|Our scribe takes a look at Saturday's Super Rugby action which includes a North v South derby.|
With the June Tests fast approaching, the Super Rugby franchises will be going all out to ensure they enter the month-long break with a shout of making the quarter-finals. For the likes of the Chiefs and Rebels, those quarter-final places are far from secure as the Highlanders and Hurricanes are breathing down the Chiefs necks in the New Zealand Conference, while the Rebels are seven points off the table-topping Waratahs in the Australian Conference.
The day ends with a massive North versus South African derby between Africa Conference 2 frontrunners, the Bulls and Stormers, going head to head at Loftus.
Reds v Sunwolves | Saturday 21 May | Suncorp Stadium | 07:05 CAT
To Win (80 Mins)
Reds 1/10 | Draw 33/1 | Sunwolves 11/2
Reds (-16.5) 9/10 | Sunwolves (+16.5) 9/10
The Sunwolves will be looking to build on last week’s 17-17 draw with the Stormers when they travel to Queensland this weekend. Mark Hammet’s charges put in arguably their best performance of the season last week and were extremely unlucky to concede a late try that ensured they would have to settle for a share of the spoils.
Nevertheless, all those associated with the franchise will be happy enough with the two points they garnered from last week’s fixture as it has moved them five points clear of the bottom-placed Combined African Conference Kings, who look like they will end the season with the wooden spoon mantle attached to their names.
The hosts for this one ended their tour of New Zealand with a decent enough display against the Hurricanes but still failed to accrue any log points from their tour. That 29-14 defeat was their second loss on the trot having gone down 38-5 to the Crusaders in round 11.
Results have been a lot easier to come by at home for the Queenslanders, however. Their only two victories were at Suncorp where they beat the Cheetahs 30-17 and produced the surprise result of the tournament when they beat the Highlanders 28-27 at the start of April.
I was sold an absolute dummy by the Sunwolves coaching staff last week. Having seen a published team list without Tusi Pisi on it, I was shocked to see the Samoan international take to the field last Saturday. I can confirm, with a huge amount of certainty – I’ve trawled at least five websites to confirm the Sunwolves' matchday 23 – that they will field an identical run on XV to the one that did duty last week. The only change to the squad sees front rower Keita Inagaki return to the reserves bench in place of Ziun Gu.
The Reds have also opted to keep the changes to a minimum with only Caderyn Neville coming into the run on 15. The lineout specialist takes the place of Ben Matwijow who drops to the bench.
Verdict: Reds (-16.5)
If this game was being played in Singapore or Japan my money would be firmly on the Sunwolves keeping it within +16.5 margin. It’s not though, and the Sunwolves have been dire on the road. Back the Reds to clear the -16.5 margin.
Chiefs v Rebels | Saturday 21 May | FMG Stadium | 09:35 CAT
To Win (80 Mins)
Chiefs 1/8 | Draw 35/1 | Rebels 5/1
Chiefs (-14.5) 9/10 | Rebels (+14.5) 9/10
This is a big one for the Chiefs. Not only do they require a win but coach Dave Rennie would have made it abundantly clear to his charges that he expects them to claim a bonus point as well. A five-point haul could possibly see them leapfrog the Crusaders - who I suspect may struggle to claim a three try bonus point against the Waratahs this Friday – to the top of the New Zealand Conference, the Australasian Conference, and the overall standings.
The Rebels are also in dire need of a win here. Having looked like real runners for a quarter-final berth a few weeks back, things have changed dramatically of late though Two losses, to the Blues and then the Brumbies, culminated with an upswing in form from the Waratahs and Brumbies have left Melbourne’s finest floundering in third spot on the Australian Conference.
In terms of team news for this one, Dave Rennie has made just two changes to his starting XV with Nathan Harris taking over the number two jumper from Hika Elliot, who drops to the bench. The other change sees Anton Lienert-Brown come into number 12 berth in place of the concussion ridden Charlie Ngati.
Rennie's opposite number has opted to make three changes to his run-on XV with Tom English coming in on the left wing for Cam Crawford, Mitch Inman coming into the number 13 berth in place of Tamati Ellison, and Sam Jeffries coming in at lock for Luke Jones.
Verdict: Chiefs (-14.5) 9/10
The Rebels have struggled against the New Zealand sides this term having lost to the Blues (36-30), the Highlanders (27-3), and the Hurricanes (38-13). My money is on that trend continuing with the Chiefs taking them to task this Saturday.
Force v Blues | Saturday 21 May | nib Stadium | 11:45 CAT
To Win (80 Mins)
Force 15/10 | Draw 25/1 | Blues 5/10
Force (+4.5) 9/10 | Blues (-4.5) 9/10
The Blues and Rebels will square off this weekend in a game that won’t make much difference to the top of the log but could drastically change things of the foot. Both sides have shown some decent signs this term but have struggled for consistency.
For the Blues, this game will be about putting last week’s dismal display in Joburg behind them. Tana Umaga’s men were run rampant by a free flowing Lions outfit, eventually going down 43-5. That was their fifth loss of the season and brought their two match winning streak to an end.
The Force have fared even worse than this weekend’s opponents. The men from Western Australia have only managed two victories this season and have a negative points differential of negative 138 – the third worst points differential in the tournament. That poor record may well be made even worse come the final whistle on Saturday as the Force have lost four of the last five contest between the sides by more than ten points.
Verdict: Blues (-4.5) 9/10
I can see the Blues making a joke of this rather small handicap. Back the hosts to clear the -4.5 margin at 9/10.
Lions v Jaguares | Saturday 21 May | Emirates Airline Park | 15:00 CAT
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 1/6 | Draw 30/1 | Jaguares 4/1
Lions (-14.5) 9/10| Jaguares (+14.5) 9/10
Joburg’s pride put in an emphatic performance against the Blues last weekend in some horrendous conditions. With the heavens having opened up over the Johannesburg CBD, Johan Ackermann instructed his charges to put up a few up and unders to test a suspect Blues back three under the high ball. Ackermann’s instructions paid off and before ten minutes had even passed on the stadium clock the Lions were 19-0 up. They would continue in this dominating fashion eventually running out 43-5 victors.
While the Lions managed claimed their seventh victory of the season last week, the Jaguares suffered their eighth loss of their debut campaign. Despite having the lions share of possession, and outscoring their opponents by three tries to one, the Jaguares just couldn’t get the better of their opponents eventually going down by 25 points to 22.
Coach Raul Perez has opted to make four changes from the side that lost to the Sharks last week. Julian Montoya comes in for the suspended Agustin Creevy while Leonardo Senatore impression of Luis Suarez has landed him a ten-week ban for biting, his place in the side will be taken by Facundo Isa. The two other changes to the side see Thomas Lezana and Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino come in on the flank and wing respectively.
On the Lions side of things, Johan Ackerman has made six changes to his run-on XV. Four of the changes are to the pack with Cyle Brink coming in on the flank, Corne Fourie and Armand ‘Akker’ van der Merve coming into the frontrow, and Lourens Erasmus coming into the second row to partner Franco Mostert.
Verdict: Lions (-14.5) 9/10
The Lions showed what a quality outfit they are last week adapting their game early on to suite the conditions. Come rain, snow, wind, or hail, my money is still on the Lions clearing the -14.5 handicap.
Sharks v Kings | Saturday 21 May | Growthpoint Kings Park | 17:10 CAT
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 1/100 |Draw 40/1 | Kings 12/1
Sharks (-30.5) 9/10 | Kings (+30.5) 9/10
The golden boy of Natal rugby, Patrick Lambie saved the Sharks skins last week in Argentina with a well-converted pressure penalty. With the scores locked up at 22-22 Lambie stepped up and cooly slotted home to ensure his side would secure their six victory of the season.
While the Sharks managed a narrow victory last time out, the Kings adventure to the Free Sate proved a pointless jaunt as they went down to the Cheetahs by 34 points to 20. That defeat was their ninth of the season with their only victory coming against the Sunwolves back at the beginning of April.
The two sides met back in round one with the Sharks running 43-8 victors in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Verdict: Sharks (-30.5) 9/10
The Natalians are on somewhat of a hot streak at the minute and I can see them putting a big score over their local rivals this Saturday. Back the hosts to clear the -30.5 margin.
Bulls v Stormers | Saturday 21 May | Loftus Versfeld | 19:10 CAT
To Win (80 Mins)
Bulls 15/20 | Draw 20/1 | Stormers 11/10
Bulls (-1.5) 9/10 | Stormers (+1.5) 9/10
An almost 150-year rivalry will be renewed this weekend with the Bulls and Stormers locking horns in the north versus south derby. This one carries even more weight than it usually carries with top spot in Africa Conference one on the line.
The Bulls come into this one off the back of a rather profitable tour of Australia that saw them garner ten log points. They did lose their last two fixtures on the road however, going down 23-6 to the Waratahs a fortnight ago and losing 31-8 to the Waratahs last weekend.
The Stormers were also on the road last week but their journey proved a lot less fruitful than that of their opponents as they were held to a 17-17 draw by a fired up Sunwolves outfit in Singapore. The Stormers have now only won one of their last four fixtures and have fallen to fourth place on theCombinedd Africa Conference.
Robbie Fleck’s men do have a bit of a psychological advantage heading into this one as they hammered the Bulls 33-9 back in round one.
In terms of team news, Bulls mentor, Nollis Marais, has made three changes to his starting line-up. Travis Ismael comes in for the underperforming Bjorn Basson on the left wing, while there’s a new halfback pairing with Piet Steyn and Francois Brummer cracking the nod ahead of Rudy Paige and Tiaan Schoeman.
On the Stormers side of things, Juan de Jongh is out with hamstring injury, his place in the side is taken by Johnny Kotze. The other change to the backline sees Nic Groom come into the scumhalf berth in place of Louis Schreuder. While in the pack, Schalk Burger comes into the eigth man berth with Nizaam Carr shifting to the flank in place of Rynhardt Elstadt. Eben Ethzibeth also makes a welcome return from injury and will partner Pieter-Steph du Toit in the second row while Oli Kebble and Bongi Mbonambi join Frans Malherbe in a fierce looking frontrow.
Verdict: Stormers 11/10
I think there’s a backlash in the offing from the Cape-based franchise. Last week's ignominious draw would have hurt them and I think they’ll take out all their frustration on this Bulls outfit.