I said last week that 5/7 would be a good prediction week, and we went one better. 20 out of the last 21 results correct is not a bad return at all, but it only gets tougher from here…
For all the Fantasy League players out there, keep in mind that this week is the start of the “byes”, and the first two teams who will be sitting out Week 5 are the Waratahs and Highlanders.
With that, let’s get into the previews…
Chiefs vs Stormers
The Chiefs were extremely lucky last week to come away with the win against the Cheetahs. Granted, their fitness levels seem to be superior, but they should never have been allowed to come back from 17 points down. The referee in that game continued the trend for this tournament by having a shocker, so the Chiefs will feel that they got out of jail last week.
Well, what can you say about the Stormers?! After 3 weeks they looked like no progress was being made, and were kicking all their possession away. Then they go overseas and run everything from the second minute onwards, and run out comfortable winners. Yes, it was against what might be one of the weaker teams in the tournament, but remember that no overseas victory is easy. We might just be seeing the beginnings of a dark horse here.
A game between perhaps THE two most unpredictable teams in the tournament, along with the Hurricanes. I’m going to go for a Stormers win here, despite the odds being against two overseas wins in a row. It seems the Stormers have realised that their strengths lie in unstructured play, and hopefully they’ll make full use of the new laws again this week. Maybe they’ll even get Naqelevuki to run at more than a half-gallop!
1. Simms Davison, 2. Tom Willis, 3. Ben May, 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Kevin O’Neill, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Tom Harding, 8. Liam Messam, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12. Richard Kahui, 13. Mils Muliaina (captain), 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Sosene Anesi.
Subs: 16. Vern Kamo, 17. Ben Castle, 18. Hayden Hopgood, 19. Sione Lauaki. 20. Tanerau Latimer, 21. David Bason, 22. Callum Bruce
Conrad Jantjes, Tonderai Chavhanga, Gcobani Bobo, Jean de Villiers (c), Sireli Naqelevuki, Peter Grant, Ricky Januarie, Luke Watson, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Andries Bekker, Adriaan Fondse, Brian Mujati, Schalk Brits, JD Moller.
Subs: Deon Fourie, Brok Harris, Ross Skeate, Robbie Diack, Bolla Conradie, Gio Aplon, Dylan des Fountain
Brumbies vs ‘Canes
This young Brumbies side unfortunately couldn’t do to the Waratahs last week what they did to the Reds. They still show plenty of promise however, and once Mortlock, Ashley-Cooper, Fairbanks and the rest come back, they might be a real threat in this tournament.
The Hurricanes made it three wins out in a row in Round 4, against the Highlanders, and they seem to be gathering a bit of pace now. There is still a question mark next to their discipline, and it is this that could cost them against the bigger teams.
It’s very tempting to go for the Brumbies here as they are playing at home, but I think that inexperience might count against them in the end in this one. The Hurricanes have more of a ruggedness about them, which may allow them to bully the Australian team a bit. The ‘Canes to take it, but not by much.
1. Jacob Ellison 2. Andrew Hore 3. Neemia Tialata 4. Craig Clarke 5. Jason Eaton 6. Jerry Collins 7. Chris Masoe 8. Rodney So?oialo 9. Piri Weepu 10. Jimmy Gopperth 11. Hosea Gear 12. Tamati Ellison 13. Conrad Smith 14. Shannon Paku 15. Cory Jane.
Subs: 16. Hikawera Elliot 17. Tim Fairbrother 8. Jeremy Thrush 19. Scott Waldrom 20. Alby Mathewson 21. Willie Ripia 22. Tane Tuipulotu
Blues vs Force
We called it quite well last week when we said that the Blues would be niggled and frustrated by the harder Sharks, and in the end they allowed themselves to get pushed around for the first half. When they finally composed themselves and allowed their runners to create gaps, it was too late. They are still a very good side, and will be keen to bounce back this weekend.
The Force contributed to probably the most entertaining game of Round 4, against the Crusaders, and were unlucky in the end to lose it. You could see them improving year-on-year since their inception, and they are one of my tips to make the semis this year. They seem to be taking over the Brumbies mantle as Australian flag-bearers in the competition.
Another close game to call, and it will be surprising if there is more than 7 points difference at the end of this one. The Blues will be hurting from last week’s loss and their coach has done a lot of unnecessary moaning afterwards. They are intimidating at home, so I’d have to go with them in this game. The Blues by a few.
‘Saders vs Cheetahs
Last week was one of the potential banana-skin fixtures for the Crusaders, but they negotiated it well in the end, and got a bonus point to boot. They are a special team and will take some stopping this year. If they get a home final against any team other than the Blues, Chiefs, or ‘Canes, you can put your house on them winning it comfortably.
The Cheetahs are perhaps the best attacking South African side this season, but they don’t know how to win games. Naka Drotske is doing a fine job at this young franchise, and they should really have been sitting on 3 wins out of 4 at this stage. Their brand of rugby is pleasant to watch, so expect a few more tries from them in this game.
We’re in for a very entertaining, open game here (I seem to write that about the Cheetahs games every week). You can’t see the Cheetahs going to Christchurch and getting the upset, especially with a weakened side, so the Crusaders should run away with this… get plenty of them into your fantasy league teams this week!
Reds vs Bulls
We’ve been saying that the Reds are a stronger side than last year, but that doesn’t help when the other sides have improved by more than you have. They’ve been killed in their last couple of games by relatively inexperienced sides. A guy like Chris Latham will be furious that he is ending up on the losing team every week.
A lot of people might not agree here, but I think that the Bulls could still have a part to play in this tournament. Like the Stormers, they have a reasonably comfortable run-in at the end of this year’s tournament. So if they can get a few wins on their travels, they’ll be sitting in a pretty good position. There were just a few subtle hits last week against the Lions that they are getting some form back.
Like we’ve said, no overseas win is easy, but the Bulls have to win here to keep pace with the top 4. I’m going to go for the Bulls, simply because I believe that they are on an upward curve.
Morne Steyn; Akona Ndungane, JP Nel, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana; Derick Hougaard, Fourie du Preez (c); Pedrie Wannenburg, Wikus van Heerden, Danie Rossouw, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Bakkies Botha, Rayno Gerber, Derick Kuün, Gurthro Steenkamp.
Subs: James vd Walt, Werner Kruger, Dean Greyling, Deon Stegman, Dewald Potgieter, Heini Adams, Stephan Dippenaar
Lions vs Sharks
The Lions could not beat a Bulls team with 13 on the park at one stage last week. As much potential as they have, it simply does not mean much when you’re playing against the best the southern hemisphere has to offer, week-in, week-out. If the Lions are starting to run out of steam now, then it certainly does not bode well for when they go on tour in a couple of weeks time.
I’ve been saying for a while now that the Sharks are only going to get stronger as the tournament progresses, and it was proven last week when they lifted their game for the Blues’ visit. The critical factor for them is to try and finish at the top of the table, because unfortunately, no matter how much they keep improving, they will not beat the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The Lions’ home support (all 4,000 of them) will not have much to cheer for in this one, because the Sharks will be too strong. The Sharks need to start getting bonus points in games like these to keep pace with the Crusaders and Blues, who are both piling them up.