CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the first four matches of round 14, including the Sunwolves-Stormers clash in Hong Kong.
HURRICANES vs REDS (Wellington, Friday, 9:35am)
The Reds will still be reeling following last weekend’s humiliating 63-28 loss to the Sunwolves, while they now face the challenge of coming up against a high-flying Hurricanes team at home.
The long and short of it is that this isn’t going to be pretty for the Reds. There is every reason to believe the Canes will run up a big score on Saturday as they search for a result that would – at least temporarily – take them back to the top of the overall standings.
As it stands, the Canes are just one log point behind the front-running Crusaders, but it can’t be forgotten that the reigning champs have played the one extra game.
Swinging matters further in favour of the Hurricanes is the fact that All Black stars Jordie Barrett and TJ Perenara both return to a strong starting lineup, although the Reds have also been boosted by captain captain Scott Higginbotham’s inclusion at No 8.
The Canes have won their last nine games at home against the Reds, and there is little doubt that such a healthy record will be extended on Friday.
Stats and facts
- The Hurricanes have won 13 of their last 15 games against the Reds, including their last four on the bounce.
- The Canes have won their last nine consecutive games at home against the Reds, despite trailing at half-time in two of their last four such fixtures.
- The Hurricanes have won 19 of their last 20 games on home soil, including their last seven on the bounce. The last time they lost to an Australian team at home was in round 10, 2015.
- The Reds have finished their last two games without losing a scrum, as many times as they had in their 11 games prior.
- Jordie Barrett has made 19 offloads this campaign, the second most of any back – he’s made nine in his last two starts.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett , 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder , 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c) , 8 Blade Thomson Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep , 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita 20 Brad Shields, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Julian Savea .
Reds – 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga- Amosa, 1 JP Smith.
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Izaia Perese, 23 Aidan Toua.
SUNWOLVES vs STORMERS (Hong Kong, Saturday, 7:15am)
This clash represents a historic first trip to Hong Kong for the Stormers, but they will not have particularly fond memories of playing the Sunwolves away from home.
Back in 2016, the Stormers had to settle for a shock 17-17 draw in Singapore, while at the same venue last year, the Cape-based side had to overturn a 14-point deficit in order to clinch a hard-fought victory.
It will ensure the Stormers head into this clash without an iota of complacency, particularly when one considers that the Sunwolves are coming off the back of that memorable win over the Reds.
By contrast, the Stormers slipped to the bottom of the South African conference after last weekend’s disappointing defeat to the Chiefs, and they will know that this Saturday’s contest is now a must-win match if they are to revive their diminishing playoff hopes.
Coach Robbie Fleck has understandably taken a strong squad over to Hong Kong, but the Stormers are without injured Steven Kitshoff and Junior Springbok Damian Willemse, while regular skipper Siya Kolisi will play off the bench.
What the Stormers would have learned from their previous scares against the Sunwolves is the need to prioritise percentage rugby. This should see them aim to bully the hosts at the scrums and lineouts, where they boast just an 87 and 82 percent per-game success rate respectively.
If the Stormers can dominate the Sunwolves up front, and remain patient rather than reckless on attack, then there is every reason to believe that they will claim a comfortable victory on Saturday.
Stats and facts
- The Stormers are undefeated in their four previous meetings with the Sunwolves (won three, drawn one), including a 52-15 win when they last met – the biggest win in the short history of the fixture.
- The Sunwolves will be hunting for back-to-back Super Rugby triumphs for the first time after blowing away the Reds 63-28 in round 13 – their biggest ever win in the competition.
- The Stormers have lost their last six games outside South Africa. The last time they won outside their home nation was in round 5, 2017, against the Sunwolves.
- The Japanese club have a lineout success rate of just 82% this campaign, the lowest of any team in the competition.
- Damian de Allende has made 143 carries this campaign, the second most of any player and the most of any back, while only Akira Ioane (55) has beaten more defenders than the Stormers centre (48).
Sunwolves – 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Kenki Fukuoka, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Michael Little, 11 Akihito Yamada, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Edward Quirk (c), 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Shintaro Ishihara.
Subs: 16 Jaba Bregvadze 17 Craig Millar, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Jason Emery.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Carlu Sadie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 EW Viljoen.
BLUES vs CRUSADERS (Auckland, Saturday, 9:35am)
The Crusaders rewrote a bit of Super Rugby history last weekend when they completed a record 29-point comeback to overcome the Waratahs in Christchurch.
It was an immense effort from the Saders, but the defending champs will be looking to produce a far more clinical performance against a typically unpredictable Blues side.
On Wednesday, the Blues confirmed that they would be extending the contract of head coach Tana Umaga for another year despite the team’s struggles this season, and it will be interesting to see how the players respond on the pitch.
By all accounts, the Blues remain committed to Umaga’s vision, while one would expect them to be competitive at Eden Park – particularly as influential centreSonny Bill Williams settles back in for a second start on the trot.
However, there is nothing to suggest that the hosts will be able to live with the Crusaders during the final quarter, with the Christchurch-based side having scored a competition-high 16 tries during this period this season.
Stats and facts
- The Crusaders have won their last six games on the bounce against the Blues, the longest winning streak in the history of the fixture.
- Indeed, the Crusaders have won on their last two visits to Eden Park, having won there just once in their four visits prior.
- Each of the Blues’ last five games has been won by the away team on the day, though the Auckland side has won just twice in that time (lost three).
- The Crusaders have missed the fewest tackles per game this season (19), and have the highest tackle success rate (86%).
- Akira Ioane has beaten 55 defenders this campaign, more than any other player in the competition.
Blues – 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii/Murphy Taramai, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Matiaha Martin, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Ben Nee-Nee, 20 Murphy Taramai/Antonio Kiri Kiri, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Michael Collins.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Tim Perry
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
WARATAHS vs HIGHLANDERS (Sydney, Saturday, 11:45am)
Take a moment to consider that the Waratahs have won just five out of 10 games this season, and yet occupy prime position at the top of the Australian conference.
Comparatively, the Highlanders have managed seven victories from the same number of matches, but dwell down in third place in the New Zealand conference – as many as 10 logs points adrift of the log-leading Crusaders.
Despite the fact that the Landers have also accumulated more log points than both the Waratahs and Lions, they sit below both those teams on the overall standings – such is the nature of a Super Rugby conference system that unconditionally rewards the conference leaders.
Such details are neither here nor there in the context of this Saturday’s match-up in Sydney, but it does highlight the fact that the Highlanders should be regarded as the more fancied side.
The Landers were very impressive last weekend as they outclassed the Lions, and they should be confident of recording a fifth successive Super Rugby win over the Waratahs – who will still be smarting after letting a 29-point lead slip against the Crusaders in round 13.
Stats and facts
- The Highlanders have won their last four games on the bounce against the Waratahs. They had never previously won consecutive games against the Tahs
- The Waratahs have crossed for four or more tries in five of their last six games against New Zealand opposition. However, they’ve not registered a win in that time (lost six).
- The Highlanders have won seven of their last eight games in Australia, including a 49-point win over the Force in their most recent visit – their biggest ever win in the country.
- The Highlanders have scored 10 tries after holding possession for seven phases or more; only the Lions (11) have scored more tries from such extended possession.
- Israel Folau has scored five tries in his last five games at home against New Zealand opposition, bagging two braces in that time.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 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 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Tevita
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