Super Rugby 2019

Weekend Preview & Predictions

Week Four 

This fourth weekend of the 2019 Super Rugby Season features seven games, two of Friday the 8thMarch and then five on Saturday the 9thMarch.

Saturday Games

Crusaders v Chiefs

Venue: Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
Date Saturday 9 March
Kick-off 17h15 local;  04h15 GMT; 06h15 SA Time
Referee Brendon Pickerill
AR1 Damon Murphy
AR2 Nick Hogan
TMO Shane McDermott

When a team has the reputation for slow starts to a season, and then kick off with three wins on the trot, it spells trouble for the rest in any competition. The Crusaders have that reputation. They start slowly, and build a head of steam later in the season.

Yet, they have won three on the trot in 2019, which is some “slow” start!

So far they have been efficient, often ruthless, but far from flamboyant, and certainly far from their best.

They can only get better.

The same could be said of the Chiefs – they can only get better……… Unless they have reached the bottom of the pit, and decide to start digging!

The 2019 Chiefs have had as bad a start to a season as we have ever seen from them, and it is likely to get worse before it gets better, playing a Crusaders team that is getting all the cylinders firing in sequence and the gears properly oiled, in Christchurch.

We shall have to watch and learn….

Team News:

The Crusaders: 

Scott Robertson has made a number of changes, including two Super Rugby debutants in his team for this weekend.

In the forwards, Owen Franks and Matt Todd will be rested this week, and Michael Alaalatoa and Billy Harmon will start. George Bower could earn his first Super Rugby cap if called on to replace Alaalatoa at tighthead prop.

In the second row, Mitch Dunshea has earned his first start of the season and will partner Scott Barrett at lock. 

The final change in the loose forwards will see Jordan Taufua start on the blindside.

In the backs, Ereatara Enari has earned his first Super Rugby start at scrumhalf. Braydon Ennor moves to the left wing and Sevu Reece will make his debut on the right wing.

Ryan Crotty returns this week to start at inside centre and will also captain the side in the absence of Matt Todd. 

Whetukamokamo Douglas and the returning Codie Taylor have been named as vice-captains.

On the reserves bench, Ethan Blackadder will provide loose forward cover and Brett Cameron joins the side this week, replacing Mitch Hunt who was concussed in last week’s match against the Reds.

The Chiefs:

Coach Colin Cooper has made a number of changes to the starting XV to face an in-form and unbeaten Crusaders on Saturday.

All Blacks Nathan Harris and Nepo Laulala will start in the front row alongside Aidan Ross. The return of Harris and Laulala means Samisoni Taukei’aho and Angus Ta’avao move to the reserves.

A new second row combination of Brodie Retallick and Tyler Ardron will start with Michael Allardice being ruled out after sustaining an injury in training. Lachlan Boshier gets the nod as the starting No.7 ahead of Mitchell Karpik who has been named in the reserves.

In the backs inside centre Anton Lienert-Brown returns to combine in the midfield with outside centre Tumua Manu, shifting Alex Nankivell to the bench. Fullback Solomon Alaimalo returns from injury to earn his first start of the season.

Flyhalf Jack Debreczeni may get the chance to debut off the bench.

The Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty (captain), 11 Braydon Ennor, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Ere Enari, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Harry Allan, 18 George Bower, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ethan Blackadder, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 David Havili.

Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick (captain), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Alex Nankivell.

Thoughts:

The Chiefs can be one of the most entertaining teams in the world – their capacity for adventurous rugby, played at pace, with incredible hand and running skills is often enthralling, bordering on the sublime.

When things are working, the Chiefs are what rugby should be all about. Hard, uncompromising forwards, playing to the limit, yet a sense of fun in everything they do. Backs that try to exploit even the glimmer of a gap on the field, doing the unexpected, and doing it well. Great finishing too.

In 2019 they have been none of the above.

A third consecutive loss last weekend, and against the Sunwolves at that, has left them at the bottom of the overall standings.

Can they respond and kick up several gears when they face the Crusaders?

The Crusaders have been exactly as we know and expect of them. Clinical, controlled, focussed, almost elemental in the way they go about their business. And doing exactly what the Crusaders do, slowly building up a head of steam as they get into the meat and potatoes part of the season.

This is not going to be easy for the visitors.

Prediction:

A badly misfiring Chiefs, looking like startled rabbits in the headlights of an on-rushing 18-wheeler…..

The Crusaders might have opted to rest a couple of their All Blacks but they should have enough firepower to emerge as comfortable victors.

The Crusaders, by 12.

Blues v Sunwolves

Venue:QBE Stadium, North Harbour
Date Saturday 9 March
Kick-off 19h35 local; 06h35 GMT; 08h35 SA Time
Referee Mike Fraser
AR1 James Munro
AR2 Dan Waenga
TMO Glenn Newman

This is not going to be an easy game for the Blues.

Yesterday they attended the funeral of a member of their squad, Mike Tamoaieta, a popular young man who passed away last Friday. The news shattered the team as they prepared for their game against the Jaguares, and now they have to play with the emotions having just attended his funeral.

They will be playing is special jerseys in honour of their fallen teammate.

Perhaps they will see this as the opportunity to claim their first win of the season, one that will go a long way towards honouring their friend.

The Blues face a resurgent Sunwolves, high on the confidence of having beaten the Chiefs in Hamilton a week ago.

If the truth be told, the lowly Sunwolves, so often the whipping boys of the tournament, totally outclassed the Chiefs in Hamilton. And they have beaten the Blues before. They did it back in 2017, albeit back at home.

So, it will be emotion against confidence, which will prevail?

Team News:

The Blues:

Sonny Bill Williams will lead the Blues when they face the Sunwolves on Saturday.

Williams replaces Ma’a Nonu as one of six changes to the run-on side which lost to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last weekend.

The Blues also welcome back two injured players to add spark to the team.

Loose forward Blake Gibson will make his first appearance, starting on the openside flank after being sidelined with an injury. His return allows All Black Dalton Papalii to come off the bench after playing in the opening three games.

The two metre tall lock Scott Scrafton will come off the bench after nearly one year out of the sport after damaging both his ACL and LCL in the knee and ripping the tendon off the bone.

There’s a homegrown look to the tight five with All Black Karl Tu’inukuafe, James Parsons and Sione Mafileo forming a potent front-row and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti starting at lock – all from North Harbour and starting on their home turf.

In-form lock Josh Goodhue will partner Cowley-Tuioti in the second-row while Tom Robinson and Akira Ioane again start in the loose.

Harry Plummer gets his first start at fly-half, swapping spots with Otere Black, who comes off the bench, and Williams starts in midfield alongside TJ Faiane.

Sam Nock has recovered from a calf injury and is included on the bench as is big midfielder Levi Aumua.

The Sunwolves:

As is their habit of making sweeping changes to their team, no matter what the result on the previous weekend, the Sunwolves have made seven changes to their starting line-up for their match against the Blues at QBE Stadium.

The Sunwolves go into the Saturday’s match beaming with confidence following their historic win over the Chiefs in Round Three.

Loose forward Shahel Matshuhashi will start at openside flank. He joins the Rahboni Warren Vosayaco and Hendrik Tui as the loose trio combinations for the fixture.

Other changes to the pack see James Moore and Tom Row come in as the second-row duo, while the front row is unchanged.

In the backline, Semisi Masirewa comes in at fullback replacing Jason Emery, who moves to outside centre for this week’s fixture.

Rikiya Matsuda takes over the role as the No.10 from Hayden Parker, while Jamie Booth will don the No.9 jersey.

The Teams:

Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams (c), 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Lua Li, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua

Sunwolves: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Gerhard Van Den Heever, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Michael Little (captain), 11 Jamie Henry, 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Shahel Matshuhashi, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 James Moore, 4 Tom Rowe, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.

Thoughts:

This is the third Super Rugby meeting between the Blues and Sunwolves, but the first in New Zealand. So far they have each banked one win, so this third game is something of a tiebreaker.

The Blues come into this game with a poor home record, having won only one of their last nine Super Rugby games at home. They will be determined to fix this record. They also have the emotion of playing for a fallen comrade in this fixture.

The Sunwolves are very much a confidence side, and they like to play the broken game more than most. They will try and take the ball away from the Blues forwards as much as possible, focussing on playing to the fringes and attacking in broken play. They are a bunch of journeymen, often discards from other Super franchises, who give truth to Aristotle’s adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Their game is built on preying on the mistakes of their opposition.  Whether they can force the Blues to make mistakes is the real question.

The Blues have a distinct, identifiable mental issue, a pressure all of their own making. Once they get within striking distance of their opponent’s goal line they seem to go into a frenzy of white-line fever, abandoning the elements of team play that brought them within striking distance and becoming a bunch of individuals who all want to win the game all by themselves. When one more pass would do the trick, the ball is tucked under an armpit and the head lowered in a fruitless charge for the line.

If they can learn the patience, if they can play as a team, they can beat anyone.

They need to learn about Aristotle’s saying about the whole and the parts. They need to understand the concept of TEAM. Together, Everyone Achieves More.

They have not been doing that.

 Prediction:

The real question is whether the Sunwolves can regain the highs of last weekend, or whether the hangover will get them?

The Blues are a team that has shown flashes of what they could be, but then failed to produce, time and again.

This time, I believe that the emotion of the day will carry the Blues all the way.

The Blues, by 9.

Waratahs v Reds

Venue:Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Date Saturday 9 March
Kick-off 19h45 local; 08h45 GMT; 10h45 SA Time
Referee Glen Jackson
AR1 AJ Jacobs
AR2 Amy Perrett
TMO James Leckie

Bluntly, I have not been impressed by the 2019 Waratahs. Losing to the ‘Canes, beating the Sunwolves by just one point, they have not played the kind of rugby one would expect from a team that contains more current Wallabies than anyone else.

On paper, the Waratahs hold all the cards as they take on the Reds, they certainly have the psychological advantage of having won their last nine games against the Reds. 

Yet, this 2019 Reds team seems to have something a bit more than previous iterations of the team that plays out of Brisbane.

They might have struggled away from home in recent times, but last week’s loss to the Crusaders, buy just 10 points, might be an indicator of something stirring in Queensland.

Neither side has impressed of late, so I am not holding much hope for a great game of rugby. It is more likely to be a dour wrestling match.

Team News:

The Waratahs

Daryl Gibson has named a powerful Waratahs team for the game against the Reds.

With Adam Ashley-Cooper back to full fitness after coming off the bench in Round Two, he’ll once again join Karmichael Hunt in the midfield.

Kurtley Beale moves to full-back, with Israel Folau shifting to the wing and Alex Newsome set to come off the replacements bench.

The Reds

Brad Thorn has dropped Hamish Stewart to the bench as the Reds try to end a nine-game losing streak against the ‘Tahs on Saturday.

Waratahs recruit Bryce Hegarty has overcome rib soreness to replace Stewart at flyhalf, while Duncan Paia’aua comes in for the injured Jordan Petaia in the centres.

Isaac Lucas will get his first Super Rugby start at fullback. 

JP Smith and Scott Higginbotham have both earned starts after making late impacts off the bench last weekend against the Crusaders.

The Teams:

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Lachlan Swinton, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Alex Newsome

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

Thoughts:

After a bye week, the ‘Tahs will be looking for their second win of the year. They have rejigged their backline for the umpteenth time, with Israel Folau moving to the wing as coach Daryl Gibson tries to find a way to accommodate all his name players. Kurtley Beale moves to fullback, with Ashley-Cooper and Hunt in the midfield. Individually, this is a backline with plenty of striking power, but they have not yet gelled as a unit, while constant positional shuffling of a player like Folau raises some questions about balance. That being said, the ‘Tahs back division simply seems to have far too much striking power for the rookie Reds.

The forwards seem more evenly balanced, with the Reds possibly having the grunt in the scrums, but perhaps struggling with the ‘Tahs height in the lineouts.

The loose-forward clash will be interesting, with Dempsey, Hooper, and Hanigan perhaps having the legs on Higginbotham, Wright, and Salakaia-Loto, although Higginbotham’s mongrel might cause problems.

Prediction:

Whist the forward battle might be more even, I cannot see the Reds back division taming the ‘Tahs.

The Waratahs, by 10.

Lions v Jaguares

Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Date Saturday 9 March
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT
Referee Rasta Rasivhenge
AR1 Cwengile Jadezweni
AR2 Griffin Colby
TMO Willie Vos

In previous years, when the Lions visited Jaguare country, they deployed “experimental” teams, just another name for second stringers. Perhaps it was Lion arrogance, I do not know, but on two occasions the ploy failed them miserably, famously costing them the chance for a home final in 2016. They did not make the same mistake in 2019, and earned their first away win to the Argentinean side in Week One of the competition.

Now the Jaguares visit Ellis Park, and they have done a “Lions” by deploying what looks like their second team

The Lions have never lost to the Jaguares at Ellis Park. Just that suggests that the Lions come into this match as favourites.

Yet, the 2019 Lions are under pressure. 

They showed a lack of composure during the late stages of their battle with the Stormers at Newlands, and then were battered physically and tactically outplayed when they met the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last weekend. 

They will be licking their wounds as they contemplate the visiting Jaguares. The Lions simply can’t afford to lose a third consecutive match at this stage of the season.

Team News:

The Lions: 

The inclusion of Wandisile Simelane is one of seven changes Swys de Bruin has made to the Lions’ starting XV ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Jaguares. After last week’s home loss to the Vodacom Bulls, De Bruin has dropped some of his most senior and experienced players in favour of several youngsters from the Lions’ junior ranks.

In the backline there is an all-new centre pairing as the highly rated Simelane and Franco Naudé replace Lionel Mapoe and Harold Vorster respectively. On the wings, Sylvian Mahuza and Courtnall Skosan take over from Springbok duo Ruan Combrinck and Aphiwe Dyantyi, and Ross Cronjé starts at scrumhalf ahead of Nic Groom.

Vorster is on the bench, but Mapoe, Combrinck, Dyantyi and Groom have been left out of the match-day 23 altogether.

In the pack, Vincent Tshituka comes into the back row at blindside flank at the expense of Hacjivah Dayimani, while Kwagga Smith moves from the side of the scrum to No 8 to accommodate Tshituka. In the second row, Ruan Vermaak takes over from Stephan Lewies.

The new faces on the bench include prop Nathan McBeth, loose forward James Venter and utility back Tyrone Green, who has been bracketed with Gianni Lombard.

The Jaguares:

Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada has made a total of 11 changes to his starting lineup to face the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.

With the intention of resting his key players, Quesada has retained just four of his regulars.

Of the team that beat the Blues last weekend, only Guido Petti and Marcos Kremer remain in the forwards, and Joaquín Díaz Bonilla and Matías Moroni in the backs.

Joaquín Tuculet takes over from Jeronimo de la Fuente as the captain.

The Teams:

Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Rhyno Herbst, 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcom Marx (c), 1 Dylan Smith
Subs: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 James Venter, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Gianni Lombard/Tyrone Green

Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet (c), 14  Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Rodrigo Bruni, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Juan Pablo Zeiss.
Subs: 16 Gaspar Baldunciel, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Juan Cruz Mallia, 23 Matias Orlando.

Thoughts:

The Lions’ forwards will have to make a statement this weekend. The loss of so many senior forwards to the poaching chequebooks of the likes of their previous coach, Johan Ackermann, and others including the Hurricanes, has deprived the Lions of the dominant pack which was the foundation-stone of their game in previous years.

Without that solid, stable platform, the back division has wobbled. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies can be quite brilliant when he is afforded front-foot ball by his forwards, but is distinctly uncomfortable when he has to play off the back foot. He does not like the pressure at all.

If the Lions forwards can establish the dominance that they showed in the first outing of the season, and release Jantjies from the pressures in his head, they may well have this game in the bag.   

They will know that it was their defence that helped them win the first game over in the Argentine, and they need this aspect of their game to step up a notch again. In the last two weeks they have been a bit iffy when the pressure was turned on.

The back three have struggled under the high ball, with coach de Bruin dumping Ruan Combrinck and Aphiwe Dyantyi from the team as he looks to find someone who will catch the inevitable kicks. Andries Coetzee has been retained, although his refusal to pass the ball must be weighing against him at some stage.

The Jaguares love a scrambling disruptive game where they can get between defenders and cause havoc around the tackle and ruck areas, often bordering on the illegal as they get into their opponents’ spaces and then their heads. They have what it takes to disrupt the Lions’ lineout, and the scrum has looked better than in previous years. They will be looking for a scrap over the loose ball, and to disrupt the Lions’ game at the breakdowns and collisions. Much will depend on the Lions loosies, backed by Malcolm Marx’s ball poaching abilities.

If the Lions can find their cohesion, they should run the Jaguares ragged, and the visitors will be doing whatever it takes to disrupt any and all attempts at finding that cohesion.

Prediction:

The Lions, at home, at altitude, against a distinctly second string Jaguares?

Methinks the Lions, by 15 or more.

Bulls v Sharks

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Date Saturday 9 March
Kick-off 17h15 local (SA Time); 15h15 GMT
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen
AR1 Egon Seconds
AR2 Divan Uys
TMO Christie du Preez

This might well be the season defining game of the South African conference. The winner of this clash earns the bragging rights and possibly the favourites tag for the SA conference and a place in the 2019 finals.

The Sharks started their season by smashing the Sunwolves, and then demolishing the Blues, although the second half of the game against the New Zealanders did suggest that the Sharks were not quite the complete outfit as they allowed the Blues back into a game that they should have shut out by the 10thminute of the second half. Those two wins may have suggested that 2019 was the Sharks year, but there were a couple of doubts expressed by some observers. 

Those two wins were against perennial bottom-feeders in the Super Rugby pond, and might well not provide any indication of the Sharks prospects on 2019?

Last weekend they came up against a Stormers outfit playing focussed, dour derby-style rugby, and found that their forwards were not quite up to the task against the power of the men from Cape Town. As they struggled to contain the Stormers pack, their disciplines started to disintegrate.

This week they face a Bulls outfit that has been impressive on two occasions, smashing the Stormers in the first outing of the season, and then repeating their efforts against the Lions last week. They did have something of a wobble against the Jaguares in the wet of the Argentine. The Bulls have built their game around a solid pack of forwards, a well-oiled back division, and a flyhalf who is reaching new heights of form in his short career.

This weekend will provide us with a measure of both teams and their longer term prospects in 2019.

Team News:

The Bulls. 

Ivan van Zyl will make his first start of the season in the Vodacom Bulls’ match against the Sharks in Pretoria on Saturday.

The 23-year-old has been utilised off the bench for the Bulls’ opening three matches of the Vodacom Super Rugby season, but now rotates in for Papier.

There is also a new-look loose trio as both Tim Agaba and Jannes Kirsten come into the starting lineup. Hanro Liebenberg, who has been named as the stand-in captain in Lood de Jager’s absence, switches from flank to lock, while youngster Eli Snyman falls out of the match-day 23 entirely due to injury.

On the bench, former Cheetahs loose forward Paul Schoeman could be set for a first appearance in Bulls colours, should he come off the bench.

The Sharks:

Rhyno Smith has replaced the injured Aphelele Fassi in the Sharks’ starting lineup for Saturday’s match against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus.

Fassi has been ruled out with a concussion and his place has been taken by Smith, with Du Preez persisting with Curwin Bosch on the bench. Coach Robert du Preez has made four changes to his side.

Jeremy Ward is preferred at inside centre at the expense of André Esterhuizen, who drops to the bench.

The two changes to the pack see Gideon Koegelenberg replacing Ruan Botha at lock, with the uncapped Ruben van Heerden on the bench. Wian Vosloo comes in for Tyler Paul at flank. Jacques Vermeulen moves to the other side of the scrum to accommodate Vosloo.

Fezokuhle Mbatha is in line to make his Super Rugby debut after he was selected as the backup hooker, while Grant Williams takes over from Cameron Wright as replacement scrumhalf.

The Teams:

Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Tim Agaba, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements:16 Corniel Els, 17 Simpiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Tembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.

Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sb’u Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements:16 Fezokhule Mbatha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Grant Williams, 22 André Esterhuizen, 23 Curwin Bosch.

Thoughts:

Both sides have had their moments over the first three rounds of the 2019 competition. 

There have been moments of sublime rugby, and a couple of players have put their hands up and stated their intentions in 2019. Handré Pollard has been superb, Lukhanyo Am is the form 13 in South African rugby, Duane Vermeulen has shown how much he has been missed whilst playing outside the country, Schalk Brits has shown that you cannot buy experience, you earn it! 

There have also been moments of poor rugby by both outfits, and iffy form from established players. Andre Esterhuizen has not done his chances for Springbok selection any good with his lukewarm game in 2019, Warrick Gelant has had plenty of opportunities, and he has looked good when he does start running, but has persisted with his silly jink-goose-step and double-pump dummy pass before starting to run, something that sets him up for the tackle every time he does it. 

Both team have something to prove this weekend, with bragging rights on the line, and that sets us up for a potential rugby-brawl.

The Bulls are going into the game with a loose-trio that sends a message – they are gunning for the ball on the ground, with Duane Vermeulen, Tim Agaba and Jannes Kirsten better equipped for the close game than for one played out wide. Vermeulen is one of the best in the world at the breakdown, with Kirsten also a specialist poacher. The Bulls just seem to have the edge in this area.

Up front, perhaps the Sharks have the muscle, with the second row of Andrews, and Koegelenberg backing a solid front three of Coenie Oosthuizen,  Akker van Merwe, and the Beast, Tendai Mtawarira. 

The Bulls’ second row has been depleted by the injuries to Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, and now Eli Snyman too. Moving flanker Hanro Liebenberg to partner Jason Jenkins seems to be just short of a desperation move.

 The Bulls front row of Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits, and Lizo Gqoboka is solid enough, but has scrummed better when Brits has been subbed in the latter stages of a game. However, his slightly less effective scrummaging is easily counter-balanced by his huge impact around the field.

At the back the Bulls seem to have a clear edge. Although they have rotated Embrose Papier to the bench and are starting with Ivan van Zyl, he is steady enough, if a tad slow, to continue to feed good ball to Handré Pollard. Pollard is coming into some of the best form of his life and is starting to show why so many pundits have said that he has the potential to be one of the finest flyhalves in the world. The Sharks will know that he is going to tease them with deep kicks for position, and plenty of little tactical kicks too, but will also be attacking the gain line himself, and unleashing his backs at every opportunity.

Thanks to Pollard, the Bulls have shown more variation on attack than has been seen at Loftus in many a decade.

The Bulls have some very dangerous ball carriers in the wider channels, with the likes of Jesse Kriel, Gelant, Hendricks, and Rosko Specman having the ability to cut defenders to ribbons.

On the Sharks side Lucky Am has been in great form, but he will need his forwards to establish a platform to get good front-foot ball out to him. He has the finishing power of Nkosi and Mapimpi outside him, and they too can cause havoc if given the ball in space.

This game revolves around two aspects. The team that can establish forward dominance has the better chance of winning, but the key to the final outcome will be defence, and here the Bulls might just have a slight edge.

Prediction:

The Bulls, with the confidence of a win over the Lions last week, and the advantage of being at home, at altitude – a smooth running back division, and a better balanced loose-trio – just seem to have more to offer than the visitors at this stage.

The Bulls, by 9.