Super Rugby 2019

Weekend Preview & Predictions

Round Eight

Round 8 kicks-off on Friday with a New Zealand derby when Highlanders host the Hurricanes in Dunedin. Over in Brisbane the Reds host the Stormers. The same night there is a South African derby in Johannesburg with the Lions versus Sharks clash.

Saturday’s action kicks-off in Christchurch with Jaco Peyper refereeing the Crusaders versus Brumbies match. In doing so he becomes just the fourth referee to hit the 100 match milestone in Super Rugby. In Auckland the Trans-Tasman battle between Blues and Waratahs follows. 

The weekend finishes in Pretoria with a clash between the Bulls and Jaguares.

Highlanders v Hurricanes

Venue Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Date Friday 5 April
Kick-off 19h35 local; 06h35 GMT; 08h35 SA Time
Referee Glen Jackson
AR1 Nick Briant
AR2 Paul Williams
TMO Ben Skeen

New Zealand Super Rugby derby matches used to be a ‘must-watch” for any rugby lover. Every game promised to be a huge confrontation, filled with massive collisions, immense effort and passion, together with exciting fluidity and plenty of movement. 

At least, this was true for many years, but in recent times, and more so in 2019 than ever before, these games have succumbed to the insidious changes that have come into the game rugby, slowing the game down and causing pile-up after pile-up, which has consequently resulted in far too many arm-wrestling matches that consist of more rucks on any one weekend than should be seen in an entire season of rugby.

Perhaps the Highlanders and the Hurricanes will surprise us and serve up something more palatable?

They both have the potential to play wonderful, expansive rugby, although the plethora of rucks and the now ubiquitous rush defence will in all likelihood stifle that potential.

If I am sounding a bit exasperated with the modern game, forgive me, but the last three weekends of Super Rugby have been mind-numbingly boring.

Perhaps this game will be different?

Team News:

The Highlanders 

The Highlanders have named their team to face the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Friday.

It is an experienced side with 74-game veteran lock, Tom Franklin, gaining his second run on start for the season,

In the backline, Marty Banks again will steer the ship at 10, while an injury to Waisake Naholo gives speedster and local crowd favourite Matt Faddes an opportunity to display his skills.

A strong bench, including All Blacks Elliot Dixon and Jackson Hemopo, features the exciting, young halfback Folau Fakatava and midfielder Rob Thompson, who is back after a six-week injury lay-off.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Richard Buckman, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 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 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Rob Thompson.

The Hurricanes:

Just two changes have been made to the Hurricanes starting XV to face the Highlanders in the Round Eight Super Rugby match in Dunedin on Friday.

Coach John Plumtree has named Kane Le’aupepe to start at lock after the 26-year-old impressed off the bench in his first appearance for the team in last week’s loss to the Crusaders.

Le’aupepe, who came into the Hurricanes squad as injury cover, replaces Liam Mitchell who moves to the reserves bench following a heavy workload in his first season of Super Rugby.

The other change to the starting side is at outside centre where Jordie Barrett moves in from the wing with Matt Proctor moving to the bench.

It will be Barrett’s fourth different position this season after playing at fullback, right wing and inside centre.

The change means a start on the right wing for Wes Goosen who will make his 30th appearance for the Hurricanes.

The bench stays largely the same with the exception being the reserve halfback’s spot with Finlay Christie replacing Richard Judd.

TJ Perenara retains the captaincy with Dane Coles ruled out for a second week with a minor calf injury.

Hurricanes: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Kane Le’aupepe. 4 James Blackwell, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Liam Mitchell, 21 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 22 Finlay Christie, 23 Matt Proctor.

Thoughts:

Throughout 2019 both these sides have promised much, yet failed to deliver, time and again.

Second on the NZ log, the Hurricanes’ season has been one of stuttering and stumbling displays as they have struggled to find the fluidity and pace which has been a hallmark of ‘Canes rugby for the last decade. They managed a 1 point win over the Waratahs in the first round, then bent the knee to the Crusaders 38 – 22 in the second round. In the third week of Super Rugby it looked as if the Hurricanes were starting to click, as they smashed the Brumbies 43 – 13, but it was to be a single swallow that did not herald the arrival of a rugby summer. 

The next weekend they stuttered to a close win over the Highlanders, by just 3 points, with a late late penalty securing the win.

The season was not really going all that well, and it went backwards another step when they drew with the hitherto woeful Chiefs 23-all the next weekend.

This was followed by a win in which they really struggled to put the Stormers away 34 – 28, a game that the Stormers dominated for long stretches and still lost. This was followed, last weekend, by a bad loss to the Crusaders when the ‘Canes went down 32 – 8.

None of their results and performances in 2019 suggest that the Hurricanes are anywhere near the force they have been in the last three years or so. 

The Highlanders are not doing much better.

The Highlanders beat the struggling Chiefs by a mere three points in the first round, in the second round they had to dig deep to beat the Reds 36 – 31 at home in Dunedin.

The third round saw a 24 – 19 loss to the Rebels in Melbourne, and that was followed by a 25 – 22 loss to this weekend’s opponents, the Hurricanes.

The Highlanders avoided defeat in their next outing against the Crusaders simply because the game was cancelled after the terrorist attack in Christchurch.

There was no cancellation to save them from defeat in their next outing, a loss to the Blues 33 – 26.

Last weekend the Highlanders had a bye, a week off that could not have come sooner as they licked wounds and tried to figure why 2019 was going so badly wrong.

Neither team has achieved any big wins, save for that single demolition job on the Brumbies by the Hurricanes. If we look at the stats for the season, the Hurricanes, who are second on the new Zealand conference log, have scored just 175 points, while conceding an identical 175 of their own. They have scored just 23 tries, but leaked 21, a far cry from their record in previous seasons.

The Highlanders, fourth on the log, have scored 133 points, but conceded 140 for a negative points difference of -7. They have scored just 16 tries, while conceding 19.

These stats are important as we think ahead to Friday. 

Both teams are demonstrating a leaky defence at the moment. The Hurricanes sit on a season average of 85,5% for tackles completed, which is at odds with their mid-90’s of 2018. The Highlanders are the worst in the competition, on 82,3%.

If we now look at the two teams, and we look at the attacking stats, the Hurricanes are the No.1 team for carries, with 906, while the Highlanders are down in 14th, with just 571 carries. Meters carried reflects the same kind of difference – the ‘Canes second on the stats table with 3 209 meters and the Highlanders down in 14thagain, with 1 907 meters.

After looking at all these stats and records, we turn to the two teams that face each other on Friday.

The Highlanders will be without Waisake Naholo and Aaron Smith this week, both out for an extended period due to injuries. The loss of their primary game managers, and two primary ball carriers will be felt, as they deploy a backline consisting of Ben Smith, Matt Faddes, Richard Buckman, Teihorangi Walden, and Tevita Li, with Marty Banks at flyhalf and Kane Hammington at 9. This is a fairly competent unit, but does not really compare with the quality of the ‘Canes Chase Tiatia, Wes Goosen, Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam, and their halfbacks Beauden Barrett, and TJ Perenara.

Considering the quality of the two backlines, and their record this year, I would suggest that the scale is tipped firmly towards the Hurricanes, especially if the Highlanders continue to slip so many tackles.

Up front, even without Dane Coles, the Hurricanes just seem to be better off in almost every department.

Then again, this has been a weird season for New Zealand Super Rugby teams, so everything I have said about stats and records might just be so much hot air.

Prediction:

I think the ‘Canes have too much firepower at the back, with a division that has to find it’s mojo sometime. Methinks that they will run the Highlanders into the dirt. The Hurricanes, by 10.

Reds v Stormers

Venue Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Date Friday 5 April
Kick-off 19h00 local; 09h00 GMT; 11h00 SA Time
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen
AR1 AJ Jacobs
AR2 Nic Berry
TMO James Leckie

This is a Stormers outfit that has just not been able to score tries in 2019. They have dominated the forward exchanges in all their matches, save the first, yet their backs have been disorganised and malfunctioning all year. They just cannot seem to find any consistency and fluidity in anything they do.

They face a Reds outfit that has shown that they have some scrap in them, but large chucks of their game has been scrap without the “s”……..

These are two teams that are not playing very good rugby at the moment, which suggests that this is not going to be a game for the aficionados. It is likely to be a wrestling match, and tempers may run short if the Reds stick to their way of doing things. Last week they resorted to argy-bargy tactics when their game plan did not work against the Rebels. Picking fights is not the way to go against the Stormers.

Team News:

The Reds:

Reds have made three changes to their starting XV for Friday’s match against the Stormers at Suncorp Stadium.

Chris Feauai-Sautia (hamstring) and Angus Scott-Young (concussion) have both been ruled out, while Brandon Paenga-Amosa will start at hooker this week.

Harry Hockings comes off the bench at lock, with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto shifting to the back row to accommodate Scott-Young’s absence.

In the backline, Jack Hardy will make his Super Rugby starting debut for the Reds on the wing, as Sefa Naivalu moves to outside centre to cover for Feauai-Sautia.

There are also two changes to the reserves, with hooker Alex Mafi out of the starting side this week and lock Angus Blyth recalled into the 23.

Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Sefa Naivalu, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Jack Hardy, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements:16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.

The Stormers:

There are seven changes in the Stormers starting line-up to face the Reds with five of those amongst the forwards.

A combination of injuries and squad rotation has resulted all the changes.

There is an all-new front row, with props Corne Fourie and Frans Malherbe on either side of hooker Scarra Ntubeni. Tighthead Michael Kumbirai is in line to make his Stormers debut off the replacements bench.

Cobus Wiese comes into the second row alongside Chris van Zyl, with Kobus van Dyk at blindside flank to complete the loose trio with captain Siya Kolisi and No.8 Jaco Coetzee.

There are two changes in the backline, with scrumhalf Justin Phillips making his first start of the season and Ruhan Nel back at outside centre.

Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 SP Marais.

Thoughts:

The Reds say that they have the keys to unlock the Stormer’s doors. Their attack coach, Jim McKay has said that they will be targeting the Stormers midfield, and they have signalled their intent by selecting  Sefa Naivalu alongside Samu Kerevi as their own midfield attacking unit. Although Naivalu is more usually considered a wing, both he and Kerevi have been the two stand-out performers in an otherwise lacklustre Reds back division. Both are big bashing ball carriers, and the Red’s focus will be on trying to overpower the Stormers centre pairing of Damian de Allende and Ruan Nel.

Nel may be more vulnerable of the two, his switch from Sevens to Fifteens has not been as impressive as some expected. However, he still has loads of promise, and has the ability to break lines and beat defenders. De Allende is a known factor and has demonstrated that he is a solid defender as well as a stern competitor with the ball in hand.

 The Reds midfield will also be tested, with Kerevi on a solid 88% tackle success rate in 2019, while Naivalu is on 84% as a winger, which is a different challenge to defending in the 13-channel.

From my perspective, the Stormers weak link remains at flyhalf where Jean-Luc du Plessis is still struggling to find his game. He was perhaps a little better last weekend, but is still way off the form that he showed when he emerged onto the Super Rugby stage. In 2019 he has often looked bewildered at his own lack of accuracy, there is a look of pain on his face as a chip kick does not go anywhere near where he intended, or a touch-kick goes out on the full..

Perhaps this was the game where Josh Stander should have been given the start?

The Stormers strength has been their forward unity, but this has been severely disrupted by the injuries to Eben Etzebeth and Wilco Louw, as well as Pieter-Steph du Toit’s departure for home to be with his wife for the birth of his son. With JD Schickerling also out with a shoulder problem, the core of that Stormers pack is looking just a little less awesome.

The rotation policy practiced by coach Fleck also means that Corne Fourie and Scarra Ntumbeni will start this game alongside Frans Malherbe in the front row. Corne Fourie has struggled to make an impact in 2019, but the Stormers do have Steven Kitshoff sitting on the bench. He will probably be held back until the Reds deploy their man mountain Taniela Tupou, an impact player that Kitshoff has tamed in the past.

It is the Stormers’ second row that looks just a little light this weekend, with Cobus Wiese making his return to the side as a stop-gap second row instead of on the side of the scrum where he is more frequently deployed.

Perhaps there is method in the Stormers rotation and selection policy if we look at the Reds forwards?

Bluntly, much was expected of the Reds pack, but their scrum has not always worked, and their lineouts have sometimes been abysmal. Starting the two South Africans on the books as props may add some spice to the confrontation, but we will have to see what transpires.

The two backlines measure up fairly well against each other. Neither has performed at any great level in 2019, and they both sit decidedly mid-table for most of the stats. The Reds are just a shade ahead on the defensive stats, but in almost all other categories, the Stormers are a half-a-nose ahead. However, the Reds have been better at converting possession into points. They have scored 20 tries to the Stormers meagre 9. However, the Reds have conceded 22, whilst the Stormers have conceded 16, only the Sharks and the Blues have a better defensive record than the Stormers in terms of conceding tries.

I would suggest that this game will depend on the tempo at which it is played. If it starts fast, both sides will start to run out of gas later, but it is the Stormers who will have the bigger problem. They have been on the road for three weeks already, so travel fatigue becomes a factor. Brisbane has been hot and humid of late, although the weather prediction for Friday evening suggests a 20C and 75% humidity level, much lower than it was during the Reds’ previous home game against the Rebels. The Stormers home town has had one of the milder summers on record, with relatively low humidity, so they may struggle later in the game.

Prediction:

Despite the misfiring backline, the Stormers just seem to have a bit more quality, a tad more talent, and a little more mongrel in their ranks than do the hosts. This leads me to believe that this may be the game where the Stormers finally dispose of their away-win monkey. The Stormers, by 6.

 Lions v Sharks

Venue Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Date Friday 5 April
Kick-off 19h10 local (SA Time); 17h10 GMT.
Referee Mike Fraser
AR1 Rasta Rasivhenge
AR2 Brendon Pickerill
TMO Willie Vos

All that talk about revenge and payback and the like still resulted in a Sharks loss last weekend. 

This week they are again talking about setting the record straight, and revenge and all sorts of motivating stuff.

I have to ask a question: Are the 2019 Sharks any different from the 2018 Sharks? Or the 2017 ones, 2016… 2015…?

You see, from my humble armchair, the view is that the Sharks are, once again, failing to live up to their considerable potential in Super Rugby.

On paper, the 2019 Sharks look have one of the strongest squads in Super Rugby, SA style.

They have a great mix of talented youth and hugely experienced old soldiers. They have the forwards, they have the backs, and they talk the talk too, but when it comes to walking the walk, the less we say, the better. None of what they promise materialises on the rugby field.

Once again they are plagued by the worst consistency imaginable. One never knows which side of the Sharks consistency we will see on any given Saturday. There is almost a French flavour to the Sharks, we never know which Sharks team will pitch up on the day….

As for that inconsistency: A 45-10 win over the Sunwolves, then another win, 26 – 7 over the Blues, and then it all swings the other way with an 11 – 16 loss 

to the Stormers in Round Three and then another, a 14-37 disembowelling, by the Bulls in Pretoria a week later.

Then a win against the Rebels in Round Six, followed by yet another loss, 16-19 to the Bulls in Durban last weekend.

Two of their three losses were at Kings Park, which should be a fortress for the men from Durban!

Now they have to face the Lions, in Johannesburg, at altitude!

The Sharks cannot afford another loss against a South African rival if they want to make the play-offs this year.

The Lions have not been quite up to the standards they have set for themselves in the last three seasons. They have seemed to stutter and stumble a bit, the machine seems to have a couple of cogs that are not quite aligned.

Their pack of forwards, the rock-solid foundation on which the previous three seasons of success was built, has been denuded by the poaching endeavours of northern coaches bearing fat wallets, most especially the man who built the Lions into the team that made it to three consecutive Super finals, Johan Ackerman, who has enticed some of the Lions’ biggest names to follow him to Gloucester. The 2019 pack of forwards has struggled to achieve the kind of dominance the team grew used to in previous seasons. 

However, that pack of forwards is slowly improving, from a poor 81% scrum success rate earlier in the season, the figure now stands at 93%, marginally better than the Sharks at 92%. The lineouts are right up at 92,2% – the second best in the competition, while the Sharks languish down at 12thon the stats table with an 86,4% lineout success rate.

When it comes to scoring tries, the Lions have clicked into gear with 25 tries, second behind the mighty Crusaders.

The Lions might not have been all that convincing in 2019, but they certainly have been good enough to top the SA Conference, with 18 points. On the overall log they sit joint third, behind the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, and level with the Rebels.

This weekend the Lions have the opportunity to cement their top spot in the SA log, but it will take a special effort if the right Sharks team pitches up at Ellis Park.

The big question for this game: Will it be onion soup and whiffs of garlic, or will it be biltong and boerewors? Which Sharks team will pitch?

Team News:

The Lions:

In something of a surprise move, coach Swys de Bruin has named Aphiwe Dyantyi at outside centre for their Super Rugby clash with the Sharks at Ellis Park on Friday.

Dyantyi will start in the midfield alongside Lionel Mapoe.

Elsewhere there is a welcome return to the starting team on the flank for Cyle Brink after seven months out of the game due to a serious knee injury.

Andries Coetzee has also been given a start at full-back, with Tyrone Green moving onto the right wing.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Tyrone Green, 13 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 12 Lionel Mapoe, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Vermaak, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (c), 1 Sti Sithole
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Stephan Lewies, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Hacjivah Dayimani, 23 Sylvian Mahuza/Wandisile Simelane.

The Sharks:

The Sharks team shows just two changes to last week’s side for this SA derby match.

Robert du Preez has made a change upfront and another in the backline.

The loss of Akker van der Merwe to a three-week suspension has necessitated a change in the front row, with Kerron van Vuuren starting and Fez Mbatha coming onto the bench as cover at hooker.

Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira will make national history when he becomes the most capped South African rugby player in the competition. This will be his 157th appearance, overtaking the former record-holder Adriaan Strauss.

Curwin Bosch replacing Aphelele Fassi at fullback is the only other change to the starting XV.

On the bench, Juan Schoeman comes in for Khutha Mchunu while JJ van der Mescht is poised to make his Super Rugby debut, replacing Gideon Koegelenberg as cover at lock.

Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Aphelele Fassi.

Thoughts:

Last week’s dour, error ridden arm-wrestle with the Bulls was a close run thing, yet the Sharks still managed to lose. At home, where they should perhaps have won.

Some are suggesting that there were some encouraging signs in last week’s game, signs that the Sharks were about to assert themselves and dominate territory and possession. That may well be so, but the reality is that you need to do more than dominate territory and possession, you have to use those advantages to score tries. Ask the Stormers about their games against the Hurricanes and the Blues. 

The Sharks simply have to find the way to score more tries.

Their defence has been good, rock solid in many respects, conceding just 9 tries in 6 matches, but they have only scored 18 of their own, with the bulk of those coming against the Sunwolves and the Rebels. They have struggled to get across the line against their South African counterparts.

The Lions are right up with the best when it comes to scoring tries, 25 so far in 2019, second in the competition stats behind the Crusaders, but they do have a penchant for bleeding tries at unexpected moments, having given away 18, and putting them down in joint last with the Jaguares on the South African stats table.

The Sharks will have taken a long hard look at the Lions defensive structures and will have noted a trend of “leaving the backdoor open” as the Lions throw everyone into an all-out attack, without the pendulum of the wings rotating back to cover the fullback. There is always an opportunity to counter-attack the Lions when their handling lets them down. And those handling errors will happen, the Lions are ranked 5thworst in the field in 2019, with 104 handling errors in the six games! (Of course, the Sharks are even worse, ranked 3rdwith 107 handling errors in their six games.)

Up against a Lions outfit who love to run with the ball, the Sharks defence will certainly be tested, whether the Sharks, with their preference for one-off crash-ball rugby will test the Lions defences to the same degree remains to be seen.

Both teams will have to focus on their finishing, because it will be the team that takes their opportunities best that will walk away with the points in this one!

The clash between the two packs of forwards seems to tilt slightly in favour of the Sharks. Their two starting prop forwards are seasoned veterans, with the Beast Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen as good as any in the competition. Their hooker, the relatively unknown Kerron van Vuuren, is said to be a good scrummager too. They are backed by a solid 2ndrow of Hyron Andrews and Ruben van Heerden. Andrews has been their standout lock forward in 2019 and has shown some good form in recent weeks. 

The Lions tight five of a second row of Marvin Orie and Rhyno Herbst backing a front three of Carlu Sadie, Malcolm Marx  and Sti Sithole seems just a little less solid than that of the Sharks.

Of course, Malcolm Marx is in a league of his own in general play, but he may find himself forced to play a tighter game that he would like if the Sharks start to take a grip of the forward exchanges.

The two loose trios could not be more different. Daniel du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen, and Luke Stringer are a combination that is focussed on playing in close, carrying the ball into contact, recycling the ball, and clearing the fringes. They face a Lions trio of Vermaak, Brink, and Schoeman who are more intent on carrying the ball through the tackle and into the wider channels.

Much will depend on whether the game opens up or not. If it opens up, the Lions will probably have the ascendency as they are less predictable and more likely to take chances.

Elton Jantjies revels in a game where he has some space and time on the ball, and an open game falls right into his list of favourite things. Facing him is Robert du Preez, who has been rather too mechanical and predictable at No.10. Perhaps a better option for the Sharks would have been to start Curwin Bosch at 10?

 The Sharks have one of the most dangerous back threes in the competition, but they are often starved of the ball, unlike the Lions back three who get to see much more ball and have a reputation for having a go in the knowledge that their support runners will be ranging up on their shoulders.

I have one question mark that hovers over the Lions backline. They have decided to use Aphiwe Dyantyi at outside centre, facing Lukhanyo Am. Now Am has been the form 13 in SA rugby so far this year, and Dyantyi is a complete rookie in this position. Dyantyi has struggled with his defensive alignment all year, and now he is tasked with shutting down Lukhanyo Am?

This may be a move of genius by Swys de Bruin, but it could also be a disastrous decision, both for the Lions and for Aphiwe Dyantyi. 

In essence, this game will revolve around two things. Will the Lions forwards achieve parity with the Sharks in the tight exchanges and set pieces? And will the respective backlines use the ball they are given?

Whose decision making will be better?

Two different styles of rugby on show, which will prevail?

Prediction:

So much revolves around the decision-making of the players tasked with game management, and this is where the Sharks have had a problem in 2019. Poor decisions, coupled with poor execution has been at the root of their losses in 2019. The Lions are so much better at making good decisions, and then backing them up with fairly good execution.

The Lions forwards might be given a hard time, but they do seem to have the mongrel to stand up to the Sharks, which then suggests that it will be about the execution and finishing, and that is where the Lions have the edge.

The Lions, by 9.