Super Rugby

Weekend Previews & Predictions

Round Fourteen

Two of the six Super Rugby matches scheduled for this weekend will probably have been played by the time you read this.

In Wellington the Hurricanes hosted the Jaguares, and were beaten 28 – 20

Over in Melbourne, the Bulls are taking on the Rebels, where the second half has commenced and the teams are level on 17-all as I finish this preview.

Izzy’s Gone, Or Is He?

Staying in Australia, the news is out that Izzy’s Gone.

Israel Folau’s rugby career is all but over as his contract with Australia Rugby was officially terminated on Friday over a string of controversial social media posts.

An independent panel of three legal specialists, John West QC, Kate Eastman SC, and John Boultbee last week found that Folau was guilty of a high-level Code of Conduct breach and on Friday it was confirmed that his four-year, multi-million dollar contract would be torn up.

Folau has 72 hours to appeal the decision, which would either trigger a second Code of Conduct hearing with the same evidence but a new panel, or he could push to take the fight to the Supreme Court.

Australian Rugby were fairly astute in the appointment of the independent panel, as all three members are learned individuals, with John West a Queen’s Council with an extensive legal practice, as well as being an accredited Mediator. Kate Eastman is a Senior Council, and a leading Australian human rights lawyer and academic. John Boultbee is also a qualified lawyer, and has made a name for himself as a sports administrator, particularly in relation to rowing and football. In 1990, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to rowing. He is Volleyball Australia’s Director of High Performance.

This was no kangaroo court, with all three panel members having impeccable reputations in Australian legal and sporting circles. If Izzy were to appeal the decision, it would be difficult to suggest that a different panel would come to a different conclusion. 

Israel Folau will need to consider his options very carefully, as the cost of further legal action might be draining on his pocket!

It could all have been so different.

Rugby is the loser. We are deprived of the pleasure of watching a skilful and exciting rugby player doing what he does best. Rugby Australia is deprived of one of their leading Wallabies, whilst the entire issue has driven a wedge between those that support Israel Folau and those that do not.

Let’s hope that this saga is finally over.

Saturday’s Games

On Saturday in Auckland, the Blues will host the Chiefs, where Glen Jackson will be the referee for that match. Yep, once again the idea of neutral referees is ground beneath the Sanzaar heel – Jackson played 60 games for the Chiefs before he picked up the whistle. No possible bias there then?

Over in Brisbane Ben O’Keeffe will actually be a neutral referee when the Reds host the Waratahs. 

Back in Johannesburg it is a home-town referee again, as Rasta Rasivhenge carries the whistle when the Lions host the Highlanders. Rasta went to Jeppe High School, and attended Wits University, just to make sure that he is one of the Lions’ homeboys.

The weekend closes in Cape Town where the Stormers host the Crusaders in a game where Australian Nic berry will blow the whistle. 

Any News on Egon Seconds?

We have to read between the lines here. 

Sanzaar have tried to use a “squad” system for their referees in 2019, with the same three referees and a TMO working together as much as possible. The three referees rotate between carrying the whistle and the flags from game to game, while the TMO sometimes travels with them but is often replaced by a home-town referee when the refereeing squad is far from home. 

Egon Seconds has been a regular member of a squad that consists of Jaco Peyper, Rasta Rasivhenge, and TMO Willie Vos.

This week Seconds’ name is missing from that squad, replaced by a relative unknown, Griffin Colby.

Does this mean that Sanzaar have taken some form of action against Seconds after his dismal performance last weekend? Have they suspended him, or sent him off for some remedial training?

We will never know, because Sanzaar’s handling of referees is shrouded in mystery. 

My guess is that Seconds has time out to attend a wedding or a birthday party somewhere………….

Saturday 18 May

Blues v Chiefs

Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Date Saturday 18 May
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time
Referee Glen Jackson
AR1 Nick Briant
AR2 Dan Waenga
TMO Glenn Newman

For those with a penchant for mathematics, both these teams still have a chance of making the playoffs. 

With those with a penchant for laying bets with their local bookmakers, this might not be one where you should be putting your kids’ inheritance on the line. The Chiefs have 23 log points, and the Blues 21. The leaders in the NZ conference have 47 and 40 points respectively, while the mid-table Highlanders have 29.

If you want to place a bet that you might have a chance of winning, then I suggest that you consider discussing the odds with your bookie that the Chiefs or the Blues might pass the Highlanders on the log for third place. There is some likelihood of that happening.

All logic, all reality, and simple common sense says that neither the Chiefs nor the Blues are going to catch the Crusaders or the Hurricanes.

With this in mind, we look ahead to the clash between the Blues and the Chiefs on Saturday.

One of those end-of-season going-through-the-motions fixtures that Super Rugby has served up with consistent regularity in recent years.

I have no doubt that both teams will give it a go. I have no doubt that the game could be quite entertaining too. New Zealand derbies are often highly entertaining.

But that is all that I can find to get excited about in this game.

Team News:

The Blues:

Leon MacDonald has made four changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s derby with the Chiefs in Auckland.

MacDonald has retained the bulk of his run-on side with Scott Scrafton moving in to start at lock after an impressive performance against the Hurricanes last weekend.

Other changes include Alex Hodgman coming in at loosehead prop, with All Black Karl Tu’inukuafe set to make his impact off the bench, Jonathan Ruru will start at scrum-half with Sam Nock out injured, and speedster Caleb Clarke will take up his starting position on the right wing replacing the injured Tanielu Tele’a.

Loose forward Dalton Papalii retains the number six jersey after a strong performance last weekend, while the physically imposing Tom Robinson is set to make his return from concussion, off the pine.

Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (cc), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (cc), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Lua Li, 18 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tom Robinson, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Matt Duffie

The Chiefs:

Chiefs coach Colin Cooper has named a strong matchday squad to take on the Blues in their Super Rugby derby at Eden Park on Saturday.

Cooper welcomes the return of co-captain Sam Cane. Named on the bench in jersey number 20, Cane will take the field for the first time this Super Rugby season after sustaining a neck fracture while on duty for the All Blacks in a Rugby Championship Test against the Springboks in Pretoria last year.

Brad Weber will continue to captain the side from scrum-half.

Angus Ta’avao will start at tighthead in his 100th Super Rugby match, shifting Nepo Laulala to the bench. A new locking combination of Jesse Parete and Mitchell Brown will take the field, with Tyler Ardron back at No.8. 

Pita Gus Sowakula will start at six in place of Luke Jacobson who sustained a head knock at training.

Again Cooper has named an unchanged back-line from the side that took the field against the Sharks in Hamilton.

Joining Cane on the reserves bench, loosehead prop Aidan Ross returns from his neck injury and Waikato loose forward Mitchell Jacobson will be hoping to make his Super Rugby debut in jersey number 19.

Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber (c), 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Pita Gus Sowakula, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Jesse Parete, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Mitchell Jacobson, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Shaun Stevenson, 23 Alex Nankivell

Thoughts:

I am struggling to get excited about this game. 

I am a Chiefs fan, I love the unrestricted and adventurous way they play the game of rugby. I love those offloads and those unexpected explosive moments that they produce with remarkable regularity.

Sadly, in 2019 they have been nowhere near the team we know they can be. Injuries have robbed them of some of their serious firepower and game-breakers, whilst the chequebook wielding poachers from the north have also sucked away some of their better players. Sam Cane might be making his return this week, but there is still no sign of Brodie Retallick, Michael Allerdice, Damian McKenzie is out for the rest of the year, the list just goes on and on. No team can hope to perform consistently when they are constantly having to shuffle the deck as one player after another drops out or comes back from the rehabilitation centre.

The Blues, in contrast, are a team in serious need for some time in the rehab centre. 

In the ward marked “Depression”….

This is a team that almost seems to have symptoms of a collective bi-polar condition. Sometimes they are on a serious high, with smiling faces, bright eyes, and superb stylish rugby, then they fall to the lowest of lows, as their eyes take on that startled rabbit look, their shoulders droop, and their game falls to pieces.

These are two teams with nothing but pride on the line this weekend.

The Chiefs have not lost to the Blues in their last 15 encounters, while the Blues have only won 2 of their last 35 Super Rugby derbies against fellow New Zealanders.

However, the Chiefs have lost their last four away games in New Zealand, which might tell us where this game is going.

The Blues, surprisingly, have the best scrum in 2019 Super Rugby with a 97% success rate, and this might well be the phase of play where they take on the depleted Chiefs. The Chiefs scrum has not been bad, but at 92% it is a bit behind that of the Blues. 

Their lineout stats are almost identical, as are their ruck figures.

The attacking stats show us that the two teams are almost identical in their number of carries and meters made, with the Chiefs carrying the ball 1436 times, and the Blues 1437 times. The Blues have made 4982 meters with the ball in hand, the Chiefs 4941.

However, in the two critical attacking categories, defenders beaten and tries scored, the Chiefs are way ahead of the Blues. The Blues have beaten 113 defenders, the Chiefs 154, while the Chiefs, despite their lowly log position, have scored the third most tries in the competition, 44, while the Blues are down at 30.

A player-by-player comparison yields little to suggest that one team is better than the other.

We will simply have to choose the winner by some other, non-scientific, method.

Prediction:

I have gone with home-ground advantage favouring the Blues.

The Blues by 9.

Reds v Waratahs

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Date Saturday 18 May
Kick-off 19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time
Referee Ben O’Keeffe
AR1 Angus Gardner
AR2 Damon Murphy
TMO James Leckie

Every country has a “traditional” derby match in every rugby season. In South Africa it the great North vs South battle when the Stormers/WP take on the Bulls/NTvl. 

The Australian equivalent is the Queensland Reds playing against the NSW Waratahs. The match between these two sides usually draws the largest crowd of the year, especially when the game is played in Brisbane. The teams compete for the Bob Templeton Cup.

John Eales, iconic Wallaby captain said of these derbies “the most hard fought fights are fighting with your brother in the backyard”. 

There have been 305 matches between the two teams, with the ‘Tahs well in the lead with well over 180 wins, and the Reds with over 90, with 12 drawn. 

Since the start of Super Rugby in 1996, the two have met 17 times, with the Reds winning 9, the ‘Tahs 7, and one match being drawn. 

In recent times it has been the Waratahs that have the upper hand.

The Reds’ last win over the Waratahs was back in July 2013, and they are currently on a 10-match losing streak against their arch rivals.

With the playoffs looming on the horizon, both these teams are still in with a chance of making it to the quarterfinals. The Reds sit in third position in the Australian Conference and the Waratahs just one point adrift in fourth spot.

The Brumbies, who have a bye, top the conference with 29 points from 12 matches. Their nearest challengers are the Rebels, who have 28 points from 11 matches, followed by the Reds on 23 from 11 and then the Waratahs with 22 from 11. There are just 7 points between the top of the log and the fourth placed side, which tells us that anything can happen.

Team News:

The Reds:

The Reds have made two changes to their starting XV for Saturday’s clash against the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium.

Hamish Stewart is out this week with injury. This sees Matt McGahan make his debut for the Reds after recovering from a broken leg in the pre-season. McGahan will make his debut at fullback.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto returns to the starting side at blindside flank, seeing Angus Scott-Young shift to No.8.

There are a further two changes to the reserves, as Scott Higginbotham takes his place on the bench, while Seb Wileman could potentially make his Super Rugby debut after being recalled to the Reds’ 23.

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

The Waratahs:

The Waratahs have named their side to play the Reds in Round 14 of Super Rugby.

Looking for their 11th consecutive win against the Reds, the Waratahs have ome changes to the starting XV.

Getting his first start for 2019 after missing the first half of the season with injury, Tom Robertson will start at loosehead prop.

Adam Ashely-Cooper and Lachlan Swinton also return to the starting XV, with Ashley-Cooper preparing to celebrate his 150th Super Rugby match on Saturday.

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

Thoughts:

The Reds have been consistent in their inconsistency all season, with ups and downs of an almost metronomic regularity. Their last five weeks read “Win, Lose, Win, Win, Lose” and they have won 5 and lost six of the eleven they have played in 2019. Last week they lost to the Rebels in Melbourne, in a game that again exposed a couple of problems with the Reds game plan in 2019.  

Their attack has relied solely on Samu Kerevi to create plays in the midfield, looking for him to smash a hole or two in opposing defences and thus opening gaps for others to play into. There is not much more to the Reds back play than that.

Their forwards have relied heavily on their big front rowers Taniela Tupou and the Smith twins as primary ball carriers, again looking for muscle power to smash holes, but not achieving the kind of success that they hope for.

On the other hand, the star-studded Waratah team has consistently failed to deliver. They do score an average of 23 points per game, but they simply do not seem capable of winning games that are within their reach! 

They have the names, the Beales, Hunts, Hoopers, Foleys, Ashley-Coopers, Hanigans and Simmons’, but they do not seem to gel as a team. The Waratahs remind one of a badly tuned V8 motor engine, with the cylinders firing weirdly out of sequence, if they fire at all.

Doing a statistical analysis of these two teams is a pointless exercise, while a man-for-man analysis suggests that the Waratahs are so much better endowed that they simply have to pitch up to win.

But pitching up has not been the Waratahs strength in 2019.

They will, however, take heart from the Reds recent somewhat woeful record against the ‘Tahs. 

Prediction:

Difficult one to call. The Reds are at home, and they will have the crowd with them, but the Waratahs must, surely, start firing on all cylinders sometime?

I have gone with the Waratahs by 10, but I could be completely misguided.

Lions v Highlanders

Venue: Park, Johannesburg
Date Saturday 18 May
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT; 01.05 Sunday, May 19 NZ time
Referee Rasta Rasivhenge
AR1 Jaco Peyper
AR2 Griffin Colby
TMO Willie Vos

Back in my Army days when we were out in the bush we used to have to regularly report our position and situation back to headquarters by means of a portable radio. In order to keep the radio transmission as short as possible, minimising the possibility of our position being established by means of radio-location devices, we used a form of spoken short-hand when we reported. 

We would say our unit call sign, identifying who we were, something of the order of “Charlie Three”and then given our position, in a special prearranged code called “Slidex” – which could read “X-ray, Seven, Three, Alpha, Alpha, One”– with those formalities done, signalled by the word “Continuing” we would then give a concise report of what we had seen or done since the previous time we had made communications contact. This usually went: “November, Tango, Romeo, Sierra, Romeo, Tango, Sierra, Out”– Headquarters would acknowledge receipt simply by saying “Zero Out!”it was all over in a second or two. 

That last bit – The “November, Tango, Romeo, Sierra, Romeo, Tango, Sierra, Out”bit – translates to: “Nothing to report, situation remains the same, Goodbye”

Which is how I would suggest we discuss the announcement of all Lions’ teams in future.

November, Tango, Romeo, Sierra, Romeo, Tango, Sierra….

In the Lions case it would mean: “Nothing to report, Warren Whiteley is injured again.”

Which is where we will start our discussion of the clash between the Lions and the Highlanders.

Interestingly, both teams are still in the running for a playoff spot, although the Highlanders probably have to rely on finishing the season ranked in the top eight on the overall log and thus qualifying for a wild-card spot in the playoffs. They have the Crusaders 18 points ahead of them in the New Zealand conference, followed by the Hurricanes 11 points ahead. Their chances of overhauling those two appear pretty slim.

At the moment the Highlanders are ensconced in the 5thposition on the overall log, with 29 points from their 12 games. They are surrounded by the likes of the Jaguares, the Bulls, the Sharks, the Rebels and the Lions in the scrap for a top eight finish.

The Lions sit outside the top eight at the moment, in 9thposition with 26 point from 11 starts. They have a game in hand over the Highlanders.

The closeness of the South African conference has been discussed at length, so we will not go there again here, suffice to say that the Lions still have a chance to top the conference, although they might have to work extra-hard, especially with the news that the Jaguares beat the Hurricanes 28 – 20 this morning.

Both teams have everything to play for.

Team News:

The Lions:

The Lions will take on Highlanders without there increasingly irregular “regular” captain Warren Whiteley.

The 31-year-old has already missed a large chunk of the 2019 Super Rugby season because of a pectoral injury, and then a wonky knee, and has again been sidelined, this time due to a bruised knee.

Whiteley’s absence, yet again, means that hooker Malcolm Marx retains the captain’s armband.

Changes to the team see Dylan Smith replacing Sti Sithole in the front row.

Kwagga Smith moves to No.8 and Marnus Schoeman comes in at six with Cyle Brink wearing number seven jersey.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee; 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi; 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje; 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (Captain), 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Vincent Tshituka, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Tyrone Green

The Highlanders:

The Highlanders have switched their back-row to take on the Lions on Saturday, with Shannon Frizell named at number eight.

Frizell’s positional move sees regular number eight Luke Whitelock start on the blindside flank.

Elliot Dixon earns a well-earned break from action this weekend and Dillon Hunt completes a new-look back-row with James Lentjes heading to the bench. Josh Dickson and Tom Franklin will start as the second-row combination and Tyrel Lomax replaces Siate Tokolahi at tighthead prop.

In the backs, Waisake Naholo returns from a lengthy injury break and will ease into the action off the bench. Teihorangi Walden will partner with Rob Thompson in the midfield and Patelesio Tomkinson will move to the wing to cover for the injured Tevita Li. Daniel Hollinshead will again cover the pivot position.

Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patelesio Tomkinson, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Shannon Frizell, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Luke Whitelock (c), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 James Lentjes, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Daniel Hollinshead, 23 Waisake Naholo

Thoughts:

The Highlanders are on something of a winning streak, with three wins and a draw in their last four starts, while the Lions have been doing the South African thing of losing and winning with clockwork regularity. They have won 2 and lost two of their last four games.

The Lions do have home advantage, but have to play the game without the calming influence and thinking of Warren Whiteley. When he has been available, they have been a far better outfit than without him.

Much of this game will revolve around the tempo that the Lions bring to the game. When they are playing off the front foot and Elton Jantjies gets the freedom to dictate play, they are as dangerous as any New Zealand team. They can, and often do, rip opposition defences to shreds. Off the back-foot they have been terrible.

The Highlanders have been struggling to find a consistent game plan, and will also be missing the calming leadership of Ben Smith, who may well have played the last Super Rugby game of his glittering career.

There is really nothing worth mentioning in their statistical records that separates the two teams. Neither have been outstanding in any one aspect of their play.

The Lions, perhaps, have a slight edge in the lineouts, while the Highlanders edge the scrums.

Neither side has been great shakes at defending their tryline, The Highlanders have been breached 39 times and the Lions 41. Last week it seemed that the Lions had decided to abandon defence as a part of their game plan altogether.

Man-for-man there is also very little to choose between the two outfits. Malcolm Marx is perhaps the outstanding player in the Lions, with Aaron Smith putting his hand up for the Highlanders.

Neither side has effectively dominated anyone this year, and neither side has any specific tactical advantage over the other.

Pretty much of a muchness then.

Prediction:

With so little to suggest a differential between these two teams, I will go with home-ground advantage being the Lions best weapon.

The Lions, by 9.

Stormers v Crusaders

Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Date Saturday 18 May
Kick-off 17h15 local (SA Time); 15h15 GMT
Referee Nic Berry
AR1 Marius van der Westhuizen
AR2 AJ Jacobs
TMO Marius Jonker

I would dearly love to suggest that the Stormers have anything more than an outsider’s chance of beating the high-flying Crusaders on Saturday. 

But I cannot say that. 

They do have a chance, just as much as anyone has a chance of winning the lottery, if you buy a ticket. 

Much like your chance of winning the lottery, the Stormers chances appear slim at best.

The Stormers have been metronomically inconsistent in 2019, with wins and losses swinging like a pendulum with each week. (Based simply on this regularity, the Stormers should win this one! Their most recent game was a loss, so they should be in line for a win……)

The Crusaders arrive at Newlands on a high, after smashing the Bulls at Loftus last weekend, producing one of the cleverest and most complete rugby performances of the year as they toyed with the Bulls the way a cat plays with a mouse before getting bored by the whole idea, administering the coup de grâce blow, and then consuming the ex-mouse as lunch.

They will be looking for dessert at Newlands.

The Stormers best hope is to throw all caution to the winds and to go out onto Newlands with the idea of having some fun. 

Team News:

The Stormers:

The Stormers have been boosted by the return of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende for their game against the Crusaders at Newlands.

De Allende takes his place in midfield alongside fly-half Joshua Stander, with Jean-Luc du Plessis and Dan Kriel on the replacements bench.

In the pack, Kolisi and Du Toit are on the flanks with Jaco Coetzee at the back of the scrum, while Cobus Wiese starts in the second-row next to Eben Etzebeth.

The only front-row change comes on the replacements bench, with the experienced Frans Malherbe set to provide an impact in the second half.

Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Cobus Wiese, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Kobus van Dyk, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Dan Kriel

The Crusaders:

The Crusaders have been boosted by the return of All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock for their clash with the Stormers.

Scott Robertson has made three changes to the side that ran in seven tries in their 45-13 bonus-point win over the Bulls last Friday.

In the front-row, Joe Moody will be rested this week, allowing a leg wound he sustained against the Bulls, to heal. George Bower will start at loosehead prop and Harry Allan provides cover in the reserves.

Whitelock returns to captain the side from the second-row, having re-joined the squad in Cape Town earlier this week. The final change to the side sees Ethan Blackadder get an opportunity to start on the blindside flank, with Jordan Taufua shifting to the bench.

The Crusaders’ back-line remains unchanged from last weekend’s game.

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor

Thoughts:

Interestingly, on paper, the Stormers are not a bad side at all. 

They have some really exciting rugby players in their squad, and some real stalwarts too. They have the likes of Damian Willemse and Dillyn Leyds, who can create havoc with the ball in hand. They have Damian de Allende who has been the form 12 in South African rugby this year. They have the power of Kitshoff, Mbonambi, and Louw in the front row, backed up by Malherbe on the bench. The second row features the massive presence of Eben Etzebeth, the loose trio has Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi.

I have no doubt that many, if not all of these names will feature in the Springbok squad that is announced for the Rugby World Cup later in the year.

One must just hope that as Springboks they will find some continuity and consistency, something that has been sorely missing from the Stormers all year.

There seems to be a disconnect between the forwards and the backs. The Stormers pack has produced some powerhouse performances, dominating their opponents and producing more than sufficient good ball for the backs, only for the latter to squander opportunities faster than Donald Trump tweets insults.

The inability of the Stormers to gel into a focussed unit lies at the root of their lowly 10thposition on the log and their last place in the South African conference.

This week they come up against a Crusaders outfit in the best of form, evidenced by their demolition of the Bulls a week ago. The forward unit is as solid as a rock, while the back division has been in the best of form, with the entire machine coordinated and managed by a young flyhalf who has played some seriously good rugby in recent weeks.

Richie Mo’unga is, perhaps, the real difference between these two teams. His pinpoint accuracy with the tactical boot is coupled to a direct style of play that creates opportunity after opportunity for his backline to exploit.

And that backline has all the firepower they need to exploit every opportunity!

Mo’unga faces off against Josh Stander, a solid, workmanlike flyhalf, but not a great creator of opportunities. Stander is safe, rather than exciting. He has replaced coach Fleck’s favourite, the woefully out-of-form Jean-Luc du Plessis for this game, although du Plessis lurks on the bench. One wonders why Damian Willemse has not been given the chance to run the backline?

The Stormers biggest opportunity lies in the set-pieces.

The Crusaders go into this game with three of their top-flight props out of action. Joe Moody has joined his fellow All Blacks Owen Franks and Tim Perry on the sidelines, after doing his knee against the Bulls last week. Moody has been replaced by rookie Crusader George Bower, who will make his first start of the season, after earning four caps off the bench.

The Stormers will eye the Crusaders front row as the one weakness that they could conceivably exploit.

However, just as Joe Moody gets sidelined, the Crusader second row strengthens, with the return of Sam Whitelock to partner the seriously in-form Scott Barrett in an full All Black partnership.

The two loose trios look well matched.

If we venture to the stats records, we find two teams so far apart in every category that there is really no point in making any comparison. In every one of the attacking stats, the Crusaders feature at the top, usually No.1, but never lower than No.3.

The Stormers do not. Period.

In the set-pieces the Stormers do have a slight edge in the lineouts, and parity at scrum time, while the two teams are barely separated in the tackling stats.

There is one very significant difference between these two teams that must be emphasised. 

The Crusaders have scored 55 tries in Super Rugby 2019. 

The best in the entire competition. 

The Stormers have scored just 22 tries, less than half the number scored by their visitors this weekend and the worst in the entire competition.

And therein lies the real difference between the two sides. 

One creates and takes their chances, the other has created, then squandered, more chances than should be legal.

Prediction:

I have nailed my colours to the mast on numerous occasions. I am a Stormers fan. I played my best rugby in the Western Province. I gained my formal qualifications as a coach in the Western Province. I coached at one of the finest clubs in all the world down in the Cape, and I again live in the Western Province after wandering around for a couple of decades. 

My kids used to wear Stormers jerseys on weekends when the team played. (Their own choice, they bought them with their own money!)

I also believe that the Stormers have much potential as a team, but are nowhere near achieving it.

As much as I would like to suggest the Stormers will win this game, I have to accept stark reality. They will not.

The Crusaders, by 14.