Super Rugby

Weekend Previews & Predictions

Round Twelve – Part Two

The first of this weekend’s fixtures are done and dusted. The Sharks held the Crusaders to a creditable, if unexpected, draw, while the Sunwolves saw red against the Reds and went down 32 – 26 in a less than exciting game in Brisbane. 

We now look forward to Saturday’s fixtures:

A Bit Of Foot-Shooting, Again!

Sanzaar just do not seem to get the idea of neutral referees. 

On Saturday in Wellington, the Rebels will play the Hurricanes hoping to consolidate their top position in the Aussie Conference. Australian Nic Berry will be the referee for that match. Over in New Zealand, a New Zealander Mike Fraser will be in the middle for the Kiwi derby between the Highlanders and Chiefs. Back in Aussie, another Aussie Damon Murphy will be in Canberra where the Brumbies meet the Blues at GIO Stadium, with South African Jaco Peyper refereeing in Pretoria as the Bulls and Waratahs do battle.

The weekend closes in Buenos Aires when the Jaguares host the Stormers. The referee will be South African AJ Jacobs.

In six of the seven matches featured this weekend, a referee will manage a game that features fellow countrymen playing against a foreign opponent. 

This is wrong in so many ways.

Date: Saturday, May 4

Hurricanes v Rebels

Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Date Saturday 4 May
Kick-off 17h15 local; 05h15 GMT; 15h15 Melbourne; 05h15 SA Time
Referee Nic Berry  (Australia)
AR1 Paul Williams  (New Zealand)
AR2 Glen Jackson  (New Zealand)
TMO Aaron Paterson  (New Zealand)

Top of the Aussie Conference plays second on the Kiwi Conference. One team has 32 log points, the other 24.  One sits in a log position that guarantees them a home quarterfinal, the other is in the running for the fourth log spot and a home quarterfinal of their own. If they slip up, though, they will in all likelihood have to travel away from home for a quarterfinal playoff.

The strangeness of Super Rugby’s conference system is never more evident when we discuss these quarterfinal candidates.

The team with 32 points has won 7 of their 10 starts, drawn 1 and lost just 2. The team with 24 points has won 5 of their 9 starts and lost 4.

Yet it is the team with just 24 points and those 5 wins that is currently sitting pretty with a possible home quarterfinal, as long as they stay top of their own conference and no matter how well the other team plays!

You see, the Rebels top the Aussie conference, with their 5 wins and 24 log points, and that guarantees them a home quarterfinal.

The Hurricanes, despite a far superior record, mostly against far tougher opponents too, are second on their home log, and could even be consigned to travelling away from home for their quarterfinal. 

This weekend we see the Rebels visit the Hurricanes home base in Wellington, where the advantage should be with the Kiwis. Sanzaar do seem to have made an attempt to negate home advantage by giving the Rebels an Aussie ref…..

Team News:

The Rebels:

Rebels club captain Dane Haylett-Petty and vice-captain Angus Cottrell have both been named to make their return to the Rebels’ starting XV to face the Hurricanes in Wellington.

Haylett-Petty has successfully recovered from a foot injury sustained in Round Five against the Lions, while Cottrell has overcome concussion for this Trans-Tasman fixture.

While the Rebels have regained two of their star players, the side has lost starting lock Adam Coleman, who has sustained a shoulder injury.

Coleman’s absence has caused a reshuffle in the second row, with Luke Jones moving from flank to lock, while Rob Leota has replaced the injured Richard Hardwick at Seven.

Positionally, Tetera Faulkner has been promoted to starting prop and Reece Hodge has moved to centre, leaving Matt Gibbon and Billy Meakes to start on the bench.

Victorian forward Pone Fa’amausili has been selected in the reserves, while Haylett-Petty’s return has resulted in centre Sione Tuipulotu being squeezed out of the side.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Rob Leota, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Pone Fa’amausili, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Billy Meakes, 23 Campbell Magnay.

Beauden Barrett will captain the Hurricanes for a second time this season against the Rebels at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.

The Hurricanes:

With Dane Coles unavailable and TJ Perenara on the second of his All Black rest weeks, Beauden Barrett will lead the side in the Round 12 Investec Super Rugby match.

John Plumtree has made three changes to the starting XV from last week’s impressive 47-19 win over the Chiefs.

With Perenara out, Richard Judd makes his second start of the season while Jeff To’omaga-Allen comes in at tighthead prop after Ben May has been ruled out with a minor injury.

There is a first start for lock Isaia Walker-Leawere in what will be his 10th appearance for the Hurricanes since he made his debut against the Brumbies last season.

Plumtree has also made several changes to the bench after opting to go with a six-two forward-backs split.

The experienced Toby Smith returns after several weeks out with a high ankle sprain while Alex Fidow comes into the matchday squad.

Young flank Du’Plessis Kirifi also returns along with scrumhalf Finlay Christie.

Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Chase Tiatia, 10 Beauden Barrett (captain), 9 Richard Judd, 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Liam Mitchell, 21 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 22 Finlay Christie, 23 James Marshall.

Thoughts:

The Rebels have lost their last two on the trot, but will look beyond those losses and remind themselves that they have won two of their last three starts against Kiwi opponents.

In contrast, the Hurricanes are on a three match winning streak, and have won 14 of their last 15 games against Aussie opponents. (They lost to the Brumbies a year ago.)

However, history will count for little when the two teams face off on Saturday.

I would suggest that this game will revolve around the Rebels attempting to establish forward dominance and control if they can, as this is the one aspect of their game where the Hurricanes have looked vulnerable all year. They do have a 95% scrum success rate, against the 92% of the Rebels, but they have always seemed to struggle against a powerful pack of forwards.

However, it is the lineouts that the Rebels will surely target. They have the best lineout in the competition, with a 93,6% success rate, whilst the Hurricanes have the worst record of them all, even worse than the Sunwolves. The ‘Canes lineout success rate is just 78,8%.

In the modern game where a lineout is one of the premier attacking options in the game, with a huge variety of attacking plays in and around the lineout itself, and the added space out back giving the runners and playmakers time to make those tactical decisions, the lineout has replaced the scrum as the best attacking platform in the game. The Rebels could well use this aspect of the game as their primary weapon.

Away from the forward confrontation, it is all Hurricanes. They have carried the ball more than anyone else in the competition, while the Rebels lag at the bottom of the ladder with the least carries in the game.

The ‘Canes have carried the ball further than anyone else, the Rebels are down in 13thon the ladder for meters carried. The Hurricanes have beaten 100 more defenders than the Rebels, and have made a host more clean breaks than the Rebels.

Moving from the attack to the defence, the ‘Canes also have the edge, with an 86% tackle success rate with the Rebels on 83%.

On paper, then, the Rebels seem to have a slight edge in the forwards, and the ‘Canes a huge advantage at the back. 

There is one tiny little niggle, though. The Rebels have lost Adam Coleman for this one, and he has been their go-to man in the lineouts, which may just draw some of the sting from the set-piece that has been at the root of their game in 2019.

The Hurricanes have a formidable loose trio, with the in-form Ardie Savea playing the best rugby of his career, and will be looking for dominance in the collisions and over the broken play ball. The Rebels may struggle in this department.

However, it is in the backlines where the real difference will be found. The Hurricanes just have too much firepower in every position at the back, especially with both Barretts finding form in recent weeks. That seems to me to be the making and breaking of this game!

Prediction:

The Hurricanes just seem to have found their game in recent weeks, and they will certainly look to be upping their tempo somewhat. I do not think the Rebels have the overall firepower, nor the bench to seriously challenge the Hurricanes, although stranger things have happened in 2019.

The Hurricanes, by 12.

Highlanders v Chiefs

Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Date Saturday 4 May
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time
Referee Mike Fraser  (New Zealand)
AR1 Brendon Pickerill  (New Zealand)
AR2 James Doleman  (New Zealand)
TMO Glenn Newman  (New Zealand)

This game might well be the most exciting of the entire weekend. Two teams that are desperately looking for something extra in 2019, both need a win to re-establish their season and their credibility with their fans.

The Highlanders might have had the slightly better season so far, but by their own standards, it has not been great. The Chiefs, by any standard, have had a woeful time.

Both have shown moments of brilliance, but both have shown long stretches of really mediocre rugby, and some moments of truly poor rugby. The Chiefs have had more of those truly poor moments than the Highlanders.

This game is of huge importance to both teams. The Highlanders simply have to win if they want to remain in serious contention for a wildcard playoff spot. The Chiefs need something to restore their pride and their confidence in themselves.

Desperate teams often provide for highly entertaining rugby.

Team News:

The Highlanders:

Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has made no changes to the forward pack, with the return of Ben Smith at fullback being the main feature of the Highlanders’ team this week.

The pack have been rewarded for a dominant effort against the Sunwolves and some consistent form. 

Co-captain, Luke Whitelock, will again play at blindside combining with Elliot Dixon and James Lentjes in a well performing back row.

In the backs, Patelesio Tomkinson, moves to the reserves and Matt Faddes to the right wing to accommodate the return of Ben Smith at fullback.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh McKay, 23 Sio Tomkinson.

The Chiefs:

Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has made a couple of changes to his team for their match against the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.

Nepo Laulala returns from a knee injury and has been named as the starting tighthead, shifting Angus Ta’avao to the reserves, in the only change to the forward pack from the team that took the field against the Hurricanes last week.

In the backs, Scrumhalf Brad Weber has been cleared to play and returns to start at nine. Etene Nanai-Seturo will start on the left wing and Sean Wainui returns to start on the right wing. Solomon Alaimalo will remain at fullback to complete the back three.

On the reserves bench loosehead prop Ryan Coxon gets the nod ahead of Tevita Mafileo. Shaun Stevenson returns to the twenty three alongside utility back Bailyn Sullivan named respectively in jersey’s No.22 and No.23.

Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Michael Allardice (captain), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Taleni Seu, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Shaun Stevenson, 23 Bailyn Sullivan.

Thoughts:

I guess doing a statistical analysis of these two teams progress in 2019 is not really going to help much. Neither side has the numbers that suggest dominance or some special strength or tactical approach.

A man-for-man paper analysis will not help us much either. Both sides have some real quality players, and both sides have some journeymen too. Perhaps the Highlanders have a slight edge in quality?

The more I think about this game, the more I believe that the game will hinge on the defence of the two sides, and even here I do not find a difference between the teams. The Chiefs have been more than slightly wanting at times with a slightly below competition average 84% tackle success rate. The Highlanders have been somewhat worse, with just an 82% success rate.

This is a tough one to call as both teams are much of a muchness.

Prediction:

This is going to be an almighty tussle, with both teams throwing everything at each other. The Highlanders, at home, are a tough nut to crack.

The Highlanders, by 8.

Brumbies v Blues

Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Date Saturday 4 May
Kick-off 19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 21h45 NZ time; 11h45 SA Time.
Referee Damon Murphy (Australia)
AR1 Ben O’Keeffe  (New Zealand)
AR2 Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO Ian Smith (Australia)

If the Brumbies can, somehow, get a bonus-point win against the Blues, and the rest of the Aussie teams weekend results go their way, they can go to the top of the Australian conference this weekend.

They currently sit in third position on that Aussie log, with just four wins in their 10 starts and 20 log points. 

They are at home this week, after a two week tour to South Africa and the Argentine, so fatigue might play a role.

They face the Blues who are in the midst of their best season in many a long year. “Best” of course is relative to previous years, in 2019 they are not really flying amongst the top teams, with 4 wins from 9 starts and just 20 log points. They do have a game in hand over the Brumbies.

Both teams will be looking to improve this weekend.

Team News:

The Brumbies:

Dan McKellar admits it’s frustrating after David Pocock’s injury return was delayed for at least another two weeks.

Pocock hasn’t played in the last six games as he nurses a calf injury and will miss the Brumbies’ crunch Super Rugby clash against the Blues in Canberra on Saturday.

It’s a tough blow for the Brumbies who are back in Canberra following a gruelling tour of South Africa and Argentina.

They have also lost Tevita Kuridrani to the Wallabies’ resting policy and Tom Wright moves backs to the bench as Irae Simone and Len Ikitau form a new centre pairing.

Scrumhalf Joe Powell returns to the starting side to replace Matt Lucas who falls out of the game day 23 with Ryan Lonergan promoted.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano (captain), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Tom Cusack, 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 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Tom Wright, 23 Andy Muirhead.

The Blues:

The Blues are going back to a team strategy that has worked for them in 2019, a solid starting platform with potent power off the bench to finish strongly.

The power off the bench this week includes new Blues centurion James Parsons, All Blacks Patrick Tuipulotu, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Dalton Papalii along with Marcel Renata, former captain Augustine Pulu, Harry Plummer and Levi Aumua.

It means Alex Hodgman and All Black Ofa Tuungafasi combine for just the second time this season in the front row with a fit-again Leni Apisai rewarded with his first start after a notable impact off the bench against the Highlanders.

Co-captain Blake Gibson makes a welcome return to lead the side after being out for two games with a significant laceration to his knee, while Akira Ioane will start his 28th straight game at No.8.

All Black Rieko Ioane is spelled for his planned break which will see Caleb Clarke switch to the left wing while All Black Matt Duffie, who has recovered fully from his serious hamstring injury suffered in the National Provincial Cup, to make his first start of the season. The other change sees Sam Nock have his first start at halfback.

Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (captain), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Levi Aumua.

Thoughts:

The Blues have the benefit of coming off a bye weekend, while the Brumbies return from a trip to South Africa and then on to Argentina, with the effects of multiple long haul flights sure to have an effect later in the game.

Neither side has much in the way of a statistical advantage over the other in the set pieces and over the ball on the ground. The Brumbies have scored more tries, 35 to the Blues 26. However they have also conceded more tries than the Blues, 37 to 27. Neither side has a positive points difference in 2019, although the Blues are somewhat better with a negative -8 against the Brumbies negative -33.

In their attacking plays, the Blues do have an edge over their hosts, with 98 clean breaks to the bottom of the ladder 64 of the Brumbies. The Blues have also carried the ball a lot more and a lot further than the Brumbies. They have also beaten more defenders than their hosts.

Of the two teams, the Blues have been a more attacking team, while the Brumbies have had more of a tactical approach, seeking field position rather than committing to all-out attack.

The Blues are missing their primary strike runner, Reiko Ioane, this weekend as he is on an enforced All Black rest week.

The Blues do seem to have the advantage off the bench, with a particularly solid front row backed by some real power off the bench. This may prove to be the difference between these two sides.

Prediction:

It seems that I might be at odds with some of the bookies here. Somehow they feel that the Brumbies are the slight favourites.

I just seem to think a far more settled Blues outfit, with a new hunger that has been missing for some years, against a seriously depleted Brumbies is a no-brainer. And then there is the Blues bench!

The Blues, by 6.

Bulls v Waratahs

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Date Saturday 4 May
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT; 23h00 Sydney.
Referee Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
AR1 Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
AR2 Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO Christie du Preez (South Africa)

The Bulls are undoubtedly the most improved team in the competition, year on year. They are a young outfit, learning the ropes and gaining experience as they grow. Many of their supporters are less than patient with this team, demanding instant success and then gnashing teeth and tearing out what is left of their hair when the Bulls slip up along the way.

Those that make the unrealistic demands tend to forget that it takes something around 4 to 8 years to build a consistently winning team. (It took Clive Woodward 8 years to turn a miserable England around, rebuild, and then win a World Cup.)

The Bulls have had a miserable couple of years, and the rebuild will take time. This is the nature of rugby.

The Bulls do seem to be heading in the right direction, with the expected stumbles and stutters along the way.

The Waratahs seem to be heading in the opposite direction. A team loaded with hugely experienced heads, and some much lauded Aussie stars, that has slowly but surely been slipping further and further from the top of the pile that they have occupied for many years. Precisely what is wrong in the ‘Tahs camp is a question many in the Aussie media have speculated, discussed, analysed, suggested and prognosticated on for some time and to great depth.

Whatever the truth of the ‘Tahs, there is no doubt that they have, mostly, underperformed more often than not.

A team rising versus a team drifting. I can see where this game is going.

Team News:

The Bulls:

The Bulls were forced to make a number of changes to their backline for the encounter with the Waratahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Cornal Hendricks will start on the right wing in place of the injured Jade Stighling, who suffered a concussion in the 23-24 loss to the Stormers at Newlands last week.

Johnny Kotze moves from the left wing to outside centre in place of Springbok Jesse Kriel, who suffered an ankle injury at Newlands.

Inside centre Burger Odendaal, who suffered a blow to his eye against the Stormers, was initially cleared to play this weekend, but a late change was made on Friday afternoon when he withdrew from the team, with Dylan Sage stepping up off the bench into a starting role, and Divan Rossouw coming onto the bench.

The forwards are unchanged from that which played at Newlands.

Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (c), 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 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.

The Waratahs:

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has been forced to reshuffle his depleted forward pack for this weekend’s match with the Bulls in Pretoria.

Tom Staniforth has replaced suspended lock Jed Holloway, Lachlan Swinton will start at blindside flank in place of the injured Jack Dempsey and Ned Hanigan has shifted to No.8 with Michael Wells also out.

Gibson has opted to start Nick Phipps at scrumhalf instead of Jake Gordon, believing Phipps’ up-tempo game will be needed in the helter skelter opening at altitude.

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ned Hanigan, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Hugh Sinclair, 20 Will Miller, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Alex Newsome.

Thoughts:

The Bulls pack of forwards should have the edge over the Waratahs from the very start of this game. The likes of RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, and Lizo Gqoboka are right on form at the moment, with all three seeming to be enjoying the game more than should be legally allowed. 

There is a solidity in the Bulls tight five that held the Stormers in check in the set-pieces a week ago.

Backed up by a formidable loose-trio of Duane Vermeulen, Hanro Liebenberg, and Marco van Staden, this is probably the Bulls’ strongest suite.

That pack of forwards is backed by an accomplished Handré Pollard who looks to control games with clever thinking, clinical tactical kicking, and a willingness to take the ball to the line as much as possible. He has some serious pace outside him, especially out on the wings and joining from the fullback position.

The Waratahs forwards have been disrupted by the suspension of Ned Holloway and the injury to Jack Dempsey and Michael Wells, which will really impact later in the game as the quality of their bench is a bit doubtful. They seem to struggle with depth as Ned Hanigan has bounced around between the 2ndRow and flanker roles. This weekend he plays at No.8, facing Duane Vermeulen. A part-timer up against one of the world’s best?

The Bulls are likely to bring some serious physicality to this game, especially in the opening exchanges, as they will want to establish mental and physical dominance over the visitors. The ‘Tahs have shown that they struggle to get back into a game once they fall behind, with a certain mental frailty seeming to have crept into their psyche.

The Bulls will also be looking to attack the flyhalf channel, with Pollard taking on Foley with some direct running. The Australian Iceman is not known for his defence. We are also likely to see the likes of Duane Vermeulen and his fellow loosies, backed by RG Snyman, running into this channel to try and bust open the Waratah defences and getting in behind the midfield.

The Waratah midfield has been a very good defensive unit, with Hunt and Ashley-Cooper delivering solid performances week after week. However, wide of the midfield the defence has been less inspiring, and Kurtley Beale in the fullback position is better known as a turnstile.

The Bulls will be looking to crack the ‘Tahs close in and around the wider edges to let their pacey runners roam into space.

The Waratahs will be hoping for errors and inaccurate moments from the Bulls new midfield combination, where Dylan Sage is a late replacement for Burger Odendaal. Sage has struggled to adapt to the 15-man game since he made the shift from 7s and is likely to be tested in this one.  His outside centre partner, Johnny Kotze is of the more selfish type of crashball runners, who lacks something in distribution skills. Kotze is more usually out on the wing where his lack of distribution is less of a problem, but he frequently succumbs to the desire to smash the ball up rather than taking it through the tackle and releasing his support runners. The ‘Tahs will be well aware of the newness and possible weakness of the Bulls midfield.

However, this game will revolve around the forward clash, and there the Bulls seem to have a clear advantage.

Prediction:

I do not think the Waratahs have the forwards to hold the Bulls at altitude. If their backs fire, they might trouble the Bulls in the wider channels, but their forwards are the key, and it looks as if this key does not fit the Bulls’ lock.

The Bulls, by 12.

Jaguares v Stormers

Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Date Saturday 4 May
Kick-off 16h40 local; 19h40 GMT; 21h40 SA Time
Referee AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
AR1 Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
AR2 Federico Anselmi
TMO Santiago Borsani

Much has been said about the closeness of the South African conference, with just four points separating the bottom-of-the log Lions, on 22, from the table-topping Sharks on 26. (before this weekend’s results.)

Every game in this clutter can make an enormous difference at the end of the regular season when tickets to the quarterfinals are being dished out.

The two that face each other in this game are equal on points, with both having won 5 games. The Jaguares do, however, have a game in hand over the Stormers.

The Stormers will be looking to build on last week’s very good win over the Bulls, with a focus on keeping up the momentum as they head into a bye and then a difficult couple of weeks at home, with the Crusaders and the Highlanders both visiting Newlands before the Stormers head north to face the Lions in Johannesburg. A win against the Jaguares will set them up nicely before their break. 

The Jaguares have been as topsy-turvy as the rest of the South African conference members. 5 wins in 9 starts, with 4 losses puts them firmly mid-table amongst their fellow conference goers, equal on points with the Stormers and just 3 points adrift of the top placed Sharks prior to Friday’s games. They are coming off a jumbled, often boring win over the Brumbies.

We can expect both teams to up their game this weekend – we think?

Team News:

The Jaguares:

The Jaguares have made just two changes to their starting lineup to face the Stormers in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

Both changes come in the backline, where wings Matías Moroni and Ramiro Moyano are returning to the starting lineup. The duo replaces Sebastián Cancelliere and Santiago Carreras.

The forward pack remains unchanged from the one that beat the Brumbies last weekend.

Jaguares – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente (c), 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Tomás Lezana, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements:16 Julián Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Rodrigo Bruni, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Sebastián Cancelliere.

The Stormers:

There are five changes to the Stormers forward pack and one in the backline for this game against the Jaguares on Saturday.

The only change to the backline sees Dan Kriel back at inside centre, with Damian de Allende among the replacements.

Up front, tighthead prop Wilco Louw and hooker Bongi Mbonambi join stand-in skipper Steven Kitshoff in the front row, with Neethling Fouche coming into the match-day squad as a replacement.

Eben Etzebeth is back in the starting line-up and will line up in the second row alongside JD Schickerling, with Cobus Wiese shifting to blindside flank in place of the injured Pieter-Steph du Toit and a fit-again Jaco Coetzee on the openside in the absence of regular captain Siya Kolisi, who is being rested.

Sikhumbuzo Notshe also makes his return from injury and is expected to make an impact from the replacements bench, along with utility forward Johan du Toit.

Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Johannes Engelbrecht, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Kobus van Dyk, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Jaco Coetzee , 5 John Schickerling, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Johan du Toit, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Damian de Allende, 23 Seabelo Senatla.

Thoughts:

Both these sides have been frustratingly unpredictable in 2019. The Stormers have frequently dominated a game with their forwards taking a grip on proceedings, and then being let down by a back line that seemed to have no clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing. In recent weeks the backs seem to have found the rhythm and finishing that has eluded them on so many occasions in the season, and this will be something they will be working on maintaining and improving. The Stormers overall log position could have been so much different if they had won all the games that they had dominated, yet lost after too many butchered scoring opportunities.

The Jaguares are equally frustrating. While their discipline has been exemplary for the most part, and their broken play has often been of the highest order, they have frequently struggled to establish any kind of parity in the forward exchanges and in plays off the set-pieces. They are at their best when the game breaks down and becomes looser. 

Last week was an exception as they held the Brumbies forwards in the set-pieces and collisions for most of the afternoon.

Their game plan is devised to disrupt and confuse. Much of their off-the-ball focus is to get in between opponents to prevent continuity of play, and then to disrupt the breakdowns, often pushing the outside edge of the envelop. They like to strike with that turnover ball!

If they get inside the Stormers’ heads, they will have the winning of the game.

If the Stormers play the game with patience and clinical focus, it is theirs for the taking.

Contrasting styles of rugby face off, and it all depends on who gets a grip on the game and keeps it. Many of the games in Buenos Aires deteriorate into dour arm-wrestling affairs, something the home side loves.

Prediction:

Somehow this Stormers outfit seems to have found some of the missing bits that have plagued their game in the first half of the season. I think the Stormers forwards are one of the best units in the competition, even without PS du Toit and Siya Kolisi, while the Jaguares have struggled in the forward exchanges all year. 

The recently rediscovered scoring ability of the Stormers backs may swing the game.

The Stormers, by 10.