All four South African sides will be in action this weekend as the race for Vodacom Super Rugby playoff spots intensifies with the knock-out rounds in sight.

Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard returns from injury to lead the Vodacom Bulls on Friday morning (09h35, SA time) in Dunedin against the Highlanders. The rest of the teams, plus South Africa conference leaders, the Jaguares, are all playing on Saturday.

The Emirates Lions host the Hurricanes in Johannesburg at 15h05, which is followed by the Cape Town encounter between the DHL Stormers and Sunwolves at 17h15. The final game of the weekend is between the Jaguares and the Cell C Sharks (21h40) in Buenos Aires.

Pollard resumes Vodacom Bulls captaincy against Highlanders

#HIGvBUL

Experienced Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard has shrugged off his injury niggle and returns to captain the Vodacom Bulls in their last Vodacom Super Rugby tour match on Friday morning (SA time) against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

The encounter, the first of the weekend’s all important Round 17 action, kicks off at 09h25 (SA time) and will be televised live on SuperSport 1.

Pollard returned to Pretoria from Australia a few weeks due to a calf injury. After regaining full fitness, he made the long haul back to New Zealand and has been drafted straight back into the starting team were he replaces Manie Libbok, who will now play off the bench.

The change at flyhalf is one of five in a reshuffled Vodacom Bulls’ backline, with Rosko Specman and Warrick Gelant both ruled out with injury niggles.

As a result, Divan Rossouw will start at fullback, Johnny Kotze moves to the wing and Dylan Sage comes in at outside centre, while Embrose Papier will start at scrumhalf.

The Vodacom Bulls’ tight five is unchanged from last week’s drawn match against the Blues in Auckland, but they had to make changes to their loose trio as Paul Schoeman has been ruled out due to injury. Springbok looseforward Marco van Staden will start in the No 8 jersey, with Ruan Steenkamp coming in at flank.

This new-look loose trio will have to contend with All Black flank Liam Squire, who will get his first run in Vodacom Super Rugby this year. He returns to the Highlanders team along with Josh Ioane, Jackson Hemopo and Tevita Li.

The Highlanders have been on the winning side in each of their previous three matches with the Vodacom Bulls. Furthermore, they will also back themselves on their home turf because they have not lost in Dunedin to a team from outside New Zealand since 2016.

The Vodacom Bulls’ last victory in Dunedin was 12 years ago, in 2007, when they beat the Highlanders by 22-13 – their only victory down in Otago in 20 years.

What they said:

Vodacom Bulls head coach Pote Human said the tour provided some good results, but can only be seen a successful one if they get the desired outcome against the Highlanders: “This is going to be very tough for us, but this group thrives on challenges. I think they last lost to a team from outside New Zealand in 2016, so we need to be at our very best if we want to change that statistic.”

Vodacom Bulls captain Handré Pollard said he is keen to get back onto the field: “The short break was great and I am happy to be back. This is a great venue to play at and we are determined to make our visit a productive one. We last won here in 2007, so it is about time we change that.”

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone. Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joshua Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen.

Vodacom Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Dylan Sage, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Johan Grobbelaar, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 JT Jackson.

Head to head:

Played: 21

Highlanders won: 14

Vodacom Bulls won: 6

Drawn: 1

Highlanders points: 607

Vodacom Bulls points: 506

Average score: 29-24

Match information:

Date: Friday, 7 June

SA time: 09h35

Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Referee: Angus Gardner

Assistant referees: Paul Williams, James Munro

Television Match Official: Ben Skeen

TV: SuperSport1

Emirates Lions team unchanged for vital Hurricanes clash

#LIOvHUR

Emirates Lions coach Swys de Bruin has named an unchanged starting team for Saturday’s important Vodacom Super Rugby home match against the Hurricanes in Johannesburg, which starts at 15h05 and will be shown live on SuperSport 1.

The Gautengers moved up to second spot in the closely contested South African Conference after a strong 41-22 home win against the DHL Stormers last Saturday, while the team from Wellington defeated the Cell C Sharks 30-17 in Durban.

The Emirates Lions have 35 log points from their 14 games, six points behind current conference leaders, the Jaguares, and a victory over the New Zealanders will be vital as they aim to keep their playoff hopes alive.

De Bruin’s team emerged unscathed from their bonus-point win over the Capetonians, allowing the experienced coach to announce the same starting fifteen for Saturday’s clash. That means another start for Shaun Reynolds at flyhalf, while Springbok pivot Elton Jantjies moves onto the bench after serving a one match internal suspension.

It will be an uphill battle for the Emirates Lions looking at the recent history between the two teams. The Hurricanes have lost only one of their previous 10 matches with the Jozi side – that was in the 2017 semi-final when Gautengers beat them 44-29 to qualify for the second of their three consecutive final appearances.

However, it is worth noting that the Emirates Lions have won 10 from their previous 12 home games at Emirates Airline Park, which includes an encouraging run of three home wins in a row.

What they said:

Emirates Lions head coach Swys de Bruin said the same starting side will provide continuity: “We performed well against a quality DHL Stormers side and the fact that we picked up no injuries meant we were able to pick the same starting side. Each game is important and we want to continue to improve on our performances. The Hurricanes are a very good side so we will have to make sure we do our basics right, and our defence will also have to be solid.”

Teams:

Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (captain), 1 Dylan Smith. Replacements: 16Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Tyrone Green.

Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Chase Tiatia, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith. Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Liam Mitchell, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 23 Salesi Rayasi.

Head to head:

Played: 13

Emirates Lions won: 2

Hurricanes won: 11

Emirates Lions points: 289

Hurricanes points: 403

Average score: 22-31

Match information:

Date: Saturday, 8 June 2019

SA time: 15h05

Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

Referee: Jaco Peyper

Assistant Referees: Egon Seconds, Stefan Geldenhuys

Television Match Official: Willie Vos

TV: SuperSport1

DHL Stormers pick three newcomers to face Sunwolves

#STOvSUN

Three players are set to make their Vodacom Super Rugby debut for the DHL Stormers in their encounter with the Sunwolves at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday. Kick-off in this Round 17 encounter is 17h15.

Former Junior Springbok star Edwill van der Merwe has been named on the wing in the starting team, while David Meihuizen (lock) and Chris Massyn (flank) are on the replacements bench.

Van der Merwe, a prolific try-scorer, features out wide in the place of Springbok Sevens star Seabelo Senatla, who is recovering from concussion. Dillyn Leyds shifts to fullback in place of the injured Damian Willemse and Craig Barry takes his place on the right wing.

Dan Kriel gets a run at inside centre as Damian de Allende gets a well-earned rest. Jean-Luc du Plessis starts at flyhalf, while Jano Vermaak and EW Viljoen both make their return to the match day squad via the replacements bench.

Steven Kitshoff, who will again lead the DHL Stormers in the absence of Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, is joined in the front row by fellow Springboks Frans Malherbe (prop) and a fit-again Bongi Mbonambi (hooker).

Chris van Zyl also makes his return from injury to link up with Cobus Wiese in the second row, while Jaco Coetzee will be at the back of the scrum, with Johan du Toit and Ernst van Rhyn on the flanks.

The Sunwolves were victorious the last time these two sides met, in Hong Kong in May 2018, coming from behind to beat the Cape side 26-23 to snap a run of four losses to South African opponents. However, the DHL Stormers are difficult customers at home where they have lost just one of their last seven fixtures, which includes five wins and a thrilling draw with the Crusaders.

The DHL Stormers have also amassed 98 points and 15 tries in their two matches against the Sunwolves at DHL Newlands, in 2016 and 2017.

What they said:

DHL Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck said they are looking forward to playing at DHL Newlands this weekend: “We always get incredible support at DHL Newlands, which the team has responded to well in recent home games so we want to deliver another good performance in front of our fans. We will need to bring plenty of energy, but at the same time be as composed and accurate as possible in all that we do. We look forward to the challenge.”

Teams:

DHL Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Craig Barry, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain). Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Josh Stander, 23 EW Viljoen.

Sunwolves: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Ben Gunter, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Ryota Hasegawa, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Conan O’Donnell, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Alex Woonton. Replacements: 16 Takuya Kitade, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Yuya Odo, 20 Masakatsu Nishikawa, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Timothy Lafaele, 23 Akihito Yamada.

Head to head:

Played: 5

DHL Stormers won: 3

Sunwolves won: 1

Draw: 1

DHL Stormers points: 182

Sunwolves points: 108

Average score: 36-22

Match information:

Date: Saturday, 8 June 2019

SA time: 17h15

Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town

Referee: AJ Jacobs

Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Cwengile Jadezweni

Television Match Official: Christie du Preez

TV: SuperSport1

Cell C Sharks make minor tweaks for vital Buenos Aires clash

#JAGvSHA

The Cell C Sharks have made some minor tweaks to their starting team for their vital Vodacom Super Rugby match with the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday evening.

The Round 17 encounter kicks off at 21h40 and will be televised live on SuperSport 1.

Robert du Preez is back at flyhalf, with Curwin Bosch moving to fullback in place of Aphelele Fassi, who will now play off the bench. The rest of the changes are in the pack, where Tyler Paul comes in for Jean-Luc du Preez, who has returned home with a knee injury, while Hyron Andrews starts at No 4 lock in place of Ruben van Heerden, who moves to the bench.

Akker van der Merwe, Cameron Wright, Philip van der Walt and Tendai Mtawarira did not travel to Argentina due to injury.

A good victory will see the Jaguares clinching the South African Conference honours for the first time, while an away success will strengthen the Durbanites hopes of qualifying for the playoffs.  The Argentinean side are currently leading the SA conference on 41 points, while the Cell C Sharks (34) are just a point adrift the second placed Emirates Lions who have 35 points.

The Cell C Sharks’ home form have been disappointing compared to their performances away from home, with the men from Durban losing just one of their four games outside the country when they went down to the Chiefs in in a very competitive match in Hamilton.

On Saturday they are up against one of the competition’s form teams at the moment – the Jaguares have won seven of their last eight matches, including the last three in a row.  The 51-17 Jaguares victory over the Cell C Sharks in Durban on 13 April kicked off at that very good run of form for the Argentineans.

What they said:

Daniel du Preez (No 8), who achieved the milestone of 50 caps against the Hurricanes last week, admits there are areas of the game that cost his team last weekend and which they will have focused on not repeating this week: “I definitely don’t think we pitched up on that day, once again didn’t look after the ball, didn’t build any scoreboard pressure and they gave us a big hiding. This Saturday we expect a massive battle, akin to test match rugby and we’re looking forward to it. They have a few dangerous players, both in the forwards and the backs, they live off mistakes, so we know we have to look after the ball this week.”

The teams:

Jaguares: TBA

Cell C Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola. Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Aphelele Fassi.

Head to head:

Played: 7

Jaguares won: 2

Cell C Sharks won: 5

Draw: 0

Jaguares points: 165

Cell C Sharks points: 145

Average score: 24-21

Match information:

Date: Saturday, 8 June 2019

SA time: 21h40

Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires

Referee: Nick Briant

Assistant Referees: Federico Anselmi, Damian Schneider

Television Match Official: Marius Jonker

TV: SuperSport1

The other weekend’s other Round 17 fixtures are:

Friday, 7 June

11h45 Reds v Blues, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Saturday, 8 June

09h35 Crusaders v Rebels, Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch

11h45 Waratahs v Brumbies, Bankwest Stadium, Sydney

Bye: Chiefs


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