CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the final five matches in round 13 of the Super Rugby tournament.
FORCE vs HIGHLANDERS (Saturday, 11:45)
Both teams have travelled back to Australasia after securing hard-fought wins overseas, with the Force edging the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, while the Highlanders clinched a rather fortuitous victory over the Bulls in Pretoria.
While the Highlanders (who are on a seven-match winning streak) will certainly go into this clash as favourites, one should expect the Force to put up a competitive performance at home.
Wallabies such as Tatafu Polota-Nau and Luke Morahan have boosted the Force, while at the same time, keep an eye out for South African-born players Brynard Stander and Peter Grant, with the latter slotting in at flyhalf.
The Highlanders haven’t made many changes for this clash, but will be without the suspended Waisake Naholo, while fellow All Black Aaron Smith has been named among the replacements.
This could be a competitive clash in Perth, but the Highlanders are likely to fire late once again to claim an eighth successive win.
Force – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes (c), 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Brynard Stander, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Lewis Carmichael, 21 Isireli Naisarani, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 James Verity-Amm.
Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliott Dixon (c), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Garth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiulu, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Rob Thompson.
SUNWOLVES vs SHARKS (Saturday, 13:55)
It’s been a week of introspection for the ‘hurting’ Sharks after last weekend’s shock loss to the Kings, with coach Rob du Preez admitting there could be no excuses after they were ‘outplayed, outmuscled and outpassioned’.
To complicate matters further, the Sharks have lost Pat Lambie, Rhyno Smith and Jeremy Ward to injury, and will come into Saturday’s clash with an untried 10-12 combination in Garth April and Johan Deysel, while Lwazi Mvovo shifts to fullback in a completely new-look lineup.
The Sharks will also be fully aware that the Sunwolves are tricky customers to contend with in Singapore, but the Durban-based side will look to play to their strengths, which lie up front, where Du Preez has installed a completely new front row.
As it is, the Sharks have a 92% lineout success rate (rank one), and a scrum success of 96% (rank three), and they should look to soften up the Sunwolves in the forward exchanges, before taking advantage of their inconsistent defence (the Japanese side has missed an average of 26.9 tackles per game).
The visitors may not have it all their own way on Saturday, but they should still be good enough to clinch a much-needed win.
Sunwolves – 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Shota Emi, 13 Ryohei Yamanaka, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Naohiro Kotaki, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: Takeski Hino, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Ashara, 19 Hitoshi Ono, 20 Rahboni Vosayaco, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Yasutaka Sasakura.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 S’busiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Rowan Gouws, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 S’bura Sithole.
LIONS vs BULLS (Saturday, 17:15)
The Lions are undefeated in their last 13 South African derbies (12 wins, one draw), and they should be licking their lips at the prospect of coming up against a battling Bulls side that has been under increasing pressure this season.
It’s notable that the Lions are ranked among the top six teams in terms of tries, points, carries, metres made and clean breaks, while the Bulls dwell among the bottom six when it comes to these attacking stats.
The Lions have also added passionate defensive resolve to their all-round game (boasting an 86% team tackle success), while their lineout and scrum success hovers around 90%, with last year’s runners-up having scored a whopping 23 first-phase tries.
All season, the Bulls have battled to assert themselves up front, and it’s here where the Lions’ forwards will be looking to lay a foundation for their backs to run riot later in the game.
Understandably, after recent disappointments, the Bulls have made a number of changes to their team, with flyhalf Francois Brummer and centre Jan Serfontein coming into the starting lineup, while Jesse Kriel moves to fullback.
The Lions have made just a few changes to the pack as they return to their strongest front row, and one should expect the home side to dominate the physical exchanges, and ultimately come away with another important win.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink.
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Coenraad van Vuuren, 19 Abongile Nonkontwana, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant.
KINGS vs BRUMBIES (Saturday, 19:30)
This is one of those games where you predict a winner at your peril. As it is, both teams have coincidentally accumulated the exact same number of log points this season (19).
While many pundits may be inclined to install the Brumbies as favourites, they have now travelled to South Africa in the wake of a bruising encounter against the Lions in Canberra, while the Kings are riding a wave of confidence after clinching three wins in a row.
A key factor for the Kings will revolve around how they cope in the absence of influential fetcher Chris Cloete, who has been key to winning the turnover ball that the Port Elizabeth-based side thrive on.
It should be a fascinating contest between two teams that rely heavily on a kick-and-defend strategy, while the Kings’ high-tempo brand of rugby is set to be pitted against the robust defence of the Brumbies (87% tackle success).
The real challenge for the Kings will be to lift themselves once again after such a passionate and committed performance against the Sharks last weekend, but if they can match that intensity, another surprise win could well be the result.
Kings – 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Alshaun Bock, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronjé (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Stefan Willemse, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Chris Heiberg 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
WARATAHS vs REBELS (Sunday, 08:05)
The Waratahs have won only three games this season, while the Rebels have managed just the solitary victory. It all points to what should be another uninspiring Aussie derby.
The Sydney-based side has won 10 of its previous 12 clashes between these teams, with the two losses by margins of no greater than four points.
The Rebels have been utterly hapless on attack this season, while they have also struggled at the set pieces, and it’s in this area of the game where the Tahs should gain the upper hand on their way to claiming a comfortable victory.
Rebels – TBC
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images