Super Rugby

Quarterfinals Previews & Predictions

After 18 Rounds and 120 matches of the Super Rugby regular season we have the third last weekend of a pretty dour 2019 looming.

Despite the often dire rugby and poor crowds, Sanzaar are doing their level best to talk up the competition, telling us how exciting it was, and that 2019 was a “very competitive season” with the configuration of the quarter-finals only determined after the very last match of the season.

Some this is true – the last four quarterfinalists were only determined in the last week of the competition. Sadly, much of the rugby served up throughout the year ranged from poor to simply abysmal, with just a few interesting, sparkling, games from time to time.

Let’s move on, the time for a review of Super Rugby 2019 lies ahead, right now it is quarterfinal time:

The Quarter-Finalists and their rankings are:

1. Crusaders – New Zealand Conference Winners 
2. Jaguares – South African Conference Winners
3. Brumbies – Australian Conference Winners
4. Hurricanes 
5. Bulls
6. Sharks 
7. Chiefs 
8. Highlanders 

The quarter-finals kick-off on Friday evening in Christchurch when the Crusaders [1], the defending Champions, host the Highlanders from Dunedin [8]. This all New Zealand clash at the newly renamed Orangetheory Stadium will be refereed by Jaco Peyper.

The same evening in Buenos Aires the in-form Jaguares [2], who are on a five-match winning streak, will host the Chiefs [7] who won their last three matches of the season to qualify for the Finals. The referee will be Glen Jackson. (Not really a neutral referee, as Jackson played most of his rugby for the Chiefs! Somehow one gets the feeling that someone at Sanzaar hates Glen Jackson – if the Chiefs win, it is because he is biased, if they lose he will be accused of being harsh on his own team…)

On Saturday sees the Hurricanes [4], who won the right to host the match as the best non-conference winner, host the Bulls from Pretoria [5] who qualified before the last weekend, but determined their fifth place after winning the last match of the regular season when they beat the Lions. The referee will be Nic Berry.

The last quarter-final will take place in Canberra where Australian Conference winner, the Brumbies [3], on a six-match winning streak, take on the Sharks [6] from Durban, who like the Bulls won their last pool match to clinch a spot in the Finals. Mike Fraser will be the referee.

Friday 21stJune

Crusaders vs Highlanders

Venue:Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
DateFriday 21 June
Kick-off19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA time
RefereeJaco Peyper
AR1Paul Williams
AR2Brendon Pickerill
TMOBen Skeen

Top dog plays the overwhelming underdog.

The Highlanders sneaked into the playoffs after a whole bunch of other results and score-lines went their way last weekend.

The Crusaders had the weekend off and had no reason to be concerned about their place in the quarters. They knew they were through, and the only question was who would be visiting them in Christchurch this weekend.

Underdog status often frees a team from all manner of demons – if the expectations are low, they can abandon their fears and simply go and have some fun.

That is what the Highlanders are going to have to do if they want to win this one!

Play without fear.

Playing the Crusaders at home is no easy task. The last time they lost at home was 3 years ago, with just a draw against the Sharks to blemish a perfect record in those three years.

The Highlanders do know that they can beat the Crusaders, they beat them 25-17 in Dunedin last year. And they have won in Christchurch too, but that was way back in 2015.

This will be only the second time the two sides have met this season. Their first scheduled game in Dunedin in March was cancelled in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque shootings. That game was deemed a draw. A month later, in Christchurch, the Crusaders won easily, 43-17.

The Highlanders will know the challenge that faces them. The Crusaders face a different challenge as they go after their third title in a row under Robertson. They need to resume the form they displayed in thumping the Rebels 66-0 before their week off. 

Team Announcements:

The Crusaders:

Coming off a bye, the Crusaders have chosen the strongest team they have available for this quarterfinal. The starting XV features a host of All Blacks and All Black-hopefuls, With Jack Goodhue and Ryan Crotty starting the midfield, with Richie Mo’unga and Bryn Hall at halfbacks, and David Havili, Revu Reece and George Bridge a potent back three.

The forward pack features seven All Blacks and one Maori All Black. Only Whetu Douglas has not yet played for the All Blacks. The rest, from Kieran Read and Matt Todd, through the second row of Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett, and on to the front row of Franks, Taylor, and Moody are all current All Blacks.

The reserves are equally powerful, with Wallaby Alan Alaalatoa, and All Black Tim Perry as replacement prop forwards, Andrew Makalio as reserve hooker, All Black Luke Romana waiting to take his place in the 2ndrow, Jordan Taufua, Mitch Drummond, Mitch Hunt, and Braydon Ennor. That is a dream bench!

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.

The Highlanders:

The Highlanders take on the Crusaders with a settled looking side.

There are just two changes from their Round 18 win over the Waratahs.

Tevita Li makes way for Sio Tomkinson on the left wing.

Ben Smith, who hasn’t played a game since the beginning of May because of a hamstring injury, returns at fullback.

Smith, the Highlanders’ most capped player, has been working hard to get back on the field over the last six weeks and his timely return will be a boost for the southern side as they prepare to take on the nine-time champion Crusaders.

Elsewhere Daniel Lienert-Brown rotates with Ayden Johnstone in the front row and they maintained a split of six forwards and two backs on the bench.

Tevita Nabura (knee), Richard Buckman (Achilles) and Bryn Gatland (foot) miss out as a result of season-ending injuries.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patelesio Tomkinson, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Elliot Dixon.

Thoughts:

Knock-out rugby brings a wholly different mindset to the field. During a regular season fixture teams are often willing to “have a go” and play higher risk rugby with an eye on the possible rewards – bonus points are on offer.

Knockout rugby – finals rugby, is a different kettle of fish altogether. If you lose, your season is over. That usually brings a far more conservative mindset, a low-risk approach as teams look to gain the scoreboard advantage and then lock down the game and play safety first rugby to ensure the win.

That is the way many expect this game to go.

Except for one tiny little thing.

The Highlanders have absolutely nothing to lose!

A week ago they were not even considered likely quarterfinalists, and here they are.

They can play the game with no fear, and no restraints, which might just push the Crusaders out of a possible conservative mindset and into free-flowing action.

If that happens, this could be a humdinger of a rugby match!

On paper, the Crusaders simply look far too powerful for the Highlanders. Too many All Blacks, too many players on top form, and too many exceptional players sitting on the replacements bench.

This is a game that features a true underdog up against the Alpha Male of the top dogs….

It could be fun.

Prediction:

The Crusaders, at home, with a third consecutive trophy in their sights?

The Crusaders will win, by around 12 points.

Jaguares vs Chiefs

Venue:Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
DateFriday 21 June
Kick-off19h05 local; 22h05 GMT; 10h05 NZ time Saturday, June 21; 00h05 SA Time
RefereeGlen Jackson
AR1Nick Briant
AR2Federico Anselmi
TMOSantiago Borsani

The Jaguares are, undoubtedly, the most improved side in Super Rugby’s history. When they joined the fray back in 2016 they were tipped as possible Super Rugby finalists – after all, they included almost the entire Argentinean Pumas team that had played so well in the previous year’s Rugby World Cup!

It was not to be, as they struggled to come to terms with the rigours of Super Rugby – the constant touring, the relentless fixture list, the consistent pressure of rugby, week after week, against sides of equal or stronger quality. Their disciplines left them in the lurch, and they managed just 4 wins in 15 starts, with 11 losses. 

There were worse teams that year, the Force, the Reds, the Kings, the Sunwolves and the Cheetahs finished below the Jaguares on the log, but it was not an auspicious start for the men from Argentina.

2017 saw a very slight improvement – 7 wins and 8 losses, which saw them better their overall log position, heading the entire Australian contingent save for the Brumbies. They also finished ahead of the Cheetahs, Bulls, Sunwolves, and the Kings. The problem of discipline remained their single biggest issue, as they often had to play extended periods of rugby with 14, sometimes 13, and on one occasion with just 12 men on the field.

In 2018 things started to change. A new coach, a new focus on discipline, and a new found confidence, a new approach that saw them win more than they lost, 9 wins and 7 losses, as they qualified for their first quarterfinal appearance. They lost that one to the Lions at Ellis Park, but they had laid down a marker for 2019.

In 2019 they have gone a lot further. A whole lot further. They topped the South African conference, and have the rights to a home quarterfinal. They have 51 log points, officially 3rdon the overall log behind the Crusaders and the Hurricanes. This is a wholly different Jaguares outfit to the one that first took the field back in 2016.

They host the fast-finishing Chiefs – who have lost only three of their previous 11 matches.

This game could well be the best on the rugby menu for this weekend.

Team Announcements:

The Jaguares:

The Jaguares have made a host of changes to their side after resting their big guns last week against the Sunwolves.

Gonzalo Quesada has restored some of his big hitters that were given a rest last weekend.

Guido Petti is the sole forward to continue after last weekend’s big 52-10 victory. He retains his spot in the No.4 jersey and will be partnered by Tomas Lavanini.

Mayco Vivas, Agustin Creevy and Santiago Medrano return to the front row while Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer and Javier Ortega Desio are restored as the loose-forward trio.

In the backs, captain Jeronimo de la Fuente and Matias Orlando will continue their partnership in the midfield while Sebastian Cancelliere also maintains his position on the right wing. The rest of the backline is completely changed with Tomas Cubeli and Joaquin Diaz Bonilla coming in as the halves pairing and Matias Moroni and Emiliano Boffeli round out the back three.

Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Sabastian Cancelliere, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente (captain), 11 Matias Moroni, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Tomas Lezana, 20 Francisco Gorrissen, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 21 Domingo Miotti, 22 Santiago Carreras.

The Chiefs:

Colin Cooper has named a near unchanged line up from the team that scored nine tries against the Rebels last week.

Atu Moli, Nathan Harris and Angus Ta’avao will once again pack down a powerful front row. Experienced locking duo of Brodie Retallick and Tyler Ardron will complete the tight five.

Lachlan Boshier will start on the blindside with Sam Cane captaining the team at openside. Pita Gus Sowakula rounds up the forward pack at No.8.

In the backline, the newfound nine-ten combination of Brad Weber and Jack Debreczeni will lead the backline. In the only change to the 23, Anton Lienert-Brown will shift to inside centre and Tumua Manu will start at centre. The threatening back three of Sean Wainui, Shaun Stevenson and Solomon Alaimalo remain unchanged.

In the reserves, hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, loosehead prop Aidan Ross and tighthead prop Nepo Laulala will make an impact off the bench.

Jesse Parete and Mitchell Jacobson will provide cover for the loose forwards. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Marty McKenzie will again inject energy off the bench.

Alex Nankivell will await clearance from the medical team bracketed with Ataata Moeakiola to complete the 23.

Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitchell Jacbobson, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Alex Nankivell/Ataata Moeakiola.

Thoughts:

There is wet weather forecast for Buenos Aires on Friday, which will favour the home side, as the Chiefs have focussed on playing a wide attacking game in recent weeks, a game plan that resurrected their season from an early grave, and has given them a shot at the Jaguares in this playoff!

If the weather is wet, and the field heavy, this may well draw some of the sting from a Chiefs’ attack that enjoys playing with plenty of movement while letting the ball do the work. A wet, slippery ball is not to their liking!

The Jaguares have been a difficult customer for every opponent they have faced in 2019. The teams that have beaten them have done so with a serious focus on minimising mistakes and playing conservative, controlled rugby. 

The teams that have tried to loosen up the game have found the Jaguares stepping up, making their hits, and preying on the inevitable mistakes that come with high-risk rugby.

The Chiefs know that they cannot afford to allow the game to get too loose -even if that is usually their best chance of winning – they know that the Jaguares focus on the fundamentals, around the scrum, around the lineouts, at the kick-offs, and at the rucks where they are masters of slowing the ball down.

In knock-out games the season stats and records count for little – it is what happens in the moment that will count. Both teams have stats that count for them, with the Chiefs perhaps better in the attacking stats, and the Jaguares better in the defensive stats. 

The Chiefs will know that the Jaguares one weakness is their scrum set-pieces where they are frequently forced into scrambling plays, the exact opposite of their oft machine-like lineouts. This will be an area the Chiefs are likely to target.

The Chiefs have had to travel halfway around the world to play in Argentina, which gives the Jaguares a huge advantage.

The Jaguares have a reputation of absorbing and working through pressure to win games many think they should lose, but this is a quarterfinal, at home, which is a whole new type of pressure and experience, they will need to show that they can adjust to knock-out rugby.

The Chiefs, in contrast, are well versed in knockout encounters, they have been there frequently in the last eight seasons. They know what kind of pressures to expect. They have a reasonable touring record overseas, and they also know that they can win in Buenos Aires. They have already done so earlier this  season.

The Jaguares do have an ability to take the pace out of a game, and they will focus on doing just that against the Chiefs.  If they take the pace out of the game and force the Chiefs into a static, attritional game, the Jaguares will win the day.

Prediction:

I will go with the Jaguares having home advantage, and the psychological edge that comes from a first home quarterfinal, added to their ability to take the pace and space out of the game.

The Jaguares, by 10. 

Saturday 22 June

Hurricanes vs Bulls

Venue:Westpac Stadium, Wellington
DateSaturday 22 June
Kick-off19h45 local; 09h35 SA time; 07h35 GMT
RefereeNic Berry
AR1Ben O’Keeffe
AR2Brendon Pickerill
TMOGlenn Newman

This could be the tightest game of the weekend. The Hurricanes might have won three of their last four matches against the Bulls, but all of those wins have been within a five point margin. 

The Bulls will arrive in Wellington knowing that they have achieved far more than anyone expected of them in 2019 – the unseemly scramble to find a coach after John Mitchell unceremoniously left Pretoria, left the team without a guide and mentor for a large chunk of the pre-season period. The appointment of their Currie Cup coach, Pote Human to take over the Super Rugby campaign, was somewhat unexpected and came after a host of more favoured names withdrew from the reckoning citing all manner of excuses.

Human has certainty stepped up to the challenge, much as he did as a hard-as-a-rock flanker in his playing days.

This game will be a measure of what he has achieved with a team that many wrote off as no-hopers.

The Bulls also come to New Zealand knowing that they managed to leave the country a scant couple of weeks ago with an unblemished record. Few teams can say that they visited New Zealand and left, unbeaten.

During this time, the Pretoria-based team have managed to secure a win and two draws against Kiwi-opposition.

That will stand them in good stead!

Team Announcements:

The Hurricanes:

There are nine changes to the Hurricanes’ starting XV for Saturday’s Super Rugby quarterfinal clash against the Bulls at Westpac Stadium.

The inside back pairing of TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett are set to bring up a major milestone and play their 100th game together in front of their home fans.

Barrett, the Hurricanes record points scorer, will play his 124th match for the team while Perenara will feature in his 126th match and equal the record number of appearances for the team which is jointly held by Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

Their return to the starting line-up are two of the nine changes coach John Plumtree has made for the match.

The season’s leading try-scorer, Ngani Laumape, returns to play outside Barrett and Perenara while wing Wes Goosen has recovered from a hamstring strain which has kept him out of the side in the last fortnight.

Jordie Barrett has been named at fullback with Peter Umaga-Jensen’s excellent form against the Lions and Blues has seen him named at centre.

There are four changes to the pack where vastly experienced props Toby Smith and Jeff To’omaga-Allen return.

Behind them James Blackwell comes into the second row after being given a rest against the Blues while star loose forward Ardie Savea is restored to the run on side.

Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ben May/Alex Fidow, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Richard Judd/Finlay Christie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Salesi Rayasi.

The Bulls:

Bulls coach Pote Human has announced his team to face the Hurricanes in a Super Rugby quarterfinal on Saturday.

Jesse Kriel will make a welcome return to the starting team, returning from an ankle injury sustained late in April. He will earn his 70th cap in the Bulls jersey in the one of two changes in the starting team that outplayed the Lions last weekend.

Kriel comes in for the injured Burger Odendaal, with Johnny Kotze moving to the inside centre berth and Kriel slotting back in at 13.

Up front, Jason Jenkins also returns to partner RG Snyman at lock after missing the Lions clash as well due to injury.

He takes over from Jannes Kirsten, who reverts to the bench.

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.

Thoughts:

This is not as easy as some might think! Usually, a home quarter- or semifinal gives the home team all the advantages. Add that the Bulls have had to travel back from New Zealand just a couple of weeks ago, and then back out there this week, and the odds are stacked in favour of the ‘Canes.

Yet these Bulls have somehow managed to defy the odds plenty of times in 2019!

The Bulls certainly have the pack to make things very difficult for the Hurricanes. The front row is a formidable unit, backed by a powerful second row and some hefty loose forwards to boot! Their lineout has been superb, and the scrum solid, while their rumbling play close in has been exceptional, sucking penalties more often than not, and giving the metronomic boot of Handré Pollard the opportunity to build scoreboard pressure. 

Yet the Bulls have struggled to score tries, and they are up against one of the finest finishing teams in all of rugby. The ‘Canes have the striking power that others just dream about!

If the ‘Canes hold the Bulls forwards through the first half and into the second when travel fatigue starts to kick in, and then unleash their runners, they will win this one.

In the loose, the Hurricanes have the pace out wide, while the Bulls have the muscle in close.

The Bulls have shown that playing in New Zealand is no barrier to them, but we have to ask one small question –  Those two draws, shouldn’t they have been won? Would that not have given the Bulls that extra bit of confidence they need?

Was it the Bulls’ limited game plan that deprived them of those vital wins? – Low risk rugby is fine, at the right time, but to play low risk rugby all season does suggest that the game plan is limited, and that might well be a problem against a Hurricanes team that has shown that they can play both ugly and pretty.

Prediction:

I am struggling to see past the somewhat limited Bulls game plan. Yes it is admirably suited to knock-out rugby, but it remains a limited game plan.

I have gone for the Hurricanes, by around 9 points.

Brumbies vs Sharks

Venue:GIO Stadium, Canberra
DateSaturday 22 June
Kick-off20h05 local; 10h05 GMT; 12h05 South African time
RefereeMike Fraser (New Zealand)
AR1Angus Gardner
AR2Graham Cooper
TMOJames Leckie

The Sharks arrive in Canberra after their coach somewhat deliberately and wilfully burnt a couple of bridges back home. For the second time in one season he accused his home-town media scribes of bias against their own side, and called them “cockroaches.”

That is the way to win friends and influence people.

That is the way to get the whole of Durban and Kwazulu-Natal behind you, 100%, all the way.

If the Sharks go on to lose this game, they can expect a very cold welcome when they get home, and they can thank their coach for that!

If I were a Sharks supporter, I would certainly be worried about this game in Australia. The Sharks were poor in Buenos Aires two weeks ago, and then they were simply less poor than the Stormers last weekend, in an abysmal encounter that does not deserve the accolade of being called a rugby match.

They are not coming to Canberra riding on the top of a wave of form.

The Brumbies do have the form. They have won six games in succession and have not lost a match at home since February and they are primed, ready and confident to continue their progress on to the semifinals.

We shall have to wait and see which Sharks side pitches up in Canberra – they do sometimes surprise us when they play away from home.

Team Announcements:

The Brumbies:

Dan McKellar has four changes to the team that defeated the Reds to retain the Rod Macqueen Cup, with Henry Speight passed fit and reclaiming the right-wing spot. Toni Pulu returns to the left wing forming a potent back three alongside Tom Banks.

The other two changes are in the back-row where Tom Cusack and Pete Samu return to the starting XV alongside Rob Valetini, with Lachlan McCaffrey and Jahrome Brown providing power and impact from the replacements bench.

The nucleus of the pack that has been the benchmark for the Super Rugby competition in 2019 is retained with the All-international front row of Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa packing down with Brumbies leading try-scorer, Folau Fainga’a.

Christian Lealiifano will win his 149th Super Rugby cap leading the team for the 47th time as Captain, equalling the mark set by George Gregan, with the gifted playmaker also closing in on 950 Super Rugby points.

McKellar has opted for six forwards on the bench, adding Darcy Swain into the finishers with the front row substitutes being Connal McInerney, James Slipper and Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, the latter running out for his 49th Super Rugby appearance.

Matt Lucas makes a return to the matchday twenty-three as one of two back replacements, together with utility Tom Wright who crossed for his third try of the season in the win over the Reds.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano (captain), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’A, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Tom Wright.

The Sharks:

The Sharks side to play the Brumbies in Saturday’s Super Rugby quarterfinal shows two changes.

Aphelele Fassi has been ruled out of the match with a rotator cuff strain on his right shoulder.

Curwin Bosch returns to take Fassi’s place at fullback.

Juan Schoeman returns to the bench as loosehead cover.

Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola.
Replacements: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Rhyno Smith.

Thoughts:

The Brumbies are enjoying their best winning streak in 12 years. They have  wins in their last six games, and eight in their last ten starts.

They have the form, and they have the momentum heading into this game.

The Sharks sneaked into the last eight with a try in overtime over the Stormers last week, in a game that was probably the poorest game of rugby offered up by Super Rugby in 2019. 

They have since had to travel across the Indian Ocean and set up camp in Sydney for the 2nd time this season, before heading to Canberra for the game.

Super Rugby being what it is, with the weird aberration of a conference system, meant that these two sides did not play each other in 2019. The last time they met, back in 2018, the Brumbies managed a close win.  

However, games between these two sides are usually close, with a points spread of 7 being the norm. 

The Brumbies seem to have selected a team designed to stretch the Sharks away from their forward-oriented approach, with a loose trio of Pete Samu, Tom Cusack and Rob Valetini, that has a fair turn of pace for the wider game. They have also chosen two wings that have the pace to stretch any defence, especially with the return of Henry Speight.

However, this is finals rugby time, and we are likely to see a lower risk approach by the Brumbies, which might well suit the Sharks with their behemoth forwards and loosies. We are told that the weather is promising freezing conditions, which is also likely to engender a slower and more robust game.

The ongoing selection of Robert du Preez Jnr at flyhalf suggests that the Sharks will look to kick the ball more often than not, pinning their hopes on mistakes from the Brumbies.  Du Preez has not lit any fires to suggest that he will be looking to attack out wide, preferring to play the ball back to his forwards, either himself, or through the crash-ball carrying of Andre Esterhuizen at 12, or with short chips in behind the Brumbies’ pack.

I would suggest that the Sharks might miss the massive experience and presence of the Beast Mtawarira. Others who might have made a difference are Jean-Luc du Preez and Philip van der Walt amongst the forwards, but they too are back in Durban.

One clash worth watching will be that of Tevita Kuridrani coming up against Lukhanyo Am. Both are in some kind of form, and both are in line for national call-ups and may well meet again later in the year!

The return of Curwin Bosch does add some excitement to the Sharks back three, especially if he chooses to run any wayward kicks back at the Brumbies.

I am expecting an arm-wrestling match amongst the forwards. The Brumbies have been an impressive unit in 2019, and they may just have the measure of the Sharks in the tight stuff. 

So much depends on the Sharks actually bringing their “A” game to Canberra – if the same Sharks pitch up that played in Cape Town and Buenos Aires in the previous two weeks, this will certainly be the end of their season.

Prediction:

I would love to suggest that the Sharks will be carrying the South African flag into the semi-finals, but I have my doubts. They have not shown any form or focus worth betting any money on.

The Brumbies, at home and in form, by 12 points.