JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the final four matches of round 10 of the Super Rugby tournament.
CHEETAHS vs CRUSADERS (Saturday, 17:15)
After 10 rounds, the Cheetahs are ranked third in the Africa 1 conference and seventh in the South African group. Franco Smith's men are unlikely to improve on their position when they host the unbeaten Crusaders in Bloemfontein this Saturday.
The Crusaders boast a great record against the Cheetahs. They've won eight of the past 10 clashes, and have scored more than 50 points in the last two.
In 2017, the Crusaders have averaged 36 points and five tries per match. The All Blacks-laden side thrashed the Stormers – the Africa 1 conference leaders – 57-24 in Christchurch last week.
According to Opta, the Cheetahs have scored only three second-half tries in their last four home games. Meanwhile, the Crusaders have scored 23 second-half tries this season (four more than the Cheetahs have scored overall).
The Cheetahs need to start well to have any chance of winning this clash. That said, they were 24-0 up against the Chiefs in the round eight clash in Bloemfontein, and went on to lose 41-27.
No lead will be safe against the Crusaders, who have scored eight more second-half tries than the Chiefs in 2017.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Niell Jordaan/William Small-Smith, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Clinton Swart.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano,20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
KINGS vs REBELS (Saturday, 19:30)
The Kings finished their recent tour to Australia with an emphatic and historic win against the Waratahs. They are playing with confidence, and will fancy their chances of adding another win to their tally when they host the Rebels in Port Elizabeth.
The last time these two teams met was in Melbourne back in 2013. On that occasion, the Kings showed their mettle to emerge victorious.
The Rebels were poor in the recent match against the Sharks in Durban. Yet they managed to secure a draw when Reece Hodge kicked a penalty goal in the final minute.
The Melbourne side is due a loss after beating the Brumbies and drawing with the Sharks. They've never gone three games in succession without conceding a defeat since joining the tournament in 2011.
The Kings have won 10.6 turnovers per game this season, the only team to average more than 10. Flanker Chris Cloete is ranked first in the tournament with a total of nine steals, and the Kings as a unit have used turnover ball to potent effect.
The teams boast similar defensive records in 2017, with the Kings having conceded 37 tries and the Rebels having leaked 35.
However, the Kings have been far more effective on attack, scoring 27 tries. The Rebels, with nine tries, have the worst try-scoring record in the tournament. They also average fewer points per match (14.7) than any other side.
Kings – 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronjé (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Justin Forwood.
Subs: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Schalk van der Merwe 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Stefaan Willemse, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Siliva Siliva, 1 Fereti Sa’aga.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Will Miller, 21 Hugh Sinclair, 22 Mick Snowden, 23 Jackson Garden-Bachop.
JAGUARES vs SHARKS (Saturday, 21:40)
Both sides will be desperate for a result in Buenos Aires. The Jaguares have lost their last four games, while the Sharks recently drew with the Rebels, the worst-placed side in the Australian group.
Sharks coach Rob du Preez has demanded an improved performance in the wake of that pitiful display. However, the Sharks will head into this match without three key players in Beast Mtawarira (rested), André Esterhuizen (suspended) and Kobus van Wyk (injured). They battled at the gainline and in the kicking department without Esterhuizen and Van Wyk last week, and could struggle once more when they face the Jaguares.
The Jaguares are playing with more balance in 2017. While they rank second in the tournament for carries, fourth for defenders beaten, and fifth for metres made, they are also ranked fifth for kicks from hand.
The Sharks should expect an all-round assault this Saturday. Players like Michael Claassens, Curwin Bosch and Rhyno Smith will need to be at their best.
While the Jaguares have never beaten the Sharks, they have won their last four games at home (three against South African teams). Their last home loss to a South African side was against the Sharks in round 12 last year.
The three previous clashes between the sides have been decided by five points or fewer. The Jaguares have reason to feel confident about their goal-kicking in a tight fixture, given that Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias is yet to miss a single attempt.
The Sharks will have a chance of stealing victory if the game is in the balance in the final quarter, though. The Jaguares have made a habit out of dropping their intensity in the second half this season, and have already conceded nine tries in the fourth quarter (nearly 50% of their total tries conceded).
Jaguares – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Subs: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Benjamin Macome, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Juan Martin Hernandez, 23 Matias Moroni.
Sharks –15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 Johan Deysel.
BRUMBIES vs BLUES (Sunday 08:05)
As the top-ranked Australian side in the competition, the Brumbies are, according to current tournament rules, entitled to a top-two spot in the Australasian group. However, if log points and points difference determined log position, the Brumbies (currently the best-placed Australian side) would be ranked below the Blues (currently the worst-placed New Zealand side).
The two teams will meet in Canberra on Sunday. It will be interesting to see who prevails.
The Brumbies have won four of their last six home games against the Blues. They've lost their last four home games against New Zealand opposition, though.
According to Opta, the Blues have won just four of their last 34 games away from home. That said, three of those four wins came in Australia.
In 2017, the Blues have yet to lose to a foreign side. Meanwhile, the Brumbies have yet to beat a team based outside of Australia.
The game should witness a clash of styles. The Brumbies boast the best tackle completion in the tournament (87%) and are ranked fourth for kicks from hand. The Blues are ranked third for carries and clean breaks, and are at the lower end of the scale for kicks from hand (12th).
Brumbies – TBC
Blues – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Melani Nanai.
Photo: Alejandro Pagni/AFP Photo