Can The Sharks, leaders in the South African Conference, turn around their recent misfortunes in Vodacom Super Rugby against the Crusaders and will the Toyota Cheetahs finally get over that elusive “fifth hurdle” this weekend?
Those are the two big questions being asked in the build-up to round eight, which kicks off on Friday morning (SA time) with a north/south derby in New Zealand after which the Southern Kings make their Australian debut in the competition, against the high-flying Brumbies in Canberra.
On Friday evening in Durban, the Sharks face arguably one of their toughest challenges to date this season against a Crusaders team which they have only beaten twice in 15 years. It sounds almost unbelievable, but it’s true – as a franchise the KwaZulu-Natalians’ win record against the Cantabrians is very disappointing.
In Bloemfontein on Saturday, the Toyota Cheetahs will be aiming to repeat their glory years of 2006 and 2007, when they last managed to beat the DHL Stormers in Vodacom Super Rugby. But they will also be aiming for a fifth successive victory – something the Central South African franchise has never achieved.
Two South African stalwarts will be making their 100th Vodacom Super Rugby appearances this weekend. First up will be Meyer Bosman for The Sharks on Friday evening, then Andries Bekker for the DHL Stormers on Saturday afternoon.
Bosman, who has played 61 times for the Toyota Cheetahs and 38 matches for The Sharks, and Bekker, who has 99 DHL Stormers caps to his name, will be joining Jannie du Plessis as new members to the 100 Club this season.
The full list of South African Vodacom Super Rugby centurions is:
125: AJ Venter (Cats 19, Sharks 96, Stormers 10) and John Smit (Sharks)
124: Victor Matfield (Cats 8, Bulls 116)
122: Stefan Terblanche (Sharks)
116: Danie Rossouw (Bulls)
113: Pedrie Wannenburg (Bulls) and Adi Jacobs (Bulls 21, Cats 4, Sharks 87)
112: Fourie du Preez and Morné Steyn (both Bulls)
110: Jacques Botes (Sharks)
109: Bryan Habana (Bulls 61, Stormers 48)
108: Ollie le Roux (Natal 24, Sharks 60, Cats 5, Cheetahs 21)
107: Wynand Olivier (Bulls)
103: Jannie du Plessis (Cheetahs 26, Sharks 77)
102: Albert van den Berg (Cats 7, Sharks 95)
100: Bakkies Botha (Bulls)
The Vodacom Bulls, back from their Australasian tour where they played in their 200th Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Brumbies in Canberra last Saturday, have a bye this weekend.
And now for something completely different – all four Whitelock brothers (Adam, George, Luke and Sam) will start their match for the Crusaders against The Sharks on Friday evening.
The first time all four of them were on the field at the same time, was on 16 March 2013 against the Vodacom Bulls.
Four brothers in one team is almost unheard of, but pairs of brothers in the same team is nothing new. In fact, there have been five pairs of brothers on the field at the same time in Vodacom Super Rugby: Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis for The Sharks, Sias and Robert Ebersohn (twins) for the Toyota Cheetahs, Anthony and Saia Faingaa (twins) for the Reds, Ben and Owen Franks (Crusaders) and Daniel and Luke Braid for the Blues.
On 26 March 2011, when the Reds played the Toyota Cheetahs, there were two pairs of twins on the field – the Faingaas and the Ebersohn.
Brumbies v Southern Kings
It doesn’t get any easier for the Southern Kings, who will make their Vodacom Super Rugby debut in Australia on Friday in Canberra when they face Jake White’s log-leading Brumbies.
After starting their tour with two defeats in New Zealand, the Kings have now travelled to Australia and set up camp in Sydney ahead of their match against the Brumbies, who top the log after winning five of their first six matches.
It will be the Brumbies’ fourth successive match against South African opposition – of the last three, they’ve won two (in Durban against The Sharks and in Canberra against the Vodacom Bulls) and lost in Cape Town to the DHL Stormers.
After their impressive win at Kings Park, where they scored four tries to The Sharks’ one, the Brumbies have been outscored by both the DHL Stormers (one try to four) and Vodacom Bulls (one to two).
The Kings know Friday’s match against a well-oiled Brumbies machine will be very tough.
“This competition is very tough and we’re playing extremely strong opposition” said Alan Solomons, the Kings’ Director of Rugby.
“The Brumbies are a very good side – they are not topping the log for nothing. They’re strong all round and they have very good players across the board.
“We know it’s going to be a massive challenge for us, we would really like to lift the intensity of the game and the physicality of the game for this match. I think the key lessons for us are that we need to sharpen up on the physical aspects of the game, both defensively and in terms of our break down.”
The teams are:
Brumbies: Robbie Coleman, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Pat McCabe, Joe Tomane, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Fotu Auelua, George Smith, Ben Mowen (captain), Etienne Oosthuizen, Peter Kimlin, Dan Palmer, Siliva Siliva, Ben Alexander. Replacements: Stephen Moore, Scott Sio, Sam Carter, Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior, Andrew Smith, Zack Holmes.
Southern Kings: George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Waylon Murray, Andries Strauss (captain), Ronnie Cooke, Demetri Catrakillis, Nicolas Vergallo; Cornell du Preez, Wimpie van der Walt, Devin Oosthuizen, Rynier Bernardo, Steven Sykes, Grant Kemp, Hannes Franklin, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Bandise Maku, Kevin Buys, David Bulbring, Jacques Engelbrecht, Shaun Venter, Marcello Sampson, Elric van Vuuren.
Kick-off SA Time: 10h40 (SA time)
Venue: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Lees (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)
The Sharks v Crusaders
The Sharks, who played their 200th Vodacom Super Rugby match two weekends ago against the Melbourne Rebels, will have to overturn a massive historical imbalance when they host the Crusaders at Kings Park in Durban on Friday evening.
It’s also The Sharks franchise’s 99th home game in Vodacom Super Rugby (which includes two matches in Port Elizabeth and one in East London) against a team who – judging by history – enjoys playing in Durban.
The Sharks’ record against the Crusaders is not great – they’ve played each other 16 times, with the Cantabrians winning 14 of these and the team from KwaZulu-Natal two, both at Kings Park. This will be the Crusaders’ seventh visit to Durban, where they have won four times already.
Interestingly enough, The Sharks have only played 16 of their 98 home matches to date on Friday evenings – of those they have won seven and lost nine.
But the stats will count for very little when these teams meet on Friday – what will be of a concern for The Sharks, will be the Crusaders’ run of three successive wins against South African teams, the latest coming last weekend in Cape Town against the DHL Stormers.
Should the Crusaders win on Friday, they will emulate their unbeaten seasons against South African teams from 1998, 2002 and 2008.
“The Crusaders’ skill levels are really high,” said John Plumtree, coach of The Sharks. “Their backs and forwards handle the ball well, so our defensive plan is going to have to be very accurate. The breakdown is also going to be huge and we need to be competitive there.
“You can’t have a meltdown in an area like the lineouts. It takes good, hard work to get into an attacking situation, and then to lose ball puts you under immense pressure. And you don’t want to be doing that against a team like the Crusaders who are able to hold on to the ball for long periods of time.
“The lineout has been a big focus for us, not only for this match but throughout the competition. We’re operating at around 84% and we’ve been going OK, but it is going to be tough, the Crusaders boast All Black locks.
“There is a mixture of reasons why the Stormers lineout failed, it’s not one person, it takes a good throw, a good lift, a good jump and hopefully the same thing won’t happen to us.”
Note: Other foreign teams that have won all their matches against SA opposition in one season are the Brumbies (2000), Highlanders (1998 and 2002), Blues (2003), Reds (2002 and 2011), Waratahs (2002 and 2005) and Chiefs (2012).
The teams are:
The Sharks: Frans Steyn, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Meyer Bosman, JP Pietersen, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel (captain), Marcell Coetzee, Jacques Botes, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Anton Bresler, Ryan Kankowski, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen, Louis Ludik / Sbura Sithole.
Crusaders: Tom Marshall, Adam Whitelock Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (captain), Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Telusa Veainu, Israel Dagg.
Kick-off SA Time: 19h10
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommenstein (South Africa)
Toyota Cheetahs v DHL Stormers
With a winning percentage of only 27% against their fellow South African Vodacom Super Rugby sides, the Toyota Cheetahs will probably not be considered favourites when they host the DHL Stormers at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
But the home team, on the verge of setting a new franchise record for five consecutive wins, will be in a confident mood against the DHL Stormers this weekend, after impressive victories in their last four matches.
Last year, the Toyota Cheetahs won only one of their eight local derbies, but against the Capetonians, both these defeats were by seven points or less (14-16 in Cape Town and 6-13 in Bloemfontein).
The DHL Stormers have not lost to the Toyota Cheetahs since 2007, when the team from Central South Africa won convincingly by 27-9 in Bloemfontein. They travel to the Free State capital on the back of a disappointing home defeat against the Crusaders last week, and with a number of players out injured.
Still, Toyota Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské knows Saturday will be a very tough match for his team.
“The Stormers are always a quality side,” said Drotské.
“It’s mainly their defence, which is probably the best in the competition, which makes them very difficult to play against. We’ll have to work very hard to get points on the board.
“We’re expecting a very tough and physical game. They have a good pack and game breakers at the back. It’s always close against them – last year we lost both our matches by seven points or less.
“I realise there will be pressure to perform this week, but we see it as positive pressure. You need to win your home games if you want to make the top six and this is an opportunity for us. The players realise it and know we’re going to have to play at 100% intensity for 80 minutes on Saturday.”
DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, looking ahead to their trip to Bloemfontein, said: “We've seen how well the Crusaders did their homework and we know that we can expect the same from the Cheetahs.
“This week we'll have to show improvement in all facets of the game if we want to do well against the Cheetahs. It's never easy in Bloemfontein and it's going to be a tough (South African) derby ... but we need to focus on our game.”
The teams are:
Toyota Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller, Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Burton Francis, Piet van Zyl, Phillip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Heinrich Brüssow, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Ryno Barnes, Coenie Oosthuizen, Ligtoring Landman, Boom Prinsloo, Sarel Pretorius, Francois Brummer, Ryno Benjamin.
DHL Stormers: Jaco Taute, Joe Pietersen, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Gio Aplon, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen, Michael Rhodes, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Pat Cilliers, Gerbrandt Grobler, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Gary van Aswegen, Damian de Allende.
Kick-off SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
Other fixtures (SA times):
Friday, 5 April:
08h35: Blues v Highlanders (Auckland)
Saturday, 6 Apil:
08h35: Hurricanes v Waratahs (Wellington)
10h40: Force v Rebels (Perth)
Byes: Vodacom Bulls, Chiefs, Reds