Super Rugby

Weekend Previews & Predictions

Round Fifteen – Saturday

From Friday’s Preview:

If You are accused of shooting yourself in the foot. What do you do?

If you are Sanzaar, you yell out: “RELOAD!” and do it again.

The referee appointment circus for the 7-match 15thround of Super Rugby starts in Hamilton, where Australian referee Angus Gardner will carry the whistle when the Chiefs host the Reds. 

Yep, an Australian referee will handle the game. At least he was not born in Brisbane, like Damon Murphy was….

That same evening, across the Tasman, the Brumbies will play the Bulls. 

You can see where this is going, can’t you? 

Yep, South African Jaco Peyper will be the referee.

Why has Jaco Peyper not been sent to Hamilton for the Chiefs/Reds game? It is not as if he has not already had to come all the way from South Africa, so it is not some cost saving measure by Sanzaar to stop his journey in Canberra?

On Saturday, in Tokyo the Sunwolves face the Rebels.  Nick Briant will be in charge, a neutral referee at last. 

Kiwi referee Mike Fraser has the whistle for the NZ Conference derby between the Crusaders and Blues in Christchurch. (Why could he not have officiated in the Brumbies vs Bulls match, with Angus Gardner taking the whistle in the Crusaders/Blues match?)

In Sydney the Waratahs play the Jaguares. Paul Williams is the referee. Another neutral at last.

The weekend closes with two matches in South Africa. The Stormers host the Highlanders in Cape Town with Australian Nic Berry in charge. The final match sees an all-South African clash between the Sharks and Lions with Marius van der Westhuizen running the game. Swapping Paul Williams and Marius van Der Westhuizen would have ensured a wholly neutral referee here too.

Sanzaar Referee boss, Lyndon Bray, and his faceless team of fellow administrators are usually deafeningly silent about the refereeing controversies that rage across the Southern Hemisphere. They usually make no suggestion that they are hearing the complaints of the coaches, players, the media, and even the national coaches, and simply persist with their senseless practice of appointing home-town referees.

This week the silence remains, although we can read between the lines that something must have happened. Rasta Rasivhenge and TMO Marius Jonker were initially scheduled to do duty this weekend at Newlands – where the Stormers host the Highlanders – but both have disappeared off the list of match official appointments. Australia’s Nic Berry takes control of the match instead of Rasivhenge‚ while TMO duties now fall to Willie Vos.

Sanzaar have, apparently, told Scott Robertson of the Crusaders that Marius Jonker’s forward pass decision was wrong.

That may be so, but we have still to see Sanzaar admitting the error publicly.

In the meantime, we can expect Sanzaar to continue to yell out:

Steady! Aim! Fire!

Friday’s Games are done and dusted, the Chiefs downed the Reds, and Angus Gardner confirmed that home-town decisions by non-neutral referees would again be art of the conversation when this weekend is over. In the 5thminute of the game he, together with his TMO, disallowed a try by Chiefs wing Etene Nanai-Seturo. Even the usually jingoistic Aussie commentators were surprised by the no-try decision.

Thank you Sanzaar, for ensuring yet another bullet hole in your own foot!

The Bulls were also forced to bend the knee to the Brumbies, by22-10. The win extends the Brumbies lead at the top of the Australian conference and moves them into second on the overall ladder.

 Saturday 25 May

Sunwolves v Rebels

Venue: Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo
Date Saturday 25 May
Kick-off 14h15 local; 05h15 GMT; 07h15 SA Time; 15h15 Melbourne time
Referee Nick Briant
AR1 Federico Anselmi
AR2 Shuhei Kubo
TMOMinoru Fuji

There is all sorts of hype going on as media hacks try and convince us that this game is:

  1. Important
  2. Worth Watching
  3. Likely to be close
  4. Critical for both sides.

It is nothing of the sort. 

The Rebels on 28 points are all of 14 points clear of the Sunwolves on the log, with the Sunwolves not in contention for anything other than the wooden spoon, which they seem to be fiercely protecting for all they are worth.

The Rebels will be looking for a full 5 points from this one to keep their challenge for top spot in the Aussie conference alive.

That is about all we can say about this game.

Team News:

Sunwolves:

The Sunwolves have , as is their habit, made all kinds of changes to their squad for this game against the Rebels in Tokyo on Saturday.

Amanaki Mafi returns to the starting XV in the No.8 jersey.

Winger Semisi Masirewa also returns to the side.

The other changes to the backline from their last match against the Brumbies sees Jason Emery take over from Ryohei Yamanaka at fullback, while Hayden Parker returns to the flyhalf position in place of Yu Tamura.

In the pack, Mafi is joined in the back row by Dan Pryor and Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco.

In the second row, Luke Thompson takes over the No.5 jersey from Grant Hattingh.

There is one change to the front row with Nathan Vella replacing Shota Horie at hooker.

Twelve of the starting XV are non-Japanese born players.

Sunwolves: 15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard Van Den Heever, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Nathan Vella, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Conan O’Donnell, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Hosea Saumaki, 23 Takuya Yamasawa.

Rebels:

Hooker Jordan Uelese is in line to play in his first Super Rugby match since Round 16, 2018 after the 22-year-old was named in the replacements to face the Sunwolves this Saturday in Tokyo.

Adam Coleman and Tom English have also returned to the side after missing the side’s last round loss to the Bulls.

Coleman will start after returning from a shoulder injury sustained in Round 10 against the Waratahs.

The return of Coleman to the forward pack highlights four other changes to the starting XV, with Matt Gibbon and Hugh Roach to start at prop and hooker respectively, while Richard Hardwick has been moved from flank to eight.

Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Tom English.

Thoughts:

This is one of those fixtures that Super Rugby coughs up every year as the season starts winding down and the playoffs loom. A nothing game of rugby.

The Sunwolves, with nothing to play for and nowhere to go, must fulfil their playing obligations.

The Rebels will see this game as a log point gathering exercise and not much more than that.

I really cannot see any merit in doing a full stats analysis of the two teams, nor a player-by-player analysis.

The Rebels should have the edge in every department, save for the goal kicking of Hayden Parker.

Prediction:

The Rebels, by at the very least 18 points.

Crusaders v Blues

Venue: Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
Date Saturday 25 May
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time
Referee Mike Fraser
AR1 Brendon Pickerill
AR2 Glen Jackson
TMO Aaron Paterson

If the previous game was a recipe for boredom, this one will at least provide for some interest and potential excitement.

The Blues will have taken note of the way both the Sharks and the Stormers tamed the Crusader forwards and used a disciplined rush defence to shut down one of the most dangerous attacking backlines in the game.

They will also take note of the fact that the Crusaders are just seeming to wobble a bit as the season starts dragging towards its inevitable end. It seems that nothing can stop the Crusaders from winning top spot in the Kiwi Conference, they are on 49 points and their only likely challengers, the Hurricanes are back on 40. But two draws in their last three outings, together with some off-field distractions, suggests that the Crusader machine is just a little bit wobbly.

Can the Blues use this knowledge and take advantage?

Team News:

The Crusaders:

All Blacks George Bridge and Richie Mo’unga have retained their places in the Crusaders starting line-up despite an independent inquiry hanging over their heads after allegations that they were involved in inappropriate and offensive behaviour while on tour in South Africa.

All of the changes to the side this week are in the forward pack, including the return of Joe Moody at loosehead prop, shifting George Bower to the reserves.

At hooker, Andrew Makalio will start this game in place of Codie Taylor, and Brodie McAlister is set to make his Super Rugby debut from the bench.

Kieran Read is on All Blacks rest this week, and there is a reshuffle in the loose forwards which sees Jordan Taufua move from No.8 to blindside, Whetu Douglas starts at No.8 and Ethan Blackadder provides cover on the bench.

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 George Bower, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ethan Blackadder, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.

The Blues:

Leon MacDonald had made just two changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s Super Rugby derby with the Crusaders in Christchurch.

In-form hooker Leni Apisai gets his second start, joining props Alex Hodgman and Ofa Tuungafasi.

Akira Ioane will make his 31st straight Super Rugby start in the loose forward trio with co-captain Blake Gibson and Tom Robinson, who replaces Dalton Papalii.

The backline is unchanged. 

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 Tom Robinson, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (cc), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Lua Li, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua

Thoughts:

This game is in Christchurch, where the Crusaders are well-nigh unstoppable. They have won 25 and drawn 1 of their last 26 games at home. 

Their opponents are a team against whom the Crusaders have won 10 of their last 11 games.

The Blues have won just four of their last 39 games against New Zealand teams, and all four those wins were at home in Auckland.

Just those numbers should be enough for anyone wanting to choose between these two sides when making their weekly predictions.

We could go to the stats, the Crusaders have scored 58 tries, the Blues 34. The Crusaders have conceded just 24 tries all season, the Blues have conceded 35.

The Crusaders have a positive points difference if 179, the Blues have a negative points balance of -8.

Do you want some more figures?

The Crusaders have made 175 clean breaks in 2019, the best of all the teams in Super Rugby. The Blues have made 127, 8thon the table.

Both sides have carried the ball a lot, the Blues 1572 times, and the ‘Saders 1546 times. Crusaders have carried the ball for 5831 meters, the Blues for 5417 meters. The Crusaders have beaten 312 defenders, the Blues 297.

All their game stats are pretty similar, except in the scrums where the Blues do have the edge.

But the critical numbers, the scoring opportunities converted into points, are the ones that separate these two teams somewhat dramatically.

It all comes down to two words – Calmness, and Patience.

The Crusaders are masters of both. The Blues are not.

And that is about all we need to know.

Prediction:

The Crusaders, at home, will win by 12 or more.

Waratahs v Jaguares

Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta
Date Saturday 25 May
Kick-off 19h45 local;  09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time; 06.45 Argentina Time.
Referee Paul Williams
AR1 Egon Seconds
AR2 Jaco Peyper
TMO Ian Smith

The Waratahs will be eyeing the Jaguares with a certain amount of caution, apprehension even. This Argentinean team has shown exactly what they are capable of doing by downing the Hurricanes in their own backyard. 

The Aussies will also know that they have never beaten the Jaguares! 

In 2017 they lost at home when the Jaguares downed them 40 – 27. In 2018 they lost in Buenos Aires by 38 -28.

They will also know that their own season hangs by a thread. They have played 12, won 5 and lost 7. No matter that their last nine Super Rugby games were decided by less than 10 points on the day, they still managed to lose 6 of those nine games!

If they lose this one, their season may well be over.

On 26 points, they lag behind the conference leaders, the Brumbies, by 13 points, and the second placed Rebels by 2 points. The Rebels are likely to take a full complement of 5 points this weekend, and the Brumbies have already banked a bonus point win over the Bulls, stretching their top of the table points lead to 39 points.

If the Waratahs lose, they remain on 26 points, perhaps 27 if they can scrape a bonus point, but that will stretch the Brumbies to 12 or 13 point lead, and that is not one the ‘Tahs look likely to overhaul.

The Jaguares, on the other hand, are somewhat enigmatically eyeing the top spot in the SA Conference and a home quarterfinal. A win will ensure that they keep their hands on that top spot!

Team News:

Waratahs:

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has not rested his key Wallabies, naming his first unchanged starting line-up of the season for Saturday’s crucial showdown with the Jaguares in Sydney. He simply cannot afford to throw second-stringers at the Jaguares!

Jed Holloway returns via the bench from a three-week suspension, replacing lock Tom Staniforth, while Andrew Tuala is the new reserve hooker in place of the suspended Tolu Latu.

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Cam 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 Andrew Tuala, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Will Miller, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Curtis Rona.

Jaguares:

Gonzalo Quesada has made eight changes to the team that upset the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend.

In the backline, Santiago Carreras takes over the No.14 jersey from Sebastian Cancelliere with Matias Orlando moving into the midfield to replace Matias Moroni, who drops down to the bench.

There is a change at flyhalf with Domingo Miotti starting ahead of Joaquín Díaz Bonilla.

In the pack, Tomás Lezana is the new face in the back row with Juan Manual Leguizamon dropping down to the bench.

In the second row, Marcos Kremer takes over the No.5 jersey from Tomás Lavanini.

Quesada has opted to change his entire front row with Santiago Medrano, Julian Montoya and Mayco Vivas coming in for Enrique Pieretto, Agustin Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.

Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Santiago Carreras, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente (captain), 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Lucio Sordoni, 19 Tomás Lavanini, 20 Juan Manual Leguizamon, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Matias Moroni.

Thoughts:

On paper the Waratahs should walk all over the Jaguares. An almost full Wallaby lineup against an almost full Pumas lineup. Sixth in the World Rugby rankings versus tenth in the rankings.

Except that roles are reversed a little in Super Rugby 2019. The Jaguares are ranked 5thin the Super Rugby standings, and the Waratahs are 10th.

The Jaguares have won 7 of their 12 games in 2019, the ‘Tahs have lost 7.

The Jaguares have scored 40 tries and conceded 31. The Waratahs have scored 37, but conceded 38.

Back to the paper…

On paper this game should be an easy one for the Waratahs, they have so much experience and so many Wallaby caps in their team. 

Except that all that experience and all those multi-capped players have not really fired on all cylinders in 2019. There seems to be a disconnect between potential and actual.

Oh, the Waratahs are also a very visible team, they have so many high profile players who are happy to talk to microphones and face cameras – constantly appearing in the media. Often for the wrong reasons. 

The Jaguares, on the other hand, have quietly gone about doing what they do best:- disrupting, disturbing, upsetting, unsettling and generally distracting their opponents as they win game after game. 

And any analysis of the two teams suggests that the one is performing below expectations, and the other is doing exactly what everyone has been waiting for them to do since they arrived in Super Rugby.

Prediction:

The Jaguares will win this one. By at least 9 points.

Stormers v Highlanders

Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Date Saturday 25 May
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT
Referee Nic Berry
AR1 AJ Jacobs
AR2 Divan Uys
TMO Willie Vos

If the Stormers take to the field at Newlands with the same focus, intensity and ferocity as they did against the Crusaders, this will be a very difficult afternoon for the Highlanders.

Both teams have much to play for, the Highlanders are third on the Kiwi log, well behind the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, but still in the running for a wildcard spot on the overall log, on 29 points they were level with the Brumbies and the Sharks going into this match. A win would maintain their challenge for a playoff spot.

The Stormers, although 12thon the overall log, have a game in hand over the Highlanders, and both have won five games and lost 6. Both have a draw against the Crusaders on their 2019 record, although the Highlanders’ draw was a technical result as their game was cancelled, with the points shared. The Stormers earned a hard-fought, albeit lucky, draw last week.

A win for the Stormers would keep them very handily placed in the South African conference, with the run in to the playoffs still very much a contest for all five teams in the race.

Team News:

Stormers:

Pieter-Steph du Toit will play his 50th game for the Stormers in the Super Rugby Round 15 encounter at Newlands.

The two-time SA Rugby Player of the Year will feature at blindside flank in a Stormers team that has just one injury-enforced change for the clash with the New Zealand side.

The only change to the starting line-up sees Siyabonga Ntubeni at hooker in place of the injured Mbongeni Mbonambi, with Chad Solomon set to make his Stormers debut from the replacements bench.

The only other change is among the replacements as a fit-again Wilco Louw comes back into the matchday squad.

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

Highlanders:

Waisake Naholo returns to the right wing for the Highlanders’ Round 15 encounter in Cape Town after passing fitness testing during the week.

Big lock, Pari Pari Parkinson, will partner Tom Franklin in the second row, James Lentjes will start at No.7 and Elliot Dixon returns to the back of the scrum.

Patelesio Tomkinson moves from the wing to the midfield and Matt Faddes will again cover the fullback position.

Marty Banks, having recently arrived in South Africa for the injured Teihorangi Walden, makes his way back into the playing 23 and Thomas Umaga-Jensen will get his chance from the bench.

Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Jordan Hyland, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Luke Whitelock (captain), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 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 Marty Banks, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen.

Thoughts:

So much depends on which Stormers outfit arrives at Newlands on Saturday. If the same team arrives that took the field against the Crusaders, it will be a long long afternoon for the Highlanders. If the Stormers fail to produce the same level of intensity and mongrel, they may just find the Highlanders a very difficult nut to crack.

These Highlanders might well have lost more than they have won in 2019, but they have been consistent in scoring tries, with 46 placing them 5thoverall, while their points difference is a positive +24, which tells us that their losses have been close ones!

On the playing stats tables they actually head the Stormers in almost every category, with more carries, more distance, more clean breaks, and more defenders beaten than the home side have managed in 2019. The Stormers have been much better on defence, though, where the Highlanders rank last of the 15 teams in the competition.

The Stormers have the better lineout, and the scrums appear pretty even, statistically, with both teams in the 90s.

Once again, this Stormers outfit has so much potential, yet has not quite hit the mark one would expect of a team with a number of current Springboks and possible Springboks in their squad.

The Highlanders are one of the Kiwi teams that is less well-endowed with All Blacks, yet they are a team of very solid performers, and it is often a team full of solid grafters that gets the edge over a team of stars. (Ask the Waratahs about that one!)

Player-for-player, the Stormers should have the edge, but much depends on their mindset on game day.

Why do I keep thinking about France?

Prediction:

The Stormers will have taken much heart from last week’s draw with the Crusaders, and this should motivate them to repeat that kind of intensity. They know they can.

The Stormers, by 10.

Sharks v Lions

Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Date Saturday 25 May
Kick-off 17h15 local (SA Time); 15h15 GMT
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen
AR1 Cwengile Jadezweni
AR2 Stefan Geldenhuys
TMO Christie du Preez

I promised my friend Joe that I would not say anything about the Sharks inconsistency and their propensity for losing at home, so I won’t. Happy Joe?

Wow, if ever there is a match-up that promises everything you could want from a rugby match.

There is so much on the table in this game.

Log position, first and foremost.

The Lions are ahead of the Sharks by one point in the South African Conference. The Lions have won 7 and lost 5 of their 12 games, while the Sharks have won just 5, but have a draw against the Crusaders to their credit, while losing 6. Whoever wins this game will likely step up to pass the current log leaders, the Bulls, simply because the Bulls have already lost this weekend. The Sharks could go to 33 points, or the Lions to 34. Add a bonus point and the points could become crucial in the final count-out!

Pride. 

This is a South African derby that often hits the top end of rivalry and intensity. Much as the Bulls vs Stormers games are the traditional civil war derby, the Sharks and Lions have upped their intensity in recent years. It can be brutal rugby. Nobody wants to cede bragging rights to the other. Those rights currently belong to the Sharks after their 42 – 5 demolition of the Lions in Johannesburg earlier this season.

Revenge. 

The Lions are a proud bunch, and they will be itching to take revenge for that pounding at Ellis Park. They know they can win down in Durban, they have done it before, in 2017. They know they can beat the Sharks, they have done that 4 times in their last 6 encounters.

Setting the record straight. (Sorry Joe!)

The Sharks have something of a reputation for losing at Kings Park. They have lost five of their last seven South African derbies as hosts in Durban. They want to even that imbalance out somewhat.

Much to play for then!

Add in the looming question of Springbok selections, and the game takes on even more importance for everyone concerned.

Team News:

Sharks:

Robert du Preez has been forced to make changes to his team to play the Lions at Kings Park on Saturday.

While Du Preez was able to welcome back a couple of players from injury, there is also a number who have are unavailable for selection.

Most of the changes are in the pack.

Mzamo Majola comes in for Thomas du Toit at loosehead.

Ruben van Heerden is back after missing the loss to the Chiefs a fortnight ago.

He partners Ruan Botha at lock.

Hyron Andrews plays off the bench this week.

Daniel du Preez also returns to the starting line-up, with Philip van der Walt moving back to flank and Jacques Vermeulen named amongst the replacements.

Injuries to Armand van der Merwe and Craig Burden mean a possible debut for Dylan Richardson, who is named as a reserve hooker.

Andre Esterhuizen is back in the final change to the starting line-up and only change to a very settled backline.

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

Lions:

Kwagga Smith will lead the Lions against the Sharks on Saturday.

Springbok star Malcolm Marx sits this round out as part of the Springboks rest protocol.

Jan-Henning Campher gets his first start for the Lions.

Johannes Jonker rotates with tighthead prop Carlü Sadie, who drops to the bench.

The only other change from the team that beat the Highlanders in Johannesburg sees Nic Groom replace Ross Cronje at scrumhalf. Cronje will undergo a small procedural operation that will keep him out of action for a week.

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

Thoughts:

No Malcolm Marx, no Warren Whiteley? That is not good news for Lions supporters. 

So much so that many of the bookmakers and tipsters that watch or offer odds on the game of rugby are suggesting that the Sharks are favourites to win this game. Their focus is on the loss of leadership as well as on-field presence as both the identified captains in the team are not available this week.

Warren Whiteley should not be considered a great loss. As fine a player as he may be, he has spent most of 2019 on the sidelines due to injury and there is much speculation as to whether we will see him again in 2019. The Lions have learned to play without him, albeit slowly. 

Whiteley has played just 276 minutes of rugby all year, compared to someone like his flyhalf, Elton Jantjies who has 835 minutes behind him, and Malcom Marx who has 778 minutes in 2019. Whiteley is a huge influence on the team, but he is never there.

He will not be missed.

Malcolm Marx is a loss. His on-field leadership, his presence, his physicality, his mongrel, coupled to his work over the ball, in the carry, the scrums, and lineouts, and on defence make him one of the best hookers in the world. His recent form has suggested that he is close to being the very best.

He will be missed.

Which is the reasoning behind many of the pundits suggesting the Sharks will edge this one.

There is one very serious niggle about this line of thinking.

The Sharks start this game without their regular front row, the powerhouse behind some of their better performances. There is no Beast Mtawarira, there is no Thomas du Toit, hooker Armand van der Merwe is out, as is the veteran Craig Burden. 

Coenie Oosthuizen, and Kerron van Vuuren have been solid, but Mzamo Majola is something of an unknown quantity in this game. He has played just 106 minutes of rugby in all of 2019. He may be a very good prospect, but he is likely to be undercooked for this critical encounter.

That is one small weakness that could be crucial in this game.

The two scrums, the Sharks and the Lions, both have a 92% success rate, so there is very little to choose between the two. A weakness in the front three might well be that one crack that exposes a team to some serious pressure.

The Lions lineout has been superb this year, a 91% success rate, while the Sharks are down at an 85% success rate – another crucial phase of play.

At the back the two teams are pretty much the same. The Sharks have actually carried the ball further than the Lions, although the Lions have carried the ball more often.

The Lions passing game is more accurate than that of their hosts, while the visitors have broken the line and beaten more defenders than the Sharks too.

In general play, the Sharks “new” flyhalf, Curwin Bosch, is one of the most exciting prospects in the game, and he does get his entire team playing off the front foot most of the time. His own ball carrying is something special, and he is running at the worst defender in all of Super Rugby, Elton Jantjies, who has missed more tackles than anyone else on the planet. He has missed 41 tackles in 2019. (TJ Faiane is next worst with 25, while Bernard Foley sits at third worst with 19, which illustrates how poor Jantjies’ defence really is.)

We are likely to see the Sharks focus on carrying the ball directly in Jantjies’ channel and keeping it there. Their forwards, with the Du Preez twins at the forefront, will run that line all day, and Bosch himself will be testing Jantjies regularly.

However, much also depends on the Sharks’ coach Robert du Preez as he has shown a somewhat self-destructive penchant for sending Robert (Jnr) on as the game ticks toward the last 20 minutes, with Bosch being shoved back to fullback. If he makes this change, and he is very likely to do so, it may just relieve some of the pressure on Jantjies. It could be the key that unlocks this game.

The Sharks game has been built on forward dominance and powerplays close in, together with their crashballing inside centres also keeping the ball close to the big loosies. The Lions game is built on achieving forward parity and then taking the ball wide, with their loosies more of the wide ranging linking type.

Which style will win on Saturday?

Prediction:

Logic says the Sharks, but my sheer bloody-mindedness is suggesting the Lions.

I am going with the Lions, by 6.