CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three matches of round 17, which include all four South African sides.

SUNWOLVES vs BULLS, Singapore, Saturday, 1:55pm

The Bulls lost their way just before the June Test break, with disappointing defeats to the Brumbies and Jaguares seeing them fall to the bottom of the South African conference, and to 12th on the overall standings.

It’s a set of results that severely dented the Bulls’ slim playoff hopes, but they will be targeting a winning run to end a season that has largely been about rebuilding a team culture and brand of rugby.

Bulls coach John Mitchell has picked a team that includes several Springboks who were involved in the June Tests, while they have been boosted by the return to fitness of wing Jamba Ulengo, No 8 Hanro Liebenberg and flank Jannes Kirsten.

It can’t be forgotten that the Bulls suffered an embarrassing one-point defeat to the Sunwolves the last time these two teams met, and so there shouldn’t be any element of complacency from the Pretoria-based side.

It’s notable that in terms of per-game averages, the Bulls are ranked first for lineout success (91%), while the Sunwolves’ percentage sits at a competition low 83. It is an obvious area where the Bulls will be looking to dominate, while they should use their lineout drive to good effect.

One might expect the Sunwolves to offer up a competitive edge early on this Saturday, but it remains a match where the Bulls are likely to bank the full haul of log points.

Stats and facts

  • The Sunwolves earned a 21-20 home win in their last game against the Bulls, and were beaten by just three points in their previous home game against them.
  • The Sunwolves have won their last two games on home turf, including a come-from-behind victory in round 14 against the Stormers.
  • The Bulls have lost their last 10 games on the bounce outside South Africa, scoring just 15 points per game across that time.
  • The Bulls boast a lineout success rate of 91% this campaign, better than any other team in the competition.
  • Semisi Masirewa beat a joint round-high 10 defenders in round 16, the second-most ever by a Sunwolves player in a Super Rugby game.

Sunwolves – 15 Gerhard van den Heever, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Michael Little, 11 Akihito Yamada, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Willie Britz, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 James Moore, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar (c).
Subs: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20ahboni Warren Vosayaco, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryoto Nakamura.

Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Divan Rossouw, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman,4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Morné Smith, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 André Warner, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Dries Swanepoel.

SUPERBRU: SA Rugby magazine team’s picks

SHARKS vs LIONS, Durban, Saturday, 5:15pm

From a South African perspective, this is undoubtedly the headline fixture of the weekend.

The Lions clinched two crucial wins just before the June Test window, which ensures they remain handily placed at the top of the South African conference, although the second-placed Jaguares are just six points behind, while having a game in hand.

It’s a state of affairs that will ensure the Lions aren’t found wanting for motivation this Saturday, particularly as they have a bye next weekend, before facing a final conference game against the Bulls.

A win for the Lions will go a long way to guaranteeing a home quarter-final, and so coach Swys de Bruin will be thrilled to have influential Springboks such as Malcolm Marx, Warren Whiteley and Courtnall Skosan all returning from injury.

Lying in wait for the Lions will be a Sharks team that saw their campaign blighted by inconsistency before the international window.

Five wins, seven losses and one draw have left the Durban-based side just outside playoff qualification, and they cannot afford to drop another game if they are to sneak into a wildcard position.

The likes of Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe, Lukhanyo Am, S’bu Nkosi and André Esterhuizen should all be riding a wave of confidence after receiving opportunities with the Boks in June.

It means that a full-strength Sharks side could prove to be a very different proposition over the final few weeks of the competition, and which makes it particularly difficult to pick a favourite for Saturday’s clash at Kings Park.

However, the fact remains that the Lions are undefeated in their last 21 derbies, while they are on a seven-match winning streak against the Sharks.

Stats and facts

  • The Lions have won their last seven games on the bounce against the Sharks, three of which came after trailing at half-time.
  • The Sharks have lost just one of their last six games on home turf (W4, D1), including wins in each of their last three.
  • The Lions are undefeated in their last 21 South African derbies (W20, D1). Their last derby loss was a 35-33 defeat at the hands of the Bulls in round 12, 2015.
  • The Sharks (13) have made the most offloads per game this season, while the Lions (six) have made the fewest.
  • The Lions’ Elton Jantjies (1,120) has played more minutes than any other player this campaign, while he has kicked the third most goals in 2018 (55).

Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Phillip 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 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.

Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Voster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Marnus Schoeman, 22 Nic Groom, 23 Courtnall Skosan.

PREVIEW: Super Rugby (Round 17, Part 1)

JAGUARES vs STORMERS, Buenos Aires, Saturday, 7:40pm

The Jaguares enjoyed a remarkable hot streak prior to the June break, which saw the Argentinian team record six successive wins and shoot up to seventh on the overall standings.

It will be interesting to see if they can maintain that form as the competition resumes, particularly when one considers how Argentina struggled against Wales and Scotland during the June Tests.

The Stormers have headed to Buenos Aires with an air of desperation about them following a sequence of three defeats that have left their playoff hopes hanging by a thread.

As a result, coach Robbie Fleck has seen the need to take his strongest possible side across to Argentina, including battle-weary Bok captain Siya Kolisi, who will surely be tapping into the last of his energy reserves.

Injuries have certainly been a significant contributing factor to the Stormers’ struggles this season, and it’s notable that there is still no sign of influential lock Eben Etzebeth, although Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe have returned to an all-Bok front row.

The Stormers do have a 92% per-game average in terms of scrum success (rank three), and this is certainly an area where they can look to target the Jaguares (85%).

However, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that the Stormers have yet to win a game away from home this season, and it will be a tall order to overcome a Jaguares side that has a playoff place well within their sights.

Stats and facts

  • The Stormers have won each of their previous three games against the Jaguares, although none by a margin of more than eight points.
  • The Jaguares have won their last six Super Rugby games on the bounce, a streak twice as long as their previous best in the competition.
  • The Stormers have won just two of their last 13 games away from home, and are winless on the road so far in 2018 (L7).
  • The Jaguares have scored 10 tries after winning possession via a turnover this season, only the Chiefs (11) have scored more tries via this method.
  • The Stormers’ Siya Kolisi has made 13 clean breaks this campaign, the equal most of any forward in the competition, alongside Kwagga Smith and Akira Ioane.

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 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Subs: 16 Diego Fortuny, 17 Javier Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonila, 23 Matias Moroni.

Stormers – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Craig Barry, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Jan de Klerk, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 JC Janse van Rensberg, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Kobus van Dyk, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 EW Viljoen.

Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

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