Our rugby scribe takes a look at Saturday's seven round 17 Super Rugby fixtures which includes a clash between the Highlanders and Chiefs.
We’ve got a bit of a blockbuster Saturday morning in-store with two classic New Zealand derbies set to go down.
The first fixture of the day pits the Crusaders against the Hurricanes while the second sees the Highlanders take on the Chiefs. We then jet off to Australia for a clash between the Brumbies and the Force. It’s off to South Africa after that for two local derbies with the Stormers hosting the Kings and the Cheetahs taking on the Bulls.
The day closes out with a contest between the Jaguares and a second-string Lions outfit who will be doing their utmost to ensure that the union ends the robin phase at the top of the Overall Conference standings.
Crusaders v Hurricanes | Saturday 16 July | AMI Stadium | 07:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 5/10 | Draw 22/1 | Hurricanes 16/10
Crusaders (-4.5) 9/10 | Hurricanes (+4.5) 9/10
This is a biggie. You’ve got two sides who are desperate to claim the full five-point haul going head to head in one of the most anticipated derby's of the year. You also have two sides who play completely different brands of rugby squaring off.
The Crusaders physical approach to their campaign has borne fruit this season. The men from Canterbury currently sit just a solitary point off the Chiefs, who currently lead the New Zealand conference. Key to the Crusaders “in your face’ approach has been the sheer size of their players. While we all know that they have one of the biggest packs in the tournament, it’s the size of some of their backs that leaves one flabbergasted. While fullback Izzy Dagg and centres Ryan Crotty and David Havelli are all relatively well sized – weighing in at between 90 and 96 Kilogrammes – its Fijian freak of nature, Nemani Nadolo, who acts as a battering ram; running over opposition defenders at will.
The Hurricanes also have a rather large winger, who’s fond of a good old ‘Maori Side Step’, in Julian Savea. The ‘Canes flyer was a pivotal figure in his sides 11 point victory over the Waratahs last Saturday. Chris Boyd will be hoping Savea can replicate last week’s performance out in Canterbury this weekend.
While Julian will play a vital role for the Hurricanes, his younger brother Ardie could be the key man. The hard as nails flanker will be tasked with keeping Matt Todd and Co honest at ruck time.
In terms of team news for this one, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd has been forced to shuffle his midfield due to an injury to Matt Proctor. Ngani Laumape comes into the number twelve berth with Willis Halaholo shifting one out to thirteen.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has also opted to make a few changes with Wyatt Crockett returning to the starting front row and Kieran Read coming back into the number eight berth.
Verdict: Crusaders 5/10
I can't see the Crusaders slipping up here despite the Hurricanes' recent improvements. Back the hosts on the straight win at 5/10.
Highlanders v Chiefs | Saturday 16 July | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders 15/20 | Draw 25/1 | Chiefs 21/20
Highlanders (-2.5) 9/10 | Chiefs (+2.5) 9/10
While the day’s opener is certain to be a cracker, the second game could just steal the show. The Chiefs currently lead the New Zealand Conference by a point and would only need a win to secure top spot as they beat the Crusaders twice in the round robin phase. The Highlanders currently occupy third spot on the New Zealand Conference but if the Crusaders lose to the ‘Canes, and if they managed to beat the Chiefs, then the men from Otago could finish the round robin phase of the season top of their domestic conference.
These two sides met back in May with the Highlanders running out 26-13 victors. That was the Highlanders fifth consecutive victory over the Chiefs, with the men from Waikato last getting one over their domestic rivals back in 2014.
Both sides are enjoying brilliant runs of form with the Highlanders winning four of their last five fixtures and the Chiefs three of their last four.
In terms of team news for this one, Brodie Retallick returns to the Chiefs' second row while Liam Messam gets his first start of the season on the flank.
Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph is yet to announce his match day squad but were likely to see Dan Pryor come in on the flank in place of young gun James Lentjies.
Verdict: Highlanders 15/20
It’s going to be a hell of a clash with some big name All Blacks going toe to toe. I reckon the home side will just edge this one.
Brumbies v Force | Saturday 16 July | GIO Stadium | 11:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Brumbies 1/25 | Draw 33/1 | Force 17/2
Brumbies (-21.5) 9/10 | Force (+21.5) 9/10
Things looked rather dire for the Brumbies after Friday’s defeat to the Blues. They headed to Auckland firmly in the driving seat for a quarter-final berth until the Blues decided to put in one of the displays of the season. The Brumbies were totally outclassed and left Auckland without accruing a single log point. Luckily enough, for Larkham and Co, their rivals for the Australian quarter-final spot, the Waratahs, put in a poor showing against the 'Canes the following day which allowed the Brumbies to remain top of the Australian Conference pops.
The Brumbies will know look to assure their place in the quarter-finals with a bonus-point victory of a struggling Western Force outfit, although, their place in the knockout phase may already be assured if the Waratahs go down to the Blues and fail to secure a bonus point on Friday morning.
The Force have only beaten the Brumbies once in the last seven meetings between the sides and that victory came way back in 2013. The Brumbies tend to win these fixtures by between 12 and 17 points.
Verdict: Brumbies (-21.5) 9/10
While the Brumbies have struggled to clear big margins against the Force in the past, I can’t see that happening this weekend. Back the brumbies to maul their way to a large victory that sees them clear the -21.5 handicap.
Stormers v Kings | Saturday 16 July | DHL Newlands | 17:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Stormers 1/100 | Draw 33/1 | Kings 16/1
Stormers (-32.5) 9/10 | Kings (+32.5) 9/10
The first of the two South African local derbies sees the Stormers take on the Kings. The hosts have already secured a home quarter-final which has prompted coach Robbie Fleck into resting his two locking stalwarts, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth.
While Schalk Burger, Siya Kolisi, and Bongi Mbonambi are all likely to start, the Stormers could be furthered buoyed by a few returning players. Nizaam Carr, Frans Malherbe, and Ollie Kebble have all trained with the squad this week and may well get some game time especially considering how hard their deputies worked in last week’s 22-3 victory over the Force.
With impressive young pivot, Jean-Luc du Plessis struggling with an injury there could also be a return to the starting XV for young flyhalf Daniel du Preez. While Scottish international Huw Jones will start in the centres with Jean Luc’s cousin and Stormers centre Daniel du Plessis having been ruled out with concussion.
Verdict: Stormers (-32.5) 9/10
While the Kings gave a good account of themselves during the first half of their clash with the Lions last week, they once again fell apart in the second stanza. I expect this game to follow a similar script with the Stormers clearing the handicap due to the Kings dropping off in the second half.
Cheetahs v Bulls | Saturday 16 July | Toyota Stadium | 19:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 18/10 | Draw 22/1 | Bulls 9/20
Cheetahs (+5.5) 9/10 | Bulls (-5.5) 9/10
Our next port of call for Saturday will be the Free State Stadium where the Cheetahs will take on the Bulls - who could already have seen their quarter-final dreams shattered should the Sharks beat the Sunwolves on Friday night.
Ironically enough, this game is essentially a repeat of last year’s final Super Rugby clash between these two. Neither side had anything to play for, which could be the case again this Saturday. Last year’s clash was an absolute classic with the Cheetahs running out 42-29 victors in an open-ended match.
The two sides come into this one off the back of solid displays with the Cheetahs running the Sharks close in Durban and the Bulls annihilating the Sunwolves.
In terms of team news, Bulls coach Nollis Marais has opted to make two changes to his starting XV with Tian Schoeman coming in at flyhalf in place of Francois Brummer and Marcel van der Merve returning to the tighthead berth. Cheetahs head coach, Franco Smith, is yet to announce his match day 23.
Verdict: Cheetahs 18/10
I fancy the Cheetahs to cause an upset here. They’ve done it in the past and their backline looks a lot more threatening than that of their opponents.
Jaguares v Lions | Saturday 16 July | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 23:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Jaguares 1/4 | Draw 22/1 | Lions 28/10
Jaguares (-11.5) 9/10 | Lions (+11.5) 9/10
Our final round robin game for 2016 will see a second-string Lions side take on the Jaguares out in Argentina.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann made a huge call this week electing to field a weakened side for this weekend’s battle in Buenos Aries. The Lions mentor has opted to leave his first string players at home with all the fringe players being elevated to matchday 23.
While the likes of Elton Jantjies, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, and Faf de Klerk have all stayed in Joburg, this Lions side will still have some experienced players in it with Howard Mnisi, Ross Cronje, and Stokkies Hannekom all named in the starting XV.
The Jaguares may well fancy their chances against this second strength Lions side but whether they can keep their composure is another matter altogether.
The Argentines have been founding wanting when it comes to discipline, this season. The amount of times they’ve been down to 14 or 13 men due to yellow and red cards has been ridiculous. If they do go down a man or two, I fully expect the Lions to take advantage of their numerical superiority.
Verdict: Lions 28/10
The bookmakers may not be in agreement with me but I still feel this second-string Lions side is competent enough to get the job done in Argentina. Back the Overall Conference leader’s second stringers to get the job done at 28/10.