Super Rugby Match Preview
Saturday 17th March 2018
Brumbies vs Sharks
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kickoff: 19h45 Local Time, 08h45 GMT, 10h45 SA Time
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
If I were a Sharks supporter I would be looking forward to this game. The Sharks left South Africa on a high after a comprehensive win over the Sunwolves, and they were heading for Canberra, home of the Brumbies.
And the 2018 Brumbies are looking decidedly vulnerable.
They won their first game of the season, a wobbly effort against the Sunwolves in Tokyo, where the Sunwolves actually held the lead at the end of the first half. Since that unconvincing win, the Brumbies have bent the knee to the Reds and were blown away by the Rebels.
The Brumbies might be at home, but they have not been drawing crowds of home supporters for some time, and their administration is struggling to fill the complimentary seats, never mind the seats that cost money.
If I were a Sharks supporter, I would be very disappointed if my team did not bank a bonus point this weekend.
The Sharks have made just two changes to their starting XV for this game.
There is one change in each of the forward and back divisions. Thomas du Toit comes back at tighthead prop with John-Hubert Meyer dropping to the bench, and out on the wing, Kobus van Wyk replaces Sbu Nkosi, who drops out of the Match-day 23 altogether.
Jean-Luc du Preez returns to competitive rugby as he appears on the bench for the first time.
The Brumbies have made six changes for their first home match of the season of the season.
There are three changes apiece in the backs and the forwards.
Hooker Josh Mann-Rea is out with a bad hamstring injury, which hands a starting debut for yet another of the Fainga’a brothers to play Super Rugby. This time it is Folau Fainga’a’s turn to continue the family tradition.
The other forward changes see Blake Enever starting in place of Sam Carter, alongside Rory Arnold, whilst Tom Cusack replaces Lolo Fakaosilea who is included on the bench.
Amongst the backs, Wharenui Hawera has been selected at fly-half with Christian Lealiifano moving to inside centre in place of Kyle Godwin.
In the back three Henry Speight is the only player to retain his spot. Lausii Taliauli is drafted into the left-wing position in place of Chance Peni, whilst Andrew Muirhead makes his first Super Rugby start from fullback.
Amongst the replacements, there are three new faces as Nic Mayhew returns at back-up prop in place of Faalelei Sione, with utility back James Dargaville named for the first time this season. Connal McInerney is back-up hooker and will make his debut if required.
Robert du Preez (the elder) has tried to deflect the suggestion that the Sharks will be favourites to win this game. He tells us that the Brumbies are a really good team with a formidable pack of forwards. He mentions their lineout drives as a particular strength. He is striving desperately for underdog status.
I am not too sure about all of that.
The Brumbies have been poor all year.
The Brumbies have missed 66 tackles so far in 2018, and have conceded 47 turnovers too. They have made 83 handling errors as they have gone about their business in their first three games of the year.
Their scrum success rate against the Reds was a poor 75%, while they lost 3 mauls out of 8 against the Rebels last week.
The Sharks do have some equally dismal figures, especially against the Lions where their scrum was demolished. Their missed tackles also number 66, while their mauls have also not been a great success. Yet they have been in the game in every encounter, despite a powder-puff outing against the Waratahs.
The Sharks’ pack was much more cohesive and polished last week against the Sunwolves, and their overall match stats are better all round.
Both on paper and in terms of 2018 form, they are a better side than the Brumbies..
The Brumbies are scrambling to get their season into some kind of shape. So far they have simply been poor. Six changes do not help when a team is still trying to find some form, some shape, and some cohesive direction.
The Sharks seem to have the physical edge in almost every aspect of the game, especially in the forwards. They have some big forwards who can build some momentum if they get going. There are also some battering ram backs, backed by the sublime running of the likes of Curwin Bosch.
I cannot see the Brumbies beating the Sharks. I am giving it to the Sharks by 14 points.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
Brumbies: 15 Andrew Muirhead, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Tom Banks