Man, I was on another hot streak last week, getting 6 out of 7 results right in round 3. Only the Cheetahs let me down and with the benefit of hindsight, I could kick myself for not backing the Rebels because I had a funny feeling they might win. Anyway, let’s see what this week’s six matches will dish up.
Game 1: Hurricanes v Brumbies (Friday 08h35 SA time)
This is probably the toughest one of the week to call, so let’s get it out of the way. Neither side has been particularly inspiring thus far, but one does feel that the Hurricanes have maybe done a little better against tough away opposition than the Brumbies have to date. The Canberra team lost badly to the Reds at home, before picking up a completely regulation win against the lacklustre Force – without even a bonus point. They lost talisman David Pocock in the process too. If it sounds like I’m trying to talk myself into believing that the Canes will win, that’s exactly what I’m doing, because the reality is that I’m just not sure who will take the spoils here. The safe thing to do is always to back the home side (even though both of these teams will have traveled ahead of the game) so I’ll pick the Hurricanes to prevails by around 5 points.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Adam Hill, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 John Schwalger, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 Marty Banks.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Leon Power, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Jean-Pierre Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Locky McCaffrey, 21 Conrad Hoffman, 23 Lionel Cronje, 22 Pat McCabe.
Game 2: Reds v Toyota Cheetahs (Friday 10h40 SA time)
This one doesn’t look hard to call, but I have a feeling that after last week’s disaster, the Cheetahs will be more competitive, at least. I don’t think they’ll be able to turn things around within the space of a week to the extent that they actually win the match, but the fact that they’ve been so stung by criticism after the Rebels performance should see them come a lot closer. The Reds aren’t quite so formidable this year – as the result in Sydney last week showed – and have also made a few changes this week that weaken them slightly. The Cheetahs will be hoping that they can catch their hosts with one foot on the plane to South Africa, but I still fancy the Reds to win by around 7 points.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga’a, 23 Ben Tapuai.
Toyota Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Rynhardt Landman, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Game 3: Crusaders v Stormers (Saturday 08h35 SA time)
I’m afraid it’s going to get ugly at the AMI Stadium. The Stormers haven’t looked at all like they’ve found their groove and their only saving grace here is that the Crusaders are stuck in one of their somewhat typical early-season slumps too. That latter fact is the only thing likely to prevent a complete rout. A South African side has yet to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch and the home side will need to be playing a heck of a lot worse than they are at present before a team as limited as the Stormers of 2014 manages to overturn that record. No bonus point for the Saders, I hope, but the home side will still win by 10 points.
Crusaders: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
DHL Stormers: 15. Jaco Taute, 14. Kobus van Wyk, 13. Jean de Villiers (Captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Gio Aplon, 10. Demetri Catrakilis, 9. Nick Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Schalk Burger, 6. Deon Fourie, 5. De Kock Steenkamp, 4. Michael Rhodes, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16. Tiaan Liebenberg, 17. Oliver Kebble, 18. Pat Cilliers, 19. Ruan Botha, 20. Nizaam Carr, 21. Louis Schreuder, 22. Peter Grant, 23. Sailosi Tagicakibau
Game 4: Force v Rebels (Saturday 10h40 SA time)
Gardening time. Or is it? The Rebels were the surprise package of the last round and really played some very entertaining rugby, admittedly against a poor Cheetahs side. It will be interesting to see whether they can repeat the feat against Force away from home. Rebels to win by around 12 points, I feel.
Western Force: 15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Junior Rasolea, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. Nick Cummins, 10. Sias Ebersohn, 9. Alby Mathewson, 8. Ben McCalman, 7. Matthew Hodgson (Captain), 6. Angus Cottrell, 5. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4. Sam Wykes, 3. Kieran Longbottom, 2. Nathan Charles, 1. Pekahou Cowan
Replacements: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Oli Hoskins, 19. Adam Coleman, 20. Brynard Stander, 21. Ian Prior, 22. Zack Holmes, 23. Marcel Brache
Melbourne Rebels: 15. Jason Woodward, 14. Tom Kingston, 13. Tamati Ellison, 12. Mitch Inman, 11. Tom English, 10. Angus Roberts, 9. Luke Burgess, 8. Scott Higginbotham (Captain), 7. Colby Faingaa, 6. Sean McMahon, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 4. Hugh Pyle, 3. Paul Alo-Emile, 2. Pat Leafa, 1. Max Lahiff
Replacements: 16. Shota Horie, 17. Toby Smith, 18. Laurie Weeks, 19. Luke Jones, 20. Lopeti Timani, 21. Ben Meehan, 22. Bryce Hegarty, 23. Lachlan Mitchell
Game 5: Vodacom Bulls v Blues (Saturday 17h05 SA time)
The Bulls returned to winning ways last week and seem to have found their way back to executing the game plan that has worked for them in the past. This week, the pressure will be on to prove that they can dish out more of the same against a Blues side that, to be fair, really does offer a lot more attacking threat than the Lions manged to produce at Loftus. It’s probably going to be a little moist in Tshwane, meaning the way the Bulls like to play could just become that tiny bit more effective; the big question for them will be how well their defensively suspect back three stands up to the Blues’ pace men… any wayward kicks out of hand will be punished, but in Jacques-Louis Potgieter, the Bulls have the right man in position to ensure that line kicks find their intended target. If the Bulls forwards manage to get on top early, in a wet game, I fancy they will prevail. Give the Blues a sniff of a loose game, though and the Bulls will conceded their second bonus point. Bulls to win by 4 points.
Vodacom Bulls: 15. Jurgen Visser, 14. Akona Ndungane, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 12. Jan Serfontein, 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Jono Ross, 7. Jacques Du Plessis, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Victor Matfield, 4. Flip van der Merwe (Captain), 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Callie Visagie, 1. Dean Greyling
Replacements: 16. Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17. Morné Mellett, 18. Paul Willemse, 19. Jacques Engelbrecht, 20. Piet van Zyl, 21. Handre Pollard, 22. Ulrich Beyers, 23. Marcel Van Der Merwe
Blues: Team: 15. Charles Piutau, 14. Frank Halai, 13. George Moala, 12. Jackson Willison, 11. Tevita Li, 10. Simon Hickey, 9. Piri Weepu, 8. Peter Saili, 7. Luke Braid (Captain), 6. Steven Luatua, 5. Tom Donnelly, 4. Liaki Moli, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 2. Keven Mealamu, 1. Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16. James Parsons, 17. Sam Prattley, 18. Angus Ta’avao, 19. Patrick Tuipulotu, 20. Brendon O’Connor, 21. Bryn Hall, 22. Chris Noakes, 23. Pita Ahki
Game 6: Cell C Sharks v Lions (Saturday 19h10 SA time)
After an unexpectedly bright start, the Lions lost for the first time last week and will now come to Durban in search of a few new ideas, after relying solely on Marnitz Boshoff’s boot didn’t reap any rewards at Loftus. Making matters worse, the torrential rain in Johannesburg this week has made it difficult for coach Johan Ackermann to get his team onto the training paddock for any length of time at all. The Sharks, in contrast, are well rested and enjoy continuity with the same team that has recorded 15-point-plus wins in their first two games. It’s perhaps a little arrogant to predict that the Durbanites will win this at a canter, but then again, long-time Sharks fans will know that a match in which the Sharks start as overwhelming favourites is often the one that they’ll lose 9 times out of 10. I’m not getting that feeling this time around, though, so will stave off any prophecies of doom and call a Sharks win by around 15 points.
Cell C Sharks:15. SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Francois Steyn, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Captain), 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Stephan Lewies, 20. Jean Deysel, 21. Charl McLeod, 22. Heimar Williams, 23. Sibusiso Sithole
Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Chrysander Botha, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 JW Jonker, 23 Coenie van Wyk.