We’ve had a round and a half to look at the various sides in action (well, bar the Crusaders), so this week it should be a bit easier to get the winners right – at least in theory. We made a few wrong calls last weekend, with the New Zealand conference, as always, proving hard to pick. Let’s see how we do in round 3.
Game 1: Blues v Crusaders (Friday, 08h30 SA Time)
This is probably the toughest game of the weekend to pick. The Blues showed early signs of resurgence in winning last week, but we’ve yet to see the Crusaders at all, so don’t know how good the Blues really are yet. The Saders, though, are notorious for starting slowly in this competition and with the Blues having a small head of stem, I’m backing them to squeak this one. Blues by 3, but don’t go to town on that one just yet.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Brendon O’Connor, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Tom Marshall.
Game 2: Waratahs v Rebels (Friday, 10h25 SA Time)
Ugh. Aussie derby. Both sides lost last week and neither really looks the business this year, but based on home-ground advantage and having marginally more stars in their ranks, you’d think the Tahs would prevail here. Waratahs to win by around 7, I’d say.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Ben Volavola.
Rebels: 15 James O’Connor (captain), 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Jordy Reid, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Tom English.
Game 3: Reds v Hurricanes (Friday, 12h20 SA Time)
We’ve seen very few cross-conference games so far, but this one should be a really good indication of whether the Kiwi teams really are as strong as we think they are. The Reds, despite limping to the top of the Aussie conference last year, have had a mixed start to this campaign and have looked a shadow of the side that won the tournament in 2011. Then again, the Canes weren’t really expected to lose to the Blues either, yet did so last week. While the safe money here should be on a Reds win, I’m going to take a risk and back the Canes to pick up an away win, by around 5 points.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Ed O’Donoghue, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper (captain), 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Nick Frisby, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Luke Morahan.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Reggie Goodes, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 James Marshall, 22 Reynold Lee-Lo.
Game 4: Chiefs v Cheetahs (Saturday, 08h35 SA Time)
Oh dear. Only one winner here, given the relative strength of the squads. The Chiefs were imperious against the Highlanders and are only going to be better at home. The Cheetahs weren’t great against the Sharks, apart from a purple patch of 15 minutes or so and are now already deep into their rather thing reserve depth. Chiefs to win by 15 at least.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Craig Clarke, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Riaan Smith, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Game 5: Bulls v Force (Saturday, 17h05 SA Time)
The Force are so crap they can’t even figure out who’s in their team! Ok, seriously, if there’s a side that deserves to be kicked out of this competition more than the pretenders from Perth, then I don’t know who it is. They got smacked by the Kings last week and will get slaughtered by the Bulls in Pretoria. Bulls to win by 25.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane/Sampie Mastriet, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morne Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Jan Serfontein/Francois Venter
Game 6: Sharks v Stormers (Saturday, 19h10 SA Time)
Saving the best for last, this should be a real SA Conference humdinger. The Sharks, despite what anyone says, will want revenge after WP beat them in the Currie Cup Final, whereas the Stormers will not want to start their season with a 0 from 2 record. There’s a nasty hint of a “favourites tag” hanging over the Sharks’ head going into this one, given how poor the Stormers were at Loftus and as long-time fans, we should all know how that is never a good thing for the laid-back Durban lads. This, I’m sure, will be far closer than many think, but if the Sharks can stick to structure, dominate up front and use the anticipated wet weather to their advantage, they should record a win. Sharks to take it by around 4 points.
Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Frans Steyn (c), 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Pat Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Meyer Bosman, 22. Odwa Ndungane
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Gerhard van den Heever