CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three Vodacom Super Rugby matches on Saturday, including the two big local derbies.
LIONS vs VODACOM BULLS, Johannesburg (Saturday, 3:05pm)
Both teams will head into this encounter without the services of their influential captains, Warren Whiteley and Lood de Jager, who picked up injuries last weekend.
The effect of Whiteley’s absence was particularly evident as the Lions lost their way in last Saturday’s encounter against the Stormers. It means that they will take on the Bulls with talented youngster Hacjivah Dayimani at No 8, while Marnus Schoeman and Kwagga Smith complete an extremely mobile loose trio.
After just two rounds of competition, it is quite interesting to take note of the Lions’ statistics. In terms of per-game averages, the Lions,in fact, find themselves ranked in the bottom three for carries, metres made, clean breaks and defenders beaten.
Yet, when it comes to tackles and kicks from hand, the Johannesburg-based side is ranked third, while they are first for tackle success (89%).
In fairness, this is perhaps more of an indication of the nature of the two challenging away games that they have encountered in Buenos Aires and Cape Town to date, rather than any drastic changes in approach.
Back at their Ellis Park fortress, the Lions can be expected to return to a more driven ball-in-hand approach, and it will be interesting to see the manner in which the Bulls handle this threat.
Up to this point, the Bulls have looked solid on defence, but this is sure to be their greatest test in this respect, particularly without the presence of defensive workhorse De Jager.
The Lions should also be looking to target the Bulls at scrum-time (80% success rate), but it’s notable that the Pretoria-based side does boast a 100% lineout success rate.
As the stats below indicate, the Lions have a fantastic recent record at home and against South African opposition. There is little doubt that they will remain favourites for this clash.
Stats and facts
o The Lions have won six of their last seven games against the Bulls, including their last four in a row, this after failing to win any of their initial 11 encounters in Super Rugby (drawn one, lost 10).
o The Lions have won their last 14 games when hosting South African opposition, last losing at home to their fellow countrymen in February 2015, when they were beaten by the Stormers.
o The Lions boast the best tackle-success rate of any side so far this season (89%) and have won the most turnovers (24).
o The Bulls are one of just two sides to boast a 100% lineout success rate after the opening two rounds of the season (also Rebels), winning all 23 of their throws.
o Lions lock Marvin Orie has made 32 tackles so far this campaign, the most of any player, and has missed just two further attempts.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Nic Groom, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Rhyno Herbst , 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (c), 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Vicent Tshituka, 21 Gianni Lombard, 22 Franco Naude, 23 Courtnall Skosan.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Hanro Liebenburg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
SHARKS vs STORMERS, Durban (Saturday, 5:15pm)
The Sharks have emerged as the early pacesetters in the competition after banking back-to-back bonus-point wins, but they won’t be getting ahead of themselves.
For the Durban-based side, they’ve enjoyed a comfortable start against the Sunwolves and inconsistent Blues, but they will know that this is sure to be their most physical battle to date.
As it is, the Stormers welcome powerful lock Eben Etzebeth back to the starting lineup after he impressed as a substitute last weekend, and his presence should make a considerable difference to the Cape-based side.
The Stormers will have taken a real confidence boost from their comeback win over the Lions, but this will be another serious test of their fortitude.
The Sharks have looked to be an extremely well-rounded outfit, with some decent attacking nuances added to traditional strengths, such as rock-solid scrumming and mauling.
The hosts will come into this clash with an unchanged side, and they will be determined to make an emphatic start to this encounter to set the foundation for another important victory.
Stats and facts
o The Sharks have won four of their last five games against the Stormers (lost one), although their one defeat in that run came in their most recent meeting, in round 18 last season.
o The Sharks have won their first two games of the season, and will be aiming to win three consecutive matches for the first time since the beginning of 2017, when they won four on the bounce.
o The Sharks have won all 21 of their scrums this season, the most of any side, and are among the six teams to still have a 100% scrum success rate after the opening two rounds of action.
o Eight of the last nine Super Rugby games between the Sharks and Stormers have seen the home side score the opening try of the game. However, the side to score the first try over that span has gone on to lose on four occasions.
o The Stormers’ Dillyn Leyds has scored three tries in his last three Super Rugby games away from home for the Stormers, making a total of 34 carries for 209m gained in that period.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van Merwe, Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Stormers – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Ruhan Nel, 23 Dillyn Leyds.
JAGUARES vs BLUES, Buenos Aires (Saturday, 11:40pm)
Who knows what to expect from this match-up? Both the Jaguares and Blues have traditionally blown hot and cold in recent seasons of Super Rugby, but it’s surely the home side that will fancy their chances of grinding out another win.
Last Saturday, the Jaguares wore down the Bulls to bank their first win of the season, and they now head into a third successive home game. It’s a handy way to kick things off, while the Blues have had to negotiate a trip from Auckland to Durban and now to Buenos Aires.
The Blues have retained a typically ambitious disposition at the start of this season, averaging 137 carries per game, and they are sure to test an occasionally porous Jaguares defence.
The hosts will be regarded as favourites for this one, but these are two unpredictable teams, and there will be no guarantees.
Stats and facts
o This will be the third Super Rugby meeting between the Jaguares and Blues. The two sides are evenly split at one win apiece, although this will be the first time the Jaguares have hosted this fixture.
o The Jaguares have won four of their last five home games, with only last year’s runners-up, the Lions, managing to come away from Argentina with victory in that run.
o The Blues have lost their last three away games. They’ve not lost more consecutive games on the road since losing 10 in a row from 2014 to 2016.
o The Blues are one of six sides to maintain a 100% scrum success rate this season, winning all 20 on their own feed, although the Jaguares are one of just two teams to win one against the head so far (also Lions).
o Blues No 8 Akira Ioane has made 31 carries in Super Rugby this season so far, more than any other player.
Jaguares – TBC
Blues – TBC
Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix