Super Rugby 2019

Weekend Preview & Predictions

Week Six – Part Two

This sixth weekend of the 2019 Super Rugby Season features a full compliment of seven games, just one on Friday the 22ndMarch and then five on Saturday the 23rd March, and the final one on Sunday the 24thMarch. The Jaguares have the weekend off.

Sanzaar & The Refs

A quick comment about the referees for this weekend. Once again Sanzaar have completely ignored the principle of neutral referees.

Think on these appointments: 

The Stormers visit the Hurricanes in Wellington, New Zealand. Glen Jackson, a New Zealander who has previously been lambasted for being somewhat biased in favour of New Zealand teams, will be in charge of the match. Jackson’s compatriots Nick Briant and Ben O’Keeffe will be the assistant referees, with yet another New Zealander, Glenn Newman, the TMO.

An all-South African officiating team will take control of the match between the Bulls and Chiefs at Loftus, with AJ Jacobs serving as referee, Cwengile Jadezweni and Griffin Colby as the assistant refs, and Willie Vos on TMO duty.

Down in Durban, it is more of the same, South Africa’s Rasta Rasivhenge will be in charge of the clash between the Sharks and Rebels in Durban. He will be assisted by fellow South Africans Divan Uys and Aimee Barrett-Theron, with Marius Jonker as the TMO.

The other four games will see neutral referees, which begs the question, how and why can the principle of neutral referees not be applied in all the games under Sanzaar’s direction?

Bulls vs Chiefs

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Date Saturday 23 March
Kick-off 15h05 local (SA Time); 13h05 GMT.
Referee AJ Jacobs
AR1 Cwengile Jadezweni
AR2 Griffin Colby
TMO Willie Vos

Now this could get really interesting!

The Bulls started 2019 with a series of really comprehensive wins, interspersed with a poor loss to the Jaguares over in Argentina, a loss that is almost par for the course for every South African side that has visited Argentina in the last couple of years.

Despite that loss to the Jaguares, the Bulls have been impressive so far this year. They are playing a brand of clinical, high-percentage rugby not seen in Pretoria for many a decade. Their game is based on a powerful set-piece, an aggressive rush defence system, and a backline that is very well drilled in all aspects of their game, with plenty of pace in the wider channels. All of this controlled by a flyhalf, Handré Pollard, who is in the very best of form as he lives up to the hype that accompanied him from a very young age.

This is not the Bulls of old! This is not the machine-like forward-pod oriented rugby backed by a kicking flyhalf that gave the Bulls their Super Rugby titles in a different age. This is a new Bulls outfit, embracing the modern styles of rugby in the 21stcentury, they are enjoying their rugby, and that makes them a formidable opponent.

They come up against a Chiefs outfit that seems to be on the verge of finding their mojo.

After a disastrous start to 2019, with four consecutive defeats, including bending their knee to a Sunwolves outfit that cannot be called anything more than journeymen, the Chiefs finally found something extra last week when they played to a close-run draw with the Hurricanes. Damian McKenzie was back at fullback, and he revelled in the freedom and space he finally had to play his natural game. The Chiefs could have won that game, but for a single missed penalty by McKenzie – it was that close!

Which brings us to this weekend.

The Bulls, in top form, coming into the game well rested after a bye week, and the Chiefs, finally finding their game.

It promises to be an exciting game.

Team News:

The Bulls:

Divan Rossouw will start ahead of the injured Warrick Gelant for the Vodacom Bulls’ match against the Chiefs in Pretoria on Saturday.

Gelant picked up a shoulder injury during the week, with Rossouw coming straight into the starting lineup as his replacement.

The Bulls have been boosted by the return of centre Burger Odendaal and flank Ruan Steenkamp from injuries. The duo replaces Dylan Sage and Tim Agaba respectively.

Eli Snyman, who missed the win against the Sharks with an injury, has also regained fitness and takes his place on the bench, with Hanro Liebenberg continuing at lock.

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

The Chiefs:

The Chiefs have had to make a number of changes after last week’s drawn match. Four forwards remain in the starting line-up, loosehead prop Aidan Ross, hooker Nathan Harris, Captain Brodie Retallick and number eight Tyler Ardron. Tighthead prop Angus Ta’avao will start ahead of Nepo Laulala who start off the bench.

A new locking combination of Retallick and Mitchell Brown will start with Michael Allardice providing cover on the bench. 

Blindside flank Luke Jacobson earns his first start of the season and is joined by Lachlan Boshier on the openside who returns to the starting fifteen after missing the Hurricanes match with concussion.

In the backline only two changes have been made. Flyhalf Jack Debreczeni earns his first start of the season after returning to full health. Solomon Alaimalo returns from injury and is named on the left wing shifting Ataata Moeakiola to the bench.

On the bench prop Tevita Mafileo returns following a minor injury named in jersey number 17 and loose forward Jesse Parete earns his spot on the bench to don jersey number 20.

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

Thoughts:

This game will provide the first real measure of the 2019 Bulls. South African derbies are usually games of blood and thunder, with a whiff of cordite, all fed by plenty of testosterone. Derbies are “must-win” affairs as teams look to top their local conference logs and book a place in the playoffs. This is the way the ill-conceived conference system works.

Home games against overseas visitors are next in line in importance. Once again, teams look for home wins against the visitors to help their campaign for a playoff slot. 

Home games against travelling visitors have, traditionally, tilted in favour of the hosts.

The away games, on tour outside the country, take third place in precedence. Wins away from the home country are good, but not critical to the cause.

So, in terms of the above order of precedence, the arrival of the Chiefs in Pretoria signals an important game for the Bulls as they hunt their first playoff slot in a number of years. They have banked their first three local derbies, now it is time to knock over a couple of overseas visitors.

Derbies aside, this game will give us some indication of the Bulls prospects for the rest of the season. This will be their first time outing against New Zealand opposition this season.

The Chiefs will arrive at Loftus Versveld knowing that they have to do something really special if they want to be in line for a playoff slot at the end of the season. Losing two and drawing another of their home derbies is not a great start to the season for anyone, but then to lose an incoming game to the Sunwolves is very close to rugby’s version of Pearl Harbour. The loss to the Brumbies can be written off on the basis of being just one of those third order of precedence games…

However, it is the derby losses and the loss to the Sunwolves that take away the luxury of a third-order of precedence status from this game against the Bulls! The Chiefs have to win it if they want to get their season back on some kind of track!

The Bulls have played a clinical game of rugby based on a solid set-piece, good over-the-ball disciplines, an aggressive, well organised defence, and the playmaking skills of Handré Pollard to unleash the back division when scoring opportunities present themselves. Good, clinical, disciplined, modern rugby.

Much of the rugby played by the 2019 Chiefs has been akin to a complete shambles, with their attacking plays being individual efforts rather than well-constructed team efforts. Their defence has been woeful.  

Until last week against the Hurricanes!

Everything they did last week represented a marked improvement over their first four weeks of the season. The forwards were more focussed, and played as a unit. The backs ran with purpose, seeking the gaps and openings rather than trying to smash their way through defences. And then there was Damian McKenzie, roaming freely out of the fullback position.

The Bulls will need to ramp up their already impressive defence to deal with McKenzie’s mercurial counter-attacks in broken play. He can trigger a surge of Chiefs running support lines that can rip any defence structure to ribbons. The Bulls will need to be fully aware of the danger he can pose from broken-field play, and avoid giving him the ball in space as much as possible.

The Bulls forwards perhaps have the edge over the Chiefs as a unit, although the likes of Tyler Ardron, Lachlan Boshier, Brodie Retallick and Nathan Harris, are likely to step up their game and provide some serious opposition to the home side’s attempt to dominate the set-pieces and collisions.

Have no doubt that the Chiefs are unpredictable and will be determined to offer up a serious challenge to the Bulls at Loftus.

This is a game I will not be missing.

Prediction:

Home ground advantage has not always been with the Bulls in recent years, but things seem to be changing. 

Loftus Versveld is at an altitude that the Chiefs are unused to, and the heat of the late summer may be draining, although predictions are for a mild 26C on Saturday. 

The Bulls, riding on the confidence of a solid start to 2019, against a Chiefs side that is more than a little desperate for a win, any win, suggests an enthralling game, but I have to go with my gut feel that clinical composure and discipline will beat desperation.

The Bulls, by 10.

Sharks vs Rebels

Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Date Saturday 23 March
Kick-off 17h15 local (SA Time); 15h15 GMT.
Referee Rasta Rasivhenge
AR1 Divan Uys
AR2 Amy Barrat-Theron
TMO Marius Jonker

The Sharks started the 2019 season with a bang, demolishing the Sunwolves, and then thumping the Blues. There were a couple of red flags in that game against the Blues, as inaccuracy, tactical confusion, and over-confidence seemed to creep into the Sharks game in the second half, and they butchered a host of scoring opportunities before finally getting the critical bonus point try with a very late interception try.

As has become familiar to all who watch the Sharks and their supporters, the two wins were trumpeted as the beginning of a great year for Sharks rugby.

Then, as has happened too many times in the past, things started to go a bit pear-shaped for the men from Durban. In the third round of the season they somehow contrived to lose to the misfiring Stormers. The visitors from the Cape played it hard and tight, and squeezed the Sharks into making some weird disciplinary mistakes.

A week later, and they got thumped by the Bulls at Loftus.

Suddenly things were not looking quite so rosy down Durban-way.

Last weekend’s bye could not have come at a better time, allowing the Sharks some time-out and a chance to rest and rejuvenate their game for the next challenge, hosting the Rebels on Saturday the 23rdMarch.

The Rebels came to South Africa unbeaten in 2019, and they came with a purpose. Their mission was to bank their first win ever in South Africa. Back in 2017 they managed a 9-all draw with the Sharks, but they wanted a win!

Last weekend it looked as if their South African drought was finally over, with 30 minutes left to play against the Lions they held a massive 33-5 lead and all they had to do was shut the game down and coast to victory. Somehow, unbelievably, they went into self-destruct mode as their on-field discipline evaporated like mist before the sun as the Lions kicked into overdrive and started to play their wide running and unpredictable game. The Lions won the game in the final seconds, but had ample opportunity to bank the win during a hectic final ten minutes. 

Now the Rebels will have to bounce back from that loss and beat the Sharks if they still want to go home having won their first game ever in South Africa.

They also have to do this without some of their bigger names, Adam Coleman, Marika Koroibete, Isi Naisarani and Will Genia are forced to sit this one out in terms of the Wallaby player management process, while team captain Dane Haylett-Petty has been ruled out with a foot injury.

These are two teams with something to prove, which adds a bit of spice to the fixture.

Team News:

The Sharks:

Robert du Preez has made a number of changes to the Sharks side for this crucial encounter. 

Ruben van Heerden and Hyron Andrews pair up in the second row while Phepsi Buthelezi is given a start at flank.

Andre Esterhuizen reverts back at inside centre while Aphelele Fassi is back in the side after taking a knock against the Stormers, replacing Rhyno Smith at fullback.

There was to be a return to the Sharks for Craig Burden after a five-year career in France, representing Toulon, Montpellier and Stade Français. He was initially named on the bench as a replacement for Akker van der Merwe. However, Burden was injured at training on Thursday, and has been replaced on the bench by Kerron van Vuuren.

Luke Stringer is set to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench as the replacement flank. Marius Louw also features on the bench.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 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 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Curwin Bosch.

The Rebels:

Centre Sione Tuipulotu headlines a new-look Rebels team which will face the Sharks in Durban.

With a handful of regular Rebels rotated out of the matchday 23 this week, Tuipulotu will start in the No.13 jersey.

Joining Tuipulotu in the matchday 23 this week is Pone Fa’amausili, off-season recruit Campbell Magnay and scrumhalf Harrison Goddard. 

Among the Rebels rested under the Wallabies rotation policy are Adam Coleman, Marika Koroibete, Isi Naisarani and Will Genia, while skipper Dane Haylett-Petty has been ruled out with a foot injury.

Dane Haylett-Petty’s injury has resulted in Angus Cottrell being elevated to on-field captain of the side. 

Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Tom English, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Rob Leota, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 TBC.

Thoughts:

The real interest in this game will be to measure the Sharks against overseas opposition after two consecutive losses in local derbies. This Sharks outfit has enough talented individuals together with a powerful pack of forwards that is capable of dominating anyone on their day. Their biggest issue remains consistency. They are consistently inconsistent year in and year out.

Can the Sharks put those two derby losses behind them and start producing the kind of rugby that they showed in the first two games of the season? Can they do it consistently?

The Rebels have the challenge of stepping up their game after the massive psychological blow they suffered in their loss last week. They have to do this without some of their heaviest artillery too, all their potential Wallabies who are to sit this one out in compliance with Wallaby resting policies.

The Sharks have acknowledged that they will need to return to a possession-based game, and add better discipline and greater physicality to their game.

We know that they can do this – they showed exactly that approach against both the Sunwolves and the Blues. (At least, in the first half of their game against the Blues…..)

The Rebels have a particular challenge to overcome. They have inherited the title of “Worst Disciplined Side” from the Jaguares, taking over as the most penalised and most yellow carded team in the competition in 2018. That trend was visible again last weekend, when they conceded 20 penalties against the Lions, and saw two players sent to the sin bin for the second week in a row.

They simply cannot afford to continue this trend if they want to go through to the playoffs in 2019!

The Rebels, disciplinary concerns aside, have been one of the better organised outfits in the competition so far in 2019. They have a game built around the solid platform of the half-back pairing of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, a combination that played together with some success for the Reds in previous seasons, before going their separate ways, only to be reunited by Dave Wessels at the Rebels. This combination provided the Rebels with the go-forward that gave them the upper hand in all their games leading up to last week’s loss.

However, they will have to play without Genia this week, with Michael Ruru starting. How he combines with Cooper will be an interesting sub-plot in this encounter.

The changes in the backline, with Marika Koroibete, Dane Haylett-Petty, Isi Naisarani and Will Genia not available, may have robbed the Rebels of some of their sting, but the replacements are more than good enough under most conditions.

The real question is whether their forwards can stand up to the physicality of the Sharks?

The Sharks will be desperate to return to winning ways, and their pack of forwards is reeling after two games where they were unexpectedly dominated by first the Stormers and then the Bulls. In both games the pack of forwards lacked the focussed physicality that they have shown when at their best. They will be looking to recreate that focus this week.

They will know that the Rebels struggled to cope with the Lions forwards last week, especially in the scrums, which will provide the Sharks with a focus point for their game plan.

The selection of André Esterhuizen and Aphelele Fassi adds some physicality and firepower to the backline.

The Sharks will have to out-muscle the Rebels, and then shut them down at the back to deny Quade Cooper front-foot ball. If they can do that, they have this game sewn up.

The Rebels, if they want to win this one, will have to find the forward game that allows them the absolute minimum of parity in the set-pieces and in the collisions, and then they need to provide their backs with front-foot ball. They will also have to find a whole new level of on-field discipline. That is a big challenge for a team that has taken a massive blow to their confidence with last week’s loss.

Prediction:

The off-weekend of last week’s bye must have done the Sharks the world of good, they needed the time-out to refocus and rediscover their mojo. They should be up for this game.

The Rebels have some issues, not least being the need to bounce back from that confidence-sapping loss of a week ago. They are also without a number of their more senior players, which may rob them of some of their firepower.

From my perspective, the Sharks just seem to be in a better position this week, and that should give them the win.

The Sharks, by 9.

Sunday Game

Reds vs Brumbies

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Date Sunday 24 March
Kick-off 15h05 local; 05h05 GMT; 07h05 SA Time
Referee Paul Williams
AR1 Egon Seconds
AR2 Jaco Peyper
TMO Ian Smith

The Brumbies have not been terribly convincing in 2019. They lost two close ones to the Rebels, but have also managed a squeaky win over the woeful Waratahs, and a thumping of the truly abysmal Chiefs. However, despite the iffy performances, they do have the chance to top the Aussie conference this week, if they beat the Reds, and the Rebels lose to the Sharks in Durban.

The Reds have been their usual selves, losing three and somehow managing to beat the Sunwolves with a last gasp effort a week ago, a game that the stats suggest that they should have won by around 50 points, but didn’t.

In reality, there is not much of real interest in this game. It promises to be another of those dour Aussie derbies, and arm-wrestle and slug-fest.

I am not sure why Aussie derbies differ so much from the derby games between New Zealand outfits, or those between South African teams. Those played in Africa or in New Zealand are always high-intensity, high-energy, brutally physical games where winning is everything, and thus hugely interesting and entertaining. 

The Aussies seem to go the other way, with the fear of losing overriding the need to win, resulting in conservative game plans, dour rugby, and games that fizzle and sputter like a damp squib rather than pop and sparkle.

I may not be watching this one live, and will record it so that I can fast-forward through the boring bits.

Team News:

The Reds:

The Reds have made five changes to their starting XV for Sunday clash against the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium.

After Taniela Tupou and Izack Rodda were rested last round, the duo make their return this weekend.

Feao Fotuaika will partner Tupou in the starting front row.

Tate McDermott earns his first start at scrumhalf this year, while Bryce Hegarty has overcome a rib injury and reclaims the No.10 jersey.

Filipo Daugunu will start on the wing, seeing Chris Feauai-Sautia shift to outside centre and skipper Samu Kerevi back at 12.

There are six changes to the reserves, with Ruan Smith, Moses Sorovi, Duncan Paia’aua and Isaac Lucas all on the bench this week, alongside the returning Izack Rodda.

After being named in the Reds 23 against the Highlanders in Round Two, back rower Fraser McReight has been recalled and could potentially make his Super Rugby debut on Sunday.

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

The Brumbies:

James Slipper starts against his old team for the first time since he left Brisbane.

Slipper will line up alongside Folau Fainga’a and Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin in the front row. Slipper rotates roles with Scott Sio, and is one of two changes made by coach Dan McKellar that beat the Waratahs.

The second change to the team sees Wallaby Pete Samu restored to the starting line-up, joining a back-row trio of Tom Cusack and Lachlan McCaffrey.

The reserves include a potential debut for back rower Jahrome Brown with the former Waikato flank named amongst the substitutes with McKellar preferring to go with a six-two split amongst his finishers, Jordan Jackson-Hope and Matt Lucas covering the back positions.

Blake Enever returns to the squad and can cover the lock or backrow positions along with Murray Douglas whilst Sio, Tom Ross, and Josh Mann-Rea complete the forward replacements.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Murray Douglas, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Jordan Jackson-Hope.

Thoughts:

Neither team has been particularly impressive in 2019, with the Brumbies somehow clinging to second spot on the Aussie log behind the Rebels, whilst the Reds are propping up the basement, again. 

Neither team has much in the way of stats to suggest how this game will pan out. 

Perhaps the only statistical indicator is that the Reds are ranked first for defenders beaten (30), and the Brumbies defence, with an 85% tackle success rate, is slightly below average for the competition. 

The Brumbies lineouts have been a particular strength in 2019, whilst both teams have had steady, but not spectacular, scrum success.

Which all suggests a pretty even game.

The Brumbies do have some bigger names on their team sheet, the likes of Tom Banks, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Joe Powell,  Lachlan Mccaffrey, Pete Samu, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Folau Fainga’a, and James Slipper, so they do seem to have the edge, on paper at least.

This is likely to be one of the more underwhelming fixtures of the year.

Prediction:

The Brumbies just seem to have too many guns for this Reds outfit.

The Brumbies, by 8