JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the last three Super Rugby matches in round seven of the competition.
SHARKS vs JAGUARES (Saturday 15:05)
The Sharks fought hard to claim a losing bonus point in last week's match against the Lions. After six rounds, they have accumulated 18 log points and are in fourth position in the South African group.
The Jaguares have won four of their five matches in 2017, and are also on 18 points. They are in third position on the South African group log, thanks to their superior points difference.
The Jaguares will be looking for their first win against the Sharks this Saturday. Meanwhile, the Sharks will be looking to bounce back after their recent defeat to the Lions.
One would expect the Sharks to win at Kings Park. They've won their last six matches at home, and have conceded more than 17 points only once during that period. The Sharks have the third-best tackle success rate this season, while Jean-Luc du Preez is currently the tournament's leading tackler (73).
The Jaguares should be competitive. They have looked a more balanced side in 2017, varying their play between a running and kicking approach. At this point, they are ranked fifth in the tournament for metres made with ball in hand and fifth for kicks from hand.
The Argentinians' discipline may cost them, though. The Jaguares have conceded an average of nearly 12 penalties per game. The Sharks – through form goal-kicker Curwin Bosch – have the means to punish the visitors for such transgressions on Saturday.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Tera Mtembu (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Marcos Kremer, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Subs: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Felipe Arregui, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Rodrigo Baez, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Emiliano Boffelli.
STORMERS vs CHIEFS (Saturday 17:15)
Both teams come into this clash with unbeaten records. However, more should be read into who exactly the respective sides have beaten in their first five matches.
The Chiefs have beaten three New Zealand opponents, including the reigning champions, as well as the Rebels and Bulls. They have accumulated 24 out of of a possible 25 log points.
The Stormers have recorded convincing wins against the Bulls, Jaguares, Sunwolves, Kings and Cheetahs. Four of those five wins have been achieved in South Africa.
The Stormers haven't played a New Zealand side since last year's quarter-final. And nobody – least of all Robbie Fleck and his charges – have forgotten about what transpired in that 60-21 loss to the Chiefs.
The Chiefs have won seven of their last eight games outside of New Zealand, and three of their last matches against the Stormers. Even though this Saturday's game will be staged at Newlands, you'd have to say that the Chiefs are favourites.
The Stormers boast superior attacking stats. The Cape side averages nearly 13 more points per game than the Chiefs. That said, one needs to remember that the Stormers have played against weaker sides to date (with the exception of the Jaguares).
The hosts have performed well at the set pieces this season. Their work at the collisions and breakdowns, however, will be put to the test against one of the best Kiwi sides in the business. Even without Sam Cane – who has been ruled out with concussion – the Chiefs should be difficult to beat in those areas.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Cobus Wiese, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Mitchell Brown, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Sam McNicol, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
FORCE vs KINGS (08:05)
The Kings have enjoyed success against Australian opposition before. They beat the Force 22-10 when the teams last met in Port Elizabeth in 2013. They then went on to draw with the Brumbies in Canberra and beat the Rebels in Melbourne.
The Kings have been more competitive in 2017 than they were last season. No team has made more turnovers (9.8 per game) than the men from the Eastern Cape.
Yet they will come up against a Force team that has a point to prove on Sunday. There's been talk of the tournament scaling down in 2018 and both the Force and Kings are in the firing line. A loss at home to the weakest of the South African franchises would prove devastating to the Force's case to remain in the competition.
The Kings boast one of the strongest kicking games in the tournament, and have one of the most accurate goal-kickers in flyhalf Lionel Cronjé. The visitors may also be encouraged by the fact that the Force have battled to score tries and points, especially in the final quarter of a contest.
That said, many of the Kings players have little or no experience of playing overseas, and may succumb to the pressure. The Force may well escape with a narrow win.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Chance Peni, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Richard Hardwick, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Curtis Rona.
Kings – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Lionel Cronjé (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Andisa Ntsila, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Justin Forwood, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 23 Masixole Banda/Wandile Mjekevu.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images