CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final three matches in round 18, including the derby between the Stormers and Sharks.
WARATAHS vs SUNWOLVES (Saturday, 11:45am)
The Waratahs took a big step towards securing top honours in the Australian conference when they completed an important comeback win over the Rebels last weekend.
It was a result that took them four points clear in the Aussie group, and they should be confident of now finishing the regular season with positive results against the Sunwolves and Brumbies.
Although the Waratahs have matters under their own control, they will be wary of a Sunwolves side that has improved significantly as the season has gone on, which was brought into sharp focus when they claimed a well-deserved win over the Bulls last Saturday.
The Tahs have been boosted by the return of influential fullback Israel Folau for this clash, and should be expected to claim a win that will take them another step closer to a home quarter-final.
Stats and facts
- The Waratahs have won both of their previous two games against the Sunwolves, posting a half-century against them on each occasion.
- The Waratahs have won four of their last six games at home (lost two), averaging 41 points per game in those four victories.
- The Sunwolves have won three of their last five games, including two come-from-behind victories in that time.
- The Waratahs (32) have scored the most points per game of any team this season, while the Sunwolves (39) have conceded the most.
- Taqele Naiyaravoro (12 tries in 12 games) is one of only three players (Ben Lam, Michael Tambwe) to average one try per game this season.
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.
Sunwolves – 15 Ryuji Noguchi, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Michael Little, 11 Akihito Yamada, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Yutaka Nagare (c), 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 James Moore, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar.
Subs: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Rahboni Warren Vosayako, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryoto Nakamura.
BULLS vs JAGUARES (Saturday, 3:05pm)
The injury-hit Bulls have slumped to three successive defeats that have effectively blown away any playoff ambitions, and they head into Saturday’s clash playing for pride more than anything else.
John Mitchell was frank in his assessment following last weekend’s shock loss to the Sunwolves, with the Bulls coach imploring his players to rediscover their ‘identity’ on defence.
It’s a problem area for the Bulls that has been reflected in the whopping 167 points that have been conceded in their last four games, while their per-game tackle success has dropped to a lowly 82% (rank 14th).
Discipline has also been a problem for the Bulls, who are conceding 11 penalties on average per game, and they now come up against a high-flying Jaguares side that has won seven games on the trot.
It won’t be lost on the Bulls that their season first began to unravel when the Jaguares claimed an impressive 54-24 win back in May, and so they will be looking to inflict a semblance of revenge at Loftus.
The Jaguares do have plenty to play for as a win would see them leapfrog the Lions into top spot in the ‘South African’ conference, and so the Bulls will know that they are set to welcome an in-form and supremely motivated team to Pretoria.
It should make for a compelling encounter.
Stats and facts
- The Jaguares have won two of their previous three games against the Bulls, including a 54-24 victory when they met less than two months ago.
- The Bulls have led at half-time in each of their last five games on home turf. However, they’ve gone on to win only three of those five games.
- The Jaguares have won their last four games on the bounce away from home, as many as they had won in all their 17 prior games on the road.
- The Bulls (91%) boast the best lineout success rate of any team in the competition this season, five percentage points greater than the Jaguares.
- Guido Petti Pagaizaval has stolen 11 lineouts for the Jaguares this campaign, the second most of any player in the competition behind the Lions’ Franco Mostert (13th).
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Divan Rossouw, 10 Handré Pollard (c), 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/Matthys Basson, 18 Mornay Smit, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Dries Swanepoel.
Jaguares – TBC
STORMERS vs SHARKS (Saturday, 5:15pm)
With two rounds of the regular season remaining, the Stormers are already out of playoff contention, while the Sharks lie just outside of a qualifying position – three points adrift of the eighth-placed Rebels.
It’s not been a season to remember for either side, but the Sharks’ gutsy win over the Lions last Saturday has reignited their playoff hopes, and wins over the Stormers and then Jaguares are now non-negotiable if they hope to sneak into the knockout stage.
Although the Stormers are no longer in quarter-final contention, the strange competition formation will see them finish the season with a bye next weekend, and so this Saturday’s encounter is an opportunity for them to empty the energy tanks in one last shot at relative redemption.
However, the Sharks will be coming to Newlands with the aim of replicating their winning blueprint from last Saturday, which saw them frustrate the Lions through an immense defensive display, before striking with precision when opportunities arose later in the game.
The Sharks have proved to be a team quite happy to play without the ball (they are ranked first for kicks from hand per game: 21), and will look to suffocate the life out of an injury-depleted Stormers side.
The Cape-based team will be without captain Siya Kolisi this week, although it also has to be noted that the Sharks come into this clash with neither Jean-Luc du Preez (injured) or Beast Mtawarira (rested) in the starting lineup. Beneficially, though, S’bu Nkosi is back on the wing.
Interestingly, the Sharks have won 13 of their last 19 games against the Stormers, and with so much for the Durbanites to play for on Saturday, there is little doubt that they should be regarded as marginal favourites.
- The Stormers have lost their last four games on the bounce, the last time they lost more was a five-game drought early in 2014.
- The Sharks have won just one game away from home in 2018. Failure to win this fixture will see them post their fewest road wins in a season since winning none in 2005.
- The Sharks (29) and Stormers (26) have kicked more penalty goals than any other teams so far this campaign.
- Only two players (Elton Jantjies, Franco Mostert) have played more minutes in Super Rugby this season than Damian de Allende (1,174) who has made the most carries of any back this season (166).
Stormers – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit (c), 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Jan de Klerk, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensberg.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Josh Stander, 23 Craig Barry.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen 6 Phillip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Wian Vosloo, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix