CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the first four Vodacom Super Rugby matches of round eight, which include games involving the Stormers, Lions and Sharks.
HIGHLANDERS vs HURRICANES, Dunedin, Friday, 8:35am
When these two teams met earlier this season, the Canes only just managed to sneak their way to a 25-22 victory.
It was the sort of scrappy clash that quite aptly reflected what has been an inconsistent start to the season for the sides, who each suffered disappointing defeats the last time out.
The Highlanders come into this clash without the services of injured All Blacks playmakers Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo, while the Canes have lost Vince Aso and Matt Proctor.
This is not an easy game to call, especially considering that the Highlanders will be at home, but the Canes should have enough firepower to come out on top if they can cut out the errors that haunted them last weekend.
Stats and facts
o The last six Super Rugby clashes between the Highlanders and Hurricanes have been won by the home side, and the side leading at half-time.
o The Highlanders have won 14 of their last 15 home games (lost one) in Super Rugby, four of those victories coming despite trailing at the interval.
o The Highlanders have won only one of their last five completed all-New Zealand Super Rugby derbies (lost four).
o The Hurricanes have tallied 194 defenders beaten this season so far, 28 more than any other side. The Highlanders have beaten the fewest (89).
o Three of the top 10 metre-makers in Super Rugby this season are Hurricanes players (Ben Lam 383, Ngani Laumape 371, Jordie Barrett 328). No other side have more than two representatives in this list (Blues).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (co-c), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Richard Buckman, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Rob Thompson.
Hurricanes – 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Kane Le’aupepe. 4 James Blackwell, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Subs: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Liam Mitchell, 21 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 22 Finlay Christie, 23 Matt Proctor.
REDS vs STORMERS, Brisbane, Friday, 11am
Despite producing two gutsy performances against the Hurricanes and Blues over the past fortnight, the Stormers have very little to show for their efforts.
Two defeats have again served to expose some of the weaknesses in the Stormers’ makeup, with basic errors on both attack and defence, particularly, disrupting their efforts in recent weeks.
To make matters worse, the Stormers will be without the services of key personnel such as Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and it means that they come into this clash with a considerably overhauled pack.
Interestingly, the Stormers did show far more attacking intent against the Blues last weekend, but they were ultimately let down by poor execution.
The Cape-based side has now slipped down to ninth on the overall standings, and they will know that this has become a must-win clash against the embattled Reds.
The Australian side has managed just two wins from six games this season, and it’s particularly at the set pieces that a new-look Stormers pack should look to target them.
Only time will tell just how the Stormers have been affected by team disruptions, but this game represents what surely is a key crossroad in their campaign.
Stats and facts
o The Stormers have won 10 of their last 13 Super Rugby games against the Reds, although they did lose on their most recent trip to Suncorp Stadium (March 2014).
o The last South African side to beat the Reds in Australia were the Sharks back in 2015. Since then the Queensland side has won five such Super Rugby games on the spin.
o The Stormers have won four of their last five Super Rugby games in Australia. However, their last victory in the country came in July 2016.
o The Reds have scored eight tries in the final quarter of games this season, the joint-most of any team in the competition.
o Only Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco (76) has made more carries than Reds centre Samu Kerevi (74) this season in Super Rugby, Kerevi playing one game fewer than the Sunwolves back rower.
Reds – 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Sefa Naivalu, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Jack Hardy, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith.
Subs: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas.
Stormers – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 SP Marais.
LIONS vs SHARKS, Johannesburg, Friday, 7:10pm
A common refrain from the Sharks camp this week has been to suggest that they bested the Vodacom Bulls in the majority of departments last weekend, except on the scoreboard.
That has unfortunately been the story of the Sharks’ rather frustrating season to date, with three wins and three losses leaving them rather precariously positioned.
To make matters worse, the Sharks have lost influential hooker Akker van der Merwe to suspension, leaving the inexperienced duo of Kerron van Vuuren and Fez Mbatha to take up the reins.
The Lions come into this contest on the back of a bye and three successive wins, and so they certainly won’t be short of confidence after a somewhat shaky start to the season.
Interestingly, the Lions have opted to deploy Bok speedster Aphiwe Dyantyi at outside centre, while welcoming back Cyle Brink to boost a loose trio that has been decimated by injury.
When one takes a look at this season’s statistics and recent history between these sides, it can be expected to be a clash that will pit the Lions’ ball-in-hand ambition against the steely resolve of a sturdy Sharks defence.
Although both teams have looked to display a bit more evolution to their play, this will be one of those matches where the Sharks will be desperate to front up physically, win the gainline battle, and then perhaps surprise with a bit more innovation on attack.
Of course, the Lions should be seen as favourites, but this will be one of those dangerous South African derbies where you can never be certain of the outcome.
Stats and facts
o The Sharks beat the Lions in their most recent Super Rugby encounter (round 17, 2018), ending a run of seven defeats against them.
o The Lions are on a three-game winning run in Super Rugby. The last time they enjoyed a longer streak was their record 14-game run on their way to the 2017 final.
o The Sharks have lost their last seven away games in Super Rugby against fellow South African sides, their last such win coming against the Cheetahs in March 2017.
o The Lions have scored 10 tries in the 20 minutes immediately after half-time in Super Rugby this year, more than any other team in the competition.
o Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies has missed more tackles (20) than any other player in Super Rugby so far this season, completing just 67% of his attempts.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Tyrone Green, 13 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 12 Lionel Mapoe, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Ruan Vermaak, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (c), 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Nathan Macbeth, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Stephan Lewies, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Hacjivah Dayimani, 23 Sylvian Mahuza/Wandisile Simelane.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis, Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Aphelele Fassi.
CRUSADERS vs BRUMBIES, Christchurch, Saturday, 6:15am
The Crusaders may have endured a bit of a wobble against the Waratahs recently, but they bounced back with an emphatic victory against the Hurricanes last weekend.
It was enough to see the Saders assert their position of ascendancy at the top of the standings, and it still looks as if it will take a minor miracle to prevent the New Zealand powerhouse side from claiming a third successive title.
To have any hope of causing a stunning upset, the Brumbies will look to spoil and disrupt the Crusaders’ momentum by fronting up at the breakdown and at the set pieces.
Unfortunately, though, the fact remains that the Brumbies are without a contingent of their Wallabies, including influential David Pocock, while they haven’t won in Christchurch in 19 years.
Stats and facts
o The Crusaders have won their last eight Super Rugby games against the Brumbies, last losing to the Australian side over 10 years ago (February 2009).
o The Brumbies have not won a Super Rugby game on New Zealand soil since beating the Hurricanes 29-21 in March 2014, losing their last 12 games across the Tasman Sea.
o The Crusaders were defeated 20-12 by the Waratahs in their last game against Australian opposition and will be looking to avoid consecutive regular-season defeats to Australian teams in the same year for the first time since March 1997.
o Five of the last six Super Rugby meetings between the Crusaders and Brumbies have seen the home team on the day cross for the opening try of the game.
o Crusaders’ George Bridge has averaged over nine metres per carry (9.2) in Super Rugby this season, the best rate of any player to make 30-plus carries.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Faingaanuku.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Murray Douglas, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Jahrome Brown, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Andy Muirhead.
Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix