CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final five matches in round 14 of the Super Rugby tournament.
REBELS vs CRUSADERS (Saturday, 11:45)
There is just no stopping the Crusaders. The former seven-time champs have now won all 12 games this season, which most recently saw them overcome considerable challenges against the Chiefs and Hurricanes.
By contrast, the Rebels have managed just a solitary win this season, with the Crusaders sure to pile on the punishment in Melbourne this Saturday.
After such physical battles in recent weeks, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has made as many as 10 changes to the starting lineup as he looks to rest some first-team regulars, but they do welcome All Black Israel Dagg back from injury.
The Rebels have also made several changes, and been boosted by the return of fit-again captain Nic Stirzaker, Tom English and Sefa Naivalu, but it certainly won't be enough to prevent another heavy defeat.
Rebels – 15 Ben Volavola, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Mitch Inman, 23 Jonah Placid.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Quinten Strange, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge.
BULLS vs HURRICANES (Saturday, 15:05)
It says a lot about how far the Bulls have fallen that only two forwards were included in the 31-man Bok squad named on Tuesday, while just five players in total were called up.
Last weekend, the Lions barely broke a sweat as they romped to a bonus-point win over the Bulls, with the Pretoria-based franchise having now taken the next step in their turnaround plan after appointing former All Blacks coach John Mitchell as the new executive of rugby.
However, any turnaround is not going to come quick enough to prevent further pain this Saturday as the powerful Hurricanes head to Loftus on the back of a crushing win over the Cheetahs.
The Canes will again unleash the brilliant Barrett brothers this weekend, with Beauden returning to flyhalf, while Jordie comes back into the starting lineup at fullback.
Interestingly, the Bulls have reshuffled their backline for this clash, with Tian Schoeman reclaiming the No 10 jersey, while Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews and Jesse Kriel will make up the back three.
The Bulls have won only one of their last 11 games against New Zealand opposition, and they have little hope of improving that record on Saturday.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jesse Kriel, 10 Tiaan Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Coenraad van Vuuren, 19 Abongile Nonkontwana, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Loni Uhila.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, Ben Lam 23.
SHARKS vs STORMERS (Saturday, 17:15)
This is sure to be the game of the weekend from a South African perspective, as the two coastal foes go head-to-head in what is sure to be a brutal contest, where the result could go either way.
It’s been difficult to know what to make of the Sharks this season as they’ve mixed moments of magic with periods of mediocrity, but last weekend’s win over the Sunwolves – coupled with the Jaguares’ recent loss to the Force – has put them back on track for a playoff place.
Importantly, the Stormers also bounced back to snap a four-match losing streak against the Blues last weekend, with their improved organisation on defence and the impact of their forwards really making the difference.
This season, both teams have spoken about evolving their attack, but this is one of those South African derbies that's going to be an absolute arm-wrestle, and the side that establishes ascendancy up front and on defence is likely to come out on top.
Both sides have an impressive scrum success rate of 96% this season, but the Stormers’ lineout has been somewhat shaky at times, while the Sharks used their driving maul to great effect last weekend.
Understandably, neither side has made many changes, with Coenie Oosthuizen returning for the Sharks, while the Stormers have only made alterations to their backline as Jano Vermaak, Kurt Coleman and Damian de Allende come in to form a new-look 9-10-12 combination.
At Thursday's press conference at Newlands, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck spoke extensively about the need to front up to the physicality of the Sharks, and if the Cape-based side's forwards are able to do so, the visitors should be able to come away with a hard-fought win.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 S’busiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Rowan Gouws, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 S’bura Sithole.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
JAGUARES vs BRUMBIES (Saturday, 23:40)
The Jaguares’ season has imploded in recent weeks as they’ve lost five of the last six games, with this past weekend’s bye preceded by a shock defeat to the Force in Buenos Aires.
Last weekend, the Brumbies suffered a scare against the Kings, and while they managed to come away with an all-important win that keeps them at the top of the Aussie conference, they’ll know that a far more clinical performance will be required in Argentina.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams, with the Jaguares’ offloading game set to be pitted against the stout defence of the Brumbies, but it’s the more pragmatic approach of the Aussie side that should carry them to a hard-fought victory.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Lucas Noguera.
Subs: 16 Julían Montoya, 17 Santiago Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Juan Martín Hernandez, 23 Matías Moroni.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Aidan Toua, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Ben Alexander.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Andrew Muirhead, 23 Andrew Smith.
LIONS vs KINGS (Sunday, 14:30)
It will be interesting to see whether this strange Sunday afternoon game will have had any influence on the team’s preparations, but it should be a contest that provides plenty of entertainment to finish off the weekend’s action.
Last weekend, the Brumbies provided insight into how to nullify the Kings as they starved the Eastern Cape side of possession and then struck on the counter-attack. Although the Brumbies lacked accuracy in terms of their finishing at times, this is not an area where the Lions are likely to be found wanting.
A host of Lions players have been rewarded with Springbok call-ups, and as long as this doesn’t lead to any complacency, the home side should comfortably secure what would be an incredible 10th successive win of the season.
The Lions have won each of the previous three encounters between these teams, scoring an average of 48 points per game, and while the margin of victory is unlikely to be this one-sided on Sunday, the hosts should still comfortably claim a bonus-point win.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Johannes Jonker, 18, Corné Fourie, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink/Sylvian Mahuza.
Kings – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Alshaun Bock, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tyler Paul, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys (c), 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Mzamo Majola, 19 Lubabalo 'Giant' Mtyanda, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Ntabeni Dukisa, 23 Stokkies Hanekom.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images