JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the Super Rugby matches on Friday, including the Jaguares-Sharks fixture in Argentina.
CRUSADERS vs HURRICANES (Christchurch, Friday, 9.35am)
This is a massive game in the context of the New Zealand conference. The Crusaders currently sit at the top of the Kiwi log, and indeed the overall standings. The Hurricanes are in second place and a point behind the Crusaders, but have a game in hand.
A win for the Hurricanes could see the men from Wellington taking control at the top of the table. They have won 10 games in a row and, given their recent record against the Crusaders, they will fancy their chances of a victory in Christchurch.
The Crusaders may miss the influence of All Blacks Ryan Crotty and Sam Whitelock. The hosts’ ability to shut down Beauden Barrett’s space will hinge on their performances at the set pieces and collisions.
This promises to be one of the clashes of the regular season. All Blacks on both sides may be looking to impress the national selectors – in terms of nailing down starting positions – ahead of the coming series against France.
Stats and facts
o The Hurricanes have won eight of their last 11 games against the Crusaders, including their last two meetings and a 29-19 victory when they met earlier this season.
o The Crusaders have won their last six New Zealand derbies at home; their last loss in such a fixture was in round 17, 2016 against the Hurricanes.
o The Hurricanes have won their last 10 games on the bounce; an 11th consecutive win would set a new franchise record for their longest winning streak in Super Rugby.
o The Hurricanes have conceded the fewest metres (354), beaten defenders (20), offloads (seven), and tries (two) per game of any team this season.
o Ben Lam has scored 14 tries in 10 games for the Hurricanes this season, including five tries in his last three games; he’s just one shy of equalling the record for most tries in a Super Rugby season last set by Ngani Laumape (15) last season.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Mike Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Chris King, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Jonah Lowe.
REBELS vs SUNWOLVES (Melbourne, Friday, 11.45am)
The Sunwolves are on a roll. Sort of.
The Japan-based side scored historic wins against the Reds and Stormers in recent fixtures, and will have their tails up ahead of a clash against a battling Rebels side.
The Rebels have to win this game to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Sunwolves, however, will have more modest ambitions.
A win in Melbourne will help their cause as far as avoiding the tournament wooden spoon is concerned. They’ve never won away from home, though.
Stats and facts
o The Rebels have won each of the last two meetings between these teams by a margin of 20-plus points, including a 37-17 win when they met in round three this season.
o The Rebels will be searching for back-to-back wins for the first time since winning their opening three games of the season after snatching a 27-24 win over the Brumbies in round 13.
o The Sunwolves have now won two games in a row to take their total Super Rugby win tally to five; however, they are yet to win from 19 fixtures as the away team.
o The Sunwolves (86%) boast the best goal-kicking accuracy of any team this season, while no team has been less accurate in front of the sticks than the Rebels (62%).
o Will Genia has made eight try assists this campaign; only the Lions’ Elton Jantjies (nine) has made more.
Rebels – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga.
Subs: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Tayler Adams, 23 Sefa Naivalu.
Sunwolves – 15 Jason Emery, 14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 Michael Little, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Grant Hattingh, 5 Shinya Makabe, 4 James Moore, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar (c).
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
JAGUARES vs SHARKS (Buenos Aires, Friday, 9.40pm)
The Jaguares truly are on a hot winning streak. They won all four matches on their recent tour to Australasia, and thumped the Bulls 54-24 in the game played in Buenos Aires last Saturday.
They’ve now won five games on the bounce, and are well placed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in their history.
The Sharks are at the opposite end of the spectrum in that they – like all of the South African teams – have been woefully inconsistent.
Robert du Preez’s charges beat a depleted Chiefs side in Durban last week. On the basis of their 2018 form, however, one wouldn’t bet on them backing that performance up with another dominant showing in Buenos Aires.
The Sharks have to win this Friday to keep the pressure on the Jaguares and Lions at the top of the South African conference. The players should be looking to impress Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus before the national squad is announced on Saturday evening.
No South African side has won in Argentina this season, though. The Lions leaked 49 points against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires earlier this year. The Bulls were hammered up front and cut to pieces out wide in last week’s game.
The Sharks should be more competitive. A win for the South Africans, however, may be regarded as an upset.
Stats and facts
o The Sharks have won all of their previous four games against the Jaguares, each by a margin of no greater than eight points.
o The Jaguares have won their last five games on the bounce, of which three came after trailing at the half-time interval.
o The Sharks have lost six of their last seven games away from home; however, they have managed to pick up a losing bonus point in five of those six defeats.
o The Jaguares have kicked 10 penalty goals within the opening quarter of games this season, more than any other team in the competition.
o Lwazi Mvovo made a round-high 115m in round 14, his most in a single game since round 13, 2017 (152m).
Jaguares – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomas Lezana, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya , 17 Javier Manuel Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Makazole Mapimpi.
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images