JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the last three Super Rugby matches on Saturday, involving the Sharks, Lions, and Bulls.
SHARKS vs CHIEFS, Durban, Saturday 15:05
The Sharks should be desperate for a win after slumping to a narrow loss to the Bulls last week. At this stage, they are ranked fourth in the South African conference and their playoff hopes hang by a thread.
Fortunately for the hosts, the Chiefs have arrived in Durban this week with a weakened squad. As many as 20 players have been omitted due to All Blacks camp commitments and injuries.
While the Chiefs are currently fourth in the New Zealand conference standings, they are still well placed in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, the top four sides in that conference are all set to qualify for the knockout phase of the tournament.
A win in Durban this week would certainly boost the Chiefs’ playoff cause. A loss, however, would not be devastating. Thanks to the big win at Newlands last week, the Chiefs remain on track.
The Sharks would take any sort of win at this juncture. A bonus-point win, of course, would be ideal.
It will be interesting to see how they approach this fixture, especially in the first half.
The Sharks produced their best performance to date in the 38-12 win over the Highlanders two weeks ago, and played with more attacking intent in the recent derby against the Bulls.
They should aim to keep things structured, though, and limit the opportunities afforded to a Chiefs outfit that, while weakened, should still thrive in a broken field.
Stats and facts
– The Chiefs have won six of their last seven games against the Sharks, though this will be the first meeting between the teams since a 24-22 win to the Chiefs at Yarrow Stadium in Round 10, 2016.
– The Sharks have won four of their last seven games against New Zealand opposition; though, they will be looking for consecutive wins in such fixtures for the first time since winning three on the bounce in 2014.
– The Chiefs have won five of their last six games in South Africa, including their last three in a row; never before have they gone on a longer winning streak in the nation.
– The Chiefs (15) and Sharks (14) have made the most clean breaks per game of any team this campaign.
– Robert du Preez has successfully piloted 54 goals this season, more than any other player in the competition – he has missed just six further attempts.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 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 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Makazole Mapimpi.
Chiefs – 15 Scott Stevenson, 14 Sean Whanui, 13 Charlie Ngatai (c), 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Liam Messam, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Sosefo Alaimano, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Luteru Laulala, 23 Toni Pulu.
SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW: Round 14, Part 1
LIONS vs BRUMBIES, Johannesburg, Saturday 17:15
The Lions return to South Africa on the back of an unsuccessful tour to Australasia. Swys de Bruin’s charges lost three of their four matches on that sojourn, the most recent defeat to the Highlanders bringing their overall win-record down to 50%.
That said, the Lions remain at the top of the South African conference and still seven log points ahead of the next best team – the Jaguares. That lead will be reduced significantly, though, if the Lions don’t bounce back fast.
The fixture against the Brumbies at Ellis Park is a must-win in the context of their ambitions to host a playoff. The Brumbies have won just three games this season, and are coming off a particularly bad loss to the Rebels at home.
The Brumbies have proved difficult to breach in 2018. Only the Crusaders, Hurricanes, and Chiefs have conceded fewer tries.
Whether that defence can repel the top-try-scoring side in the tournament – and on the Highveld – is another story. The Lions have racked up 58 tries in 12 games.
In theory, the Lions will have a lot of firepower at their disposal this weekend. Sylvian Mahuza, Madosh Tambwe, and Aphiwe Dyantyi have all been included in the run-on side, with the latter starting at No 13.
They haven’t been as potent – up front and out wide – without some of the best players in tow, though. The injury-enforced absence of Malcolm Marx has been felt at the set pieces, and the make-shift back row hasn’t done enough to win the collisions and breakdowns in recent games.
The Lions should be looking to claim five log points in this game, and head into the final fixture before the June break – a derby against the Stormers at Newlands – with confidence and momentum.
Stats and facts
– Each of the last four games between the Lions and Brumbies has been won by the away team on the day (two wins apiece); with the Lions picking up a 13-6 victory in their most recent meeting.
– The Lions have scored five or more tries in four of their last five games at home, including an eight-try effort in their most recent game there.
– The Brumbies have lost their last four games in a row, the last time they went on a longer losing streak was a five-game drought in 2011.
– The Lions have beaten 27 defenders per game this season, the most of any team in the competition and nine more than the Brumbies.
– Joe Powell has crossed for a try in two of his last three games away from home for the Brumbies, and has provided a try assist in each of his last two appearances overall.
Lions – 1 5 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Corné Fourie, 17 Jacques van Rooyen 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Len Massyn, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano (co-c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter (co-c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nick Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Lachlyn McCaffrey, 21 Tom Cusack, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Andrew Smith.
SUPERBRU: SA Rugby magazine team’s picks
JAGUARES vs BULLS, Buenos Aires, Saturday 23:40
The Lions’ struggles Down Under have put the Jaguares’ recent achievement – a four-from-four result in Australasia – into perspective. The Argentinian side has been on fire over the past month or so and, following a bye, they should fancy their chances against teams like the Bulls and Sharks in Buenos Aires.
The Bulls have played brilliantly – albeit in patches – this season. They have not done well on tour, though, and their second-half performances have left a lot to desired.
Earlier this season, the Lions took their first-string side to Buenos Aires and went down 49-35. The Bulls will travel to Argentina with a strong team, but they may miss Lood de Jager, who has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament due to a pectoral tear, and Lizo Gqoboka, who is unlikely to return from injury until 2019.
The Jaguares have improved at the set pieces over the past few weeks. They may see the absence of De Jager, the Bulls lineout kingpin, and Gqoboka – as well as loosehead Pierre Schoeman, who is serving a suspension – as an opportunity to meet the challenge in these departments.
The Bulls peppered the Sharks with a series of high kicks and well-aimed grubbers at Loftus last week. One wonders if they will persist with this approach when they face the Jaguares, a side that’s not known for its kicking from hand.
Handré Pollard will need to be on point with his goal-kicking. The Jaguares boast one of the best in the game in Nicolas Sanchez – the top point-scorer at the 2015 World Cup – and will have a fiercely passionate Argentinian crowd behind them on Saturday. Every opportunity must be taken for the Bulls to come away from this contest with a win.
Pollard will shift to No 12 in the absence of regular inside centre and skipper Burger Odendaal. It will be interesting to see how he gels with rookie Manie Libbok in that 10-12 combination.
How much do the Bulls have in the tank, though? The recent derby against the Sharks may have taken a lot out of them physically, and they may not be at their best in another scrap.
The travel may further compromise their ability to go the 80 minutes, and their record of fading during the latter stages of matches this season is well-documented.
Stats and facts
– This will be the third meeting between the Jaguares and Bulls, with each of the two previous encounters being won by the home team on the day (one win apiece).
– The Jaguares are currently enjoying a four-game win streak, their best ever in Super Rugby; however, they’ve won just two of their last eight games at home.
– The Bulls have lost their last nine games outside South Africa, picking up just two losing bonus points in that time.
– The Jaguares have a scrum success rate of just 85% this campaign, the lowest of any team in the competition.
– Jesse Kriel made a joint round-high five clean breaks in Round 13, taking his season tally to 18, more than any other South African player.
Jaguares – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Sebastian Cancelliere, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya , 17 Javier Manuel Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Handré Pollard (c), 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Frans van Wyk, 18 Mox Mxoli, 19 Hendré Stassen, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 André Warner, 22 JT Jackson, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images