity in the open exchanges.
One of these teams is going to make a statement on Saturday. Victory for the Chiefs will increase their chances of sneaking into the playoffs – which seemed impossible after they lost their first four matches of the season. A win for the Blues would strengthen the Auckland-based team’s own bid for a place in the knockouts.
Stats and facts
– The Chiefs are winless in their last four New Zealand derbies in Super Rugby, despite having led at half-time twice in that time.
– The Blues have won their last four games on the bounce; the last time they won more was a seven-game glut in the 2011 campaign.
– The Chiefs have made a competition-high 12 offloads per game this season, two more per game than the Blues.
– Blues wing Rieko Ioane has made 16 clean breaks this season, the most of any player in the competition, while his try tally of seven is the joint second-most of any player.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick (c), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Angus Ta’avao.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix