Super Rugby: Round 12 (Saturday)

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There are a whole host of vital Super Rugby fixtures taking place this Saturday.

Our rugby scribe takes a look at Saturday’s Round 12 Super Rugby fixtures.

It’s a huge Saturday for the South African rugby franchises with every team in action. Not only that, but the other two sides who joined the newly formed African Conference’s will also take to the field.

You don’t want to miss a minute of any of this Saturday's games as we could well see a massive shake up in the African Conference standings.

Hurricanes v Reds | Saturday 14 May | Westpac Stadium | 09:35

To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 1/10 | Draw 35/1 | Reds 11/2
Hurricanes (-14.5) 9/10 | Reds (+14.5) 9/10
Our first stop on this Saturday’s Super Rugby tour is the Westpac Stadium in Wellington where the Hurricanes will host the Queensland Reds.

Both sides come into this one off the back of away defeats with the Reds being handed a rugby lesson out in Christchurch last Friday while the Hurricanes were run rampant by the Sharks at Kings Park the following day.

I have to say, the Hurricanes heavy defeat at the hands of the Natalians came as a bit of a shock to me. The way in which they dispatched the Lions at Emirates Airline Park the week prior had me convinced that they’d get one over the boys from the East Coast. I was proved horribly wrong however, as the Sharks put in their best display of the season to run out 32-15 victors.

Despite going down to the Natalians last weekend, the Canes will still be pleased with their mini tour of the republic. The five log point haul that they picked up on tour sees them return to the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ only six points off the New Zealand and combined Australasian Conference topping Crusaders.

While the Hurricanes are still in with a shout of securing a quarter-final berth, their opponents for this weekend will simply be looking to continue with their rebuilding program which suffered a serve dent last weekend. Having impressed against the Cheetahs a fortnight ago, the Reds were up to their old tricks again; falling off tackles and throwing some of the dodgiest offloads I’ve ever seen.

We’re likely to see a repeat of that diabolical display again this weekend as the Reds are generally suckered into a run at all costs game plan when they take on sides who like to run the ball from all quarters.

In terms of team news, the Reds coaching brains trust have decided to bring Ayumu Goromaru – the highest played rugby player rugby player in the world – back into the fold. The Japenese sensation takes over at fullback from the injured Karmichael Hunt
While the Reds have just made the solitary change to their run-on XV, the Hurricanes have been forced into a whole slew of switches due to a few of the squad indulging in some Durban nightlife the Tuesday before their defeat to the Sharks.

Both Savea Brothers have been dropped for the game with youngster Wes Goosen coming in for Julian on the wing and Callum Gibson coming in on the flank for Ardie. Corey Jane, Victor Vito, and prop Chris Evens were also not considered for selection due to breaking the team curfew. Corey Jane’s berth on the wing is taken by Jason Woodward while Blade Thompson takes over from Vito at eight.

Verdict: Hurricanes (-14.5) 9/10
They may be missing some of their stalwarts but I still think this Hurricanes side is more than capable of clearing a -14.5 margin against a weak Reds outfit.

Waratahs v Bulls | Saturday 14 May | Allianz Stadium | 11:45

To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs 7/20 | Draw 30/1 | Bulls 2/1
Waratahs ( -7.5) 9/10 | Bulls (+7.5) 9/10
The Bulls will look to record their second victory on their tour of Australia when they take on the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium this Saturday. This will be easier said than done however as the Waratahs have hit a rich vein of form that has seen them beat the Stormers, Western Force, and Cheetahs in the last three weeks.

Nollis Marais’ charges got their Australian tour off to an ideal start by downing the Force by 22 points two weeks ago. They were brought down to earth the following week however, as they failed to score a try against the Brumbies and ended up going down by 23 points to 6 at the nib Stadium.

The return of underrated winger Jambo Ulengo to the starting XV should improve the Bulls attacking potency somewhat. They will also be bolstered by the return to fitness of towering lock Jason Jenkins who’s been an absolute beast for them at lineout time.

Marais opposite number, Daryl Gibson, has opted to go with consistency naming an unchanged starting XV for Saturday’s clash.

Onto the statistical side of things now, and there are a few quirks here that will give the Bulls some encouragement. Pretoria’s finest have won two of the last three contests in Sydney and narrowly went down to the ‘Tahs there last year.

Verdict: Bulls (+7.5) 9/10
The return of Ulengo and Jenkins is a massive coup for the Bulls. While I’m not confident enough to back them to win the game, I’m more than happy to stick some money on them keeping it within +7.5 margin.

Sunwolves v Stormers | Saturday 14 May | Singapore National Stadium | 13:55

To Win (80 Mins)
Sunwolves 17/2 | Draw 40/1| Stormers 1/33
Sunwolves (+22.5) 9/10 | Stormers (-22.5) 9/10
I’m going to keep this segment of the preview short and sweet. The Stormers will travel to Singapore this Saturday in a game that everyone and their grandmother expects them to win.

The Western Cape-based franchise currently leads both the Africa Conference 1 standings as well as the Combined African Conference standings while the Sunwolves sit rock bottom in Africa Conference 1.

The hosts have only registered a solitary victory in their debut season shocking the Jaguares at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on the 23rd of April. The Stormers, on the other hand, have racked up six wins from their nine fixtures and will come into this one a rejuvenated outfit having enjoyed a bye last weekend.

In terms of team news for this one, Stormers' head coach, Robbie Fleck, has surprisingly opted to field an almost full-strength side with stalwarts Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh, and Pieter-Steph du Toit all featuring in the run on XV.

On the Sunwolves side of things, Mark Hammet has opted to ring the changes for this one. He's made four alterations to the starting pack and four changes to backline.

Verdict: Stormers (-22.5) 9/10
The Stormers should canter to victory here, the Sunwolves were atrocious against the Force last weekend and they will be without mercurial pivot Tusi Pisi who’s out with an injury.

Cheetahs v Kings | Saturday 14 May | Toyota Stadium | 17:05

To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 1/33 | Draw 40/1 | Kings 9/1
Cheetahs (-25.5) 9/10 | Kings (+22.5) 9/10
The battle to avoid the Combined Africa Conference wooden spoon accolade is starting to really heat up. Two of the sides who are in the running for this underwhelming award will lock horns in the Free State this Saturday afternoon

Ah Cheetahs rugby, how intriguing you are. Franco Marais' side are one of the most fascinating specimens in world rugby. They are capable of producing some of the most breathtaking rugby you’ll see, this side of New Zealand, one minute and then a minute later you’re left to question if they’ve ever trained together as a set move goes horribly wrong.

Their short tour of Australia illustrated their unpredictable prowess perfectly. Having put in two decent attacking displays in their defeats to the Rebels (36-14) and the Reds (30-17), they then put in toothless performance against the Waratahs that saw them fail to score a try or actually threaten their opponents' try line.

Like the Cheetahs, the Kings also went down to foreign opposition last weekend but their overall performance was a hundred times better than that of their local rivals. A solid defensive display coupled with some fantastic scrummaging saw the Kings remain within sniffing distance of a historic victory over the Blues. Two late tries from the Aucklanders would put an end to those dreams however, and the Nelson Mandela Bay faithful were left to make the short journey home with thoughts of what could have been.

On the injury front, the Kings have been dealt two serve injury blows this week with influential loosies Chris Cloete and CJ Velleman both sustaining long-term injuries in last week’s 18-34 defeat at the hands of the Blues.

Verdict: Cheetahs (-25.5) 9/10
It’s a huge handicap and if Cloete and Velleman were available I’d be backing the Kings to stay within in it. With their two frontline fetchers out I can’t see the Kings getting much possession at the Toyota Stadium. Back the Cheetahs to make good use of their breakdown dominance and clear the -25.5 margin.

Lions v Blues | Saturday 14 May | Emirates Airline Park | 19:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 4/10 | Draw 30/1 | Blues 18/10
Lions (-6.5) 9/10 | Blues (+6.5) 9/10
The Lions return to the playing field this week off the back of a much-needed bye. The Johannesburg franchise’s front row injury crisis was starting to take its toll as was evident in their poor scrummaging display during their 50-17 drumming at the hands of the Hurricanes three weeks ago.

The Blues couldn’t have asked for a worse time to take on Jo'burg’s Pride. Not only will the Lions be rejuvenated from their weekend off but they will also be welcoming back two of their key men in the form of front rowers Julian Redlinghuis and Malcolm Marx.

While the return of the aforementioned duo is great news for Lions fans, there is a bit of a dark cloud on what is a rather sunny looking Jo'burg skyline. Talismanic pivot, Elton Jantjies, is facing a race against time to prove his fitness. The mercurial ten hobbled off 20 minutes before the final whistle during the Lions. If the Springbok is ruled out, his place in the side is likely to be taken by Jaco Van der Walt

Verdict: Lions (-6.5) 9/10
The Lions have won the last two clashes between the two sides by three points. I’m backing them to make it a hat-trick of wins with a much more emphatic victory this Saturday.

Jaguares v Sharks | Saturday 14 May | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 22:45

To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 11/10 | Draw 28/1 | Sharks 7/10
Jaguares (+2.5) 9/10 | Sharks (-2.5) 9/10
A much-improved Sharks outfit  will make their first ever journey to Argentina to lock horns with the competition's biggest under-performers, Los Jaguares.

The Natalians come into this one off the back of a highly impressive 32-15 victory over the Hurricanes in Durban. While the result itself was a great coup for the Sharks, the manner in which they went about getting the win was probably the most pleasing aspect of the game for coach Gary Gold. Gone was the aimless kicking, poor option taking, and pathetic finishing. Instead, the Sharks put on a clinical, adventurous display that had the Kings Park faithful in raptures.

The Natalians have a great chance to build on that victory this weekend as they are taking on a side who have battled to acclimatise to the frenetic nature of Super Rugby.

The Jaguares have only won two games this term, and both victories came against fellow strugglers the Kings and Cheetahs. They have managed some decent displays at home however, with their narrow four-point loss to the Chiefs being the pick of their home performances this year.

In terms of team news for Saturday’s late kickoff, Gary Gold is yet to announce his match day 23 at the time of writing but I highly doubt we’ll see any significant tinkering to the squad.  Pat Lambie makes a surprise start at ten with Garth April dropping to the bench while Odwa Ndugane comes in for Lwazi Mvovo who's rested. In the pack, Giant Mtyanda comes in for the overworked Etienne Oosthuizen while Coenie Oosthuizen comes in for Lourens Adriaanse in the front row.  Jaguares coach, Raul Perez, has aelected to leave his team announcement to the last minute but he will surely field his strongest possible side for this clash.

Verdict: Sharks (-2.5) 9/10
The Natalians ran out 19-15 victors when the two sides locked horns back in round 2 and my money is on them  doing the double over the beleaguered Argentines.