Super Rugby 2019

Weekend Preview & Predictions

Round Ten

The six-match Easter weekend Round 10 kicks-off with three matches on Good Friday: the Chiefs are seeking four wins on the bounce as they host the Lions in Hamilton where Brendon Pickerill will be the referee; Federico Anselmi will referee Sharks versus Reds in Durban; while Angus Gardner will referee Sunwolves versus Hurricanes in Tokyo.

The Kiwi derby in Dunedin between the Highlanders and Blues is vital for both teams Finals hopes and will be refereed by Paul Williams. Australian Conference leaders Rebels host second placed Waratahs who need a win to stay in touch with the leaders in top spot. Damon Murphy will have the whistle for this match.

The weekend finishes in Cape Town where the Stormers take on the Brumbies in a match controlled by Nick Briant. 

Friday Games

The TV was on in the background, some crime thriller in an old house. I was thinking about the games scheduled for this weekend just as I heard a grandfather clock chiming. I looked up and saw a pendulum swinging, and it came to me, that is what this weekend’s rugby is all about!

A pendulum! 

Chiefs vs Lions

Venue FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Date Friday 19 April
Kick-off 19h35 local: 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time
Referee Brendon Pickerill
AR1 Mike Fraser
AR2Rasta Rasivhenge
TMO Shane McDermott

The Lions are looking for a way back into the 2019 Super Rugby tournament. They have slid further and further down the slippery slope that ends in that mud pool occupied by the bottom feeders down in the murky waters that are the nether reaches of the overall Super Rugby log. They already sit at the bottom of the South African Conference pond, although that is by no means a permanent position, considering the inconsistencies and variations thrown into these particular waters by their fellow denizens of the deep. 

Things can change very rapidly in the South African pond! They have done so, week after week, all season. 

The first of this week’s pendulums – that South African Conference!

However, the Lions will take heart from the fact that, despite their lowly position on their home log, on the overall log they still sit above all of Australia, bar the Rebels, and even sit on more points that two of the New Zealand outfits.

Including the New Zealanders that they will face in this crucial game – the Chiefs.

The problem facing the Lions is that the two opponents in this game have had completely different swings to their own particular pendulums. 

The Lions pendulum has swung from the winning side towards the losing side, while the Chiefs have gone the other way, from losing to winning.

In the last four weeks the Lions managed to beat the Sunwolves, then had a bye, followed by a complete disaster against the Sharks, and then last week’s 31 – 20 loss to the Brumbies.

The Chiefs, in the same time frame, have beaten the Bulls 56 – 20, then the Jaguares 30 – 27, enjoyed a week off, and then beat the Blues 33 – 29.

You can see where this one is heading………………………..

Team News:

The Chiefs:

The Chiefs have been forced to make changes to their team to face the Lions on Friday.

Brodie Retallick has been ruled out with a hand injury, so scrumhalf Brad Weber will take over the captaincy. 

The Chiefs will also be without Damian McKenzie, who has been ruled out for between 8 and 9 months with a knee injury, while hooker Nathan Harris and winger Solomon Alaimal are rested against the Lions.

Liam Polwart will make his first appearance of the 2019 Super Rugby season starting at hooker replace Nathan Harris. Polwart will combine with Angus Ta’avao and Nepo Laulala. Loosehead prop Atu Moli returns from his elbow injury and is joined by Samisoni Taukei’aho and Sosefo Kautai who will provide front row cover.

A new locking combination of Tyler Ardron and Mitchell Brown will take the field.

Alex Nankivell will start at centre shifting Tumua Manu to the bench named in jersey No.22. Ataata Moeakiola will start on the left wing in place of injured wing Solomon Alaimalo, with Shaun Stevenson moving onto the bench named in No.23.

Jack Debreczeni will start at fullback in place of Damian McKenzie who sustained a season-ending knee injury on Saturday. Halfback Jonathan Taumateine is given an opportunity to impress coaches off the bench in No.21.

Chiefs: 15 Jack Debreczeni, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Ataata Moeakiola, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Angus Ta’avao.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Tumua Manu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.

The Lions:

Warren Whiteley is back to lead the Lions on Friday after seven weeks out of the game with a pec-muscle tear in the match against the Stormers in Cape Town.

He passed a fitness test last Friday.

Whiteley’s return is one of the nine (initially ten) changes to the Lions team that lost 20-31 to the Brumbies in Round Nine.

In the backline, Sylvian Mahuza was to take over the fullback role from Andries Coetzee, who would drop down to the bench. This change has been reversed, as you will read below.

There is a new halfback pairing with Gianni Lombard and Ross Cronje taking over from Elton Jantjies and Nic Groom. 

In the pack, Whiteley is back at No.8 and he is joined in the back row by Cyle Brink at No.7 and Kwagga Smith at No.6.

Stephen Lewies moves to the second row to replace Rhyno Herbst.

There is also a new front row Carlu Sadie, Robbie Coetzee and Sti Sithole replacing Johannes Jonker, Malcolm Marx and Nathan McBeth

Courtnall Skosan was to take over the right wing from Ruan Combrinck who would drop to the bench, but Skosan is heading back to South Africa as his father is gravely ill, so this change is shelves as Tyrone Green flies out to join the team in New Zealand on Wednesday.

Due to Skosan’s absence, Sylvian Mahuza moves to right wing for Friday’s match.

Andries Coetzee remains at fullback and Ruan Combrinck moves onto the bench.

Lions – revised: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Sti Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Frans Van Wyk, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Ruan Combrinck.

Thoughts:

The Chiefs will be missing two of their most influential players. The loss of Brodie Retallick is serious, as he added the muscle and mongrel that their forwards lacked in their early season encounters. However, since his return, the entire pack of forwards has grown in stature and there is a new belief amongst them, with players such as Lachlan Boshier, Luke Jacobson, Tyler Ardron, Nepo Laulala, and Angus Ta’avao all stepping up a couple of gears.

The loss of Retallick might not be ideal, but his understudies are playing well. 

The resting of Nathan Harris might also have been a serious problem, if the Lions had not in turn rested Malcolm Marx!

Perhaps the most significant loss for the Chiefs is the long-term injury to Damian McKenzie. He is singly one of the most influential players in the game, with his adventurous spirit and unpredictable ability to carve a defensive line-up into freshly chopped French salad. On his own he is a handful for any opponent, but with a team environment he can be devastating. The Chiefs have learned to play off him, and the opportunities that he creates often end in a score for someone else.

Whether they can be as constructive( and destructive) on the attack without him is a question that this game will begin to answer.

The Lions decision to rest Elton Jantjies and Malcolm Marx by dropping them to the bench might be a good call as the two could make a valuable impact off the bench later in the game. However, if the wheels have already fallen off by the 60thminute or so, when they are likely to be sent on, it might even be to the Lions advantage to simply keep them on the bench and hold them back for next week, when the Crusaders are waiting!

Lions supporters will be pleased to see Warren Whiteley back, although there may be some questions about his match fitness after seven weeks on the injury list. His leadership and control has been hugely missed during the difficult times experienced by his team since his injury.

On paper, the Chiefs’ pack of forwards seems to have the edge, although the Lions’ loose trio is a quality unit with Brink, Smith, and Whiteley together for the first time in a long while. The Lions may just have the edge in the collisions and in the wider spaces with this trio.

At the back the Lions seem an unsettled outfit, with the changes for this game perhaps making matters a little worse. The Chiefs have a more settled look about them.

Both teams will take the field without their regular goal kickers, although Jantjies may return later in the game.

The real difference between the two teams may be found in their mental state – one team is riding on the confidence that comes with being on a winning streak, the other is full of doubts and uncertainties. The Lions will, however, know that a loss against the Chiefs is likely to put paid to any chance they have of a playoff berth, which might just serve to motivate them somewhat.

Prediction:

Which way will the pendulum swing?

I have to go with home-town advantage, together with the fact that the Chiefs are on a winning streak. The Chiefs, by 9.

Sunwolves vs Hurricanes

Venue Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo
Date Friday 19 April
Kick-off 19h00 local; 22h00 New Zealand time; 10h00 GMT; 12h00 SA time.
Referee Angus Gardner
AR1 Ben O’Keeffe
AR2 Shuhei Kubo
TMO Minoru Fuji

The Sunwolves, heading for Super Rugby extinction at the end of 2020 already have one record to their name in the three years since they joined the Super Rugby circus. During the three years they have used more players in their team than any other Super Rugby outfit. This record is built on the Sunwolves remarkable habit of making sweeping changes to their match-day 23 almost every single week. Sometimes the changes have been as few as six or seven, sometimes as many as 15 or 16, the only consistency has been the regularity of the changes.

As regular as that pendulum that seems to be a theme in this week’s fixtures?

This week is not different, and we will deal with the changes in the “Team News” section below. 

However, one set of changes deserves comment:

In a change labelled as “Bizarre” by the editors of Rugbypass.com, the Sunwolves have named their Australian-born loose-forward Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco at inside centre for their match with the Hurricanes. He will partner New Zealander Josh Timu in the midfield. Timu, although he has only featured in two matches so far in this 2019 season, is at least a midfielder by trade. Warren-Vosayaco, on the other hand, is a loose forward, and has started seven matches for the Sunwolves as a loose-forward!

Equally bizarre is the fact that this pair are the eighth and ninth players to be named to start in the midfield for the Sunwolves this year.

The selection is all the more strange due to the fact that Jason Emery, who has been a regular fixture in the midfield this season, is sitting on the bench!

Warren-Vosayaco has been a standout performer for the team in 2019, but not as a midfielder?? 

One wonders what is the reason behind this section? 

Do the Sunwolves coaching squad think that he is the man to stop the in-form Ngani Laumape, when some of the better full-time inside centres in the competition have been unable to do so?

Whatever the reason for this weird selection, it does add an element of interest to a game that could otherwise slip under the radar when you are planning your Good Friday schedule.

Team News:

The Sunwolves:

Sunwolves have made five changes to their starting XV for the match against Hurricanes in Tokyo on Friday.

In the pack, coach Brown  modified his front row and opted to bring in tighthead prop Hiroshi Yamashita and hooker Nathan Vella.

The rest of the changes are found in the backline. 

Former Hurricanes scrumhalf Jamie Booth replaces Kaito Shigeno as the preferred No.9 for this week, while Fumiaki Tanaka will come in as cover.

As mentioned in the opening comments, in the midfield, Jason Emery and Harumichi Tatekawa are replaced by New Zealander Josh Timu and Australian Rahboni Vosayaco as this week’s centre pair. Emery takes a spot on the bench.

Dan Pryor retains the captain’s armband.

Thirteen of the starting XV are not of Japanese origin. However the balance of power on the bench is Japanese with a 5 to 3 ratio with the foreign legionnaires. 

Sunwolves: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Gerhard Van den Heever, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Rahboni Vosayaco, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Dan Pryor (captain), 6 Ben Gunter, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Nathan Vella, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Tom Rowe, 20 Shuhei Matshuhashi, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Jason Emery, 23 Jamie Henry

The Hurricanes:

The Hurricanes, coming off a bye, have named an experienced side to meet the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Friday.

Despite the bye, the Hurricanes have chosen to rest three of their All Blacks for this game, with Beauden and Jordie Barrett, along with Ardie Savea, the three who have not travelled to Japan.

In total, John Plumtree has made four changes to the starting XV which defeated the Highlanders 31-28 in round eight.

The absence  of the three All Blacks sees experienced centre Matt Proctor return to the run-on side with Fletcher Smith named at flyhalf and Du’Plessis Kirifi at openside flank.

The other change sees young lock Liam Mitchell named to start in place of Kane Le’aupepe.

There are five changes to the bench which features the return of James Marshall who has recovered from a shoulder injury he suffered in round one against the Waratahs.

Plumtree has reverted back to a five-three split on the bench that includes Richard Judd and exciting young midfielder Billy Proctor.

Hurricanes: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Fletcher Smith, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Liam Mitchell, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Richard Judd, 22 James Marshall, 23 Billy Proctor

Thoughts:

This is one of those games where I would usually have very little or nothing to say in preparation for the game. The Hurricanes, on paper and in reality, are a vastly superior outfit to that of the Japan-based team.

Yes, the ‘Canes have stuttered along so far in 2019, playing rugby well below the standards that they have set in previous years. Their usually proficient finishing has been wanting and they are way back in the try-scoring stakes, on 27 tries behind the Crusaders (40) and the Chiefs (29) in the important Try Scoring measure. (They are also behind the Rebels, the Brumbies, and the Lions too.) Their defence, usually as tight as a woodborer’s hole, has been remarkably leaky in 2019 too, giving away 25 tries so far this season, third worst in New Zealand. (Or third best, if you want to read the log the other way around!)

However, despite the stutters and stumbles, the ‘Canes are still joint second on the overall log, on 23 points together with the Bulls and the Rebels. (Joint second, but actually 4thin the weirdness that is the Super Rugby conference system.)

The Sunwolves, despite two away wins to their eternal credit, are firmly ensconced at the bottom of the overall log with just 10 points, and those 2 wins and 6 losses on their scoreboard. They have a negative points difference of -70, the worst of the worst. They have scored 22 tries, and given away 38.

Simply based on those facts, this game is a no-brainer.

However, strange things have happened in Super Rugby 2019, and I have no doubt that strange things will continue to happen in Super Rugby 2019.

Prediction:

Not much of a pendulum effect in this game, I guess.

Despite the strange things that have happened in Super Rugby in 2019, I cannot see it getting any stranger in this game. The Hurricanes by plenty – probably around 25 points.

Sharks vs Reds

Venue Kings Park, Durban
Date Friday 19 April
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT; 23h05 Brisbane time.
Referee Federico Anselmi
AR1 Glen Jackson
AR2 Jaco Peyper
TMO Marius Jonker

Last week I opened my discussion about the Sharks’ fixture with these words:

Okay, so based on the Sharks performance against the Lions, the Jaguares will win this one easily.

The Sharks reputation for inconsistency is legendary. 

Based purely on their past record then, they have no chance of winning this weekend.”

I was, I thought, writing these words with my tongue firmly in my cheek.

The Sharks, on the other hand, must have read my preview and thought:

“We better not disappoint Old Bill! Let’s see if we can lose this one!”

Which they then did, fairly spectacularly.

This, however, is not a review of the disaster against the Jaguares, this is a preview of the Sharks game against the Reds, so let me begin:

Okay, so based on the Sharks performance against the Jaguares, the Sharks will win this one easily.

The Sharks reputation for inconsistency is legendary. 

Based purely on their past record then, they have every chance of winning this weekend.

The Sharks truly ride the pendulum!

Sharks fans might not find this opening discussion even mildly amusing, but the rest of us are rolling around on the floor……….

Team News:

The Sharks:

Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has named his team to face the Reds. Predictably, there are all kinds of changes.

In the backline, Kobus van Wyk replaces Lukhanyo Am, who drops out of the match-day 23 altogether, van Wyk forms a new midfield partnership with Andre Esterhuizen.

Lwazi Mvovo moves across to the wing position vacated by Makazole Mapimpi with Sibusiso Nkosi returning to the side in the No.14 jersey.

Both Am and Mapimpi have been rested for this match.

Meanwhile, Springboks Coenie Oosthuizen and Tendai Mtawarira return to the starting line-up.

The Springbok pair replace Juan Schoeman and Thomas du Toit, who both move to the bench. 

The other change in the pack sees Jacques Vermeulen back from a well-earned break and he is in at flank for Luke Stringer.

Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Kobus van Wyk, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Aphelele Fassi.

The Reds:

The Reds have made three changes to their starting XV for Friday’s match against the Sharks.

After being rested last week in accordance with Rugby Australia’s workload management policy, Sefa Naivalu is back and takes his place on the wing.

Prop Harry Hoopert will earn his first Super Rugby start, while Angus Scott-Young has been promoted off the bench and into the No.6 jersey seeing Lukhan Salakaia-Loto shift back to lock.

There are a further three changes to the reserves, as JP Smith and Harry Hockings drop to the bench this week.

After making his Reds debut in South Africa four years ago against the Bulls in Pretoria, University of Queensland loose forward Adam Korczyk could potentially play his first game of 2019 after being added to the match-day 23.

Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Jack Hardy, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Harry Hoopert.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Jock Campbell.

Thoughts

If this were a normal world, and if this were not the Sharks, it would be a fairly easy call to make when predicting the outcome of this game.

Based on what we saw last week, the Reds would be coming to Durban as the overwhelming favourites to take the win from the miserable locals.

Yes, the Reds lost last week to the Bulls, but their defeat was nowhere near as abject as was the Sharks’ misery against the Jaguares and thus, on form alone, the Reds must surely be the favourites?

Except that they are playing the Sharks, the one team that consistently swing from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in the short space of one week.

I am also going to suggest that the Sharks will be hurting really badly after last week’s drubbing at the hands of the South Americans, and their pride must surely kick in to trigger some improvement?

Doing a man-for-man comparison between the two teams is largely a pointless exercise. Each team has some internationals and some stars. One team had heaps of experience, the other does not. 

On paper one team has so many more potential stars than the other but their on-field antics suggest that comparison would become silly.

Doing a comparison based on results and form is equally pointless. Neither team has shown any consistency or form worth talking about in any length.

So we are left with either a coin-toss to decide the winner, or we have to suggest that the Great Pendulum of Inconsistency will swing back the other way, and the Sharks will play to their potential again?

I watch games of rugby for a variety of reasons. 

First and foremost because I am hooked on the game of rugby itself. Secondly, I watch to be entertained; to see flowing moves and superlative skills practiced at speed; I watch to see talents displayed and exercised; I want to see unpredictability set off against clinical efficiency. I want to have fun and enjoy the contest.

Third, I watch to measure the progress of individuals, teams, coaches, and the various national causes.

I never watch because I want to be bored to tears, I already fall asleep easily and without the need for outside assistance.

I have now found a new reason to watch rugby.

I watch the Sharks out of morbid curiosity!

Have they reached the bottom of the proverbial pit? Are they going to start digging?

Prediction:

Ahhh, how to call it?

On the Sharks record for inconsistency, and thus another swing of that Great Pendulum that resides down in Durban?

Comparing squads on paper, and going with what the records tell us of the players?

A coin toss?

I asked my neighbour, who has absolutely no interest in rugby at all, but he asked which team HO de Villiers is playing for, and suggested that I should go with that team….

I guess it will be home ground advantage? Or not?

I will take a flyer, based simply on the GPI!

The Sharks, by 10.

(The GPI? The Great Pendulum of Inconsistency!)