CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final four Super Rugby matches in round 12 of the competition.
REBELS vs REDS (Saturday, 11:45)
Out of the 19 matches played in total by the Rebels and Reds this year, just three wins have been recorded between the two teams. It’s been that sort of season in the woefully underwhelming Aussie conference.
As it is, the Rebels have been the worst of a bad bunch (having collected just seven log points this season), while in their last two games they have conceded 91 points and scored just 13.
Stand-in captain Colby Fainga’a is back from injury for the Rebels, while the Reds have reshuffled their backline for this encounter, with the most significant change seeing influential fullback Karmichael Hunt returning from injury, with Nick Frisby at No 9.
The Rebels have won four of their last six games against the Reds, including each of their last two, but a season of woe is set to continue for the Melbourne-based side 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, 6 Hugh Sinclain, 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 Sean McMahon, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Will Miller, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Campbell Magnay, 13 Samu Kerevi (c), 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 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 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Izaia Perese.
BULLS vs HIGHLANDERS (Saturday, 15:05)
The Bulls’ season of horrors hit a new low last weekend when they suffered their heaviest home defeat in Super Rugby history as the Crusaders handed out a 62-24 beating.
Understandably then, the Bulls have been on the receiving end of a torrent of criticism this week, and the manner in which they respond on Saturday is sure to say a lot about this team’s character – or lack thereof.
Under-pressure coach Nollis Marais has made a number of changes to the side, which sees Lizo Gqoboka, RG Snyman, Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp and Jaco Visagie all coming into an underperforming pack, with the latter replacing injured captain Adriaan Strauss.
After last weekend's thrilling win over the Cheetahs, the Highlanders have made six changes to their starting lineup, which has included an enforced reshuffle to the loose trio following injuries to Luke Whitelock and Liam Squire.
Interestingly, what could serve as something of a leveller on Saturday is the rain that’s forecast, but the Bulls will also be fully aware that the Highlanders boast a highly effective kicking game, and are ranked second for kicks from hand (25.7 on average per game).
The aerial battle is going to be a particularly interesting one at Loftus, where Aaron Smith can be expected to put up a number of contestable kicks for the likes of Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne to chase.
If the Bulls can cope with this aspect of the game, clean up their defence and finally get their pack performing again at scrum time, then they should manage to at least produce a more competitive performance than last weekend.
However, the Highlanders have won four of their last six games against the Bulls, and should comfortably claim what would be a seventh successive win this season.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Coenraad van Vuuren, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 5 Alex Ainley, 4 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Aki Seiuli.
Subs: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Teihorangi Walden.
KINGS vs SHARKS (Saturday, 17:15)
From a South African perspective, this should be the game of the weekend, as the ever-improving Sharks get set for a test against a gutsy Kings team that has discovered some compelling form in recent weeks.
In particular, the Kings have impressed with their courageous attack in 2017, and which has seen some of their exciting outside backs making a real impact (look out for Makazole Mapimpi, who has gained a competition-high average of 10.9m per carries this season).
However, the Sharks’ defence has been extremely impressive in 2017, with the Durban-based side boasting a tackle percentage of 87%. In addition, the Sharks’ set pieces (92% lineout success and 95% scrum success) have been outstanding, and it’s up front where they should get the better of the Kings.
Yet the Kings would have taken note of the fact that the Sharks have averaged 18.7 conceded turnovers per game (rank one), while by contrast, the Kings are averaging 10.3 turnovers won per game (rank one). Certainly then, the Sharks will be looking to protect possession far better, while enforcing a plan to nullify the impact of impressive fetcher, Chris Cloete.
Both teams will come into the contest with a new starting flyhalf, with fit-again Sharks captain Pat Lambie taking over from Curwin Bosch – who is now with the Junior Springboks – while the Kings have been boosted by the return of their regular skipper, Lionel Cronjé, who has overcome a concussion.
This season, the Kings have been consistently competitive, and they should produce another encouraging effort at home, but ultimately the Sharks' superior experience and physicality up front should lay the foundation for victory.
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 Kurt Haupt/Tango Balekile, 17 Chris Heiberg 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Stefaan Willemse, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie (c), 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coeni Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Garth April, 23 Sbu Nkosi.
JAGUARES vs FORCE (Saturday, 23:40)
The Jaguares snapped a four-match losing streak as they battled past the Sunwolves last weekend, while the Force meekly succumbed to defeat against the Sharks in Durban, and have now had to travel across to Argentina.
The Force have won only one of their last 14 games outside Australia, and the travel factor is once again likely to come back to haunt them against a Jaguares side that is a formidable foe at home.
The Perth-based side has also been the least disciplined team in the competition, conceding a league-high 11.9 penalties per game this season, while the Jaguares have averaged more carries per game than any other side this campaign (132).
One can expect a new-look Force side to put up a competitive showing during the initial exchanges, but the Jaguares should run away with the result in the end.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Batista Ezcurra, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Subs: 16 Julían Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Felipe Arregui, 19 Tomás Lavanini, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 23 Manuel Montero.
Force – 15 Peter Grant, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Onehunga Havili, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann (c), 1 Francois van Wyk.
Subs: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Isireli Naisarani, 22 Mitchell Short, 23 James Verity-Amm.
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