For the second week running, we’ve called 7/7 for the weekend’s games. This week however, is the toughest to call so far… 5/7 would be a good return for Round 4. With that in mind, I will be taking no blame whatsoever for any incorrect predictions …
Highlanders vs ‘Canes
The Highlanders again came close to a win last week, but just don’t seem to be able to see it through. As predicted, they are probably the weakest of the New Zealand sides. We might see them have better luck when the South African sides visit their backyard.
Nobody expected the Hurricanes to blow the Chiefs away like they did last week. They took a couple of games to fully get used to the new laws, but their back division seems tailor made to take full advantage of these laws. They remain, along with the Chiefs, the most unpredictable side in the tournament, which means you never know what you’re going to get on the day.
Even playing away from home, the ‘Canes should be too strong for the Highlanders. Nonu and co are starting to hit some form, and will look to continue to keep the pressure on the leaders.
15. James Wilson, 14. Paul Williams, 13. Niva Ta’auso, 12. Johnny Leota, 11. Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10. Daniel Bowden, 9. Jimmy Cowan (VC), 8. Steven Setephano, 7. Alando Soakai, 6. Craig Newby (C),5. Tom Donnelly, 4. Isaac Ross, 3. Clint Newland, 2. Jason Macdonald, 1. Jamie Mackintosh
Replacements: 16. David Hall, 17. Keith Cameron, 18. Hoani MacDonald, 19. Adam Thomson, 20. Toby Morland, 21. Michael Delany, 22. Brett Mather
‘Tahs vs Brumbies
A good away win last week for the Waratahs, and they’ll be looking to keep the momentum going at home. They haven’t really fired as yet, but with 2 wins out of 3, they are quietly going about their business.
This Brumbies side is very young, and as I said last week, it looks like they’re on the verge of building a special new team. They paid little respect to the reputations of some of the Reds’ established players last week, and their courage was rewarded with some spectacular tries. As a sidenote, our thoughts are with Julian Huxley, who has been diagnosed with a brain tumour.
The Tah’s should have too much experience for this fledgling Brumbies side. That’s the same thing a lot of people said about the Reds last week, but there is too much quality in this Waratahs side for them not to win this one.
1. Sekope Kepu, 2. Adam Freier, 3. Matt Dunning, 4. Will Caldwell, 5. Dan Vickerman, 6. Rocky Elsom, 7. Phil Waugh [c], 8. Wycliff Palu, 9. Brett Sheehan, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Lote Tuqiri, 12. Tom Carter, 13. Ben Jacobs, 14. Timana Tahu, 15. Lachie Turner/Rob Horne
Replacements: 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17. Al Baxter/Dan Palmer, 18. Dean Mumm, 19. Beau Robinson, 20. Luke Burgess, 21. Sam Harris, 22. Alfi Mafi
1 Nic Henderson, 2 Saia Faingaa, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 5 Mark Chisholm, 6 Mitchell Chapman, 7 George Smith, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 9 Patrick Phibbs, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Francis Fainifo, 12 Tyrone Smith, 13 Sanualio Afeaki, 14 Peter Playford, 15 Mark Gerrard,
Reserves: 16 Huia Edmonds,17 Ben Alexander,18 Peter Kimlin,19 Julian Salvi,20 Joshua Holmes, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Tim Wright
Bulls vs Lions
The Bulls have really been shocking so far this season. Their strong-arm tactics are clearly from another era and don’t belong in the modern game, especially when you don’t have a plan B to rely on. Their only saving grace is that it works for them in the local derbies where the opposition get sucked into their style of play. They will continue to take a hammering when they play smarter (overseas) teams.
The Lions have punched above their weight this season, and they could easily have been sitting on 2 wins if they’d been a bit more patient against the Force. Like the Brumbies, they have a number of “unknowns”, who need to stop showing the opposition so much respect. Eugene Eloff is one of the smarter coaches in South African rugby, and I’d like to see him with 6 or 7 top class players in his side.
Unfotunately, the Bulls will once again try and bully a local team, and will once again drag the level of rugby down. The Lions just do not have the physicality needed to match the Bulls, but can make this game very interesting if they decide to give the ball a bit of air. Much of it depends on their ability to use the new laws to tire the big Bulls forwards. A tight game to call, but the Bulls’ forward dominance should be too much on the day.
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Morné Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Derick Hougaard, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Danie Rossouw, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 James vd Walt, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Dean Greyling, 19 Deon Stegmann, 20 Dewald Potgieter, 21 Heini Adams , 22 Stephan Dippenaar
15 Louis Ludik, 14 Dusty Noble, 13 Jaco Pretorius/Jaco van Schalkwyk/Jannie Boshoff, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Louis Strydom, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Ernst Joubert (captain), 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Willem Stoltz, 4 Gerhard Mostert, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Rudi Vogt, 22 Jannie Boshoff/Thabang Molefe
Chiefs vs Cheetahs
Two losses for the Chiefs so far, but they are a far better team than that suggests. They will fire soon, and you feel that this game might be the kickstart to their season. They are very hard to beat at home, and will be smarting from that defeat against the ‘Canes in Round 3.
The Cheetahs really played well last week to score 4 tries against the Blues, but it’s sad when you still concede 50 points in the same game. They seem to have the best counter-attacking backline of the South African sides, but it counts for nothing if you’re letting in tries by the bucketload. Naka Drotske needs to get them to tighten up their defence, or they might take a few more hidings by the time this tournament is over.
We’re in for a very entertaining game here (unless the weather decides otherwise), as both teams love to run with the ball. It’s going to come down to superior defence on the day, and the Chiefs definitely have the advantage there.
15. Hennie Daniller, 14. Eddie Fredericks, 13. JW Jonker, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Jongi Nokwe, 10. Conrad Barnard, 9. Noel Oelschig, 8. Duanne Vermeulen, 7. Darron Nell, 6. Heinrich Brussouw, 5. Barend Pieterse, 4. Rory Duncan (c), 3. Kobus Calldo, 2. Adriaan Strauss, 1. Wian du Preez.
Replacements: Richard Strauss, Ronnie Uys, David de Villiers, Hendro Scholtz, Tobie Botes, Tewis de Bruyn, Hendrik Meyer
Reds vs Stormers
It’s hard to put your finger on what is wrong with the Reds, because they still have so many established players in the team. They are definitely better than they were last year, but are still under-achieving. The way they capitulated last week at the hands of that young Brumbies team was absolutely shocking, and they will want to rectify that as soon as possible.
What’s just been said about the Reds can almost be repeated word-for-word about the Stormers. To be blanked in a Super 14 game and say that you’re improving is complete rubbish. Despite Rassie Erasmus’ reputation as a creative, out-of-the-box thinking coach, he has shown precious little in his time as a Super 14 coach, first with the Cheetahs and now with the Stormers. He needs to get the basics right before he does anything else.
As bad as the Reds are, the Stormers are worse. It’s hard to see them winning any of their overseas games if they can’t win this, the easiest one. Their next 3 games overseas read: Chiefs, Blues, Force. The Reds to take this one quite comfortably.
15 Chris Latham, 14 Brando Va’aulu, 13 Peter Hynes, 12 Morgan Turinui, 11 Clinton Schifcofske, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Sam Cordingley, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 David Croft, 6 John Roe (captain), 5 James Horwill, 4 Ed O’Donoghue, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Van Humphries, 19 AJ Gilbert, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Charlie Fetoai, 22 Quade Cooper
15. Conrad Jantjes, 14. Tonderai Chavhanga, 13. Gcobani Bobo, 12. Jean de Villiers (c), 11. Sireli Naqelevuki, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Ricky Januarie, 8. Robbie Diack, 7. Francois Louw, 6. Luke Watson, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Adriaan Fondse, 3. Brian Mujati, 2. Schalk Brits, 1. JD Moller.
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Brok Harris, Ross Skeate, Pieter Myburgh, Bolla Conradie, Gio Aplon, Dylan des Fountain
Sharks vs Blues
Once again the Sharks didn’t play very well, but came away with maximum points against the Bulls. Many Sharks supporters are not happy with the way their team is playing, but they should be thrilled that they are still unbeaten without really breaking a sweat so far. They seem to be able to lift themselves when it is needed, and that is a sign of good coaching. Getting to the final of a tournament is about peaking at the right time, and the Sharks and Crusaders seem to be very similar in this regard.
The Blues are simply awesome right now. Key words: “right now”. They can hurt you from anywhere, as the Cheetahs witnessed last week. A lot hinges around Nick Evans though, and his ability to set his midfield runners free. The fact that he can break the line just as well as any of them makes the threat even greater. As said last week, it’ll be interesting to see the form of the Blues in the final weeks of the season.
The game of the week. An awesome attack against a pragmatic defence. I’m going to stick my neck on the line here and go for a Sharks win, simply because they know that they cannot afford to try and match the Blues in a running game. They need to play the same percentage game they played in Albany last season. Don’t be surprised to see a few frustrated Blues players in this one, once the Sharks start niggling them.
Force vs Crusaders
Another team going about their business very quietly is the Force. 2 wins out of 3, and they haven’t yet played at home. Got out of jail last week against the Lions, but all they’ll be worried about is the score in the record books. Once they start to hit their stride, they’ll be a good bet for the semi-finals this year.
The Crusaders put in a bit of a stuttering performance against the Stormers, but still managed to win comfortably away from home, without conceding a point. That is a serious worry for the other teams in this tournament, because even when they are not at their best they still seem to be streets ahead of most of the other teams. The fact that they haven’t hit their straps yet could mean that there is a lot more pain to come for teams meeting them later on.
I was very tempted to go for the Force in this one, because it is still early season and they are playing at home. A win for them over the favourites would send a real signal of intent out to the rest of the teams. But the Crusaders haven’t started as slowly as they have in previous seasons, and should still have enough to carry them through. Crusaders to take it, but not by much.