South Africa’s top two sides going into this weekend’s round. Leaders Sharks and the Bulls, are at home on Saturday in two matches they should both win against the Jaguares and the Reds respectively.
The Lions, after the humiliating defeat to the Sharks last weekend, play in their first tour match against the Brumbies while there is a derby between the Chiefs and he Blues.
Chiefs vs Blues, Waikato Stadium – Kick-off 09:35
The Blues, struggling stragglers of the New Zealand conference for the past few years, must be taken seriously now after four wins followed their initial three defeats.
They play the Chiefs in the first Super Rugby match on Saturday, and the anomalies of the two teams’ performances against one another make it a difficult one to call.
The Chiefs have not lost in the last 14 matches between the two sides. All the wins except one have been by one score or less.
That’s the good news from Chiefs side. Also to be considered, is the fact that they have lost their last four New Zealand derbies in Super Rugby, despite a lead at half-time twice in those matches.
The Blues have bolstered their scrum with the inclusion of huge props Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe. They will miss Sonny Bill Williams at the back, but with Ma’a Nonu defying his age – he is 37 – and Rieko Ioane, with 16 clean breaks seemingly unstoppable on the wing, they will believe they have a chance, even at the Waikato Stadium, stronghold of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs, after a close loss or two, should win at home.
Brumbies vs Lions, Canberra – Kick-off 11:45
The Brumbies have shown what they are capable of in their two victories against the Chiefs (54-17) and Waratahs (19-13) but have lost their other five of seven matches.
They’re no walk-over, but the Canberra side is simply to erratic to back for a win, although that is of course possible against the Lions, who were left floundering after the 42-5 hammering by the Sharks and are now in search of their real identify.
Are the Lions a side of promising youngsters, or is reverting to old hands like Ruan Combrinck showing a new line of thought from the coaching staff?
Resting players is fine, but does that indicate that a benched player like Ross Cronjé is rested or dropped?
And what about Harold Vorster who is only 25 and has more than 50 caps to his name? He was good enough in the Lions good days.
Since then Wandile Simelane, Aphiwe Dyanti out of position and now Naudé have been selected ahead of Vorster who is on the reserve list back home in Johannesburg.
But let’s not dwell on the team. What is necessary is for Saturday’s Lions to strike form to get back on track and to thereby build some confidence going forward with tour matches against Chiefs and Crusaders the next two weekends.
Expect the Lions to feel their way in this match in what is a time of uncertainty and for the Brumbies to get close on the scoreboard or even win. They are a good team, as is showed by six leads at halftime in their last eight Super Rugby matches of which only three ended in victory.
They obviously, but for them it is also a mind game of believing.
The Brumbies are slight favourites for a home win, but the Lions should take the spoils, albeit just.
Sharks vs Reds, Kings Park – Kick-off 15:15
There are two factors that make the Sharks outright favourites to win their home match against the Jaguares, who last week came back to shock a weakened, but less so than a listless, Bulls side at Loftus.
The first important factor is that the Sharks don’t have a mind-block when they play the Argentinians. They have after all won five of their seven clashes between the two sides to date.
On the counter-side, the Jaguares have won five of their last ten overseas matches which include a tour to Australasia last year. They are especially strong in the second half, with all those victories coming after they trailed at halftime.
They have been threatening all season to do what they did last weekend. Even without regular prop Springboks Beast Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen and that real grafter-flank Jacques Vermeulen, the SA Conference log-leaders, buoyed by last week’s Scintillating win at Ellis Park should win this one by 12 point or more.
Bulls vs Reds, Loftus Versfeld – Kick-off 17:15
The Bulls face the Reds at Loftus Versfeld and will hopefully have learnt the lessons that their early successes don’t guarantee future success after they slumped against the Chiefs by a huge 56-20 and then last week’s throw-away of a win against the Jaguares.
The Reds, after they beat the Stormers 24-12 in Brisbane last weekend, will feel that the manner and margin of that win gives them a good chance against the Bulls.
Perhaps, but then the Bulls will have to be worse than they were last weekend. The Stormers were awful, which substantially boosted the Reds winning chances in Brisbane, and this time they are away from home.
And home advantage is exactly that in matches between these two sides, with the last 12 scores all in favour of the home team. But whether that still holds time will tell, as the Bulls have lost four of their last five home games against overseas competition.
But let’s not forget that the Bulls will have six of their 12 Springboks – Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Marco van Staden and Rudolph Snyman – on the field on Saturday, although the absence of Duane Vermeulen, rested in accordance with the Springboks protocol for senior players will have an impact.
The Bulls are also shy of two Bok locks Lood de Jager and Jason Jenkins and have another, Eli Snyman, on the injured list.
It should be ten points or more in favour of the Bulls, if you’re one for Superbru or any form of sports betting (and believe this statement!)