Super Rugby

Weekend Previews & Predictions

Round Fourteen

There are six Super Rugby matches scheduled for this weekend.

Round 14 kicks-off in Wellington as the Hurricanes host the Jaguares in a match that will be refereed by New Zealander Brendon Pickerill. (Once again Sanzaar make mincemeat of our faint hope for neutral referees…..)

The same evening Argentinean Federico Anselmi will have the whistle for the Rebels versus Bulls match in Melbourne.

 On Saturday in Auckland, the Blues will host the Chiefs, where Glen Jackson will be the referee for that match. Yep, once again the idea of neutral referees is ground beneath the Sanzaar heel – Jackson played 60 games for the Chiefs before he picked up the whistle. No possible bias there then?

Over in Brisbane Ben O’Keeffe will actually be a neutral referee when the Reds host the Waratahs. 

Back in Johannesburg it is a home-town referee again, as Rasta Rasivhenge carries the whistle when the Lions host the Highlanders. Rasta went to Jeppe High School, and attended Wits University, just to make sure that he is one of the Lions’ homeboys.

The weekend closes in Cape Town where the Stormers host the Crusaders in a game where Australian Nic berry will blow the whistle. 

Any News on Egon Seconds?

We have to read between the lines here. 

Sanzaar have tried to use a “squad” system for their referees in 2019, with the same three referees and a TMO working together as much as possible. The three referees rotate between carrying the whistle and the flags from game to game, while the TMO sometimes travels with them but is often replaced by a home-town referee when the refereeing squad is far from home. 

Egon Seconds has been a regular member of a squad that consists of Jaco Peyper, Rasta Rasivhenge, and TMO Willie Vos.

This week Seconds’ name is missing from that squad, replaced by a relative unknown, Griffin Colby.

Does this mean that Sanzaar have taken some form of action against Seconds after his dismal performance last weekend? Have they suspended him, or sent him off for some remedial training?

We will never know, because Sanzaar’s handling of referees is shrouded in mystery. 

My guess is that Seconds has time out to attend a wedding or a birthday party somewhere………….

Date: Friday, May 17

Hurricanes v Jaguares

Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Date Friday 17 May
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time
Referee Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
AR1 Mike Fraser
AR2 Paul Williams
TMO Aaron Paterson

This weekend holds a key to the future of a number of the teams vying for a playoff spot as we hit the final stretch of the 2019 Super Rugby season.

It starts when the Hurricanes host the Jaguares.

The Hurricanes seem assured of a playoff spot as runners-up in the New Zealand contest, and likely to gain a home quarterfinal too, as the team that finished “fourth” on the overall log.  They are currently second in the New Zealand conference with 40 log points, 11 points ahead of the third-placed Highlanders, on 29. (In the alternate universe that is Sanzaar and Super Rugby, the Brumbies, also with 29 points, are second on the overall log, yet they are behind the Sharks and the Highlanders, who are fifth overall, if we look at their points differences!)

Whilst the ‘Canes seem to be assured of a playoff spot, the Jaguares still need to work hard for their possible qualification. They are third in the South African conference (eighth overall), with 28 points – just two points ahead of the fourth-placed Lions (ninth overall). The Jaguares have three away games ahead of them, starting with this game against the Hurricanes. Next week they face the Waratahs, and then the Reds, before returning home to host the Sharks and the Sunwolves back in Argentina.

Last year the Jaguares managed a four-from-four record on their Australasian tour, and they would dearly love to repeat that run of successes in 2019. Their most difficult hurdle is this game against the Hurricanes, and they will throw everything they have got at the Kiwis, knowing that a victory this weekend sets them up for a couple of somewhat less daunting games against the ‘Tahs and the Reds.

One side has everything to play for, while the other might just be a little complacent?

If I were a ‘Canes supporter, I would be a little worried!

Team News:

The Hurricanes:

John Plumtree has made just two changes to the ‘Canes starting XV to face the Jaguares at Westpac Stadium on Friday night.

James Marshall will start at fly-half in the absence of Beauden Barrett who is on the second of his All Black rest weeks, while Du’Plessis Kirifi will start at openside flanker.

Marshall, who will make his 49th appearance for the Hurricanes, has impressed off the bench after returning from the shoulder injury he suffered in round one and gives the side maturity in a pivotal position.

Kirifi’s inclusion sees Ardie Savea move to number eight with Reed Prinsep unavailable after he suffered a bad cut to his face in the Hurricanes 22-12 win over the Blues last round.

There are four changes to the bench from last week with Heiden Bedwell-Curtis providing loose forward cover, prop Chris Eves replaces an injured Fraser Armstrong while Fletcher Smith and Salesi Rayasi come into the match-day squad.

Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 James Marshall, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Salesi Rayasi

The Jaguares:

Gonzalo Quesada has made six changes to the Jaguares XV for their match against the Hurricanes.

One of those is the return of outstanding flanker Pablo Matera, who starts on the blindside, with Juan Manuel Leguizamon moving to openside.

Guido Petti is also back in the team, replacing Marcos Kremer, and he is joined by Tomas Lavanini in the second-row.

The final changes in the pack are in the front-row as Agustin Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro are preferred to Julian Montoya and Mayco Vivas respectively.

Meanwhile, in the backline, there is just one alteration with Tomas Cubelli starting at scrum-half ahead of Felipe Ezcurra.

Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Sebastien Cancelliere, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente (c), 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortego Desio, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera , 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Lucas Paulos, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Matias Orlando

Thoughts:

The Jaguares are unpredictable, and that makes them very dangerous to the Hurricanes! The ‘Canes are still struggling to find that seamless attacking game that has served them so well in previous years. 2019 has seem a host of close-calls and stumbling-stuttering performances that are short of the kind of sublime rugby we know this Hurricanes outfit can produce.

The Jaguares thrive in a game where the opposition are struggling with the two “cons”:- continuity and consistency. They love to get an arm or a leg in the way of the ball, they will keep one hand on the ball on the ground for just a half a moment longer after the referee calls them off, they deliberately slow the quick ball and work to disrupt the flow of the game, they insert players between their opponents, more as a hinderance to flowing play than as an attempt to attack the ball carrier. They force the wayward passes and the inaccurate offload. They pounce on the mistake, and are prepared to have a go from anywhere and everywhere on the field.

That is the way they love to play the game of rugby. They try and hustle their opponents into making mistakes, and the tactic works more often than not!

With a Hurricanes outfit that has struggled with the aforesaid two “cons” – continuity and consistency – throughout 2019, the Jaguares might just be their worst nightmare!

Lest we write them off, we would do well to remember that the Hurricanes, despite their stuttering and stumbling, have lost just 2 games this season, winning 9 and drawing 1.

Along the way they have scored 45 tries and conceded just 35. 

Even playing badly, the ‘Canes know how to squeeze out a win!

Which brings us back to the Jaguares.

We have said that they are unpredictable, now we must add that they are also inconsistent! They have won 6 and lost 5 games in their 11 starts in 2019. Their losses have all come when their forwards have been put under severe pressure in the close exchanges, when opponents have chosen to play “ugly” rugby that minimises mistakes and ties the Jaguares into the close-in rumbles. 

Those losses have come when the opposition adjust their own game plan to prevent the disruption caused by the Jaguares’ style of play. 

This is where the Hurricanes are likely to focus their efforts – minimise mistakes, and work at dominating the forward exchanges. The ‘Canes have the better scrum, with a 94% success rate in that set-piece, while the Jaguares are last in the entire competition with an 82% scrumming success rate. However, the situation is reversed in the lineouts, where the Jaguares have an 89,5% success rate, while the ‘Canes sit at the bottom of the pile with a poor 80,6% success rate.

The difference between the two sides may well be found in their ball handling skills, the Jaguares have the third worst record for making handling errors, whilst the Hurricanes are fourth best in this statistical category. The Hurricanes backline scores close to four tries per game, while the Jaguares do have a very solid defensive record, they do have a penchant for bleeding tries in the wider channels, which is where the Hurricanes have been at their best!

The Jaguares score just over 3 tries per game, but almost all their tries have come from broken play when opponents are scrambling on defence. The ‘Canes scramble defence is as good as it gets.

On defence, overall, there is nothing to choose between these two outfits, just 0,7% separates them on the stats table.

A man-for-man analysis suggests that the ‘Canes have far more firepower at the back than do their visitors, while the two forward packs are fairly evenly matched, with the ‘Canes having more pace in their loose trio, but the Jaguares have more muscle in that department.

This could be a very interesting game of rugby!

Prediction:

There is very little to separate the two teams on paper, so we have to go with their results in 2019, coupled with the home town advantage being with the Hurricanes.

I have the Hurricanes, winning by 10.

Rebels v Bulls

Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Date Friday 17 May
Kick-off 19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time
Referee Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
AR1 Damon Murphy
AR2 Aaron Pook
TMO Ian Smith

Ahh, another of those desperate games!

Two desperate teams face off with their entire season, potentially, on the line. 

The similarity between these two teams is remarkable!

Both teams sit in second place in their home conferences, both by just one point. Both have a game in hand over their conference log leaders. Both know that a loss here would do serious damage to their chances for a playoff slot. Lose, and the Rebels could see themselves being hauled in by the Reds, who play the Waratahs at home later in the weekend. Win, and they could go to the top of the Aussie leader-board, pushing past the 29 of the Brumbies by 3 or even 4 points.  (Log leaders, the Brumbies have a weekend off, so they can do nothing about their log position this weekend.)

The Bulls are in much the same position. A win could push them past the log-leading Sharks by 3 or even 4 points, while a loss could see their closest challenger, the Jaguares pass them, depending on what happened in Wellington earlier in the day. (And the SA log leaders, the Sharks, can do nothing about it, as they are also on a bye weekend!)

Both teams will know that a win is critical to their cause, and to their playoff chances! A conference topping season guarantees a home quarterfinal, whilst anything less brings the word “maybe” into play. Maybe they will qualify as a wildcard quarterfinalist, maybe they won’t.

Team News:

The Rebels:

Matt Toomua could make his Rebels debut, starting of the replacements bench after being released a week early by English club Leicester.

It could be Toomua’s first Super Rugby game since he played 88 games for the Brumbies between 2008-2016.

He will be joined by Sam Jeffries who will return to the side to bolster the forward stocks, with a 5-3 split on the bench.

Loose forwards Richard Hardwick and Rob Leota have been promoted to the side’s starting XV.

Hardwick, who came off the bench in last week’s big win over the Reds, has been elevated to the number seven jersey, while Leota will step up to the number eight jersey.

Luke Jones and Isi Naisarani were the two players left out of the side, after both suffered injuries in last Friday’s victory over the Reds.

In better news for the team, Quade Cooper has been cleared to play following a nasty incident where the number 10 was concussed by a knee to the head form Reds skipper Samu Kerevi.

Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (c), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Rob Leota, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Pone Fa’amausili, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 Matt Toomua

The Bulls:

Bulls coach Pote Human named Hanro Liebenberg and Warrick Gelant in his starting team to play the Rebels at AAMI Stadium in Melbourne on Friday.

Both players missed last weekend’s clash against the Crusaders due to injury.

Gelant comes in for Divan Rossouw at fullback, while Liebenberg takes over from Jannes Kirsten at flank.

Rossouw and Kirsten drop to the bench as utility back and forward respectively, with Dylan Sage and Thembelani Bholi missing out on the opening tour match.

In another change to the pack, Paul Schoeman starts at blindside in place of Marco van Staden, who moves to the bench.

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehan Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.

Thoughts:

The Bulls have a record for being poor tourists. They have lost 9 of the last 10 Super Rugby games they have played in Australia, and have not scored more than 20 points on any occasion during that run of defeats.

This does not augur well for Bulls’ supporters in 2019.

Yet they have a winning record in 2019, winning 6 and losing 5 in their 11 starts, which is identical to the record of their hosts. (Remember when I wrote about the remarkable similarity between these two teams?) 

The Rebels have played well at home, although their one loss in Melbourne has been to another South African team, the Stormers.

The Bulls do have something of a confidence problem as they travel to Melbourne, they received an absolute pasting from the Crusaders last weekend. In every phase of play where they thought they might have an edge over the Crusaders, they were dominated.

The Rebels, on the other hand, have put their loss to the Hurricanes behind them with a win over the Reds last weekend. An iffy win, but a win nevertheless.

Let’s look at what the stats say about these two outfits.

The Rebels have been in a try-scoring mood in 2019. They have scored 42 of them, while their visitors have managed only 24. 

That stat aside, the two teams are very closely matched in all the attacking statistics that matter. Clean breaks? 107 each. Carries? 1181 each. Meters carried? The Rebels edge the Bulls by a mere 23 meters! 4291 to 4268. Defenders beaten? The Bulls have the edge with 244 to the Rebels 219.

Nothing much to chose from in the attacking department then!

Defence?

The Bulls edge it with an 85,1% tackle success rate, to the Rebels 82,8% tackle count.

Not much there, then?

What about the set-pieces?

Well, the Bulls are No.1 on the stats table for lineouts, and the Rebels no.2…

The Rebels have a slight advantage in the scrums, 93% to 89%.

What about the ball on the ground?

Both on 96% for rucks retained, so we look to turnovers, The Bulls have won 46 and conceded 141, while the Rebels have won 44 and conceded 147.

Much of a muchness then.

Handling? Nope, not much to choose here either, the Rebels have 165 handling errors and the Bulls 155.

Discipline?

Ahh, here the Rebels have something of a problem, They have conceded no less than 100 penalties in 11 games, and seen 7 yellow cards, while the Bulls have conceded 78 penalties and seen 2 yellows and a red.

And the conversion of penalties into points has been the Bulls’ secret weapon in 2019, they have Handré Pollard who has 144 points to his name, with 140 of them from his boot. You give away penalties within the range of his boot, and you pay the price. (Quade Cooper is not doing too badly either, fourth on the overall points scoring table, but his 92 is a long way behind Pollard – all of 52 points behind!)

So, except for the Rebels penchant for scoring way more tries than the Bulls, all the other statistical evidence suggests that these two teams are almost exactly matched.

Except for discipline, and the kicking boot of Handré Pollard!

Will that be the difference between these two teams?

Man-for-man, the Rebels seem to have the far more settled back division, with Hodge and Meakes in the midfield providing good running ball to their two wings, Koroibete and Maddocks, with Maddocks sitting in joint third in the try scoring stakes with 8 tries so far in 2019. Hodge has also scored his fair share of tries, seven in total, although that has not always been out of the midfield as he has played fullback and on the wing too.

The halfback pairing of Genia and Cooper has worked well for the Rebels, and they have been consistent in selection with these two.

On the other side of the field we find a Bulls’ back division that has chopped and changed all season, with injuries forcing a constant shuffling of selections. This might be one of the root causes for the lack of tries by the Bulls, but they do have a somewhat conservative look to the midfield too, with Burger Odendaal looking more and more like a Jan Serfontein clone with his focus on crashball running rather than passing, while Johnny Kotze is a re-treaded wing, and we know wings do not pass the ball easily. 

There is plenty of striking power on the fringes, with the pace of Spekman and the silky running of Gelant offset by the journeyman rugby of Cornal Hendricks, who seems to have lost a yard or two of his pace. The problem is that the ball does not get out to the fringes all that often as the midfield looks to bash the ball up rather than create space.

On paper, then, the Rebels have the edge in the back division, with the possible exception of Handré Pollard, who has been the axis around which the entire Bulls’ game has revolved in 2019.

Up front it is a different story.

The Bulls have a very good front row, with the vast experience of Schalk Britz, binding in between the power of Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane. They do seem to be a better combination than that of Jermaine Ainsley, Anaru Rangi,  Tetera Faulkner.

At lock it is the powerhouse duo of Snyman and Jenkins against Matt Philip and Ross Haylett-Petty. With Snyman and Jenkins perhaps having the edge in both physicality, ball carrying, and skills.

At loose-forward the Bulls trio of Duane Vermeulen, Hanro Liebenberg, and Paul Schoeman look bigger and more powerful than the two Rebel replacements for the injured Luke Jones and Isi Naisarani. Rob Leota, and Richard Hardwick together with Angus Cottrell will be an untested and probably unsettled unit. 

The Bulls have the added advantage of Springbok Marco van Staden on the bench.

For me, this game will revolve around disciplines, with the Bulls probably focussing on playing direct rugby with their midfield and forwards looking to dominate the collisions. It will not be pretty rugby.

With the pressures of log position in their collective minds, we can expect a massive bunfight.

Prediction:

Usually, in a game where two teams are so closely matched, I would look to home-ground advantage and local conditions to favour the hosts. However, in this game I have a feeling that the Bulls will be carrying some extra motivation. They will want to make a statement after last week’s drubbing by the Crusaders, which suggests some serious focus and intensity.

I have the Bulls, winning by 10.