Weekend Previews & Predictions
The Friday games kicked off with the ‘Canes beating the Blues 22-12, and then the Rebels downing the Reds 30-24. Fairly predictable results, both. Next up is the Bulls hosting the Crusaders.
On Saturday in Dunedin, the Highlanders will play the Jaguares from Argentina with Ben O’Keeffe the referee for that match, while Nic Berry will be the referee in Hamilton for the Chiefs versus Sharks match. Egon Seconds will be in charge in Johannesburg where the Lions host the Waratahs.
The weekend closes in Canberra on Sunday where the Brumbies take on the Sunwolves with Damon Murphy as referee.
One prediction that I am fairly certain I will get correct is that the Stormers cannot lose this weekend. They have a bye.
Saturday 11 May
Highlanders v Jaguares
|Venue||Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin|
|Date||Saturday 11 May|
|Kick-off||17h15 local; 05h15 GMT; 07h15 SA Time|
The Jaguares arrive in Dunedin on a four-match winning streak. Without much fanfare and noise the Argies are slowly but surely creeping up the South African conference log, currently sitting at third with 27 points, just one behind the Bulls and the Sharks. They are also occupying one of the Super Rugby playoff wildcard spots at the moment, with their four-game Australasian tour kicking off against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.
Last year the Jaguares proved that touring the Antipodes is not one of their weaknesses, as they banked four from four beating the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues and Chiefs in the process.
If they can achieve anywhere near the same results this year, they are likely to be hosting a home quarterfinal!
I have no doubt the Argentineans will be looking at the Highlanders with a certain amount of interest.
The Highlanders have not had a great year. Just 4 wins in their 11 starts, with 5 losses and 2 draws on their tally, they do look ripe for the plucking, especially after last week’s somewhat deflating draw with the Chiefs and the news that the talismanic Ben Smith is probably out of the rest of the tournament.
We will watch this one with some interest!
Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has made a few changes to his team to face the Jaguares in Dunedin on Saturday.
There is some rotation in the forwards with Ayden Johnstone and Siate Tokolahi starting, while the hard-working Daniel Lienert-Brown and Tyrel Lomax head to the bench. Josh Dickson moves into the starting line-up and Liam Squire makes his return after a lengthy injury break.
In the backs, Matt Faddes moves to fullback and Jordan Hyland will make his second appearance on the right wing.
Patelesio Tomkinson will partner Rob Thompson in the midfield as Teihorangi Walden takes a break.
Dan Hollinshead, who has joined the squad as a replacement for Bryn Gatland, will make his debut from the bench and the talented and young, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, rounds out the playing 23.
Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Luke Whitelock (captain), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Daniel Hollinshead, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
Jaguares head coach Gonzalo Quesada named his starting XV to face Highlanders on Saturday.
The coach has made wholesale changes to the side that recorded a 30-25 win over the Stormers in Round 12.
The most notable modifications are the absence of the Pablo Matera and Agustin Creevy in the starting XV.
Nonetheless, Matera takes a spot on the bench and Juan Manual Leguizamon will don this week’s No.6 jersey.
Tomas Lezana switches to flank and Javier Ortega Desio slots into the No.8 position to complete the loose trio combinations.
In the second row utility forward Marcos Kremer and Lucas Paulos take the respective places of Tomas Lavanini and Guido Petti Pagadizaval.
While there is also a new front row as Santiago Medrano, Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro are replaced by Mayco Vivas, Julian Montoya and Enriqua Pieretto.
In the backline, this week’s halfback duo sees the presence of Felipe Ezcurra and Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, instead of Tomas Cubelli and Domingo Miotti.
Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente (captain), 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Juan Manual Leguizamon , 5 Lucas Paulus, 4 Marcos Kremer, 3 Enriqua Pieretto, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Tomas Lavanini, , 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Tomas Cubelli,, 22 Domingo Miotti,, 23 Matias Orlando
The Jaguares have found a game that allows them to grind out wins. Just in recent weeks they downed the Brumbies in a game that deteriorated into a mess in the second half, yet they stayed in it and kept the Brumbies honest right to the final whistle. They did the same with the Stormers last week.
They will be eyeing the Highlanders with the same mindset and approach. You only need to win by one point, it does not have to be a point-scoring spree – a win is a win!
They also know that they can beat the New Zealanders, they have won three of their last four games against sides from the cloudy islands.
They will be looking to grind past the Highlanders on Saturday. They have never played in Dunedin, nor under a roof, so the entire game will be a new experience for the South Americans.
A man-for-man comparison is a bit pointless. Both sides have a plethora of hardworking journeymen alongside a couple of stars. The Highlanders have the best scrumhalf in the world, Aaron Smith, facing the less well known Felipe Ezcurra. The Jaguares have the massive boot and solidity of Emiliano Boffelli at fullback, while the Highlanders have the likes of Luke Whitelock and the returning Liam Squire on the bench.
Neither side features an overwhelming superiority of established international stars.
Statistically, the two sides are pretty even, with the Highlanders just shading the Jaguares in most areas, though the Highlanders have conceded tries more easily than their visitors, scoring 37 but conceding 36. The Jaguares have scored 33, but conceded just 24.
Those critical tackling stats tell us that the Jaguares have the second best defence in the competition, with an 86,7% tackle success rate, just 0,1% behind the table topping Crusaders.
In contrast the Highlanders have been pretty awful on defence, they sit down at 14thon the table with an 82,1% success rate, only the Sunwolves are worse.
The Highlanders have a slight edge in the scrums, but lineouts have been almost identical.
There is really not much to choose from between these two teams.
Travel fatigue may well take its toll on the Jaguares, the trip from Buenos Aires to Dunedin took all of 24 hours.
But the Jaguares are probably the side with the most experience of traveling long distances to play games.
Based on their ability to grind out wins, and the Highlanders wishy-washy season, I am taking a chance on this one.
The Jaguares, by 6.
Chiefs v Sharks
|Venue||GIO FMG Stadium, Hamilton|
|Date||Saturday 11 May|
|Kick-off||19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time|
The Sharks have an opportunity to do something no other South African team has ever done – to come home from Australasia unbeaten!
Their physicality and confrontational approach to the game very nearly gave them a win over the Crusaders last week, before their hosts earned a draw after the hooter had sounded, and they will have taken confidence from that performance, although there will be questions about their inability to score tries.
They face a Chiefs side that has all manner of issues of their own.
The Chiefs are playing without some of their biggest names. Damian McKenzie is out for the rest of the year, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane are both unavailable, and this week they will also be without lock Michael Allardice, who has a knee injury, and flank Lachlan Boshier with a back issue.
If ever the Chiefs are ripe for the plucking, it is this weekend!
Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has had to reshuffle his forward pack for their Super Rugby Round 13 clash against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Following injuries to Michael Allardice (ankle) and Lachlan Boshier (ribs) against the Highlanders last week, Tyler Ardron will shift into lock combining with Mitchell Brown.
Jesse Parete moves from the bench to start at No.6, with Luke Jacobson moving to No.8. Mitch Karpik returns from a knee injury to start on the openside.
Cooper has named an unchanged backline from the side that took the field in Dunedin. Scrumhalf Brad Weber will captain the side in the absence of co-captains Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane.
The reserves bench is largely unchanged with the exception of Pita Gus Sowakula named in jersey No.20 and utility back Alex Nankivell is named as the twenty third player.
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Jesse Parete, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Shaun Stevenson, 23 Alex Nankivell.
Robert du Preez has made three changes to his team’s starting line-up to face the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
Du Preez has made rotational changes to give a rest to certain players.
Up front, Hyron Andrews returns to the starting XV in place of Ruben van Heerden while Philip van der Walt moves to No.8 for Daniel du Preez.
Jacques Vermeulen comes into the starting XV at flank.
There is just one change to the backline with Marius Louw replacing Andre Esterhuizen.
Fezokuhle Mbatha, Tyler Paul, Luke Stringer and Kobus van Wyk all come onto the bench for Saturday’s clash.
Akker van der Merwe has returned home from the tour with a shoulder niggle. Mbatha joined the team earlier in the week as cover at hooker.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
This is a fairly easy call – The Sharks should win this game fairly easily. They have the forwards, they have the confidence, and they have some players in top form at the moment – Curwin Bosch in particular.
The Chiefs are depleted by injuries and struggling in almost every aspect of the game, save for carrying the ball where they are still as good as anyone in the game. The additional injuries to senior players, including stand-in captain Michael Allerdice, has robbed them of critical depth and experience.
Of course, there is the Sharks tendency to blow hot and cold from one week to the next, although that inconsistency seems to be reserved for games played in South Africa, and especially in Durban. Their supporters will be pleased that this fixture is being played Hamilton rather than back home in Durban.
On paper, the Sharks certainly have the edge up front, especially with their two starting props being Springboks, with hooker Kerron van Vuuren a solid block of a player too. The second row looks solid too, and there are the usual selection of big bruising loose forwards, despite Dan du Preez having the weekend off.
At the back the two teams are pretty much of a muchness, with the Chiefs having the edge in the midfield through Anton Lienert-Brown, and the serious strike running of Solomon Alaimalo. Curwin Bosch is perhaps the better of the two flyhalves, while Lukhanyo Am has been in good form in the outside centre berth.
Both teams have plenty of pace and finishing out wide, with the Chiefs more likely to spread the ball wide from the outset, while the Sharks will be looking to bash it up through Marius Louw. One team will be looking for tries, the other for territorial advantage and penalties earned from unrelenting pressure.
However, I have to return to the Sharks forward game, where the Chiefs are going to struggle to match the men from Durban.
This could be the winning of the game.
Many pundits are giving this game to the Chiefs, but I believe that they are a weakened side, low on confidence, facing a Sharks outfit that has a point to prove to all the doubters back at home.
I am going with the Sharks forward power subduing the Chiefs, while Curwin Bosch continues to slot the penalties.
The Sharks, by 12.
Lions v Waratahs
|Venue||Ellis Park, Johannesburg|
|Date||Saturday 11 May|
|Kick-off||15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT;|
The Lions are back at home after an overseas tour that provided some interesting results. A win, and a gutsy performance against the Crusaders suggests that the Lions are not to be written off yet, they still have a chance of making the playoffs despite their lowly position in the South African conference!
They will take on the Waratahs after a week off, which gave them time to recover from the rigours of touring and long haul travel, while allowing some of the bruises and niggles to dissipate a little.
Most importantly, the week off has also allowed some of their bigger and more influential players to return from injury and rest. Both Malcolm Marx and Warren Whiteley are slated to play this week, which provides the team with a massive boost at just the right time.
They face a Waratah outfit that has played a disjointed game in 2019. A friend of mine described their season as being one of spits and farts…… with just four wins, but somehow managing five bonus-point defeats, which puts them fourth in the Aussie conference but still with every chance of making the playoffs, they are just three points behind the joint Australian conference leaders the Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies.
I will be watching this game with some interest!
Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has named a team with multiple changes to face the Waratahs at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Warren Whiteley is back to lead the Lions after missing his side’s last match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Springboks Malcolm Marx and Courtnall Skosan are also back in the starting XV. Marx takes over the No.2 jersey again while Skosan is on the wing.
Harold Vorster takes over the No.12 jersey from Elton Jantjies with the latter moving back to flyhalf.
The other changes to the backline sees Andries Coetzee at fullback this week and Ross Cronje taking over the No.9 jersey from Nic Groom.
In the pack, Whiteley is joined in the back row by Vincent Tshituka at No.7 while Kwagga Smith holds onto the No.6 jersey.
The only change to the tight five is Marx’s return at hooker with Robbie Coetzee out of the matchday 23.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Sti Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Tyrone Green.
The dynamic back-row Michael Wells returns from a hamstring injury and will start at No.8, allowing Ned Hanigan to revert to his preferred blindside flank role.
But the head coach Darryl Gibson has resisted rushing Wallabies prop Tom Robertson and hooker Tolu Latu back in to the starting side against a Lions outfit that has lost the past three finals.
In the backline, centre Lalakai Foketi will start for the first time this season as Gibson manages the workload of veteran Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Hugh Sinclair, 20 Will Miller, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 23 Curtis Rona.
The return if both Warren Whiteley and Malcom Marx is very important to the Lions. These are the two real leaders in the team, with Whiteley providing the inspiration, the calm decision making, and on-field leadership that the team often misses when he is not there. Malcolm Marx provides the lead-from-the-front mongrel and attitude that inspires the rest of the forwards to higher endeavour. They will make a difference!
The Lions also take to the field a well-rested outfit, their bye weekend could not have come at a more fortuitous time.
The Waratahs have shown plenty of mongrel in many of their games, scrabbling and scrambling to stay in touch when it has looked as if they were about to be blown away. Last week against the Bulls proves the point. They have the players, but have just not seemed to have the cohesiveness and focus that those names might suggest would be second nature to a team overloaded with international players. I am often been reminded of the Jaguares in their first years of Super Rugby – a Test team when they wear the Pumas jersey, but a poor reflection of that Test outfit when they drag on the Jaguares strip. The Waratahs do seem to play so much better when they wear their alternate strip – that of the Wallabies!
The Waratahs away form has been less than spectacular, losing their last three games on the trot. They will, however, take heart from the fact that each of those three losses was by a margin of no greater than seven points.
A player-by-player analysis suggests that the Lions have the edge in the forwards, with their lineout being as good as it gets, and their scrum equally efficient. Their loose trio is boosted by the return of Whiteley, alongside Kwagga Smith and Vincent Tshituka, with Marnus Schoeman to come off the bench.
At the back, based purely on international caps and experience, the ‘Tahs seem to have the edge, although the Lions do have some pretty regular international selections in their squad. No single player on either side stands out as a massive influence or performer this year, with only Kurtley Beale making it into any of the regular stats for his passing and linebreaks and he is not in the Top Ten for any of those categories.
I would suggest that much of this game will revolve around match fitness and freshness, especially later in the game when the thin air of the Highveld starts to contribute to the game! That might just be the edge the Lions need.
I am going with a well-rested Lions, reinforced by having their captain and their first choice hooker back in the team, at home, and at altitude.
The Lions, by 12.
Sunday 12 May
Brumbies v Sunwolves
|Venue||GIO Stadium, Canberra|
|Date||Sunday 12 May|
|Kick-off||16h05 local; 06h05 GMT; 08h05 SA Time|
The Brumbies are favourites for a fifth home win on the trot when they host Sunwolves on Sunday.
Having beaten the Chiefs, Waratahs, Lions and Blues in their last four outings in Canberra, the Brumbies are right back in the Australian Conference reckoning as the season heads into the last six rounds, while Sunwolves are simply doing what they are paid to do, with nothing to play for except a bit of fun, and some bragging rights..
I will not be getting up early on Sunday to watch this game.
Dan McKellar has made three changes to the team that beat the Blues with Scott Sio, Darcy Swain and Tevita Kuridrani brought into the starting XV.
Sio continues his rotation with fellow Wallaby James Slipper at prop, Slipper being amongst the replacements, whilst Swain is promoted to take the place of Rory Arnold, the Australian international out due to injury.
Kuridrani meanwhile comes back at outside centre to reform the midfield partnership with Irae Simone that started in the wins against the Chiefs and Waratahs.
Christian Lealiifano will captain the side again, the 42nd time he has led the team onto the field, having passed the 900-point mark in Super Rugby during the Blues contest last Saturday.
Up front, Sio joins Allan Alaalatoa and Folau Fainga’a in a Wallabies front row in which hooker Fainga’a has been in inspirational try-scoring form, topping Super Rugby with ten tries in ten games.
Swain will form the lock partnership with Sam Carter whilst the back row remains the same, with flanks Tom Cusack and Jahrome Brown, and Pete Samu who is selected at number eight.
The replacements feature Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin and Connal McInerney as the front row replacements, alongside Slipper, with Murray Douglas and Blake Enever the other forward options.
Local young scrumhalf Ryan Lonergan, winger Andy Muirhead and centre Tom Wright complete the matchday squad providing the cover for the backs.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Tom Cusack, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Murray Douglas, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Tom Wright, 23 Andy Muirhead
There are, as usual, some changes to the Sunwolves starting XV that lost to the Reds in Brisbane in Round 12.
In the backline, Josh Timu takes over the No.13 jersey with Jason Emery moving to the wing.
Yu Tamura takes over at flyhalf from Hayden Parker.
In the pack, Dan Pryor moves into the back row in place of Kara Pryor, while in the second row Mark Abbott links up with Grant Hattingh.
The front row remains unchanged.
This team, with just 9 foreign legionnaires in the starting XV features the most Japanese-born players of any Sunwolves outfit since the start of the season. However, when we factor in the reserves, with seven foreigners and just one Japanese-born player, the equilibrium is once again restored to reflect the senselessness of a Japanese team with very few Japanese in it!
Sunwolves: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Gerhard Van Den Heever, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Jason Emery, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Conan O’Donnell, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Tom Rowe, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Ben Gunter, 22 Jamie Booth, 23 Hayden Parker.
I am trying really hard to say something about this game that might get you excited enough to turn on the TV and watch the game on a Sunday morning.
I cannot find anything.
The Brumbies have won all their previous Super Rugby games against the Sunwolves, scoring an average of 46 points per game.
The Brumbies have won six of their last seven Super Rugby games at home, including their last four on the trot.
The Sunwolves have done none of those things.
The Brumbies will win, by 21.