CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the first four matches in round 11 of the competition.
HURRICANES vs STORMERS (Friday, 09:35)
Where to from here for the Stormers? Over two games in New Zealand, the Cape side has conceded 17 tries and 114 points against the Crusaders and Highlanders. They are now set to come up against the high-flying Hurricanes, and it could well get messy once again.
The Stormers’ squad has been decimated by injuries, and they have recently lost two of their most influential players in Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth, while the Canes have welcomed captain TJ Perenara back to the starting lineup.
It wouldn’t have taken long for the Stormers to identify where things went wrong in their 57-14 thrashing at the hands of the Highlanders last weekend, with the visitors having missed 26 tackles as their defence fell apart, while basic errors and poor execution cost them dearly.
Although the Stormers have won six of their last eight games against the Hurricanes, the Wellington-based side has clinched victory in its last 10 games on home turf, which is its longest streak in Super Rugby history.
It’s hard to imagine that the Stormers could be as poor as they have been over their first two games in New Zealand, but a powerful Canes team should really have little trouble condemning the Capetonians to a third successive one-sided defeat.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 James Blackwell, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Ben Lam.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Bjorn Basson.
CHEETAHS vs HIGHLANDERS (Friday, 19:00)
Particularly in the first half last weekend, the Cheetahs displayed some encouraging signs against the Crusaders, but ultimately the Free State side slumped to a sixth successive defeat.
Coach Franco Smith has suggested the side are battling to handle the pressure associated with their potential exit from Super Rugby next year, but this recent run of disappointing results has done little to bolster their cause.
Worryingly, it’s not going to get any easier against a Highlanders side that are riding a wave of momentum after clinching five wins in a row – the highlight of which was last weekend’s 57-14 thrashing of the Stormers.
Interestingly, the Cheetahs have scored 20 or more first-half points in four of their last five games at home, but their inability to sustain an 80-minute effort has haunted them all season.
The Cheetahs will have a new 9-10-12 combination for this game as Tian Meyer and Fred Zeilinga pair up as the halfbacks, while William Small-Smith comes in for the injured Nico Lee at inside centre.
Again, expect the Cheetahs to put up a fight during the early stages of Friday night’s contest, but the Highlanders should run away with a comfortable win in the end.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Elandre Huggett,17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Niel Marais.
Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (c), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Richard Buckman.
REBELS vs LIONS (Saturday, 07:00)
The Lions haven’t been at their free-flowing best in recent weeks, but last Saturday’s important win over the Force was still their eighth of the season, and keeps them well-placed at the top of the Africa group.
Last weekend, the Lions’ front row made an impressive impact, and they should be confident of once again achieving dominance at scrum-time, although the Rebels have notably named a new front row in Laurie Weeks, James Hanson and Toby Smith.
The Lions have made three changes for this game, with Lourens Erasmus and Cyle Brink coming into the forward pack, while Ross Cronjé will provide a steadying influence at scrumhalf.
The Rebels are a team in turmoil at the moment – having failed to defeat a 14-man Sharks side before last weekend’s heavy defeat to the Kings – and the Lions should quite comfortably claim a bonus-point win on Saturday.
Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga'a (c), 6 Hugh Sinclair, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Fereti Sa'aga, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Will Miller, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink.
CHIEFS vs REDS (Saturday, 09:35)
After such an impressive start to the competition, the Chiefs have battled to find their best attacking form in recent weeks, which has seen them grind out wins over the Force and Sunwolves.
Having said that, the Chiefs remain just a few points behind the unbeaten Crusaders in the New Zealand conference, and will be targeting a bonus-point victory over a Reds side that has managed just two wins this season.
As it is, the Chiefs have been boosted by the return of All Blacks Charlie Ngatai and Brodie Retallick to the starting lineup, while the Reds have lost the influential Karmichael Hunt to injury.
Interestingly, the Reds have won on each of their last three away trips against the Chiefs, but there will be no such luck this time around.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-c), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Sam McNicol, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Reds – 15 Duncan Paia'aua, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sef Fa'agase.
Subs: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Leroy Houston, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Photo: Paul Crock/AFP Photo