Super Rugby 2019
Weekend Preview & Predictions
Friday’s games are done and dusted – the Crusaders did exactly what everyone expected them to do, and beat the Highlanders 43 – 17 in a game that was not even close.
Then the Stormers did exactly what most people did not expect them to do, and thumped the Rebels by 41 – 24!
(That means that my theory that this will be a home-ground advantage and win weekend has already been proven wrong! Thank you Stormers!)
Saturday sees four matches and kicks-off in Hamilton with the Chiefs hosting the Blues who are on a four-match winning streak. Over in Canberra the Brumbies and Lions clash, before we head to Durban where the Sharks play the Jaguares. The weekend finishes in Pretoria where the Bulls take on the Reds.
Chiefs v Blues
The tale of two resurgencies, if there can be a plural for “resurgent”, – the Chiefs back on track after an abysmal start to 2019, and the Blues on a wholly new track after an abysmal decade or so.
|Venue||FMG Stadium, Hamilton|
|Date||Saturday 13 April|
|Kick-off||19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time|
|Referee||Angus Gardner (Australia)|
The Chiefs will be wanting to build on their successes of their two-match tour of South Africa and Argentina, when they smashed the Bulls in Pretoria and the sneaked a win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. They certainly seem to have rediscovered the game-plan that gave their supporters so much pleasure in the last couple of years – keeping possession, building pressure, and taking the ball through phases until the merest glimmer of a gap opens, and then striking as quickly as possible.
The Blues are on a somewhat different journey – the Chiefs had to rediscover their game and focus, the Blues had to rediscover their self-belief.
Both teams seem to be on track at last. Which suggests that this derby might just be the one to watch on the weekend.
The Chiefs still have a point to prove back in New Zealand. They are winless in their last four New Zealand derbies, despite having led at half-time twice in that time.
The Blues have won their last four Super Rugby games on the trot and will be looking for a fifth.
Colin Cooper has selected a strong matchday-23 to face the Blues at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday.
A new front-row combination will have Angus Ta’avao move to loosehead prop for the injured Aidan Ross. Nathan Harris will remain at hooker and Nepo Laulala at tighthead.
Providing cover on the bench will be Ryan Coxon and tighthead Sosefo Kautai in jersey No.17 and 18 respectively.
Captain Brodie Retallick returns to combine with Tyler Ardron who will shift from No.8 to complete the tight five.
In-form flankers Luke Jacobson and Lachlan Boshier remain with Taleni Seu to start at No.8 to round out the forward pack.
Pita Gus Sowakula will hope to make an impact off the bench in his first game of the 2019 Super Rugby season and will be joined on the bench by Jesse Parete providing cover in jersey No.19.
The Chiefs backline remains unchanged from the side who faced the Jaguares in Argentina. Ataata Moeakiola returns from injury named in jersey No23. He will be joined by reserve halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and midfield cover Alex Nankivell.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick (captain), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Angus Ta’avao.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
The Blues have lost the services of Sonny Bill Williams for an extended period with the news that he has to undergo knee surgery. This may well signal the end of a stellar rugby career as his All Black spot will also be in doubt after the injury. It would be sad to see him go like this.
The Blues will have to adjust their midfield thinking where they have enjoyed the luxury of rotating SBW and Ma’a Nonu in starting and bench rolls for their midfield. Power and impact; impact and then power…..
This week the Blues have brought back two of their All Blacks who have been used as late-game impact players during their four-match winning streak. This week the two are into the starting lineup to play the Chiefs on Saturday.
All Blacks props Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe come into the starting XV for the clash.
Leon MacDonald has opted to start the international duo in Hamilton rather than use them as impact players, with the pair replacing Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo, who drop to the bench. Dalton Papalii also replaces Blake Gibson, who has a bad cut to a knee.
Gerard Cowley-Tuioti will start alongside Patrick Tuipulotu in the second row and the backline is unchanged to the one which helped the Blues to a 32-29 win over the Waratahs.
All Blacks outside back Matt Duffie is included on the reserves bench after recovering from a bad hamstring tear suffered last year, with former Crusader Jed Brown also on the bench as loose forward cover.
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. Dalton Papalii, 6. Tom Robinson, 5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. James Parsons, 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
There is really very little to choose between these two sides. Both have a smattering of All Blacks; both have players on, or close to, top form. Both have gamebreakers; both have superb finishers in their ranks; it will all boil down to which team makes the least mistakes, and which team takes their chances best.
There are still some unanswered questions and issues that will serve to motivate both sides.
The Blues are on a winning streak, with four on the trot behind them.
The niggling little question is whether they can achieve the same winning results away from home? All four their wins have been in Auckland, so the game in Hamilton looms as a very real test of their new-found resolve.
The Chiefs, of course, have to show that they can beat a New Zealand team in 2019, so that their own little monkey can be banished from their backs.
Looking at the two teams and trying to separate them based on individual players and their impact on the game is an interesting exercise but, I would suggest, somewhat futile as both teams base their game on team-play rather than relying on the individual brilliance of one or another special star. Yes, the Chiefs have a Damian McKenzie, who can rip a game to shreds in a couple of moments of sheer exuberant brilliance, but so too the Blues have Rieko Ioane, who can run the defences of any opponent ragged at the drop of a hat.
The Chiefs have the muscle, nous, and skills of a Brodie Retallick, the Blues have the brawn and presence of Akira Ioane. The nip-and-tuck of Anton Lienert-Brown up against the physicality and experience of Ma’a Nonu.
Perhaps the Blues have the better front row, perhaps the Chiefs have the better locks? Perhaps Brad Weber is better than Jonathan Ruru? Is Otere Black a better flyhalf than Marty McKenzie?
So much depends on the day itself.
There is so little to choose between these two outfits that one has to look at external factors in making a call on the winner.
Home-ground advantage is with the Chiefs, and that will be the deciding factor.
The Chiefs, by 9.
Brumbies v Lions
|Venue||GIO Stadium, Canberra|
|Date||Saturday 13 April|
|Kick-off||19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time|
|Referee||Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)|
The Lions are still in with a chance of making the playoffs despite their third position on the South African Conference log. The top three on that log have all played 7 and won 4, with bonus points deciding log position at the moment, so this tour to the Antipodes is of critical importance to the Lions future in 2019. They simply have to win a couple of away games to ensure that they stay in the race.
Bluntly, the Lions have reached the crossroads in their 2019 campaign, and it’s this three-game tour that is likely to make or break their playoff hopes.
They will face the Brumbies, Chiefs and Crusaders in the coming weeks, each game seeming to be more difficult than the previous one.
The Brumbies, with just two wins in seven starts are probably out of the running for a play-off spot. Their two wins – a complete demolition of the Chiefs back in Round Two, and then a Round Five win over the Waratahs, are all they have on the positive side of their scoresheet at the moment, together with a negative points difference of -41; only two teams are worse off in this department, The Chiefs on -45, and the Sunwolves with a massive -70.
The Lions will know that the Brumbies are a real threat to their future hopes and chances. Last week the Aussies held the Crusaders in check for a long stretch, until an unfortunate but deserved yellow card gave the Crusaders the opening they had been waiting for.
Both the Brumbies wins have been at home playing at the GIO Stadium, they have enjoyed playing at home, albeit in front of very few spectators and mostly empty stands.
The Lions will know that the Brumbies are, perhaps, the softest of their three target on this tour, but they will also know that the Aussies will be no soft touch.
Methinks there will be two desperate teams out on that field come Saturday.
The Brumbies had hoped that David Pocock would be returning this week, and tentatively named him in their squad, only for him to be withdrawn again almost immediately. His calf remains a problem.
The Brumbies do welcome back three other Wallabies to their starting XV for the visit of the Lions on Saturday.
Prop Scott Sio, hooker Folau Fainga’a and lock Rory Arnold all return to the starting team for a fixture that will see scrum-half Joe Powell play his 50th Super Rugby game for the Brumbies.
Lock Sam Carter and centre Tom Wright are the other changes to the starting team aiming to re-ignite their season with a third successive win at GIO Stadium.
There is an all Wallaby front-five with Sio, Fainga’a and Allan Alaalatoa starting in the front-row, locked by Carter and Arnold.
Fellow international Pete Samu is at flanker, alongside Tom Cusack and the reliable Lachlan McCaffrey.
Wright returns to the starting XV to partner with Tevita Kuridrani in the centres.
Aside from the inclusion of Wright, the backline remains the same as that which lost to the Crusaders. Christian Lealiifano will captain the side.
There’s an experienced look to the core of replacements that includes props James Slipper and Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, plus hooker Josh Mann-Rea. Darcy Swain and Jahrome Brown are the other forward options amongst the five/three split with back cover provided by scrum-half Matt Lucas, centre Irae Simone and winger Andy Muirhead.
The team will head into a two-game road trip immediately after the final whistle, flying to South Africa in the early hours of Sunday morning for their first stop in Cape Town.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Tom Wright, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-rea, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Jahrome Brown, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Irae Simone, 23 Andy Muirhead
Swys de Bruin has made a number of changes to his team to face the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.
In the backline, Ruan Combrinck returns to the starting XV at wing to replace Tyrone Green, while Aphiwe Dyantyi moves from outside centre to No.11 for this weekend’s match.
Lionel Mapoe, who will be celebrating his 100th Super Rugby cap, moves to outside centre with Franco Naude taking over the No.12 jersey.
Nic Groom takes over the No.9 jersey this weekend from Ross Cronje.
In the pack, Hacjivah Dayimani is the No.8 this week with Stephan Lewies joining him in the back row at No.7. Cyle Brink will take over the No.6 jersey.
There are two changes in the tight five with Johannes Jonker and Nathan McBeth joining captain Malcolm Marx in the front row.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Stephan Lewies, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Nathan McBeth.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Gianni Lombard, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
A week ago the Lions were simply abysmal as they were chewed up and spat out by the Sharks. They seemed disinterested, often just going through the motions as the Durbanites kicked up a gear and mauled their Jo’burg based opponents.
The 2019 Lions are a relatively new team that still needs to find itself and grow into a coherent outfit. The off-season departure of many stalwarts has gutted the team of both experience and on-field leadership, the latter exacerbated by the injury to Warren Whiteley. Malcolm Marx, often one of the on-field leaders in the past, has been lumped with the captaincy, and has struggled to make his mark in this role. He is undoubtedly a leader by example, often right at the spear-tip of the Lions’ raids on the opposition. But a leader from the front is not necessarily a good captain. Playing without the burden of captaincy is one thing, playing when you are responsible for all the decisions as well as guiding and rallying your troops is a wholly different kettle of fish. He has often seemed to be struggling with these responsibilities.
Just how he will motivate and focus the Lions after their abysmal efforts against the Sharks remains to be seen.
His own form is undoubted, but this is a Lions outfit with very few leaders, especially in the back divisions where nobody seems willing to step up and take responsibility.
The Brumbies have their own issues. Despite leading at half-time in six of their last eight Super Rugby games, the Brumbies have managed to accrue only three wins in those games. They have struggled defensively, and have often had to rely on the class of Christian Lealiifano and the power of Tevita Kuridrani for their scoring opportunities.
Neither team seems to have the better of the other on a man-for-man comparison. Both teams have players struggling for form.
A difficult pick.
With so little to choose between the teams, I have to again go with home-ground advantage.
The Brumbies will win, but it will be close. Say 6 points.
Sharks v Jaguares
|Venue||Kings Park, Durban|
|Date||Saturday 6 April|
|Kick-off||15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT;|
|Referee||Nick Briant (New Zealand)|
Okay, so based on the Sharks performance against the Lions, the Jaguares will win this one easily.
The Sharks reputation for inconsistency is legendary.
Based purely on their past record then, they have no chance of winning this weekend.
Of course, one hopes that their past is something that will remain in the past, and that the Sharks’ future will be somewhat different.
Last week, they gave their best performance of 2019, if not perhaps their best of the last three seasons, to score six tries in a 42-5 mauling of the Lions in Johannesburg.
The Jaguares also had a “good” weekend last time out. It was less of their own making and more of their opponent’s failing. Somehow the Bulls contrived to lose a game that they seemed to have in the bank, but that win will give the Jaguares some hope that they can derail the Sharks in Durban too.
Especially if the Sharks stay true to historical form and produce their habitual inconsistency.
We will be watching with an interested, if somewhat jaundiced eye.
Jean-Luc du Preez is finally back after a long-term injury and has been named on the bench for the Sharks’ clash with the Jaguares at Kings Park on Saturday.
There are a handful of changes to the Sharks match-day 23.
With Springbok Rugby World Cup workloads in mind and the commitment to rotate players during the competition, Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen and Jacques Vermeulen have all been rested for this match.
This means two changes in the front row, with Juan Schoeman and Thomas du Toit packing down in the front row on either side of Kerron van Vuuren who starts his second match for the Sharks.
The other change to the starting line-up sees Philip van der Walt in for Vermeulen at flank with the backline remaining intact from last week.
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 Philip van der Walt, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Aphelele Fassi.
There are some changes to the team that beat the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last weekend.
Joaquin Tuculet comes into the team at fullback with Emiliano Boffelli moving to the wing in place of Ramiro Moyano.
The other change to the backline sees Domingo Miotti come in at No.10.
In the pack, Tomas Lezana moves to No.8, while Marcos Kremer takes over at No.7. Tomas Lavanini moves into the second row.
There is one change to the front row with Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro replacing Mayco Vivas.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Javier Ortega Desio, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Juan Cruz Mallia, 23 Santiago Carreras.
Can the Sharks maintain the impressive focus and momentum they built at Ellis Park last week? For the first time in 2019, the men from Durban unleashed their backline and allowed them to run with the ball in hand. Instead of the constant one-off-the-nine game they have played so far this year, they allowed the ball to go out to the wider channels, and that gave the likes of Lukhanyo Am, Lwazi Mvovo, Makazole Mapimpi and Curwin Bosch the time in possession and the room to enjoy themselves. Even their crash-ball king, Andre Esterhuizen, seemed to get caught up in the enjoyment of running with the ball in hand. Bosch, deployed as a starting player instead of a bench-warmer, had a field day.
Will they do it again against the scrappy, disruptive and often chaotic game plan of this Jaguares outfit.
The Sharks have rested their two Springbok front-rowers, Coenie and the Beast (Is there a kids’ movie title in those names, or what?)– which may draw some of the power from their starting pack. Thomas du Toit is a powerhouse scrummager in his own right, but his fitness may be in some doubt, he has not played a full game of rugby in 2019, having been a replacement player all season.
The Sharks physically dominated the Lions, and they will look to reproduce that performance against the Jaguares, especially as the visitors are the worst scrumming outfit in 2019 Super Rugby, with a scrum success rate of just 80%. To maintain their momentum and give their backs the freedom of movement the Sharks will be looking to target the visitors in this set-piece and in the collisions too.
Both sides will focus on attempting to gain lineout superiority, with the Jaguares being a shade better than the Sharks at this point of the season. The visitors boast a 92,4% lineout success rate, with the Sharks on 88%. Neither side has been great shakes at stealing lineouts, the Sharks have poached 4, and the Jaguares 5.
The Sharks will probably look to play the ball close for a while, using their big men to bash it into the Jaguares and suck their spreading defenders closer, before running the ball wide again. If they do that, they can rip the Jaguares apart. If they focus on playing close all afternoon, the Jaguares may just have a better chance on the turnover and counter-attack, this is their game style.
The Sharks, at home, surfing on a wave of confidence after their mauling of the Lions? It is difficult to call the game any way other than as a comfortable win for the Sharks, by at least 15 points.
Bulls v Reds
|Venue||Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria|
|Date||Saturday 13 April|
|Kick-off||17h15 local (SA Time); 15h15 GMT|
|AR1||Marius van der Westhuizen|
The Reds will arrive at Loftus thinking that their win over the Stormers last weekend is a portend of things to some on their tour in South Africa. They will have seen the result of the Bulls game against the Jaguares, and they will think to themselves that this Bulls outfit is ripe for the plucking.
If they are going to win a game in South Africa, they will believe that the Bulls will be the game they are most likely to win.
The Bulls will be looking at the Reds and know that they need a win over the Aussie visitors to keep their challenge in the South African conference on track, and maintain their hopes for a possible play-off spot.
They will be wanting to re-establish their challenge, and the game against the Reds presents the ideal opportunity to get the wheels turning in the right direction..
The Reds are not going to be the easy points of the past couple of seasons. They may have failed to notch any early wins from the first 3 matches of 2019, but they have since gone on to win 3 of their last 4 matches. That will be something to make the Bulls take their challenge very seriously.
Playing without specialist lock forwards is never a good idea, so the Bulls will be happy that RG Snyman can start his first match of the season after returning home from his off-season stint in Japan with an ankle problem.
Warrick Gelant will also make his return after suffering a shoulder injury while training for the match against the Chiefs in round five.
The duo are joined by captain Handré Pollard and Jesse Kriel, who were rested for the game against the Jaguares last weekend, as well as Marco van Staden, who is back in the loose trio for the first time this year.
Scrumhalves Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier have rotated, with Van Zyl starting his third match of the season.
Duane Vermeulen has been rested due to Springbok protocols and is replaced by Paul Schoeman.
Hanro Liebenberg has reverted to the back row, swopping places with Jannes Kirsten, while Jaco Visagie will start at hooker after coming off the bench against the Jaguares.
On the bench, there is a potential first appearance of the season for Roelof Smit, and a potential debut for new signing Wiehan Herbst, who recently joined from Ulster.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Handré Pollard (c), 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehan Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
The Reds have made four changes to their starting XV for Saturday’s match against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria.
Chris Feauai-Sautia will start at outside centre in his return from a hamstring injury
Outside back Aidan Toua earns his first start this season on the wing replacing Sefa Naivalu, who is being rested in accordance with Rugby Australia’s workload management policy.
While prop Taniela Tupou and hooker Alex Mafi will both come off the bench and into the starting front row this weekend.
Tupou and Mafi’s inclusion in the XV sees Ruan Smith and Brandon Paenga-Amosa drop to the bench.
They’ll be joined by other new two faces with back rower Angus Scott-Young cleared of concussion and University of Queensland flyer Jock Campbell potentially set to make his Super Rugby debut.
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Jack Hardy, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Aidan Toua, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Jock Campbell.
The Bulls have been bolstered by the return of Springboks Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard and RG Snyman. This gives them a far more settled look after the somewhat disjointed team that took on the Jaguares a week ago.
Two players are of critical importance to the Bulls in this game and for the rest of the season, and both will play this game. RG Snyman and Handré Pollard will both take the field in the run-on XV.
A week ago the Bulls took to the field with just one established and recognised lock forward in their ranks – Eli Snyman, a rookie youngster who was entrusted with the serious job of running the Bull’s lineout. When he was injured the Bulls ended up playing with a pack of forwards that included no less than 5 specialist looseforwards, but with none of the real serious power men that provide the grunt down in the engine room of rugby.
You cannot play coherent rugby without lock forwards. That is a simple truth that was again proven against the Jaguares. The Bulls struggled, especially after Snyman left the field clutching his shoulder.
This week they are again starting the game with just one lock forward, RG Snyman has been rushed into the starting XV without so much as a run off the bench to get his 2019 match-fitness started. He will lock the scrum with yet another redeployed loosie, Jannes Kirsten.
The loose trio has also been changed, with Duane Vermeulen being rested. However it is easier to replace him as the return of Marco van Staden adds some firepower to the loosies, especially over the ball, where Vermeulen is likely to be missed.
The Reds are a side that have been hugely inconsistent again this season, but they do come to South Africa on the back of a win over the Stormers, which will serve as a confidence booster.
Their particular weakness has been over the ball on the ground where they have been guilty of conceding 14.7 turnovers per game. This may, again, be a difficult aspect of their game against the Bulls.
Looking at the two teams:
The Reds have brought in two new front rowers for this clash, with powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou and hooker Alex Mafi set to start against the Bulls. Whilst Tupou is a powerful scrummager when things are going his way, his lack of experience and technical nous has meant that more experienced and cleverer props have learned to tame his power by using some of the more technical elements of binding and scrumming. The Bulls front rowers Trevor Nyakane and Lizo Gqoboka have been in good form, and have the nous to draw some of the power from the Reds front three.
At the back, the Reds game has been built around the powerful running of their captain Samu Kerevi. This has become a predictable game plan, and the Bulls will know that they have to stop him in his tracks, which will draw much of the sting from a Reds back division that has often looked a bit wayward when Kerevi is contained.
The Bulls have built their game around the game management and tactical nous of flyhalf Handré Pollard, they missed him last week as he sat out the game due to Springbok rest requirements. He is back, and he will undoubtedly be probing and teasing the back three of the Reds with plenty of short chips and corner kicks for his fast men to chase.
The Bulls backline attack has not been consistent since their goring of the Stormers first up, but they are the best of them all when it comes to defence, conceding the lowest number of points of any team in the competition so far.
The Bulls do, however, have the top points scorer in the entire competition taking the field for them. That man Handré Pollard has a personal haul of 96 points, the highest in the competition. (Well clear of Damian McKenzie in second place on 77 points.) The Reds will concede penalties within range of his boot at their peril.
Loftus Versveld, high up in the sky and a long long way from Brisbane’s sea level climes, at the other end of a13878 km and a 15 Hour and 25 minute long haul flight?
The Bulls, looking desperately to return to winning ways after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory last week?
It has to be the Bulls, by at least 15 points.