CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three Vodacom Super Rugby matches in round six, including the clashes involving the Vodacom Bulls and Sharks.
BULLS vs CHIEFS, Pretoria (Saturday, 3:05pm)
The Bulls went into last week’s bye riding a wave of momentum after claiming a comprehensive win over the Sharks to move into second place on the overall standings.
Having now claimed victories over all three South African sides, it’s clear that this is a very well-organised Bulls side. Pote Human’s charges are playing high-percentage rugby based on a sound set piece, aggressive defence and well-marshalled backline.
At flyhalf Handré Pollard has been in sublime form, and his accurate decision-making and goal-kicking has been key to the Bulls’ resurgence, but this will be their first time coming up against New Zealand opposition this season.
Although the Chiefs have been a shambles this year, and are yet to register a win, they did produce a much-improved performance last weekend on the way to clinching a 23-23 draw against the Hurricanes.
Damian McKenzie, roaming at fullback, proved to be a key figure in sparking a bit of life back into the Chiefs, and so the Bulls will be fully aware of the danger he can pose from broken-field play.
As it is, the Bulls have been forced into a change at fullback, with Divan Rossouw coming in for the injured Warrick Gelant, but they have otherwise been boosted by the return of Burger Odendaal and Ruan Steenkamp.
The Chiefs are an unpredictable foe, but there is no doubt that the Bulls will remain favourites to clinch victory on the highveld.
Stats and facts
o The Chiefs are undefeated in their last five Super Rugby games against the Bulls (won four, drawn one), although the Pretoria-based team had won their four meetings prior.
o The Bulls have won their last two Super Rugby games on the bounce, keeping their opposition scoreless in the first half each time. They had not previously kept their opposition scoreless in the first half of a game since 2013.
o The Chiefs are now six games without a win in Super Rugby 2019 (drawn one, lost five). Only once in the competition’s history have the Chiefs gone longer without a success (eight games in 2010-11).
o The Chiefs have conceded just seven penalties/free-kicks per game this season, fewer than any other team in the competition.
o Handre Pollard is the competition’s leading point-scorer thus far in 2019, with a tally of 74 points, which is 28 more than any other player.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Brodie Retallick (c), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Hanro Liebenberg, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima,18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Dylan Sage.
SHARKS vs REBELS, Durban (Saturday, 5:15pm)
The Sharks will still be lamenting recent back-to-back losses against the Stormers and Bulls, while the Rebels must be wondering how they could possibly let a 28-point lead slip in the second half against the Lions last weekend.
In this context, it will be interesting to see the response from both teams this Saturday. The Sharks have said that they need to return to a possession-based approach, while adding great physicality to their play.
For the Rebels, it will be all about eradicating ill-discipline from their play after conceding as many as 20 penalties against the Lions, while seeing two players sent to the sin bin for the second week in a row.
Having had a bye last weekend, the Sharks have suddenly slipped to four place in the South African conference, and so they will be desperate to return to winning ways.
André Esterhuizen and Aphelele Fassi will add some extra firepower to the backline, but the onus will be on the forwards to lay a powerful platform up front, particularly when one considers that the Rebels struggled at scrum time last Saturday.
Notably, the Rebels are without as many as five key players for this clash, either through injury or rotation, and are sure to particularly miss the presence of influential lock Adam Coleman and scrumhalf general Will Genia.
If the Sharks can out-muscle the Rebels and therefore deny the likes of Quade Cooper front-foot ball, then they should come away with a much-needed win.
Stats and facts
o The Rebels ran out to a 46-14 triumph in their last clash with the Sharks, their first-ever win against them in Super Rugby at their sixth attempt (won one, drawn one, lost four).
o The Sharks will be looking to avoid back-to-back home defeats in Super Rugby for the first time since their final two home games of the 2017 season.
o Four of the Rebels’ last five Super Rugby games have been won by the team trailing at half-time on the day, with the Melbourne squad picking up three wins over that span.
o The Rebels have stolen five lineouts this season, the joint-most of any team in the competition (Crusaders also five).
o Akker van der Merwe has scored four tries in his last six Super Rugby games and is coming off the back of his best performance on the throw, making 13 successful throws from as many attempts against the Bulls in round four.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtwarira.
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenburg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Rebels – 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Tom English, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Matt Phillip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibson.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Rob Leota, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 TBC.
REDS vs BRUMBIES, Brisbane, (Sunday, 7:05am)
It’s been another underwhelming start to the season for the Reds, who have managed just one from four games, while the Brumbies come into the weekend only just clinging on to second place in the Australian conference.
However, the Canberra-based side will have taken some heart from their hard-fought win over the Waratahs last weekend, and will be undoubted favourites to emerge with a third win of the season on Sunday.
It it noticeable that the Reds are in fact ranked first for per-game defenders beaten (30), and so while the Brumbies will need to be wary on defence, they should look to target the hosts at set-piece time.
This is likely to be one of the more underwhelming fixtures of round six, but if the Brumbies want to remain in the fight for Australian conference title, this is certainly a must-win match for them.
Stats and facts
o Each of the last five Super Rugby games between the Reds and Brumbies have been won by the home team on the day.
o The Reds have won three of their last four Super Rugby games when hosting Australian opposition, more than they had won in their 13 such fixtures prior.
o The Brumbies will be looking to win consecutive Australian derbies in Super Rugby for the first time since winning 10 on the bounce from June 2015 to April 2017.
o The Reds have scored two tries after stealing a lineout this Super Rugby campaign. The other teams combined have scored just three in this fashion.
o Brumbies’ duo Rory Arnold (23) and Sam Carter (21) have won more lineouts on their own throw than any other players in Super Rugby 2019.
Reds – 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia, 4 Harry Hockings, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Feo Fotuaika.
Subs: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isacc Lucas.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Murray Douglas, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Jordan Jackson-Hope.
Photo: Bruce Lim/www.photosport.nz