JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the first three matches of Round 12, including the clash between the Hurricanes and Lions in Wellington.
CHIEFS vs JAGUARES (Rotorua, Friday, 9:35am)
The Jaguares come into this match on the back of three wins in Australasia. Last week’s victory against the Blues in Auckland marked the Argentinian side’s inaugural triumph in New Zealand.
One gets the feeling that the bubble will burst when they take on the Chiefs in Rotorua. The Jaguares may start to feel the effects of fatigue at the end of a long tour.
A few teams have stumbled this season when returning to action after a bye. The Chiefs, however, can’t afford to slip up at this stage. They currently sit at fourth on the New Zealand conference log, and a loss to the Jaguares would be a big blow to their playoff qualification cause.
They would do well to target the Argentinian side at the set pieces. It’s been a long time since the Pumas dominated other Test sides at scrum-time, and the Jaguares have failed to impress in this area over the past three seasons.
According to Opta Stats, the Jaguares are ranked 14th in the competition for scrum and lineout success. The Chiefs are ranked second in both departments. Even without All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, who has been rested for this clash, the Chiefs should outmuscle the Jaguares.
South African teams should be cheering on the Chiefs this Friday. A defeat for the Jaguares would allow the Stormers or Bulls – depending on who prevails in the north-south derby on Saturday – to overtake the men from Argentina in the South African conference standings. The Sharks could also leapfrog the Jaguares if they win their match against the Highlanders in Durban.
Stats and facts
o The Chiefs escaped with a 30-26 win in their only previous encounter with the Jaguares despite trailing by one point at half-time.
o The Chiefs have won 20 of their last 22 games against teams from outside New Zealand, including their last 10 such games on the bounce.
o The Jaguares have won their last three games on the bounce; never before have they won a stretch of four or more.
o The Chiefs have made the most (17) and conceded the fewest (8) clean breaks of any team in the competition this season.
o Emiliano Boffelli has scored nine tries in his last 10 games for the Jaguares, including five tries in his last five appearances.
Chiefs – 15 Charlie Ngatai (cc), 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Lachlan Boshier/Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Luke Jacobson/Jesse Parete, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Levi Aumua.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Subs: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Javier Manuel Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia.
REBELS vs CRUSADERS (Melbourne, Friday, 11:45am)
The Crusaders should view this fixture as a great opportunity to consolidate their position at the top of the overall standings. The Rebels are coming off a heavy 34-18 defeat to the Stormers, and one cannot see them beating the defending champs and ending Australia’s long run of 36 defeats to New Zealand teams.
The Crusaders have utilised their set piece to brutal effect this season. Only the Lions (23) have scored more tries than the Crusaders (17) from first phase. In fact, nearly 50% of the Crusaders’ overall tries have been scored in this manner.
Expect the Cantabrians to target the Rebels up front. Dave Wessels’ side produced an inconsistent showing at the set pieces last week. They rank 10th for scrum success and are statistically the least disciplined side in the tournament, conceding an average of 11.6 penalties per game.
The hosts may battle to breach the Crusaders defence, which is right up there with the best in the competition. One can’t see the Rebels living with the Crusaders at the set pieces or collisions this week, or preventing the Cantabrians from claiming the try-scoring bonus point.
Stats and facts
o The Crusaders have won four of their last five games against the Rebels, including their last two, across which they’ve scored 126 points.
o The Rebels have lost their last six games on the bounce at home against teams from New Zealand by an average margin of 26 points per game.
o The Crusaders have won their last seven games in a row in Australia, their longest ever winning streak in the country.
o The Rebels have gained fewer than 400m in three of their last four games; prior to that period, they had gained 498m or more in seven consecutive games.
o Manasa Mataele has made 19 clean breaks this season, the second most of any player, and has scored five tries in his last three appearances for the Crusaders.
Rebels – 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Geoff Parling, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Subs: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Tom English, 23 Semisi Tupou.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
HURRICANES vs LIONS (Wellington, Saturday, 9:35am)
These teams boast the best attacking stats in the tournament, with the Lions ranking first for tries and points scored and the Hurricanes ranking second. What may set the two sides apart this Saturday, though, is defence. The Hurricanes have been streets ahead of the Lions in this department this season.
The Hurricanes have missed the fewest tackles to date, and are as high as third in the rankings for tackle efficiency. While the Lions have scored a lot of points, they have also made a lot of errors (17.2 turnovers per a game. Only one team has conceded more).
The visitors may struggle to breach the Hurricanes defence this weekend. They will need to be wary of losing the ball in contact, as the Hurricanes are a team that excels in translating opposition errors into attacking opportunities and points.
The Lions pack burned white-hot when they destroyed the Waratahs two weeks ago. At this stage, they top the stats for tries scored from first phase.
However, a week after the historic win in Sydney, the Lions were ice-cold. The Reds punished the Lions at the set pieces in the first half of the game in Brisbane. While the visitors did well to hit back in the latter stages, they only managed to salvage a losing bonus point.
The Hurricanes won’t be as generous as the Reds were in the second half. The Lions will need to fire from the first minute to the last in order to claim a rare win in Wellington.
The visitors’ defence will also be under scrutiny. The Hurricanes rank second for kicks from hand, and we are likely to see Beauden Barrett targeting his wings with a kick-pass or two this Saturday.
The hosts may also benefit from a direct approach. The Lions have the second-worst tackle success rate in the tournament (82%). Hurricanes backs Ngani Laumape and Ben Lam have scored 13 tries between them this season. All Blacks wing Julian Savea could also be used to run at the Lions midfield.
Stats and facts
o The Hurricanes have won their last seven regular-season games on the bounce against the Lions, scoring 30+ points in all but one of those victories.
o The Hurricanes haven’t lost a home game against South African opposition since Round 11, 2013 (against the Stormers); they’ve picked up 10 wins on the trot since that defeat.
o The Lions have lost two of their last three games away from home, and will be looking to avoid back-to-back away defeats in a single regular season for the first time since 2014.
o The Lions have beaten 29 defenders per game this season, more than any other club in the competition.
o Jordie Barrett made a round-high five offloads in Round 11, taking his season tally to 18; only Jean-Luc du Preez (21) has made more this campaign.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster,, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Franco Mostert (c), 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images