CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three matches in round four, including the highly-anticipated clash between the Lions and Blues.
SHARKS vs SUNWOLVES (Durban, Saturday, 15:05)
The Sharks are still searching for their first win this season, with last weekend’s disappointing draw against the Waratahs sure to have been a particular cause of frustration.
It’s clear that the Sharks have a desire to embrace a more ambitious brand of rugby that favours a brave offloading game, but their skills and handling let them down in the Durban humidity last weekend.
A opening-round loss to the Lions and that draw against the Waratahs have already left the Sharks needing to dig themselves out of an early-season hole, but they will be relishing the opportunity to run up a big score against the Sunwolves.
As it is, the Sharks have won each of the previous two meetings between these teams, scoring no fewer than 38 points on each occasion.
Although the Sunwolves have been relatively competitive against the Brumbies and Rebels at the start of this season, they will be up against it as the Sharks go on the hunt for a bonus-point win before heading overseas.
In certain respects, it is already a must-win match for the Sharks, who have made a number of changes to their team – including the selection of Curwin Bosch at fullback. Despite a disappointing start to the season for the Durbanites, a comfortable win should be expected on Saturday afternoon.
Stats and facts
- The Sharks have won each of the previous two meetings between these teams, scoring no fewer than 38 points on each occasion.
- The Sharks are now winless in three games at home. The last time they went longer without a home win was a stretch of four defeats across the 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
- The Sunwolves are yet to win on the road in Super Rugby, and have conceded 146 points in their last two games away from home.
- The Sunwolves are yet to lose a scrum on their own feed this campaign, one of just three teams yet to do so (Highlanders, Rebels).
- Rob du Preez has scored a try in each of his two games for the Sharks thus far, pulling in a points tally of 23 across those games.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha(c), 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Akker van der Merwe/Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe/Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Sunwolves – 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 Sione Teaupa, 12 Michael Little, 11 William Tupou, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Craig Millar.
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Ryoto Nakamura, 23 Robbie Robinson.
LIONS vs BLUES (Johannesburg, Saturday, 17:15)
This contest will present the hosts with a different challenge, while serving as another gauge to determine just how good they are..
The Lions have made an emphatic statement about their enduring class over the first three rounds of competition, and have already enjoyed a handy lead in their familiar position at the summit of the South African conference.
However, they will now face arguably their most challenging test to date as the underrated Blues head to Ellis Park on the back of two narrow defeats against Kiwi opposition.
Inconsistency continues to haunt the Auckland-based side, but they still offer plenty of threats through influential stars such as the Ioane brothers – Rieko and Akira.
It will be interesting to see how the Lions will contend with a New Zealand side that will not be afraid to take them on at their own game, but over the last couple of seasons, the team from the city of gold have proven that they have little fear for Kiwi opposition.
As it is, the Lions have won four of their last six games against New Zealand opponents, including their last three against the Blues.
The Lions’ pack has been doing the business so far this season, and they should have the firepower to lay the foundation for another important win on Saturday.
Stats and facts
- The Lions have won their last three games against the Blues, though they were defeated in their seven meetings prior.
- The Lions have won four of their last six games against New Zealand opposition.
- The Blues have won only one of their last 10 games in South Africa, letting two half-time leads slip in that period.
- The Lions have scored eight tries on the back of a lineout win this season. Only three other teams in the competition has scored more than eight tries overall (Crusaders, Rebels, Stormers).
- Melani Nanai has an average gain of 12m per carry this season, the best of any player (minimum 10 carries)
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 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 Kwagga Smith, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Hacjivah Dayimani.
Blues –15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Alex Hodgman.
Subs: 16 Ross Wright, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Michael Tamoaieta, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Murphy Taramai, 22 Jonathan Ruru, 23 Stephen Perofeta.
JAGUARES vs WARATAHS (Buenos Aires, Saturday, 23:40)
This is another of those fixtures that will draw minimal interest from the average Rugby Joe, but it will be interesting to see if the Jaguares can snap a three-match losing streak that has seen them fail to pick up a solitary log point.
After losses against the Stormers, Lions and Hurricanes, the Jaguares should view a home game against the Waratahs as an opportunity to finally get back to winning ways, particularly considering their opponents have just travelled from South Africa to Argentina.
Having said that, the Tahs are coming off a couple of morale-boosting results against the Sharks and Stormers, and should be regarded as marginal favourites against a Jaguares team that has been woeful on defence so far this season.
Stats and facts
- The Jaguares ran out to a 40-27 win in their only previous encounter with the Waratahs.
- The Jaguares have lost their last four games in a row at home. They had previously never lost more than two games in a row on home turf.
- The Waratahs are winless in their last seven games outside Australia, failing to pick up a single competition point in five of those matches.
- The Jaguares have missed 109 tackles in just three games so far this campaign, more than any other team.
- Michael Hooper has crossed for a try in each of his two games for the Waratahs this season, and has missed just three of 25 tackle attempts in that time.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Felipe Arregui.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Botta, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Juan Martin Leguizamon, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Nick Palmer, 20 Will Miller, 21 Nick Duffy, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images