This week Super Rugby kicks off with the Crusaders hosting the Sunwolves in New Zealand. One can expect a massacre here and some people will still asked the question how does Sunwolves rugby make Super Rugby better than the three that will be kicked out next year, but that is a question for another day.
In South Africa the Bulls are back at home against the Jaguares and they will have to improve 100% to beat the Argentinian side with the Cheetahs having to face a Chiefs side who will be hurting after last week lost and we end it all off with a great local derby between the unbeaten Stormers who will host the Lions.
Here is how the logs look after round 7
Here is the matches we can look forward to this weekend and all your previews as we predict how they will pan out.
Friday 14 April 2017
Crusaders vs Sunwolves (Live match coverage and scores)
Reds vs Kings (Live match coverage and scores)
Blues vs Hurricanes (Live match coverage and scores)
Rebels vs Brumbies (Live match coverage and scores)
Cheetahs vs Chiefs (Live match coverage and scores)
Stormers vs Lions (Live match coverage and scores)
Bulls vs Jaguares (Live match coverage and scores)
Fresh from a bye and with stars returning to their XV, the Crusaders should make it seven wins from seven against the Sunwolves on Friday.
Kieran Read, Richie Mo’unga and Seta Tamanivalu all make their return from injury in Christchurch in a timely boost for the in-form team. This trio possess such quality that it is looking more and more likely that the Crusaders are the real deal in this season’s competition.
While Whetu Douglas, Mitch Hunt and George Bridge have done impressive jobs standing in, expect to see the Crusaders lift their game to a new level from this week, with Mo’unga’s X-factor, Read’s skills and the power of Tamanivalu set to pose the Sunwolves plenty of problems.
They do face a visiting team buoyed by a morale-boosting home win over the Bulls, but one feels this could be a tough evening for them.
Nonetheless it will be a memorable game not only for their players but also the franchise as this is the first time they’ve played in New Zealand. It is also the first ever clash between these sides, though the Sunwolves’ only previous encounter with a New Zealand side ended in an 83-17 loss to the Hurricanes. That doesn’t bode well especially with travel taken into account and the Crusaders having fresh legs.
As mentioned, the Crusaders are in excellent form and have won 12 of their last 14 games at home, scoring an average of 37 points per game across that period. But the hosts would be foolish to write off the Sunwolves as an attacking threat as they have scored four tries in two of their last three games away from home after doing so only once in their six Super Rugby away matches before that. They can punish teams.
The Crusaders are also deadly when given a sniff though and with a record of having won their last 14 regular season matches against teams from outside New Zealand, scoring an average of 38 points per game across those triumphs, all the signs point to the red and black machine rolling to victory, setting them up nicely for next week’s cross-Conference clash with fellow pace-setters the Stormers at this same venue.
Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett will set a new record for the most Super Rugby appearances by any player when the team faces the Sunwolves.
A raft of changes to the side that beat the Waratahs a fortnight ago have been made, with just five players in the 23 remaining in the same position. Captain Sam Whitelock and vice-captain Matt Todd retain their spots at lock and loose forward, Mitchell Drummond is scrum-half and utility backs David Havili and Marty McKenzie will again wear the 15 and 22 jerseys respectively.
Kieran Read will make his first appearance of the 2017 season, having recovered from wrist surgery to take the number eight spot. Fly-half Richie Mo’unga is also to make his comeback from a fractured a bone in his hand.
Two other players returning from recent injury are Jack Goodhue, who will start at outside centre, and Seta Tamanivalu who will run out on the opposite wing to his nephew Manasa Mataele in Christchurch for the first time.
Sunwolves head coach Filo Tiatia has made eight changes to his starting line-up. Australian Ed Quirk returns to the side and will captain the Japanese outfit.
Yoshitaka Tokunaga drops out for Quirk while flanker Shunsuke Nunomaki and lock Sam Wykes replace Shuhei Matsuhashi and Uwe Helu respectively. Takuma Asahara, Takeshi Kizu and Keita Inagaki all come into the front-row for Friday’s away fixture.
Meanwhile in Sunwolves the backline, Yu Tamura starts ahead of Hayden Cripps at fly-half while Teruya Goto is on the wing in place of Kenki Fukuoka.
Previous results: Yet to play
Prediction: Home win here as the unbeaten New Zealanders will keep their winning streak going for another week at least. Crusaders by 25.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Whetu Douglas, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 George Bridge
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Teruya Goto, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Edward Quirk, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Yuhimaru Mimura, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 William Tupou, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi
Date: Friday, April 14
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Referees: Will Houston, Cam Stone
TMO: Glenn Newman
Reds vs Kings
The Kings will have their second match on tour in Australia on Saturday morning when they face the Reds. This is one of those clashes between two bottom-dwelling teams that is difficult to make a judgement call on.
Both sides have won only a solitary game this season, but while the Reds have been on a downward spiral since round one, the Kings have shown consistently impressive fighting spirit.
Last weekend, the Kings were unfortunate not to overcome the Force during a contest where the lead repeatedly changed hands, and they may fancy their chances of causing an upset in Brisbane. Having said that, the Kings did suffer a blow this week when hat-trick hero Malcolm Jaer was ruled out with a knee injury.
The fact also remains that the Reds have won six of their last eight games at home against South African opposition, while they have been boosted by the return of key backs Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt. As a result, they should be regarded as marginal favourites to break a six-match losing streak.
Prediction: This is a 50/50 match but Reds should have it by 15 points
Reds: 15. Karmichael Hunt, 14. Izaia Perese, 13. Samu Kerevi (captain), 12. Duncan Paia’aua, 11. Eto Nabuli, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. James Tuttle, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 7. George Smith, 6. Hendrik Tui, 5. Lukhan Tui, 4. Rob Simmons, 3. Sam Talakai, 2. Alex Mafi, 1. Sef Fa’agase. Replacements: 16. Andrew Ready, 17. Kirwan Sanday, 18. Taniela Tupou, 19. Kane Douglas, 20. Adam Korczyk, 21. Nick Frisby, 22. Hamish Stewart, 23. Chris Kuridrani.
Southern Kings: 15. Masixole Banda, 14. Yaw Penxe, 13. Berton Klaasen, 12. Luzuko Vulindlu, 11. Makazole Mapimpi, 10. Lionel Cronje (captain), 9. Louis Schreuder, 8. Ruaan Lerm, 7. Tyler Paul, 6. Chris Cloete, 5. Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4. Mzwanele Zito, 3. Justin Forwood, 2. Michael Willemse, 1. Chris Heiberg. Replacements: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Schalk van der Merwe, 18. Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19. Irne Herbst, 20. Andisa Ntsila, 21. Johan Steyn, 22. Wandile Mjekevu, 23. Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
Date: Saturday, 15 April
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant referees: Rasta Rashivhenge, Damon Murphy
Television match official: Damien Mitchelmore
Blues vs Hurricanes
It’s been tricky to know just what to make of the Hurricanes’ title defence thus far this season. You can’t quibble with five wins out of six, but there is a sense that they haven’t quite hit top gear just yet.
After patchy performances against the Reds and Waratahs in recent weeks, the Hurricanes will be desperate to produce a more clinical all-round showing against the Blues, and will be strengthened by the return of the Savea brothers, Ardie and Julian.
The men from Auckland have also been a relative enigma this season, which has seen them mix moments of brilliance with periods of mediocrity, but this week they do welcome influential Sonny Bill Williams into the starting lineup at inside centre.
The Hurricanes have won their last four games against the Blues, and although Eden Park will be a hostile venue on Saturday, the defending champs should be expected to clinch a relatively comfortable victory.
Prediction: The Blues have been playing better but against New Zealand teams they have not been an 80 minutes team yet, Hurricanes by 17 points
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 George Moala
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Cory Jane
Last weekend, the Brumbies powered to a 43-10 victory over the Reds, and they should have little trouble in banking another bonus-point victory to further strengthen their position at the top of the underwhelming Aussie conference.
As it is, the Brumbies have welcomed regular skipper Sam Carter back from injury, but they will be wary of a well-rested Rebels side that enjoyed a bye last weekend.
Nevertheless, the Brumbies have won eight of their last 10 games against the Rebels, and should quite comfortably add another positive result to that impressive record on Saturday.
Prediction: Brumbies to win by 20 plus
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Fereti Sa’aga
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Ben Volavola
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Tom Banks, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Tom Staniforth, 21 Tom Cusack, 22 De Wet Roos, 23 Jordan Jackson-Hope
It’s all looking rather ominous for the Cheetahs. The Chiefs haven’t recorded back-to-back defeats in South Africa since 2008, and haven’t lost to the Cheetahs since 1997.
While the Chiefs went down 34-26 to the Stormers in round seven, they certainly didn’t play badly. Toni Pulu’s first score will be a contender for try of the tournament. The buildup to that try highlighted the counter-attacking threat of the Chiefs.
Following the result in Cape Town, Dave Rennie’s side has dropped to fourth in the New Zealand conference. They will go to Bloem this Saturday with the goal of claiming five log points.
Interestingly, the Cheetahs boast some impressive attacking stats. According to Opta, the central South African franchise is ranked higher than the Chiefs for carries, clean breaks, defenders beaten and passes.
Yet there are other stats that highlight the Chiefs’ superior potency and all-round efficiency. The Chiefs have scored more points and tries than the Cheetahs. On defence, the New Zealand side has conceded 17 tries fewer than the Cheetahs after six games.
The Cheetahs will look to take the game deep. They have a goal-kicking success rate of 91%, the best in the tournament. The Chiefs have converted a mere 75% of their shots on goal.
Prediction: Chiefs by 20, as easy as that
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Junior Pokomela / Luther Obi, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Taleni Seu, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Shaun Stevenson
This promises to be the biggest and most exciting clash between two South African teams in the conference stage. The Lions have been playing a fast-paced brand of rugby for some time, while the Stormers have found their attacking mojo in recent months.
Can anything be read into the recent records of the respective teams? The Stormers made a big statement with their win over the Chiefs in round seven, and remain unbeaten after six matches. The Lions have lost just one match, although many continue to wonder what may have transpired if a full-strength side was selected for the game against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
There’s not much between the two sides as far as stats are concerned. The Stormers have averaged 39.8 points and the Lions 37.5.
There’s no significant gap in average carries (128.7 vs 120.8), metres made (599.8 vs 534), clean breaks (14.6 vs 13.3), defenders beaten (24.8 vs 25.2), offloads (15 vs 13.3), kicks from hand (22.7 vs 20.7) and penalties conceded (8.7 vs 8.7).
There should be an interesting contest at the set pieces. The Lions have faired better on their own ball, while the Stormers are ranked 16th in the tournament in this department. The Lions have the joint-top lineout poacher in Franco Mostert (five steals). However, the Stormers have the other top lineout-stealer in Pieter-Steph du Toit, while Eben Etzebeth (three) has also been prominent in this area.
The Stormers defended well during the final 20 minutes of the match against the Chiefs. Overall, they have scored nine tries and conceded only three in the fourth quarter this season. This record sees them among the best ‘finishing teams’ in the tournament.
The Lions are also in that bracket. They’ve scored the equal most tries during the fourth quarter (11) and conceded three. It will be interesting to see which side will win the fourth quarter at Newlands this Saturday, and what impact this will have on the final scoreline.
How much kicking will we see on Saturday? The stats suggest the Lions will need to kick accurately against this dangerous counter-attacking Cape side. The Stormers have scored the most tries from kick returns this season (seven).
Home advantage may give the Stormers the edge in this clash. The Stormers have won 25 of their last 30 home games against South African opposition. The last match between these two sides at Newlands was in 2015, and ended in a 19-19 draw.
Prediction: Stormers should be able to take this one by 7 points
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Johan du Toit, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Sylvian Mahuza
The Bulls have returned to South Africa after a tour that witnessed three straight losses. Last week, the Bulls became the first South African side in history to lose to the Sunwolves.
The pressure is building on Nollis Marais and his young side. A few key players such as Handré Pollard will return this week. Bulls fans will hope that this makes all the difference to the performance and result.
The only previous meeting between the Bulls and the Jaguares saw the Argentinian side claiming a 29-11 victory in Buenos Aires. The Jaguares have won five of their last seven games against South African opposition, and have taken a losing bonus point from both defeats in that run.
The Bulls have won their last seven games at home to teams visiting from outside South Africa, winning by an average margin of 19 points in that period. Perhaps that record will give them some hope of a victory against a much-improved Jaguares side.
The Bulls are ranked in the bottom half of the tournament across every category, bar the lineout. They should be looking to harness this strength on Saturday when they meet a Jaguares side that is ranked 17th in the tournament for lineout wins.
The Jaguares have won four from six this season, but have continued their poor run of discipline. Only one team averages more penalties (11) per game and the Jaguares have already conceded eight yellow cards, more than any other side.
The Bulls will be desperate to atone for their poor tour performances. That desperation, along with the advantage of playing at altitude, may be the difference.
While their defence in the second half hasn’t been great, the Bulls have managed to score seven tries in the fourth quarter. By comparison, the Jaguares have scored only four during this period. Only two teams have scored fewer tries at the business end of a match.
If the game is in the balance in the final quarter, the Bulls should do enough to emerge victorious.
Prediction: I see the Bulls coming to play this weekend and win by 10 points
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Warrick Gelant
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Santiago González Iglesias , 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz
Replacements: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Benjamin Macome, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Nicolás Sánchez, 23 Ramiro Moyano