CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three matches of round 19, including the crucial clashes involving the Bulls, Lions and Sharks.
WARATAHS vs BRUMBIES, Sydney, Saturday 11:45am
The Waratahs secured top spot in the Australian conference last weekend, and yet coach Daryl Gibson has opted to name an unchanged starting lineup for Saturday’s clash as they aim to maintain continuity and momentum.
Of course, while the Waratahs are assured of top spot in the Aussie standings, they will want to claim a win this weekend to guarantee there is no chance of the Lions jumping above them into second place on the overall standings, with that side set to host a semi-final should they progress.
The Brumbies’ slim hopes of sneaking through to the playoffs effectively went up in smoke following last weekend’s loss to the Chiefs, but they are a team that has got better as the season has gone on, with David Pocock particularly proving to be an inspirational figure.
This is set to be a competitive Aussie derby, but the Waratahs should be regarded as favourites on their home turf.
Stats and facts
- The Waratahs earned a 24-17 win in their most recent encounter with the Brumbies, snapping a three-game losing streak against them.
- The Waratahs have won eight of their last nine Australian derbies, including their last five on the bounce.
- The Brumbies have lost their last four Australian derbies away from home. However, just one of those four games saw either team score 20 or more points.
- The Waratahs have scored 108 points since Super Rugby returned from the international break, 28 more than any other team and 65 more than the Brumbies.
- The Brumbies’ David Pocock has won 19 turnovers this campaign from just nine appearances; only Kwagga Smith of the Lions (21 in 14 games) has won more.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley (c), 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Alex Newsome.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Blake Enever, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Les Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
LIONS vs BULLS, Pretoria, Saturday 3:05pm
It’s ironic that the Lions should come into this encounter with an element of gratitude towards the Bulls, who claimed a win over the Jaguares last weekend to prevent the Argentinian side from moving to the top of the SA conference.
As a result, the Lions can book a home quarter-final with a win over the Bulls. Coach Swys de Bruin has understandably picked a powerful side for this encounter, but it is interesting to see Courtnall Skosan coming in for Aphiwe Dyantyi, while Nic Groom claims the No 9 jersey from Ross Cronjé.
The Bulls have continued to be disrupted by injury during the latter parts of this season, and will have to do without Handré Pollard for this match, although there is at least a return for powerful winger Travis Ismaiel.
Last Saturday, the Lions would have noted just what the Bulls are capable of when they get it together, while their linespeed on defence certainly proved to be effective as the game went on against the Jaguares.
Although the Bulls are out of the running for a playoff place, coach John Mitchell has spoken a lot about the desire for a team in transition to continue meeting the desired standards, and they will know that a win over the dangerous Lions would at least put a sheeny gloss on a season of mixed results.
Mitchell suggested earlier in the week that he expected the Lions to make regular use of their driving maul, while there is no doubt that they will look to take on the Pretoria-based side at the set pieces.
What stands in stark contrast between these two teams is that the Bulls are ranked first for making the most kicks per game this season (21), while the Lions are ranked 14th (15.9 kicks from hand).
The Bulls should be wary of feeding a dangerous Lions backline with too much ball, but they would have also been encouraged by the performance of several of their own Bok backs last weekend.
This is certain to be a typically uncompromising trans-Jukskei derby, but it’s the hosts who should be able to feed off the added motivation that comes with playing for top spot in the South African conference.
Stats and facts
- The Lions have won five of their last six games against the Bulls, including their last three in a row. They had never previously won against them as the Lions (drawn one, lost 10).
- The Lions have led at half-time in each of their seven games on home turf this season, going on to win on five occasions in that time.
- The Bulls have won three of their last four South African derbies, including a 39-33 win in their most recent such fixture against the Sharks in round 13.
- The Lions have won 8.4 turnovers per game this season, more than any other team in the competition.
- Handré Pollard (206) is one of just two players (Elton Jantjies, 231) to have made more than 200 kicks from hand in this campaign.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Johannes Jonker, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman/Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 23 Howard Mnisi/Shaun Reynolds.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman (c), 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Mornay Smit, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Nick de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Boeta Hamman, 23 Divan Rossouw.
SHARKS vs JAGUARES, Durban, Saturday 5:15pm
Who knows what to expect from the Sharks anymore? A season blighted by inconsistency was epitomised last Saturday as the Durbanites blew a golden opportunity to move into a qualifying position after succumbing to a meek defeat against the Stormers.
It’s left the Sharks having to hope for a Highlanders victory over the eighth-placed Rebels this weekend. That would then open the door for the Sharks to sneak through to the knockout stage, but it won’t have escaped their attention that the Highlanders have opted to field a significantly weakened team for a game that’s unlikely to influence their final log position.
Should the Rebels make the most of that and claim a rare win in Dunedin, it would completely change the complexion of the Sharks-Jaguares clash. Similarly, if the Lions beat the Bulls in the earlier game, the Jaguares will know that they can no longer play for top spot in the SA conference.
With all these permutations in mind, it remains a lottery as to what these two teams will produce on match day. The Sharks have been erratic all season, but as fullback Curwin Bosch pointed out to SARugbymag.co.za earlier this week, they have generally performed best when their forwards and ball-carriers have provided momentum up front.
This will be particularly important against a Jaguares side that has made significant progress this season, with last weekend’s loss to the Bulls bringing an end to a seven-match winning streak.
The Jaguares were guilty of effectively running themselves off their feet on the highveld, but should feel more confident about being able to sustain their high-paced game for the full 80 minutes in Durban, where some wet weather is predicted for Saturday.
The Sharks will head into this contest without injured winger S’bu Nkosi, but the return of Beast Mtawarira will provide additional stability at scrum time – a set piece where both teams boast just an 86% success rate this season.
With this being the last match of the weekend, the benefit for these two sides is that they will know exactly where they stand before kick-off, which could well have a significant impact on proceedings.
It all points to the sort of match-up where you pick a winner at your peril, but considering the Jaguares have opted to rest a number of first-choice players, one would expect the hosts to come up trumps.
Stats and facts
- The Jaguares ran out to a 29-13 win when they last met with the Sharks in round 15 this season, their first win against the Durban-based franchise after losing their previous four.
- Each of the Sharks’ last seven games has been won by the home team on the day, with the Durban-based outfit picking up four home wins in that time.
- The Jaguares have won seven of their last eight games overall; however, they’ve lost their last seven games in South Africa with their last win in the country coming in the opening round of the 2017 campaign against the Kings.
- The Sharks (2.1) are the only team this season to kick two or more penalty goals per game.
- Guido Petti Pagadizaval has stolen 14 lineouts this campaign, more than any other player in the competition.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Wian Vosloo, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Makazole Mapimpi.
Jaguares – 15 Ramiro Moyano, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Sebastian Cancelliere, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Javier Diaz.
Subs: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Nicolas Sanchez, 23 Emiliano Boffelli.
Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix