Super Rugby 2019

Weekend Preview & Predictions

Round Eight

Friday is almost done and dusted. As I type this preview, the Hurricanes have beaten the Highlanders after a late Ngani Laumape try gave them a 31 – 28 win. The Stormers and Reds are at it in Brisbane.

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.

Saturday Games

TCKA Crusaders v Brumbies

Venue Christchurch Stadium Christchurch
Date Saturday 6 April
Kick-off 17h15 local; 04h15 GMT; 06h15 SA time
Referee Jaco Peyper
AR1 Egon Seconds
AR2 Paul Williams
TMO Ben Skeen

If you are puzzled by the names of the teams in the title, I have decided to go with TCKA Crusaders for the time being. The debate about a possible name change rages on, so I will refer to them as the Team Currently Known As Crusadersuntil we have clarity about their name.

Of course, there are many and varied emotions involved in the discussions about their name, you only need to visit any one of the numerous Kiwi rugby websites to find that the issue is dominating their discussions at the moment.

Far be it from me to even attempt to contribute to the discussion – it is a Kiwi issue and should be resolved by Kiwis, not by a host of interferers and “activists” that are not New Zealanders by birth or adoption.

My only contribution to the debate is to quote from a movie. 

In the movie Thor: Ragnarok, Thor says “Asgard is not a place, it is a people!”

And that is the message I have for the supporters of the TCKA Crusaders. The Crusaders are not a place, they are the people of Christchurch and across the world that support the team based in that wonderful city. 

The rugby will not change, no matter what name is attached to the team.

(I am not a great movie watcher, I seldom get past the first ten minutes before giving up and heading for a book. I did not watch Thor: Ragnarok in its entirety, nor do I ever intend to watch it all, but I did catch the last five minutes or so of the movie, and my quote comes from those last minutes of graphic computer generated mayhem.)

This Saturday’s match will be the TCKA Crusaders’ first opportunity to unite the Christchurch community following the events of March 15. 

There will be a moment’s silence before the teams run on to the field.

The TCKA Crusaders are about to play against the Brumbies from Australia, and they will certainly be looking to build on last week’s triumph over the Hurricanes. 

They will be looking to continue their bounce back from the terrible events that have sat heavy on the minds and emotions of the people of New Zealand and, especially, the people of Christchurch.
The Brumbies arrive in Christchurch also looking for some kind of bounce back. Last week they enjoyed a bye, but the week before they somehow stumbled to a 36 – 14 whipping by the Reds.

In fact, the Brumbies have not had a good year so far in 2019, with just 2 wins in their 6 starts.

They have to play a TCKA Crusaders outfit that has lost just 1 game in 2019, and just that single loss in 20 consecutive Super Rugby games!

Whichever way you look at this game, it is something of a no-brainer! The TCKA Crusaders should walk it.

Team News:

The TCKA Crusaders

Joe Moody and Owen Franks are both set to return to the TCKA Crusaders starting XV this weekend. The All Black duo’s return means Harry Allan and Michael Alaalatoa move to the reserves for this game as the TCKA Crusaders tinker with their starting line-up after last weekend’s triumph over the Hurricanes in Wellington.

At lock, Quinten Strange and Sam Whitelock will swap this week, so that Strange takes the starting spot and Whitelock is on the bench. Matt Todd will captain the side in the number seven jersey.

The only other change in the forwards sees Ethan Blackadder earn his first Super Rugby start for 2019, at six in place of Whetu Douglas.

In the backs, Mitchell Drummond is the starting scrum-half and Bryn Hall provides cover on the bench, while Sevu Reece has earned promotion from the bench to start on the left wing against the Brumbies.

Tim Bateman lines up at outside centre in what will be his 50th game for the TCKA Crusaders, while 19-year-old Leicester Faingaanuku is set to debut from the bench.

Franks will play his 150th TCKA Crusaders game this week (149th Super Rugby game).

TCKA Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Faingaanuku

The Brumbies:

The Brumbies have made eight changes to their match-day 23 for this clash with the TCKA Crusaders. Toni Pulu is set to return from a broken cheekbone injury, while Alan Alaalatoa returns from a wrist injury. Darcy Swain and Murray Douglas get their firsts starts for the Brumbies, and Josh Mann-rea ends a 13-month wait for a start in the hooking berth.

David Pocock is still not available, and the Brumbies are forced to rest Scott Sio, Folau Fa’ingaa and Rory Arnold in terms of the agreement with Rugby Australia to rotate Wallaby players.

Sam Carter has been dropped to the bench, while Vunipola Fifita may earn his first cap off the bench if required later in the game.

Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Murray Douglas, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Jahrome Brown, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Andy Muirhead.

Thoughts:

The Brumbies have simply not convinced anybody of anything in 2019. Six games and four losses is about right for the rugby they have played. Just to make their task even more difficult, they have to play the Crusaders without three of their Wallabies, Scott Sio, Folau Fa’ingaa and Rory Arnold. Their talismanic David Pocock remains sidelined too.

They have the added worry of depth in their squad, especially with a quartet of their biggest names not available.

Man for man, both in the starting XVs and when comparing the two benches, the Brumbies simply do not stack up against their hosts.

There is really not much more that I can say about this game.

Prediction:

The Crusaders will walk all over the Brumbies. By at least 18 points.

Blues v Waratahs

Venue Eden Park, Auckland
Date Saturday 6 April
Kick-off 19h35 local; 06h35 GMT; 08h35 SA Time
Referee Federico Anselmi
AR1 Nick Briant
AR2 Glen Jackson
TMO Glenn Newman

The Waratahs continue to confuse, with their admirable win over the Crusaders came some thoughts that they might just have found a game plan that works, and their a bit of their mojo too. 

A week later and they were simply horrid as they bent the knee to the Sunwolves. 

Yes, they played without one or two of their Wallabies last week, but that simply is no excuse. As I mentioned in my review of this game, this was still a Waratahs outfit simply loaded with Wallabies! The starting backline had four current Wallabies and 3 junior internationals – close to the cream of the crop, some would suggest.

Sadly, whilst it might be cream, some of that cream was sour. 

Mack Mason was a terrible replacement for Bernard Foley at 10, but one cannot blame one rookie player for the awfulness that pervaded the rest of the team. Rugby is a team game and there were so many hugely experienced heads out on that field that should have taken the youngster’s hand and shown him the ropes, calmed him down, and told him exactly what to do. 

The failure was not Mack Mason’s, it was the failure of Nick Phipps to protect his 10, it was the failure of Kurtley Beale and Karmichael Hunt to guide him from the midfield, and the failure of Israel Folau to put an arm around his shoulder and suggest other ways of doing things.

Mostly, it was the failure of his captain, the Wallaby captain, Michael Hooper, to guide and lead him.

There was none of the game plan they had spoken of so fondly in the runup to the game. Not a single ball was sent skyward for Israel Folau to chase!

The entire loss to the Sunwolves was indicative of a systemic failure within the Waratah team.

Now they have to face a resurgent Blues.

In previous seasons the Waratahs might well have thought they have a more than fair chance of beating the Blues, even at home in Auckland. The Blues were, after all, something akin to walking bonus points for anyone who was scheduled to meet them in a Super Season.

The 2019 Blues are in a different place altogether.

They have just won 3 games on the trot – something that most of the members of their squad have never experienced in a Blues’ jersey ever before!

They have found their game, and have found a certain steely edge that has been absent for as long as anyone dare remember.

They are confusing nobody, and they will be wanting to stretch their winning record to 4 on the trot!

Team News:

The Blues:

The Blues have named virtually an unchanged side to host the Waratahs in their third straight home game at Eden Park on Saturday.

The pre-season star performer, Caleb Clarke, returns from injury to replace suspended Tanielu Tele’a on the wing, while Josh Goodhue has recovered from a shoulder injury to return at lock. Goodhue’s return is the only change to the pack that performed strongly against the Stormers, with the hard-working Gerard Cowley-Tuioti to add his impetus off the bench.

The other change in the forward reserves sees Marcel Renata as front row replacement with Karl Tu’inukuafe spelled this week.

Clarke is the only change from the starting line-up in the backs with changes in the reserves comprising Sam Nock at scrumhalf and Michael Collins, who covers the midfield and outside backs, with Sonny Bill Williams sidelined with a knee injury.

Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (co-captain), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (co-captain), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Michael Collins.

The Waratahs:

Daryl Gibson has made a number of changes to his starting line-up ahead of their Super Rugby clash with the Blues in Auckland on Saturday.

Bernard Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Jack Dempsey all return to the starting XV after being rested last weekend, with captain Michael Hooper to be rested for this clash.

Will Miller returns from injury and will start at seven in Hooper’s place.

Kurtley Beale has been relegated to the bench.

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Lachlan Swinton, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Lalakai Foketi

Thoughts:

The Waratahs are the enigma team of 2019 – you simply have no idea what to expect from them. Mostly, it is dour, uninspiring stuff, playing to an old-school game plan, with a backline standing so deep that it reminds one of rugby in the 1960’s. It is an approach that is not designed to excite the casual observer. For that matter, it does not excite the aficionado either.

Against the Crusaders the Waratahs went even further back into their old-school approach to the game, and unleashed a kicking game designed to allow Israel Folau to run after the ball and use his unusual aerial skills to good effect. They will certainly have to do so again if they want to test the Blues.

The Blues will have had a good look at the Waratah midfield selections, and would probably have preferred to see Kurtley Beale in the midfield rather than on the bench. Beale is something of a turnstile defender, with the worst tackling record of all the players that participated in Super Rugby 2018, and the Blues would have loved to see him try and stop the Blues midfield of Ma’a Nonu and TJ Faiane. 

‘Tahs coach Gibson is not stupid, he also knows of Beale’s weakness as a defender and dropped him down to the bench. Gibson insisted the “demotion” had nothing to do with Beale’s form, and that he was simply looking to stiffen up the midfield defence, using Adam Ashley-Cooper and Karmichael Hunt there.

“He hasn’t been dropped,”Gibson said, although he then eluded to Beale’s defensive frailties when he went on to say: “The Blues have got some big boppers coming down that channel and I’ve selected a combination in the middle which I believe can combat that and add some and that is where Karmichael and Adam really excel in the defensive areas.”A blunt assessment of Beale’s defence, then?

There has been some talk about the return of Bernard Foley and a probable switch back to a kick & chase strategy. Looking at the Blues back division, one wonders whether a kicking strategy with Folau as the primary chaser is the correct one to deploy. The likes of Rieko Ioane, Melani Nanai and Caleb Clark, (deputising for the suspended Tanielu Tele’a)are all very good under the high ball, and they will counter-attack at the slightest opportunity. Rieko Ioane is approaching his best form ever too. The Waratah defences have not been great in 2019, and the likes of Ioane and Nanai could tear them to ribbons.

The real question is whether the Waratah forwards have the game to hold the Blues pack? Against a powerful Stormers unit, the Blues managed to attain a level of parity in the set-pieces and in the collisions, and that will send a message to the ‘Tahs. The visitors will have to step their game up several levels if they want to tame this Blues pack. They seem just a little light, especially in the second row where they continue to deploy Ned Hanigan, a re-treaded flanker, as a lock.

The loose game, especially over the ball, seems to be heading towards the Blues. Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson and Tom Robinson are a salted trio that combine well, while the ‘Tahs will have to do without Michael Hooper and his all-field nuisance value.

The scales seem to be tipping in favour of the home side.

Prediction:

The Wobbly Waratahs will need more than their “A” game to knock the Blues over at home. They have struggled to find that “A” game all year, often deploying a “B” or even a “C”  level of intensity and focus. They are also notoriously poor travellers.

The Blues, riding on a wave of newly discovered form and focus, will win this one, by around 10 points.

Rebels v Sunwolves

Venue AAMI Park, Melbourne
Date Saturday 6 April
Kick-off 19h45 local; 08h45 GMT; 10h45 SA Time
Referee Nic Berry
AR1 AJ Jacobs
AR2 Marius van der Westhuizen
TMO Ian Smith

The Sunwolves startled everyone by winning two games away from home in 2019, something they could not achieve in three years of trying. Now that they have been handed their Super termination notice, they seem to have cast off the shackles of the past and are playing the game with no expectations and thus with no fears. They could be on a roll and may just bank their third win of the season, another away win, against the Rebels.

However, we need to add a note of caution – their two away wins were against teams playing the worst possible rugby imaginable. The Chiefs were at the lowest ebb in their history, while last week’s win over the Waratahs was against a team playing truly abysmal rugby.

Can they continue this “winning streak” against the Rebels.

For one thing, the Rebels will be forewarned! They will not be taking the Sunwolves lightly. This will be a Rebels outfit looking to build on last week’s 32 – 13 win over the Reds. 

This Rebels outfit will also know that they have an opportunity to cement their position at the top of the Aussie conference with a full 5 point haul from this game. They will be looking over the ditch to the game between their local rivals, the Waratahs, and know that if the ‘Tahs lose, and the Rebels can bank another 5 points, they will put at least 7, possibly 8 points between them on the log.

In effect, this is a game the Rebels must win, if they are eyeing a playoff spot for the first time ever. If they can win, and the ‘Tahs lose, they have a much easier path to that playoff!

So, it is a Sunwolves team, playing for nothing more than pride and a bit of fun, versus a Rebels team with a very real goal in mind.

I am expecting a Rebels outfit with some serious intent to their game!

Team News:

The Rebels:

Rebels have kept the faith with their starting XV, naming only one change to the side which defeated the Queensland Reds by 19 points.

Jermaine Ainsley has been selected at tighthead prop, replacing vice-captain Sam Talakai, who has been rested for the match.

Four changes have been made in the replacements, with Pone Fa’amausili, Semisi Tupou and Ross Haylett-Petty all in line to join the fray later in the game, while new recruit Hugh Roach could potentially make his Rebels debut after 41 appearances with the Waratahs.

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

The Sunwolves:

Unusually, the Sunwolves have made no changes to the backline for this game, although there are some changes to their forward pack to face the Rebels.

Hendrick Tui shifts to No.8 for Saturday’s match with Ben Gunter taking over the No.6 duties.

There is a new second row with Luke Thompson partnering Mark Abbott.

On the bench, Jamie Booth makes his way onto the bench in place of Fumiaki Tanaka.

Once again, the Sunwolves are fielding 11 foreigners in their starting XV, and 5 on the bench.

Sunwolves: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Hendrick Tui, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Ben Gunter, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Grant Hattingh, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Takuya Yamasawa, 23 Josh Timu.

Thoughts:

On paper, the Rebels have the team to dismantle the Sunwolves. They have the forwards, and they have some dangerous strike runners at the back.

The Sunwolves, playing without expectations and without any pressure, have the ability to loosen a game and then run it ragged from every possible square meter of the field. “Organised Chaos” they call it.

This Organised Chaos game depends on rattling opponents into making silly mistakes, especially on the defence. The game plan seems to revolve around getting in the way and into the spaces between opposition players, and then waiting for something to go wrong. When it goes wrong, pounce!

In essence, it is not about the Sunwolves building momentum and dominance on the field, it is all about robbing the opponent of his momentum and spoiling his dominance.

Will it work again? Against the Rebels?

The Rebels will know that the Sunwolves weakest link is their pack of forwards. Their set-pieces are their primary weakness, and the teams that have beaten them have used dominance in the forward exchanges together with focussed, superior discipline to grind the Sunwolves out of the game, providing them with few loose moments on which to build their own game.

This will surely be the Rebels primary focus on Saturday.

Establish dominance, minimise errors, deprive the Sunwolves of the ball, and then strike through the backs. 

The Rebels have some very dangerous attacking players in their squad, the likes of Reece Hodge, Jack Maddocks, Tom English, the fox terrier-like Billy Meakes, the muscle of Marika Koroibete, and the unpredictable Quade Cooper, who has been very good at setting up players to score.  Cooper has 8 “try assists” on his statistical record so far in the season, 3 more than anyone else!

Whilst the Sunwolves have a number of players that have, individually, clocked up some interesting stats, with Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco making the most carries in the competition, 76 in total, while Gerhard van den Heever has made the most metres (608) with the ball in hand, these are individual stats and not team stats. The team stats are not quite as impressive, 13thfor lineouts won, 9thfor scrums, joint 1stfor yellow cards, 14thfor tackles made, all areas of the game that will be targeted by the Rebels.

The Rebels, in contrast, feature fairly well in the really important team stats, especially joint 4thfor tries scored, 3rdfor lineouts won, 7thfor scrums. Importantly, they rank 3rdfor points scored.

They haven’t beaten the most defenders or made the most breaks this season, but when they have beaten defenders or broken the line, they have often managed to finish with a score.

With the Rebels ability to score, together with their superior forward unit, they should have the measure of a Sunwolves outfit that will be on the road for the second week in a row.

There is one tiny little niggle though – the Rebels are the most penalised team in the competition, and the Sunwolves have the most successful goalkicker in the world at the moment, Hayden Parker. If the Rebels persist in upsetting the referee, it could cost them dearly!

Prediction:

I have no doubt that the Rebels won’t be taking the Sunwolves lightly. They will target the visitors at the set pieces, focus on keeping errors to a minimum, and work at establishing an early lead while maintaining pressure on the Sunwolves forwards all afternoon.

That will give them the game, by around 15 points.

Bulls v Jaguares

Venue Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Date Saturday 6 April
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT
Referee Brendon Pickerill
AR1 Rasta Rasivhenge
AR2 Mike Fraser
TMO Willie Vos

Once again the SA rugby media is spouting on about “revenge” and “Payback time” as the Jaguares arrive in Pretoria. Back in Round Two of the competition the Bulls lost to the Jaguares in Argentina, and that is what the talk about “revenge” is all about.

It was a miserable game of rugby, back then, played in wet, slippery conditions with the ball resembling a bar of soap. The Jaguares adapted to the conditions better that did the Bulls, and won the game for it.

That game aside, Bulls are undoubtedly the form side in the South African conference. They’ve beaten the Stormers, Lions and the Sharks, twice.

This will be their second encounter with the Jaguares, and they will want to use this opportunity to correct a small statistic that must bother them somewhat. They have not beaten a team from outside South Africa’s borders yet this year! They lost to the Jaguares in Argentina, and they lost, unexpectedly, to a rampant Chiefs two weeks ago!

They have a point to prove!

The Jaguares, after an almost stellar 2018, are back on the bottom of the log, all on their own in the SA conference, and joint last with the Sunwolves and the Reds on the overall log. In essence, they have not been great in 2019, winning just 2 of their 6 starts. In 2018 they showed what they are capable of away from home with a great run of results in Australia and New Zealand, now they will want to replicate that success in South Africa. The Bulls, at Loftus, will be a serious challenge, and if they can win this one, they will lay down a very clear marker of their intentions for the rest of the season.

Team News:

The Bulls:

Corniel Els will make his first run-on appearance for the Bulls on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.

The hooker, who has featured in all six the Bulls’ Super Rugby matches in 2019 as a bench replacement, replaces Schalk Brits in this week’s starting lineup. The former Junior Springbok is one of seven changes to the starting team for the clash against the South Americans.

Handré Pollard and Jesse Kriel will be rested due to World Cup protocols and will be replaced by Manie Libbok and Dylan Sage respectively, with Duane Vermeulen taking over the captaincy.

Jade Stighling will also play in the starting team for the first time this year, taking over from Rosko Specman, with Johnny Kotze on the other wing and Cornal Hendricks dropping to the bench.

In a positional change, Hanro Liebenberg moves back to lock in place of Jason Jenkins, who has an injury niggle and was ruled out on Wednesday.

Jannes Kirsten will start at flank and his place on the bench will be taken by Thembelani Bholi.

There are changes to the bench as well, where Jaco Visagie is due to make a first appearance in the tournament this season. Visagie is fit again following injury and will be keen to have a go. JT Jackson will cover as flyhalf and comes onto the bench.

Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Dylan Sage, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Hanro Liebenberg, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 JT Jackson, 23 Cornal Hendricks

The Jaguares:

The Jaguares have switched up their starting line-up for the Bulls,  bringing in fullback Emiliano Boffelli in place of Joaquin Tuculet, who drops to the bench.

Ramiro Moyano moves to the left wing making way for Matias Moroni to don the No.14 jersey.

Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias starts in the flyhalf spot.

The other significant changed comes in pack, where Argentina international Pablo Matera takes the blindside flank with Tomas Lezana and Javier Ortega Desio completing the loose trio combo.

In the second row Marcos Kremer and Guido Petti will lock the scrum.

Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Joaquin Tuculet

Thoughts:

The Bulls will be missing some key personnel. Handré Pollard and Jesse Kriel have been key to their backline’s functionality in 2019, with Pollard’s game management and tactical play in the 10 jersey being hugely influential in their successes. 

They are also missing the likes of Warrick Gelant, Schalk Brits, RG Snyman and Lood de Jager, all men that add some serious talent and intent to the team when they are available.

The Bulls will know that they need to play the Jaguares with focussed discipline and control at the forefront of their approach. 

The Jaguares, much like the Sunwolves, thrive in a game where on-the-ball disciplines are wayward and tactical disciplines wobble. They love the moments when indecision rules, and provide opportunities for counter-attack from the moment of chaos.

The Bulls need to play with focus, but will also need to deploy their attacking game as much as possible. This is the approach the Lions adopted against the Jaguares, and it worked a treat. 

The set-pieces will be key. 

The Bulls are ranked first in lineout takes, with the Jaguares ranked third. Both teams are ranked mid-table for lineout steals. 

The Bulls’ scrum is somewhat better than that of the Jaguares, with an 88% success rate versus a 77% for the South Americans.

If the Bulls can establish dominance in these two set-pieces they will have gone a long way towards a win.

Both teams rely on a kicking game for territory and tactical advantage, with the Bulls topping the stats table for kicking while the Jaguares are ranked third. If they play to their previous game-plans, we can expect a fair amount of kicking in this game.

Except for one small thing.

Both teams are starting with flyhalves that have not started games yet this year. Joaquin Diaz Bonillahas been the starting 10 for the Jaguares all season, with a variety of players backing him off the bench. This week Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias will wear the 10 jersey, and Bonilla is rested completely.

The Bulls have had Handré Pollard running their game from the 10 spot, with Libbok backing him off the bench. This week it will be Manie Libbok starting, with JT Jackson as his bench back-up as Pollard gets a week off.

Both new flyhalves are likely to bring something different to the game, which introduces a measure of unpredictability!

The Bulls have relied heavily on the goal-kicking of Pollard this season, keeping the scoreboard ticking over as the game proceeds, with every extra penalty and conversion adding to scoreboard pressure on opponents. He has also been their calm and assured game manager and tactical master. Manie Libbok will have to be right on top of his game, he has some really big boots to fill this Saturday. 

Much of this game will depend on endurance later in the game. The Jaguares are coming off a home loss to the Chiefs followed by the transatlantic flight to the Highveld. These are factors that sap any player’s endurance towards the end of a high tempo game. If the Bulls up the tempo early on, it may just suck the air from the Jaguares lungs later in the afternoon. 

Prediction:

The Bulls are the form side in the South African conference. The Jaguares are not. Period.

I cannot see the Jaguares disrupting the Bulls’ confidence and focus.

The Bulls, by 10.