CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three Vodacom Super Rugby clashes in round one, which involve all of the South African teams.
SUNWOLVES vs SHARKS, Singapore (Saturday, 12:55pm)
What an opportunity this is for the Sharks to start their season with an emphatic statement. Coach Robert du Preez has taken a strong squad over to Singapore, and the Durban-based side will be overwhelming favourites on Saturday.
Of course, the Sharks have delivered the commonplace assertion this week to insist that it would be a massive mistake to underestimate the Sunwolves, particularly considering that it’s quite tricky to know what to expect from the Japan-based side.
Although the Sunwolves were once regarded as the whipping boys of Super Rugby, they have gradually improved as a unit, and have proven that they can surprise a few travelling teams.
History does show that the Sharks have won each of their three games against the Sunwolves by an average margin of 20 points, but there is always an unknown factor to consider when it comes to a season-opening fixture.
It will be very interesting to see how the Sharks approach this encounter. There is no doubt that they have the pack to dominate the Sunwolves up front, but there has also been some talk during the pre-season to suggest that the coastal side will be aiming to offer increased ambition on attack.
In this context, a fair onus will fall on the shoulders of steady halfback pair Louis Schreuder and Rob du Preez to ensure that the correct options are taken off front-foot ball, while all eyes will be on exciting youngster Aphelele Fassi, who will start at fullback.
There is every possibility that the Sharks could come away with a bonus-point win on Saturday, while six out of their next eight games will then be played at home, providing an ideal opportunity for a strong start.
Stats and facts
o The Sharks have won each of their three games against the Sunwolves thus far by an average margin of 20 points per game.
o The Sunwolves have won their last three games on the bounce at home, including come-from-behind victories against both the Stormers and Bulls in that time.
o Each of the Sharks’ last eight fixtures have been won by the home team on the day, with the Durban-based squad picking up four wins and four losses in that time.
o The Sunwolves successfully converted 89% of their kicks at goal into points last season, the best rate of any side in Super Rugby, with Hayden Parker landing 48/50 kicks for the Japanese outfit.
o Sharks flank Jean-Luc du Preez, who is out injured, made 31 offloads last season, the most of any player.
Sunwolves – 15 Gerhard van den Heever, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Shane Gates, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Ed Quirk, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 James Moore, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Asaeli Valu, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar.
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Awe Helu, 20 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Michael Little.
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 Merwe, Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 Jeremy Ward.
VODACOM BULLS vs STORMERS, Pretoria (Saturday, 5:15pm)
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Stormers edged the Bulls in a pre-season clash that was played with immense intensity. That ferocity will only increase as these teams look to make a statement of intent.
For the Stormers, their pre-season has been dogged by off-field issues, but they will be desperately keen to finally put the focus back on the rugby. On paper, this is a Stormers team that should really be capable of pushing for a playoff place this season, with as many as 10 Springboks named in the starting lineup.
Meanwhile, the rebuilding Bulls have selected a formidable side of their own, with the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits sure to have a point to prove against their former team. In short, fireworks can be expected at Loftus on Saturday.
The Stormers – without Eben Etzebeth and Steven Kitshoff in tow – will be expecting Wilco Louw and SA Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit to lead the physical onslaught at Loftus, while the Bulls will turn to influential captain Lood de Jager to make his presence felt.
The match-up between Damian Willemse and Handré Pollard also serves a mouth-watering prospect, with their game management sure to come under the spotlight.
Interestingly, the Stormers have won seven of their last nine games against the Bulls, but this is the sort of encounter where you pick a winner at your peril.
Stats and facts
o The Bulls have led at half-time in three of their last four games. However, they’ve gone on to win only once in that time.
o The Stormers were winless from three South African derbies played away from home during the 2018 campaign, including a 33-23 loss to the Bulls.
o Only the Sunwolves (89%) had a better goal-kicking accuracy rate last season than the Bulls (84%), while the Stormers kicked at a conversion rate of 81%.
o Bulls flyhalf Handré Pollard missed just eight kicks at goal last season, the fewest of any player to kick more than 50 (53/61 goals).
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotzé, 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.
Stormers – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Dan du Plessis.
JAGUARES vs LIONS, Buenos Aires (Saturday, 11:40pm)
The Lions won’t have fond memories of past trips to Argentina, where they have come unstuck against the Jaguares on three successive occasions.
While the Johannesburg-based side did opt to travel with a ‘second-string’ squad for two of those tours, this time they have understandably taken a full-strength side to Buenos Aires.
The Lions know that they need to make a point this Saturday. After three consecutive appearances in the final, there are those who doubt whether the perennial runners-up really have the ability to once again compete for the title.
Since last year, the Lions have bade farewell to a few key players – particularly up front – and so this will be an opportunity for them to send out an early-season statement that they remain a force to be reckoned with.
Notably, the Lions head into this clash with an extremely mobile loose trio of Marnus Schoeman, Hacjivah Dayimani and Warren Whiteley, which points to the fact that they will be looking to give the ball plenty of air.
At flyhalf, Elton Jantjies has set his sights on a big 2019 season, and it will be crucial for him to marshal proceedings with aplomb, while finding ways to exploit space with an accurate kicking game.
The Jaguares enjoyed a highly-encouraging Super Rugby campaign last year, and they remain a particularly difficult proposition at home. The team from Argentina are also lethal from broken-field attack, and so the Lions will need to ensure that they do not cough up too many turnovers.
In fairness, the Lions will probably be regarded as underdogs for this clash, but it’s a tag that they won’t mind having this time around.
Stats and facts
o Each of the previous seven meetings between the Jaguares and Lions has been won by the home team, with the Lions holding the edge with four wins to the Jaguares’ three.
o The Jaguares have won eight of their last 10 games at home against South African opposition, including their last four on the bounce in which they’ve scored an average of 39 points per game.
o The Lions have lost their last four games in a row outside South Africa; the last time they lost more was a nine-game stretch from 2011 to 2014.
o The Jaguares kicked 15 penalty goals in the opening 20 minutes of their matches last season, the most of any team, while the Lions kicked just two, with no team converting fewer.
o Lions duo Kwagga Smith (31) and Malcolm Marx (27) won more turnovers than anyone else in last year’s Super Rugby.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de le Fuente (c), 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Rodrigo Bruni, 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 Marcos Kremer, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Juan Cruz Mallía, 23 Matías Moroni.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyanti, 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Frans van Wyk, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Vermaak, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Gianni Lombard/Dillon Smit, 22 Wandisile Simelane, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix