Super Rugby

Weekend Previews & Predictions

Round Eleven 

As I write this, the Lions game in Christchurch is over, and the Crusaders have banked yet another victory as their seemingly inexorable march towards another Super Rugby final continues. 

A score of 36 – 10 and five tries to one tells the story.

Or, most of the story.

Once again, the Lions were forced to make a late change to their starting XV as their captain, Warren Whiteley was, again, ruled out of a rugby match due to an injury. 

The value of Whiteley as a captain is undoubted, but he has become something less than a part-timer as the litany of injuries that have plagued his career never seems to end. 

This time it is a knee, again.

During the last three or so years he has sent more time recovering from injury than any other player in the South African Super Rugby conference.

Three years ago, on the 25thJune 2016, he was injured in the Test win against Ireland in Port Elizabeth, a shoulder injury that ended his season and caused him to miss the Lions’ first Super Rugby final. 

Named captain of the ‘Boks in 2017, he was again injured in the final mid-year Test against France, which ruled him out for the rest of 2017, including the November tour to the north where Eben Etzebeth deputised as captain. 

Once again Whiteley missed the Super Rugby playoffs as Jaco Kriel took over the captaincy of the Lions.

Whiteley returned in the opening match of the 2018 Super Rugby tournament for the Lions against the Sharks. However, in just the fourth round of the 2018 season, he sustained an injury against the Blues, and then missed the majority of the Super Rugby season, as well as the mid-year internationals – a match against Wales and a three-match series against England. Siya Kolisi took over the Springbok captaincy.

Whiteley would return to the playing field in time to lead the Lions in the 2018 Super Rugby final against the Crusaders, a 37-18 loss for his team.

2019 did not start well, as Whiteley tore a pectoral muscle in the Lions 19-17 loss to the Stormers in Round Two of the 2019 Super campaign, an injury that kept him sidelined for seven weeks. Last weekend he marked his return to rugby with a sterling performance in Australia, but it was a short-lived comeback as he has, once again, returned to the injury list.

Much as I respect Warren Whiteley as a player and a captain, I have to ask the question whether he should be continuing with a career in professional rugby as a player? At the age of 31 the best of his playing years are behind him, and his ongoing value as a member of the Lions’ playing squad must be questioned. 

Yes, he is an inspirational captain and has a very good rugby brain in his head, when he actually plays a game of rugby. Sadly, he is one of the most brittle of rugby players I have ever encountered. He plays less rugby than any other member of the Lions’ Super Rugby squad as the ongoing plague of injuries keep him watching from the sidelines. 

Perhaps the squad would benefit from the signing of a replacement player for Whiteley, with his knowledge, expertise, and leadership perhaps being used elsewhere? As a mentor and motivator, a strategist and technical analyst, an assistant coach perhaps? A talent scout on the school rugby circuit?

A thought about cricket:

During the weekend I watched something that I have eschewed since its inception, the IPL 20-over cricket circus. I am not a fan. I find it all hugely contrived, with way too much hype and hoopla, odd rules, bowlers restricted to bowling in the batsman’s hitting channel, while batsmen play weird strokes that would have resulted in 6-of-the-best from an irate headmaster if we had tried to play like that in my school days. It is just not cricket the way I like to watch it.

I was quite astounded at the size of the crowd, people jammed into the stands shoulder to shoulder, wearing their team colours, waving team flags and printed placards with players’ names and other supportive slogans. It looked so good, something that other sports needed to somehow clone, until you paid a bit of attention to the whole of what was happening. It was all contrived, faked!

The crowd was jammed into just over one third of the stadium. The rest of the stadium was empty, cordoned off, with big banners along the one boundary to hide the fact that the seats behind those banners were empty. The television broadcast frequently focussed right in on the crowd, the smiling, waving faces and excited supporters, seeking out the most densely occupied portion of the stadium, and carefully slipping past the fringes where many seats were less well populated, and completely avoiding any views of the empty portions of the stadium. The only time we saw the empty stands was when a fellow called Watson had the temerity to hit a huge six into the midwicket area, and the ball landed in row 17 or 18, with not a single soul available to help retrieve the ball! The entire broadcast was being managed to give viewers the impression of a jam-packed stadium.

Propagandised in way that a certain Dr Goebbels would have been proud to call his own.

The faked hype of a full stadium is exposed as nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Is this done to enhance the marketability of the cricket product to advertisers? Is this done to hide the fact that spectator numbers are dwindling? It would be interesting to see the facts behind the façade.

This Weekend: Round 11:

On Saturday the Kiwi derby in Wellington between the Hurricanes and Chiefs will be refereed by Rasta Rasivhenge while in Sydney the Waratahs host the Sharks in a game that will be crucial to the prospects of both teams as we head into the final weeks of the tournament. In Cape Town the derby between the Stormers and Bulls will be refereed by Glen Jackson.

The weekend closes in Buenos Aires when the Jaguares host the Brumbies.

Saturday Games

Hurricanes vs Chiefs

Venue Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Date Saturday 27 April
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time
Referee Rasta Rasivhenge
AR1 Mike Fraser
AR2 Brendon Pickerill
TMOShane McDermott

This promises to be another typical New Zealand derby. The two most exciting teams in the conference will clash in a game that promises much in the way of fluidity, pace, and surprise. Th two teams are neck-and-neck in the attacking numbers that tell us how they play the game. 

Of course, when I call them the two most exciting teams in the NZ conference, I am referring to the way they play the game of rugby, and not necessarily to their record of success. 

Both carry the ball a lot, the ‘Canes have carried it 1131 times in 2019, and the Chiefs 1061. The Hurricanes have made 4231 meters with the ball in hand, the Chiefs 3436 meters. The Chiefs have made 105 clean breaks with the ball and beaten 200 defenders in the process. The Hurricanes have made 81 clean breaks and beaten 239 defenders.

Only one try separates them, with the Chiefs on 32 and the ‘Canes on 31.

On the log, however, the two are streets apart at the moment, with the Hurricanes on 27 points and the Chiefs on 17. 

The Hurricanes have won 6 of their 9 games played, and the Chiefs just 3 of their 9, hence the disparity in log positions.

The Chiefs endured a miserable start to their season, struggling to find their rhythm and even seeming unsure of their game plan at times. 

The Hurricanes were similarly constrained by stumbling, stuttering performances, but won games that, had they been the Chiefs, they would have lost, and therein lies the difference in their fortunes.

However, if we look beyond log position and the fortunes of war, we see a Chiefs side that is sticking to the game they know well – ball in hand, running, passing and offloading, looking for the chinks in opponents’ armour. We also see a Hurricanes outfit doing exactly what they have done for the last number of seasons – ball in hand, running, passing and offloading, looking for the chinks in opponents’ armour.

And that tells us that we can expect an exciting game of rugby when these two take to the playing field in Wellington.

Team News:

The Hurricanes 

Beauden Barrett is among a trio of front line players who will return to the starting line-up for Saturday’s derby against the Chiefs in Wellington.

Barrett, along with younger brother Jordie, and loose forward Ardie Savea, all sat out last week’s 29-23 win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo.

The trio are part of five changes Hurricanes coach John Plumtree has made to the run-on side.

The others are up front where Asafo Aumua starts at hooker while lock Kane La’aupepe returns after he missed the Sunwolves match due to illness.

Jordie Barrett will start at fullback with Chase Tiatia moving to the wing in place of Ben Lam who suffered a minor leg injury in Japan.

Lam’s absence has also seen a change on the bench with specialist wing Salesi Rayasi named in the reserves.

Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Chase Tiatia, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Kane Leaupepe, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Ben May, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Richard Judd, 22 James Marshall, 23 Salesi Rayasi.

The Chiefs

Colin Cooper has reshuffled his matchday 23 ahead of this weekend’s derby match against the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.

A new front row of Atu Moli, Nathan Harris and Angus Ta’avao will start, with Moli at loosehead shifting Ta’avao to tighthead.

Harris returns to start with Liam Polwart named as reserve hooker.

Lock Michael Allardice will captain the side in the absence of co-captain Brodie Retallick who is on All Blacks leave. The return of Allardice sees Tyler Ardron move back to No.8 and Taleni Seu shift to the bench.

Two changes have been made in the backs with Solomon Alaimalo returning at fullback while Tumua Manu moves back to start at centre.

A reshuffle in the reserves bench sees the inclusion of loosehead prop Tevita Mafileo to the matchday squad along with scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, experienced flyhalf cover Stephen Donald and midfield cover Alex Nankivell.

Sosefo Kautai and Jesse Parete remain as tighthead and loose forward cover.

Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Ataata Moeakiola, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Michael Allardice (captain), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Alex Nankivell.

Thoughts:

Outrageous fortune aside, this is a game that promises much, and is likely to deliver. The Chiefs, despite missing the services of their destroyer-in-chief Brodie Retallick, have stood their ground up-front, with a solid 92% scrum success rate and an 88% lineout success rate. The Hurricanes have been equally solid in the scrums, a 94% success rate, but have wobbled a bit in the lineouts, at 81,6% they are second worst in the competition.

Both teams have been good over the ball on the ground and in the rucks, with almost identical stats at 96% and 95%, with the Chiefs just slightly ahead.

On defence, the ‘Canes edge ahead with an 85,7% success rate to an 85,4% rate for the Chiefs.

As mentioned, in the attacking department, both teams are right up with each other.

On paper, thus, very little to choose between the two sides, other than those fortunes of war that I mentioned earlier.

The Hurricanes lost their last home game, against the Crusaders, but they have not lost consecutive matches at home since 2014, which does not bode well for the Chiefs.

A player-by-player comparison tells us that the Hurricanes perhaps have more All Black prospects, and they do have the likes of Beauden Barrett running the game from flyhalf, where he is often in a class of his own. They also have the form loosie in New Zealand at the moment, Ardie Savea, back on the field this week. 

Along with the aforementioned two, the ‘Canes also have a lineup of potential stars in the likes of Jordie Barrett, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Chase Tiatia, and the nuggety TJ Perenara as scrumhalf and captain. This list has a certain star quality that slightly overshadows the Chiefs team list.

However, the Chiefs are a team that you underestimate at your peril. They play well as a team, and they are hungry to fix their disastrous start to 2019.

This could be worth watching!

Prediction:

With so little to choose between the two teams on paper, we have to go with the potential star quality of the actual players in the two line-ups. That gives the edge to the ‘Canes. Home advantage adds to that edge.

The Hurricanes, by 10.

Waratahs vs Sharks

Venue Bankwest Stadium, Sydney
Date Saturday 27 April
Kick-off 19h45 local’ 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time
Referee Nic Berry (Australia)
AR1 Damon Murphy (Australia)
AR2 Amy Perrett (Australia)
TMO George Ayoub (Australia)

This is a game that I am not looking forward to watching.

Neither side has anything that suggests that this will be much more than a dour slug-fest of errors and poor decisions. 

The Sharks are the most inconsistent team in all of Super Rugby, so much so that they are somewhat laughably predictable in their inconsistency!

The Waratahs are overloaded with under-performing Wallabies who often seem to think that their reputation is all that is required to secure a win.

Neither side has produced anything worth remembering in 2019, save for a single performance by the Sharks when they ripped the Lions apart at Ellis Park.

For the rest, these are two outfits that represent everything that is wrong with Super Rugby and rugby itself in this modern era.

I do have other things planned for 11h45 on Saturday. I will record the game, and then watch it at my leisure, but without any expectations.

Team News:

The Waratahs: 

Daryl Gibson has named a relatively unchanged side with Curtis Rona to start on the wing, and Tolu Latu returning to the squad and set to come off the bench.

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Lachlan Swinton, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Alex Newsome.

The Sharks: 

Robert du Preez has named a team with six changes to face the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

There are six changes to the starting line-up that lost to the Reds in Durban last week.

In the pack, Thomas du Toit comes in for Coenie Oosthuizen while Jean-Luc du Preez replaces Jacques Vermeulen.

The remainder of the changes are in the backline where Cameron Wright with Louis Schreuder on the bench.

Wright forms a new halfback partnership with Curwin Bosch who starts at flyhalf with Robert du Preez also playing off the bench.

Makazole Mapimpi is in for Lwazi Mvovo on the wing and Lukhanyo Am replaces Kobus van Wyk in the midfield.

There is also a return of Ruan Botha and Akker van der Merwe who have both been named on the bench.

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Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (captain).
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Marius Louw.

Thoughts:

There has been much talk about the Sharks lack of finishing on the rugby field, with their coach suggesting that “It comes down to execution at the end of the day.”

Personally, I believe that it all comes down to some of the poorest rugby skills in the competition. Handling errors, silly decisions, selfish ball retention, and an inability to finish scoring opportunities sit at the root of the Sharks’ problems.

Selection issues must also carry some of the blame. Quite how Robert du Preez (Jnr) has been selected ahead of Curwin Bosch throughout 2019 is a question many are sing. It smacks of nepotism!

Poor skills, a touch of nepotism, together with that inexplicable inconsistency. That is the 2019 Sharks for you.

The Waratahs are not much better than the Sharks in any of the important game areas that we like to look at. In fact they are even worse than the Sharks when it comes to conceding soft tries. They have scored 24 tries, but conceded 23, while the Sharks have scored 28 and conceded just 20.

The Waratahs have their own inconsistency issues – what team in the history of Super Rugby has ever managed to beat the log leaders one week, and then bend the knee to the perennial bottom-feeder of the competition in the way the ‘Tahs beat the Crusaders, only to lose at home to the Sunwolves a week later?

I am not going to bother with a man-for-man comparison between the two outfits. It will serve no purpose as no single individual in either teams has been consistent in performance or form in 2019. 

There is also no point is a deeper statistical analysis either. Neither team has produced anything worth mentioning as a standout aspect of their game.

Thus, predicting the outcome of this game is truly the same as choosing the winning numbers in the Powerball lottery.

Prediction:

Your guess is as good as mine.

If I am forced to make a pick, I will go with the Waratahs purely because they are playing at home.

I asked my wife for a points-spread number and she yelled “8” without any idea what I was asking about.

So: The Waratahs, by 8.

Stormers vs Bulls

Venue Newlands, Cape Town
Date Saturday 27 April
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA time); 13h05 GMT
Referee Glen Jackson
AR1 Nick Briant
AR2 Egon Seconds
TMO Marius Jonker

Now this could get interesting.

The Stormers on 19 points sit at the bottom of the South African conference log, yet they could jump to the top of the log if they beat the Bulls and bank a bonus point at the same time. 5 points will lift them to 24, and the Bulls are sitting at the top, on 23 log points!

Of course there are variables to be considered.

If the Sharks somehow manage to find their game and beat the Waratahs in Sydney, they could take the lead on 26 or even 27 points. 

If the Jaguares thump the Brumbies and bank a full five points, they could also move to 24 points.

If the Stormers and the Jaguares win – with try scoring bonus points, and the Bulls lose by less than 7 and still earn a losing bonus point, it is conceivable that the Stormers, the Bulls, and the Jaguares could end the weekend on 24 points each, and the joint lead in the SA conference.

Such is the clutter in the SA conference that the only thing we can predict this weekend is that the Lions will stay on 22 points, they have already lost to the Crusaders as we discuss this game! 

Another interesting aspect to this game is the form and fitness of a number of players who are in the running for a ticket to the Rugby World Cup at the end of the year. 

The Bulls are fielding Handré Pollard, Jesse Kriel, Warrick Gelant, Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Duane Vermeulen, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, Lizo Gqoboka, and Marco van Staden, who will all have their supporters for a Springbok call-up.

The Stormers will have Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Wilco Louw, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, 

Damian de Allende, Damian Willemse, and Dillyn Leyds all looking to catch the attention of Rassie Erasmus and his advisors. Even a couple of “outsiders” such as JD Schickerling, Cobus Wiese and Manie Libbok will be looking to impress.

With both log position, and Springbok call-ups at stake this game takes on extra importance for South African rugby fans as they look for signs of improvement after an uninspiring and often woeful start to 2019.

Everybody wants, hopes and prays, to see something more than the bungling, imprecise and error ridden games of the first 10 weeks of the Super campaign. 

If ever a game has been set up to provide evidence of improvement, it is this one.

And then there are the bragging rights that attach to the traditional clash between the two old enemies from the Northern Transvaal and the Western Province.

This could be interesting!

Team News:

The Stormers:

The Stormers have made seven changes to their starting lineup as they welcome back a number of experienced players for their North-South derby against the Bulls at Newlands on Saturday.

The seven changes include four in the forward pack and three in the backline.

Siya Kolisi is back in the starting XV to lead the side, along with fellow Springboks Frans Malherbe and Damian de Allende – who were rested last week.

Malherbe is joined in the front row by hooker Scarra Ntubeni, alongside Steven Kitshoff – with Bongi Mbonambi and Wilco Louw among the replacements.

Lock JD Schickerling returns from injury and starts in the second row, with Eben Etzebeth also making his return from the replacements bench.

In the backline, Jean-Luc du Plessis is back at flyhalf alongside inside centre De Allende, after both players were rested last week, with Johannes Engelbrecht at outside centre in place of the injured Ruhan Nel.

Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Johannes Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Kobus van Dyk, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 John Schickerling, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Ernst van Rhyn, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 Seabelo Senatla.

The Bulls

Trevor Nyakane will play in his 100th Super Rugby match on Saturday when the  Bulls take on the Stormers in Cape Town. Duane Vermeulen, who was rested against the Reds two weeks ago, will also make his return to the starting XV. 

Burger Odendaal will also achieve a milestone and will be running out for his 50th game for the Bulls.

Vermeulen slots back into the number 8 jersey, with Paul Schoeman, who started against the Reds, dropping to the bench in place of Roelof Smit. The only other change is on the bench as well, where Johan Grobbelaar replaces Corniel Els as back-up hooker.

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Handré Pollard , 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie,1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehan Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.

Thoughts:

I am not going to attempt a man-for-man comparison between these two teams, nor will I do my regular statistical comparison.

Both teams have plenty of players with international experience, and many of them are first-choice picks for any Springbok outfit.

Both teams have huge potential.

Neither team has really played anywhere near to that potential.

The Bulls have been, perhaps, the better of the two so far in 2019, with their five wins from eight starts and 23 log points, while the Stormers have just 4 wins from their 9 starts and 19 log points.

Neither team has impressed with their finishing skills, both having scored just 18 tries, although it must be said that the Bulls have, again, been the better of the two at finishing. 

The Stormers simply butcher more scoring chances than should be legally allowed without some form of penal servitude as reward.

The Stormers have been very good at dominating the forward exchanges in almost all the games they have played in 2019, but that has not given them the wins that statistical dominance would suggest. Their backs have been hopelessly clueless, and badly managed by their flyhalf, as they struggle at putting together constructive rugby and playing as a unit.

The Bulls have made ample use of the kicking boot of Handré Pollard to create scoreboard pressure on their opposition. 120 of their 210 points scored in 2019 have come from the boot, with just 90 points coming by way of tries. Pollard has score 110 of the Bulls’ points all by himself.

The Stormers will do well to focus on their disciplines, they have conceded 67 penalties in the season, the 6thmost in the competition, but they lead the stats for penalties at the ruck where they have conceded 13. The Bulls, mainly through Handré Pollard, lead the competition on penalties converted to points, with 31 successful kicks at goal.

In contrast the Bulls have conceded 62 penalties in 2019, which puts them 11thon the list.

When the final whistle sounds for this one, the game will have revolved around four issues – 1. Forward dominance/parity, 2. Defence, 3. Chances taken, and 4. Discipline.

The game will depend on a team effort, rather than moments of individual brilliance. 

Prediction:

I thought long and hard about this one. It is really too close to call.

I have given it to the Stormers based on home ground advantage in the biggest of the South African derbies of the season. Oh, and that Stormers bench looks mighty impressive!

The Stormers, by 6.

Jaguares vs Brumbies

Venue Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Date Saturday 27 April
Kick-off 18h40 local; 07h40 Canberra; 21h40 GMT; 23h40 SA time.
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen
AR1 AJ Jacobs
AR2 Federico Anselmi
TMO Santiago Borsani

The comments I made in the opening paragraphs about the long term value of Warren Whiteley to his Lions outfit must also hold true for the iconic Wallaby flanker David Pocock. Pocock was part of the Brumbies’ tour squad to South Africa and South America, and remained nothing more than a passenger as his injury woes continued. He missed the game against the Stormers last week and was then sent home to Canberra. Pocock has played just three games this season and none since March 8 – as he has struggled to overcome a calf problem picked up at a January pre-season Wallabies camp.

Since 2013, when he had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his knee, David Pocock has struggled with injury after injury. He had a second knee reconstruction surgery in March 2014.

This was followed in consecutive seasons by a series of shoulder problems, concussive injuries, neck injuries, and now the issue with his calf. He also took a full year off from rugby during this period, a sabbatical it was termed. Some asked how Australian Rugby could afford to pay him an enormous salary to not play rugby.

At the age of 31, much like Warren Whiteley, David Pocock’s career must be heading into the final straight; perhaps the Word Cup of 2019 would be his preferred swansong?

I am wondering whether he will even get there?

It would be a sad end to a stellar rugby career that started back in 2009 with his first cap for Australia. 

Not only as a rugby player, but as an all-round nice guy, David Pocock has been a credit to the game of rugby. I hope we will see more of him before he calls it quits!

This is supposed to be a preview of the game of rugby scheduled between the Jaguares and the Brumbies, and all I can find of real interest is the future of one of the players?

Both teams sit on 19 points on the overall Super Rugby log, although the Jaguares do have a game in hand, and a superior points difference, which gives them the positional advantage at 9thon the table, while the Brumbies sit at 11th.

There is not much more to say about this mid-table clash.

Team News:

The Jaguares:

The Jaguares have made a number of changes to the team that beat the Sharks two weeks ago. Emiliano Boffelli will start at 15, with Joaquin Tucelet sitting out this week. Sebastian Cancelliere starts on the wing in the place of Matias Moroni, who also misses out this week. With Boffelli shifting to full back, he is replaced in the 11 jersey by Santiago Carrerras.

Julian Montoya exchanges places with Agustin Creevy as starting hooker.

Bautista Ezcurra replaces Carrerras on the bench.

Jaguares

15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente (captain), 11 Santiago Carreras, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro

Replacements:16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Rodrigo Bruni, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia

The Brumbies:

Scrumhalf Matt Lucas and prop James Slipper are the only two changes to the starting XV for the Brumbies’ fixture with the Jaguares at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Velez Sarsfield on Saturday.

Lucas comes into the team in place of Joe Powell, whilst Slipper is selected ahead of Scott Sio.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Tom Wright, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Matt Lucas, 8 Pate Samu, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Jahrome Brown, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’A, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Murray Douglas, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Irae Simone, 23 Andy Muirhead.

Thoughts:

There has been much talk about the Brumbies having “built up a head of steam”over the past two weeks with wins over the Lions in Canberra and then the Stormers in Cape Town.

This “head of steam” is going to carry them to a resounding win over the Jaguares in South America, we are told, followed by a triumphant return to Australia with three wins over South African conference opponents in three weeks.

Which is all good and well, as long as you remember to tell the Jaguares to roll over and kick their legs up so that the Brumbies can tickle their hairy South American bellies.

And that is not likely to happen.

Firstly, the Jose Amalfitani Stadium in Buenos Aires is often a very hostile place for visitors at the wrong end of a very long journey from the Antipodes. Secondly, the Jaguares have won five of their last six games against Australian opposition. 

A visit to Argentina is not an easy, relaxing stop-over on the way home from a holiday in Cape Town, never mind an epic game of rugby against the Stormers.

The Jaguares are coming off a bye week, after a complete demolition of the Sharks a week before. They will be rested, at home, and confidently looking forward to playing their usual disruptive, disorganised, and discombobulating style of attacking rugby when the Brumbies come calling.

The Brumbies have been very good over the ball on the ground in 2019, conceding an average of just over 13 turnovers per game this season, less than any other side, while they’ve also won more turnovers on average, just short of 9, than anyone else. However, they have not had to contend with the master of slow-ball spoilers, Augustin Creevy and his cohorts in this department. Can they continue their good form as the Jaguares work to disrupt the flow of ball from the ground?

The Brumbies might have the edge in the scrums, but the lineouts are probably even, perhaps tilted ever so slightly towards the Jaguares.

Both teams reside at the bottom of the standings in every single one of the attacking statistical measurements, with little or nothing to choose between them.

I cannot find anything to suggest that one team has a particular advantage over the other, save for the Brumbies being ahead in the scrums.

On the one side of the field we will have a rested side, coming off a bye, and on the other a team, a week after a huge effort game in Cape Town and at the back end of a long trip, far away from home. 

I know who I think has the advantage.

Prediction:

A “head of steam” plays a confident, rested home side?

It has to be the home side that has the advantage.

The Jaguares, by 15 as the Brumbies run out of steam.