CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three matches in round two, including the highly-anticipated clash between the Bulls and Hurricanes.
WARATAHS vs STORMERS (Saturday, 10:45)
The Stormers head into this encounter on the back of a scrappy opening-round 28-20 win over the Jaguares, which left more questions than answers as a positive start to the contest was undone by some poor handling and finishing from the Cape-based side.
However, Saturday’s encounter against the Waratahs should provide a far clearer picture of just what this Stormers team is made of, particularly considering they had the opportunity to shake off some rustiness last weekend.
Last year, the Stormers’ season unravelled when they lost heavily to the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes overseas, and so perhaps they will be grateful to head off on tour early in the season without any great weight of expectation.
After Saturday’s clash, the Stormers will once again face challenging clashes against the Crusaders and Highlanders in New Zealand, and so they will need to target a victory against a Waratahs team that managed just a measly four wins in 2017.
The Stormers have been boosted this week by the return to fitness of SP Marais and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and if they can add an improved clinical edge to their play, the visitors should have a shot at victory in what is set to be a highly competitive clash.
Stats and facts
- The Waratahs have won three of their last four games against the Stormers, including their last meeting, but had won just one of six meetings (drawn one, lost four) before that span.
- The Waratahs have lost their last four games in succession. The last time they went longer without a win was a nine-game drought (lost nine) across 2012 and 2013.
- The Stormers have won their last four games in Australia. Never before have they won more in succession in the country.
- The Waratahs were the least effective defensive outfit in 2017, missing one-in-five tackles for the campaign.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Nick Palmer, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Alex Newsome.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 EW Viljoen.
LIONS vs JAGUARES (Saturday, 15:05)
The Lions made an important statement last weekend as they overcame a stern challenge from the Sharks to claw their way to a 26-19 victory that was built largely on the foundation laid by a dominant scrum.
It was a performance that silenced those questioning whether the Lions would be able to maintain the sort of standards that saw the Johannesburg-based side reach back-to-back finals under the guidance of former coach Johan Ackermann.
Ultimately, the manner in which the Lions staved off a late onslaught from the Sharks in the latter stages of the clash spoke volumes for the character and commitment of Swys de Bruin’s charges.
Of some concern for the Lions, though, will be the fact that they lost four lineouts, while conceding as many as 18 turnovers – which was a clear indication of just how they lacked a typically accurate edge.
Nevertheless, the Lions would have noted the defensive woes of a Jaguares side that missed 34 tackles last weekend, and the hosts should be expected to pick up a bonus-point win this time around.
Stats and facts
- This will be the fifth meeting between these teams, with the previous four each being won by the home team on the day.
- There have been 30 tries scored in the four previous meetings between these sides, with the South African outfit accounting for 18 of these.
- The Jaguares have won two of their last three games away from home, having lost 11 of their previous 13 games on the road (won two).
- The Lions won their opener last weekend against the Sharks. They are aiming to win their opening two fixtures for the third season in a row.
- The Jaguares have won twice in South Africa, beating the Cheetahs in 2016 and the Kings in 2017.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Jaguares –15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Javier Ortega, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Felipe Arregui.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Manuel, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Leonardo Senatore, 23 Ramiro Moyano
BULLS vs HURRICANES (Saturday, 17:15)
This is understandably expected to be one of the games of the weekend, while it will provide the first look at the ‘new’ Bulls after a full pre-season with head coach John Mitchell, who has been tasked with executing a turnaround plan in Pretoria.
The word out of the Bulls camp has revolved around the meticulous planning that has taken place, with an emphasis on individual accountability for the benefit of the team.
Mitchell is known as an innovative and ambitious coach, and he will want the Bulls to set down an early marker about their ability to embrace a brand of rugby that has a much-needed balance between fearless attack and traditional strengths.
The challenge for the Bulls will be the fact that their first opponent is a settled and highly-regarded Hurricanes side that is expected to emerge as genuine title contenders once again this season.
It can’t be completely overlooked that the Bulls have managed just one win from their last 12 games against New Zealand opposition, but the old cliché of starting with a clean slate certainly rings true in this instance.
This sentiment was also echoed by Bulls No 8 Hanro Liebenberg ahead of Thursday’s team announcement, which saw the talented André Warner named to start at scrumhalf, while former Kings star Thembelani Bholi will slot in at blindside flank.
‘We are a new team with a new mentality and a new approach to things so I would definitely say we are a new team,’ he told SuperSport.com.
‘Thinking wise, playing wise, we are a much different team to last year and that’s what makes everyone positive going into the season. I think everyone is very hopeful and excited for the season.’
Stats and facts
- The Hurricanes have won their last three games against the Bulls, this after the Bulls had defeated them in their four meetings prior.
- The Bulls have lost their last five games in a row at home. The last time they went on a longer losing streak at home was a nine-game drought from 2001 to 2003.
- The Hurricanes have won four of their last five regular-season game in South Africa, a span which includes two wins against the Bulls.
- Handré Pollard has scored a try in each of his two previous games against the Hurricanes, scoring a total of 20 points across those fixtures.
- Beauden Barrett is two points shy of becoming the fourth player in Super Rugby history to score 1,000 points.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 André Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Hurricanes – 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Ihaia West, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith. Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ben Lam.
Photo: Anton Geyser/BackpagePix