Super Rugby

Weekend Previews & Predictions

Round Fifteen

Aim! Fire!

If You are accused of shooting yourself in the foot. What do you do?

If you are Sanzaar, you yell out: “RELOAD!” and do it again.

The referee appointment circus for the 7-match 15thround of Super Rugby starts in Hamilton, where Australian referee Angus Gardner will carry the whistle when the Chiefs host the Reds. 

Yep, an Australian referee will handle the game. At least he was not born in Brisbane, like Damon Murphy was….

That same evening, across the Tasman, the Brumbies will play the Bulls. 

You can see where this is going, can’t you? 

Yep, South African Jaco Peyper will be the referee.

Why has Jaco Peyper not been sent to Hamilton for the Chiefs/Reds game? It is not as if he has not already had to come all the way from South Africa, so it is not some cost saving measure by Sanzaar to stop his journey in Canberra?

On Saturday, in Tokyo the Sunwolves face the Rebels.  Nick Briant will be in charge, a neutral referee at last. 

Kiwi referee Mike Fraser has the whistle for the NZ Conference derby between the Crusaders and Blues in Christchurch. (Why could he not have officiated in the Brumbies vs Bulls match, with Angus Gardner taking the whistle in the Crusaders/Blues match?)

In Sydney the Waratahs play the Jaguares. Paul Williams is the referee. Another neutral at last.

The weekend closes with two matches in South Africa. The Stormers host the Highlanders in Cape Town with Australian Nic Berry in charge. The final match sees an all-South African clash between the Sharks and Lions with Marius van der Westhuizen running the game. Swapping Paul Williams and Marius van Der Westhuizen would have ensured a wholly neutral referee here too.

Sanzaar Referee boss, Lyndon Bray, and his faceless team of fellow administrators are usually deafeningly silent about the refereeing controversies that rage across the Southern Hemisphere. They usually make no suggestion that they are hearing the complaints of the coaches, players, the media, and even the national coaches, and simply persist with their senseless practice of appointing home-town referees.

This week the silence remains, although we can read between the lines that something must have happened. RastaRasivhenge and TMO Marius Jonker were initially scheduled to do duty this weekend at Newlands – where the Stormers host the Highlanders – but both have disappeared off the list of match official appointments.Australia’s Nic Berry takes control of the match instead of Rasivhenge‚ while TMO duties now fall to Willie Vos.

Sanzaar have, apparently, told Scott Robertson of the Crusaders that Marius Jonker’s forward pass decision was wrong.

That may be so, but we have still to see Sanzaar admitting the error publicly.

In the meantime, we can expect Sanzaar to continue to yell out:

Steady! Aim! Fire!

Friday 24 May:

Chiefs v Reds

Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Date Friday 24 May
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 07h35 SA Time; 17h35 Brisbane time
Referee Angus Gardner
AR1 Ben O’Keeffe
AR2 Dan Waenga
TMO Glenn Newman

Having lost to the Rebels and the Waratahs in the last two weeks, the Reds now face the Chiefs in New Zealand, potentially a much tougher prospect than their fellow Australians. 

With Samu Kerevi forced to take a game off, they will know that their attack needs to be refocussed on finding different ways of scoring and winning a game. 

The Chiefs are not at their best, though, and probably provide the Reds with their best opportunity for a win in New Zealand in the last 5 years.

The Reds still have an outside chance of making the playoffs, but the Chiefs’ challenge is done and dusted, which may add some tension on the side of the visitors, but may also free up the Chiefs to play the game with nothing but fun in mind.

Team News:

Chiefs:

Colin Cooper has reshuffled his forward pack, after Mitchell Brown sustained a knee injury against the Blues.

Angus Ta’avao is also not available as he is on All Blacks leave.

Nepo Laulala will start at tighthead prop, with Sosefo Kautai joining the bench as cover in jersey No.18.

Tyler Ardron combines with Jesse Parete in a formidable locking duo.

Sam Cane will start at No.6 and Lachlan Boshier at No.7, moving Mitchell Karpik to the bench in jersey No.20.

Pita Gus Sowakula will complete the forward pack, starting at No.8.

The only change to the exciting Chiefs backline sees Alex Nankivell starting at inside centre, in lieu of Anton Lienert-Brown – who is also off with All Blacks leave.

On the reserves bench, Samisoni Taukei’aho moves onto the bench in place of Liam Polwart, who has been ruled out with a concussion.

Daymon Leasuasu is set to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench in jersey No.19.

Utility back Jack Debreczeni returns to the fold alongside Sean Wainui named on the bench in jersey No.22 and No.23 respectively.

Loosehead prop Aidan Ross and halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi retain their positions in the reserves.

Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Sam Cane (captain), 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Jesse Parete, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Daymon Leasuasu, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Sean Wainui.

Reds:

The Reds have made three changes to their starting XV for Friday’s clash against the Chiefs in Hamilton.

Samu Kerevi has been rested for this match in accordance with Rugby Australia’s workload management policy.

In the absence of Kerevi, lock Izack Rodda will skipper the side.

Duncan Paia’aua replaces Kerevi at 12 and Seb Wileman will make his Super Rugby debut at outside centre after Chris Feauai-Sautia was ruled out with a knee injury.

Prop Harry Hoopert will start in the front row.

There are five additional changes on the bench – with the long-awaited return of versatile prop Feao Fotuaika from a broken thumb.

Adam Korczyk and Teti Tela have been recalled into the 23, while scrumhalf Scott Maloua and outside back Liam McNamara could potentially make their Queensland debuts off the bench.

Reds: 15 Matt McGahan, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Seb Wileman, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Angus Scott-Young, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Angus Blyth, 4 Izack Rodda (captain), 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Harry Hoopert.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Feao Fotuaika, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Adam Korczyk, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Scott Malolua, 22 Teti Tela, 23 Liam McNamara.

Thoughts:

This might be the Reds’ best chance to knock over a New Zealand team in New Zealand. The Chiefs have had a horrendous 2019, compounded by having to play without some of their real heavy artillery, which suggests that they are ripe for the plucking.

I would not be holding my breath if I were a Reds’ supporter.

They have to travel to Hamilton slightly hamstrung by the enforced rest of Samu Kerevi. He has been the centre-pivot of their entire back division and all their attacking strategies have revolved around his presence, with or without the ball. He has to sit this one out in terms of the franchise’s agreements with the Wallabies’ management.

The loss of Kerevi might not have been a total disaster if the rest of the team was at full strength, but the Reds have an injury list from hell to contend with too.  Chris Feauai-Sautia is out, as are Jordan Petaia, Jack Hardy, Filipo Daugunu and Hamish Stewart, on top of the unavailability of Isaac Lucas. Then there is JP Smith out with a concussion, and Harry Hocking’s red card suspension.

Thing may just look a little rough for the Reds in this one.

Not that the Chiefs are any better off, they lost Damian McKenzie for the season, Brodie Retallick is still unavailable, Mitchell Brown sustained a knee injury against the Blues, Liam Polwart has been ruled out with a concussion.

Angus Ta’avao and Anton Lienert-Brown are both rested in terms of the agreement with the All Blacks management.

The Chiefs do have some relief from the injury nightmare as Sam Cane has made his comeback to the game, and will take over the captaincy this weekend. Jack Debreczeni is also set to return to the game, although he will start off the bench.

The Reds have focussed their game on a dominant forward unit, and have had the good fortune of a unit that has been relatively stable, with just the suspension of Hockings and the unavailability of JP Smith disturbing an established formation. Their lineout has functioned well, revolving around the presence of Izack Rodda, supported by the likes of Angus Blyth, giving them a lineout success rate of around 91%. Rodda also leads the stats with the most lineout steals in 2019.

Oddly, for a team that likes to talk about their forward firepower, their scrum has wobbled, with a lowly 86% success rate making them the second worst in the competition, just above the Jaguares on 84%.

The Chiefs are struggling a little in the forward exchanges, deprived of the serious firepower that Brodie Retallick brings to their cause. Without his presence and nous their lineout has suffered, giving them an 86% success rate and 12thposition out of the 15 teams playing Super Rugby. However, their scrummaging has been top quality, with a 93% success rate giving them a joint fifth place on the stats table.

The Reds one big weakness in the scrums has been their man-mountain, the Tongan Thor. Taniela Tupou is a huge man, but very raw in the skills of the front row. As powerful a man as he undoubtedly is, so too is his lack of technical skills and nous, resulting in him being the most penalised player of 2019, with 17 penalties against him in total, with 9 of those being for illegal scrummaging. He has also conceded the most free kicks in the game, 4 of them, all at scrum time.

I have no doubt that the Chiefs will have been looking at his technique and preparing Nathan Harris and Atu Moli with plans to neutralise his power and perhaps milk a couple of penalties on his side of the scrum.

The Chiefs have won their last four Super Rugby matches on the trot against the Reds, which suggests that they have a certain confidence about playing the visitors from Australia.

At the back, despite the loss of McKenzie, the Chiefs have managed to score 45 tries in their mostly losing cause. Their back division is a more settled unit of the two; all those injuries have played havoc with the Reds’ back selections. Both teams are without their chief playmakers this weekend, with Lienert-Brown and Kerevi watching the game from the side lines. The impact on the Reds backs will be for more significant as Kerevi has been their kingpin all season. Lienert-Brown has been in great form, but he has been part of a team rather than the main cog in the machine. Can the Reds’ backs adjust to being without Kerevi? The Chiefs are more likely to continue to function well without their All Black centre.

Prediction:

The Reds just seem to be a bit light in their depth, and the loss of Kerevi will hurt. The Chiefs, at home, with nothing but pride to play for, suggests that the Chiefs are the favourites.

The Chiefs, by 7.

Brumbies v Bulls

Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Date Friday 24 May
Kick-off 19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time
Referee Jaco Peyper
AR1 Egon Seconds
AR2 Paul Williams
TMO James Leckie

The Bulls arrive in Canberra looking at a tiny little benchmark that many have overlooked so far in 2019. If they beat the Brumbies they will bank a full-house of wins over Australian opposition in 2019, beating all four the Australian teams in one season.

So far this year they have beaten the Waratahs, the Rebels, and the Reds. They will be looking to add a Brumbies’ scalp to their collection.

History is, however, not on their side as the Brumbies have won five of their last six Super Rugby matches against the Bulls, including the last three matches in succession. The Brumbies are also on something of a winning streak at home, with 5 on the trot so far in 2019. They will be looking for a sixth home win.

Adding a bit of spice to this encounter is the fact that both sides sit at the top of their respective conferences. The Bulls do head the Brumbies by 3 points on the overall log and have won a game more than their hosts.

The Brumbies are coming off a bye, which came at a good time for them as they were starting to look tired in the weeks before the bye.

They owe the Bulls a word of thanks too, the Bulls did them a massive favour by beating the Rebels in Melbourne last week.

The Bulls might be eyeing the full-house four wins over four Aussies, but they need to take a step back and look at their touring record. They are looking for back-to-back wins on tour for the first time since 2012 but Canberra isn’t a happy hunting ground with their only win coming back in 2007.

This is an important fixture for both teams, which adds a bit of spice to the event.

Team News:

Brumbies:

Wallabies lock Rory Arnold returns to the team in the only change to the run-on side that defeated the Sunwolves 33-0 a fortnight ago.

There’s also a return for flank Rob Valetini, after missing the last seven matches through injury.

Valetini is included amongst the replacements, one of six forwards that McKellar has chosen in expectation of a tough, physical battle against the South Africans.

The bench split sees opportunities for Ryan Lonergan and Tom Wright as the back-line cover with Valetini one of half-a-dozen potential forward changes available to McKellar and his coaching team.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Tom Cusack, 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 Murray Douglas, 21 Rob Valetini, 22 Ryan Lonergan, 23 Tom Wright

Bulls:

The Bulls will have to do without Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard this week as he will miss this clash due to a calf strain picked up in training earlier this week.

Pollard will be returning to South Africa for treatment.

His place in the No.10 jersey will be taken by Manie Libbok.

In Pollard’s absence Duane Vermeulen will lead the Bulls.

John Jackson comes onto the bench in place of the promoted Libbok.

The rest of the match day squad, which played in the win over the Rebels last week, remain unchanged.

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 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, John Jackson, Divan Rossouw.

Thoughts:

Last time out the Brumbies beat the Sunwolves 33-0. Despite the scoreline which suggests a comprehensive victory, some questions were asked about the Brumbies inability to dominate both possession and territory. The Sunwolves carried the ball 144 times forcing the Brumbies to make 154 tackles. In contrast the Brumbies managed just 89 carries, with the Sunwolves making 92 tackles. The Sunwolves beat 20 defenders and made 13 clean breaks. Fortunately for the Brumbies, their scramble defence held strong, denying the Sunwolves the chance to score a try. The Sunwolves defence was woeful, an 82% tackle success ratio, which gave the Brumbies plenty of opportunities to score. They managed five tries.

That result obscures a game where the Brumbies were scrambling for long periods.

The Bulls, in a comprehensive win over the Rebels, were also forced to defend as the Rebels carried the ball a lot, but this was tactical rather than flow-of-play defence. The Bulls were happy to hoof the ball into the Rebels back-field and then defend the counter-attack, making 161 tackles and missing just 16, a 91% tackle accuracy rating. 

Confidence in defence versus frantic scrambling, the Bulls against one of the top Aussie sides while the Brumbies were playing the bottom feeder of all the bottom feeders.

Both teams are missing key players. In the last day or two the Brumbies have sent message that David Pocock’s season may be over, and with it his Super Rugby career, as his lingering calf injury still causes concern. They are also missing Lachie McCaffrey, out with a knee injury.

The Bulls have sent Handré Pollard home a week early, out with a calf injury, but he was scheduled to go home after this game in any event, so the Bulls will have been preparing for life without Pollard.

The hugely experienced Duane Vermeulen assumes the captaincy and brings a clear focus and plenty of leadership experience to replace Pollard.

There will be an interesting match-up between Vermeulen and Pete Samu. Same had a fairly good outing against the Sunwolves, but Duane Vermeulen is a whole different level to anything the Sunwolves could throw into the fray. Samu will have his hands full in this game!

Another interesting match-up will be seen in the lineouts and heavy artillery exchanges where RG Snyman faces off against Rory Arnold. Snyman has been outstanding in broken play, and adds some serious muscle to the Bulls driving mauls. Arnold is less visible in the open, but he has been very good in the lineouts and in shutting down mauls.

The Bulls’ tight five seems to have the edge as RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins lock the scrum behind the formidable front three of Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits, and Lizo Gqoboka. They face off against an all-Wallaby front three of  Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, and Scott Sio. Sio has struggled a bit with his scrummaging in 2019, and he may find Nyakane difficult to handle. The Brumbies’ second row of Carter and Arnold is also an all-Wallaby combination, and they have been very good at lineout time, although perhaps less visible in broken play.

The Brumbies scrum has been a solid unit, despite some doubts about Scott Sio’s stability. He has conceded a number of free kicks in the scrums, the second most in the competition, while his penalty count is also up there. Despite these wobbles, the Brumbies scrum has a 93% success rate, with the Bulls on 90%.

The Bulls top the lineout stakes, with a 93,2% success rate, while the Brumbies sit in 7thplace with 89,2% – although Sam Carter and Rory Arnold are the two locks with the best record for lineout takes in the competition.

Over the ball the Bulls have Duane Vermeulen, the best in the entire competition in 2019, the Brumbies do not have anyone anywhere near him in the rankings. 
At the back the Brumbies have a far more settled look to their squad, with no changes this week, and some very consistent selections throughout the year. The Bulls have struggled for selection consistency as they have ridden the injury rollercoaster all season. This has resulted in the Bulls’ backs struggling to finish promising moments.

The Brumby backs initially struggled for finishing, but have found their ability to score and the team has managed 44 tries, which is way ahead of their South African opponents. Many of these tries have come from penalty kicks for lineouts deep in opposition territory, backing the ability of their locks to win good ball. The Bulls have been more conservative, preferring to rely on Pollard’s prolific boot for points when they are on offer. 

This game will probably see a contrast in styles, with the Bulls preferring direct rugby, using their forwards and midfield to suck in defenders, while the Brumbies will working to take the ball away from the Bulls’ forwards in the wider channels.

This will be an interesting game to watch, as both teams will be desperate for the win.

Prediction:

I am going with the Bulls to continue to break their touring jinx, despite the Brumbies excellent home record.

The Bulls, by 7