CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three matches in round 12, including the highly-anticipated derby between the Stormers and Bulls.
WARATAHS vs BLUES (Brookvale, Saturday, 11:45)
The Waratahs are coming off a bye, but they should still be smarting from a humbling 29-0 loss to the Lions last time out.
Despite that defeat, the Tahs still remain top of the uninspiring Australian conference, while they now come up against a Blues side that has managed just two wins from nine games in what has been a horror season to date.
The Blues’ starting lineup has been boosted by the return of influential figures Augustine Pulu, Patrick Tuipulotu and Jerome Kaino, while the Waratahs welcome back star fullback Israel Folau.
The Waratahs were the last Australian team to beat a Kiwi franchise – defeating the Chiefs in May 2016 – and this is as good an opportunity as ever to break this drought against the embattled Blues.
Stats and facts
- The Blues have won five of their last seven games against the Waratahs, including their last two.
- The Waratahs didn’t manage a single point in their last game, only once in Super Rugby history has any Australian team gone on to win their next game after failing to score a point (Rebels in round two, 2011).
- The Blues are undefeated in their last five games in Australia (won four, drawn one), including wins in each of their last four visits.
- The Waratahs boast a goal-kicking success rate of 88% this campaign, the best of any team in the competition.
- Bernard Foley has scored 98 points this campaign, the most of any player yet to cross for a try and the second most overall behind Robert du Preez (114).
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Curtis Rona, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Blues – 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Tumua Manu, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ross Wright.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Ben Nee-Nee/Lyndon Dunshea, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Terrence Hepetema.
STORMERS vs BULLS (Cape Town, Saturday, 15:05)
There was an insightful comment from Bulls coach John Mitchell leading up to this all-important encounter.
‘I think we’ve had enough situations now in this competition to make the most of whatever comes our way,’ he said. ‘There comes a point where you have to stop learning and make it happen.’
It speaks to a feeling that after 11 rounds, the Bulls now need to start delivering positive results to go with the generally encouraging signs that they’ve displayed in their first Super Rugby season under the guidance of Mitchell.
The Bulls have acknowledged that they lacked the necessary composure to close out last Saturday’s game against the Highlanders, although Mitchell has reiterated that they can’t be defined by the last-minute goal kick that ended a three-match winning streak.
That run of victories was kick-started with an impressive 33-23 triumph over the Stormers at the end of March, and that result will add to the intrigue of Saturday’s rematch.
What was notable about the Bulls’ previous win over the Stormers was the manner in which they made a massive statement by winning a penalty with a monstrous first scrum of the game. It set the platform for a rollicking start from the Bulls, who rampaged into a decisive 19-6 lead early on.
The Stormers will not have forgotten how the Bulls’ forwards fronted up on that occasion, and they will be looking for a bit of revenge this Saturday.
As it is, the Bulls have made no secret of the fact that they will again look to take the Stormers’ forwards out of the game in order to nullify the threats of a dangerous backline that includes in-form centre Damian de Allende.
This season, the Bulls have been lethal from first-phase play – scoring as many as 17 tries – which is also a reflection of their competition-high 92% lineout success. With this in mind, the Stormers will know they have to nullify the Bulls’ powerful lineout maul.
The fact remains that the Stormers are undefeated at home this season, but it’s also a factor that could provide an extra incentive for the Bulls. ‘They call it [Newlands] a fortress,’ Mitchell commented this week. ‘Some people say it’s impossible to win there, but that’s highly motivating as well.’
This is the sort of contest where you pick a winner at your peril.
Stats and facts
- The Bulls will be looking to defeat the Stormers twice in a single campaign for the first time after picking up a 33-23 win when they met in round seven this season.
- Each of the Stormers’ last 10 games has been won by the home team. The Stormers have won four games in that time.
- The Bulls have won their last two South African derbies away from home. The last time they won more was a three-game streak in 2013.
- The Bulls have won the most lineouts per game (15) of any team this season, with the highest success rate (92%).
- Siya Kolisi has made an average gain of 6m per carry this season, the most of any forward to have made at least 50 carries (58 carries for 350m).
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Divan Rossouw/Travis Ismaiel, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 André Warner, 8 Thembelani Bholi/Marco van Staden, 7 Jason Jenkins/Thembelani Bholi, 6 Marco van Staden/Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs (TBC): Jaco Visagie, Frans van Wyk/Nqobisiwe Mxol, Conrad van Vuuren, Hendre Stassen/Roelof Smit, Ivan van Zyl,Manie Libbok, Divan Rossouw/Travis Ismaiel.
SHARKS vs HIGHLANDERS (Durban, Saturday, 17:15)
Quite simply, this could be a season-defining clash for the Sharks. After last weekend’s bye, the Durban-based side slipped to the bottom of the South African conference, although just two log points separate them from the second-placed Bulls.
The bye should have served the Sharks well, and they will come into this contest buoyed by their most recent win over the Stormers, while Beast Mtawarira has returned from injury to start up front.
There has been a different edge to the Sharks’ pack when the influential Mtawarira is in the mix, while the ‘angry warthog’ Akker van der Merwe will add real energy from the hooker position.
Ultimately, though, this contest is set to be determined by the Sharks’ ability to break down a Highlanders defence that boasts an 86% tackle success rate. Just last weekend, the Bulls experienced how difficult it is to overcome a team that simply refuses to fade away.
Afterwards, the Bulls coach described the Highlanders’ approach as a ‘game of chaos’, which revolves around their ability to strike from broken-field play, while enforcing a contestable kicking game that often creates such counter-attacking opportunities.
Considering that the Highlanders are only too happy to play without a surfeit of possession, the Sharks now face a real test of whether they have the attacking arsenal to overcome a team that is quite willing to leave the ball in their opponent’s court.
The Sharks have won four of their last five games at home against the Highlanders, but they will be understandably wary of the visiting side that has lost just two games this season.
Stats and facts
- Two of the Sharks’ last three games have been won by the team trailing at half-time, with the Sharks bouncing back from a half-time deficit to win in their most recent Super Rugby game.
- The Highlanders have won their last five regular-season games on the bounce in South Africa, though their last three have come by margins of seven points or fewer.
- The Sharks have made 15-plus offloads in three of their last four home games. They had done so just twice in their 10 games prior.
- Aaron Smith has been directly involved in 10 tries this campaign (three tries, seven assists), the equal most of any player in the competition alongside the Crusaders’ Manasa Mataele (seven tries, three assists).
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Sio Tomkinson, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Matt Faddes/Josh McKay.
Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix