With only three rounds remaining before the Vodacom Super Rugby playoff rounds commence, the four South African teams are all locked in vital matches this weekend which could have an important influence on their further progress in the competition.
The Vodacom Bulls, who are missing the influential Springbok duo of Handre Pollard and Duane Vermeulen, start the weekend’s action on Friday morning against the Blues in Auckland.
On Saturday, the action moves to Durban where the Cell C Sharks host the Hurricanes. That encounter is followed by another big local derby in Johannesburg, between the Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers.
The Jaguares, current leaders in the South African Conference, will conclude their tour Down Under with a visit to Brisbane where they will take on the Reds.
Jenkins gets 50, Odendaal captains Vodacom Bulls in Auckland
Springbok lock Jason Jenkins will play in his 50th Vodacom Super Rugby match in Auckland on Friday when the Vodacom Bulls take on the Blues in their third Australasian tour match. The Round 16 encounter at Eden Park kicks off at 09h35 (SA time).
Vodacom Bulls coach Pote Human has made two changes and a positional switch to the team that played against the Brumbies last weekend. Springbok scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl is back in the No 9 jersey, replacing Andre Warner who moves to the bench.
Paul Schoeman moves from the side of the scrum to No 8, where he fills the gap left by the departure of Duane Vermeulen, who has returned home because of injury and national team resting protocols. As a result, Marco van Staden moves up from the bench into the starting fifteen at openside flank.
With Springboks Handre Pollard and Vermeulen not available, experienced midfielder Burger Odendaal has been entrusted with the captaincy.
The Blues beat the Chiefs in their last home fixture, which was their fifth victory in their last six home games, while the Vodacom Bulls will have to improve their away record if they want to return home with a winning tally. They are currently third on the SA conference table with 32 points from 13 games, including seven wins, and four points adrift of the Jaguares who are leading the local standings.
Looking at their history in Auckland, it’s a tough ask for the Vodacom Bulls – their only victory in New Zealand over the Blues was by 28-21 in 2013, which is also the last time they won a match in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
What they said:
Vodacom Bulls head coach Pote Human said they need to start well against the home side, who have won 11 of their 12 home games against the men from Pretoria: “We need to get a good start and sustain that throughout the match. They have some quality players, but the real test will be in the set-pieces. The Blues have the best scrum success rate (97%) in the competition, so that will be a critical area for us.”
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (co-captain), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (co-captain), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons Leni Apisai, 1 Alex Hodgman. Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Lua Li, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Tanielu Tele’a.
Vodacom Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rosko Spekman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 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 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Andre Warner, 22 JT Jackson, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Head to head:
Blues won: 13
Vodacom Bulls won: 7
Blues points: 714
Vodacom Bulls points: 545
Average score: 34-26
Date: Friday, 31 May
SA time: 09h35
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Dan Waenga
Television Match Official: Ben Skeen
Cell C Sharks opt for continuity to weather ‘Canes challenge
Springbok looseforward Dan du Preez will make his 50th Vodacom Super Rugby appearance on Saturday when the Cell C Sharks take on the Hurricanes in Durban, with the hosts’ starting team showing only one change for their last game.
The match starts at 15h05 and will televised live on SuperSport 1.
Cell C Sharks loose forward Philip van der Walt has been ruled out of selection due to a shoulder niggle. His place on the flank has been handed to Jacques Vermeulen. As a result of this change, Tyler Paul takes over from Vermeulen on the bench.
Robert du Preez’s side got the better of the Emirates Lions in their previous outing and the Durbanites will be determined to build on that momentum and give their faithful something good to cheer about before they embark on their final two away games.
The Hurricanes have won four of their previous six encounters with the Cell C Sharks, including the last two meetings between them.
However, the Durbanites will be buoyed by their recent performances against New Zealand sides – they ended on the winning side in all four of such home fixtures. They have shown strong defence in each of those games, and only conceded more than 15 points on one such occasion.
From a ‘Canes perspective, they will they would want to add to their previous three wins on the road.
What they said:
Cell C Sharks midfielder Lukhanyo Am reckons their last home game will present them with an opportunity to end off on a high in front of the Durban faithful: “The (recent Australasian) tour did us a huge favour as far as team morale goes. But the Hurricanes will be a tough challenge – it’s a game where we will really need to step up.”
Cell C Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola. Replacements: 16 Craig Burden / Cullen Collopy, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Kane Le’aupepe, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Toby Smith. Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Gareth Evans, 22 Richard Judd, 23 James Marshall.
Head to head:
Sharks won: 11
Hurricanes won: 10
Sharks points: 549
Hurricanes points: 587
Average score: 26-27
Date: Saturday, 1 June
SA time: 15h05
Venue: Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Divan Uys
Television Match Official: Willie Vos
Marx returns to lead Emirates Lions into battle with DHL Stormers
Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx returns from his resting week to captain the Emirates Lions in their important Vodacom Super Rugby home match against the DHL Stormers on Saturday. Kick-off in Johannesburg is set for 17h15.
Emirates Lions coach Swys de Bruin has made some tweaks to the home pack from the team that lost to the Cell C Sharks last weekend. Carlu Sadie comes back into the front row, while Vincent Tshituka will now form the loose trio with Cyle Brink (flank) and Kwagga Smith (No 8). Brink switches position on the side of the scrum.
Elton Jantjies was not considered for selection this week due to a breach of team protocol, which means a new half-back combination of Shaun Reynolds and Ross Cronje for the home team.
Meanwhile, Steven Kitshoff will captain the DHL Stormers against their Highveld rivals. The experienced Springbok prop takes over the captaincy from regular skipper Siya Kolisi.
Kolisi (knee), Pieter-Steph du Toit (shoulder) and Kobus van Dyk (knee) have all been ruled out due to injuries, which have resulted in a number of changes to the DHL Stormers pack.
In the loose trio, Sikhumbuzo Notshe will start at No 8, with Jaco Coetzee shifting to openside flank and Johan du Toit on the other side of the scrum, where he replaces his older brother, Pieter-Steph.
Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth returns after being sidelined through illness last week and takes his place in the second row alongside Cobus Wiese. The only change to the front row is a rotation switch at tighthead prop, with Wilco Louw in the starting line-up and Frans Malherbe set to make an impact off the bench.
The Pride of Jozi have had the upper hand in recent meetings between the sides, boasting four wins from six outings between them, while Highvelders will also run onto the field with no less than nine wins from their last 11 matches at home.
The visitors from Cape Town will however point to their recent good performances in derbies – they have won their last three such fixtures featuring local opponents. The DHL Stormers scored four tries in an impressive 34-22 victory against the Highlanders last week in Cape Town and will set their sights on another good performance.
What they said:
DHL Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck said their focus this week has been on ensuring the players are in the right space physically and mentally for the challenge: “The focus has been to assemble a playing group that is primed and ready both physically and mentally for what we will face on Saturday. There is no doubting the motivation within the group.”
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 Sti Sithole, 18 Johannes Jonker, 18 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Nic Groom, 23 Tyrone Green.
DHL Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 Cobus Wiese, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain). Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Ernst van Rhyn, 20 Marno Redelinghuys (DHL Stormers debut), 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Dan Kriel.
Head to head:
Emirates Lions won: 5
DHL Stormers won: 12
Emirates Lions points: 374
DHL Stormers points: 443
Average score: 21-25
Date: Saturday, 1 June
SA time: 17h15
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni, Stefan Geldenhuys
Television Match Official: Marius Jonker
Other Round 16 fixtures are:
Friday, 31 May:
11h45: Rebels vs Waratahs, AAMI Park, Melbourne
Saturday, 1 June:
07h15: Sunwolves vs Brumbies, Prince Chichibu Stadium
09h35: Chiefs vs Crusaders, ANZ National Stadium, Suva, Fiji
11h45: Reds vs Jaguares, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane