All eyes on Ellis Park – Vodacom Super Rugby Round 9 Preview
April 10, 2014
The bulk of the attention will be on Ellis Park in Johannesburg this weekend, where the Lions are hosting the Vodacom Super Rugby table-topping Cell C Sharks in what could be a humdinger.

It’s the only South African derby of round nine, where the Vodacom Bulls will continue their Australasian tour with a tricky encounter against the Highlanders in Dunedin, and the Toyota Cheetahs host the seven-time champion Crusaders in Bloemfontein.

The weekend kicks off on Friday morning with the Vodacom Bulls taking on the Highlanders in Dunedin – a venue where they have not won since 2007.

At the Free State Stadium, the Crusaders will be aiming to repeat their win over the Lions from last weekend, which incidentally was the first by any team this season crossing the Indian Ocean.

At Ellis Park though, the Lions will be aiming to repeat their shock win from June 2012, when they upset the Cell C Sharks by 38-28 in Joburg, which put a serious dent in the Durbanites’ hopes of hosting a semi-final that season.

The KwaZulu-Natalians did fight back later that season and reached the final against all odds, but on 2 June, the Lions recorded one of their most famous victories, scoring their fourth try shortly before half-time which basically sealed the win.

The DHL Stormers have a bye this weekend as Vodacom Bulls prop Werner Kruger will become the 26th South African Vodacom Super Rugby centurion in Dunedin.

Kruger, who made his debut in the opening round in 2008 against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town, has gone on to anchor the Vodacom Bulls’ scrum in two championship winning campaigns and play four Tests for the Springboks.

He played in 99 of the Vodacom Bulls’ last 100 matches – 40 and then 59 consecutively – only missing out in 2010 when the Pretorians went to Cape Town with a so-called “B-team”.

Kruger is a very good scrummager and someone who is never shy to do the donkey work on the field. He will become only the fifth SA front ranker to reach 100 appearances at this level, following in the footsteps of John Smit, Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis and Ollie le Roux.

It will be a special weekend for Cell C Sharks winger Odwa Ndungane as well, who will play his 100th match for the Durbanites. He also has 10 Vodacom Bulls caps to his name.

The full list of South African Vodacom Super Rugby centurions (players still in action in bold):

130: Victor Matfield (Cats 8, Bulls 122)
125: AJ Venter (Cats 19, Sharks 96, Stormers 10) and John Smit (Sharks)
123: Morné Steyn (Bulls)
122: Stefan Terblanche (Sharks)
120: Jannie du Plessis (Cheetahs 26, Sharks 92)
118: Bryan Habana (Bulls 61, Stormers 57)
116: Danie Rossouw (Bulls)
114: Jacques Botes (Sharks)
113: Pedrie Wannenburg (Bulls), Adi Jacobs (Bulls 21, Cats 4, Sharks 88)
112: Fourie du Preez (Bulls)
110: Wynand Olivier (Bulls)
109: Odwa Ndungane (Bulls 10, Sharks 99), Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks)
108: Ollie le Roux (Natal 24, Sharks 60, Cats 3, Cheetahs 21), Meyer Bosman (Cheetahs 61, Sharks 47)
104: Andries Bekker (Stormers), Jano Vermaak (Cats 11, Lions 62, Bulls 31)
103: Pierre Spies (Bulls)
102: Albert van den Berg (Cats 7, Sharks 95)
102: Akona Ndungane (Bulls), Jean de Villiers (Stormers)
101: JP Pietersen (Sharks)

100: Bakkies Botha (Bulls)

Highlanders v Vodacom Bulls

It’s been seven long years since the Vodacom Bulls last tasted victory over the Highlanders in New Zealand – something the three-time champions form Pretoria would want to change on Friday morning (SA time).

However, it won’t be easy. Coupled with the fact that they normally struggle during the second match on their Australasian tours (they’ve won only three second tour matches since 1998), the team based at Loftus Versfeld find the Highlanders their toughest Kiwi opponents.

The Vodacom Bulls have beaten the Highlanders only five times since the franchise started in 1998, which is their lowest number of victories against any New Zealand side – they’ve beaten the Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders seven times each and the Hurricanes eight times.

The last time the Vodacom Bulls beat the Highlanders away was in 2007, the year in which they won Vodacom Super Rugby for the very first time. But since then, it’s gone downhill and the team from Otago won this corresponding fixture in 2012 by 16-11.

It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom for Flip van der Merwe’s team though – in the last decade, South African teams have done generally well in Dunedin, winning eight out of 17 matches deep down south.

The teams are:

Highlanders: Ben Smith (captain), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, Shane Christie, Gareth Evans, Joe Wheeler, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Replacements: Ged Robinson, Craig Millar, Ma'afu Fia, Jarrad Hoeata, John Hardie, Fumiaki Tanaka, Trent Renata, Nasi Manu.

Vodacom Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Piet van Zyl, Grant Hattingh, Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe (captain), Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Marcel van der Merwe, Morne Mellett, Paul Willemse, Jacques Engelbrecht, William Small-Smith, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers.

Highlanders v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Friday, 11 April
SA Time: 09h35
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

Toyota Cheetahs v Crusaders

It may sound strange or come as a surprise, but the Crusaders have not beaten the Toyota Cheetahs in Vodacom Super Rugby in South Africa since 2007.

Yes, it’s been seven years since the seven-time champions from Christchurch have managed to win in Central South Africa. Although, to be fair, they have only lost twice in Bloemfontein during this time.

Those two wins by the Toyota Cheetahs in the Free State Stadium – in 2009 (by 20-13) and 2011 (33-20) – are also their only against the Crusaders. It accounts for a third of all their home wins against sides from New Zealand.

Looking at history, it’s clear the five Kiwi sides enjoy playing the Toyota Cheetahs in South Africa the most. Naka Drotske’s men have won six, drawn two and lost 12 at home against teams from New Zealand.

Against the Aussies in South Africa, they’ve won 11 and lost five – and when hosting SA derbies, the Toyota Cheetahs have won eight and lost 16.

Following a bad tour and last weekend’s draw against the Chiefs, the Toyota Cheetahs have their backs to the wall if they are going to reach the playoffs again, as they did last year.

“We’re now in a situation where we basically need to win all our games going forward,” said Drotské this week.

“The Crusaders are a quality team. Their history speaks for itself – they’ve won this competition seven times.

“We know we have to be physical against them on Saturday and we’ll be playing with some confidence from doing well against them in recent years, but we know we have to execute for the full 80 minutes if we are going to win.”

The teams are:

Toyota Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Johann Sadie, Ryno Benjamin, Hennie Daniller, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Jean Cook, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo, Francois Uys, Lodewyk de Jager, Maks van Dyk, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Ryno Barnes, Caylib Oosthuizen, Rossouw de Klerk, Andries Ferreira, Teboho Mohoje, Shaun Venter, Elgar Watts, Howard Mnisi.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Willi Heinz, Kieran Read (captain) Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Samuel Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Owen Franks, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Andy Ellis, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Taylor.

Toyota Cheetahs v Crusaders
Date: Saturday, 12 April
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Francois de Bruin Francois (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

Lions v Cell C Sharks

It’s the top goal kicking side against the top points scorers at Ellis Park on Saturday evening when the Lions host the Cell C Sharks in the only SA Vodacom Super Rugby derby this weekend.

The Lions, with a magnificent success rate of 92%, have been setting the pace this season when it comes to goal kicking, with their flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff also the first player to reach 100 season points in 2014.

Furthermore, the Joburgers’ scrum success rate – incidentally also at 92% – is also a joint-high in the competition. But they will face a different beast (‘scuse the pun) against the Cell C Sharks this weekend against an all-Springbok front row and a pack boasting seven Boks.

Built on the platform created by their pack, the Cell C Sharks have averaged a competition high of 30.2 points per game this season. They also boast the best defensive record, conceding just 16.8 points and 1.3 tries per game so far.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann said his team will not necessarily take a more conservative approach on Saturday, but they would look at correcting the mistakes they made last week against the Crusader: “We don't want to lose our adventurous side, but we need to know when to play conservatively. We need to get the right balance of kicking and passing.”

However, Jake White, the Cell C Sharks’ Director of Rugby, realises it will be tough against the Lions on Saturday, especially upfront, where they’ve done very well.

“The Lions’ forward pack has been outstanding and I think Johan Ackermann has done a fantastic job,” said White.

“Their front row was supposedly young players who’ve come along and staked a claim. That’s just three players in a whole team, but it epitomises everybody in that group: no-namers who have really stuck their hands up and played above themselves.

“They have a lot of pace in the backline and a lot of skills, and the fact that Elton Jantjies, a Springbok, isn’t in their starting line-up proves that they’re obviously quite comfortable with the way they’re playing. The last time we played them, Elton started against us. Now he’s not in the mix, so it will be a completely different challenge for us.”

The teams are:

Lions: Andries Coetzee, Deon van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Stefan Watermeyer, Courtnall Skosan, Marnitz Boshoff, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (captain), Willie Britz, Derick Minnie, Franco Mostert, Martin Muller, Julian Redelinghuys, Willie Wepener, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Corne Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Jaco Kriel, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Alwyn Hollenbach.

Cell C Sharks: Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, S’bura Sithole, Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Fred Zeilinga, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Ettienne Oosthuizen, Keegan Daniel, Stefan Ungerer, Paul Jordaan, SP Marais.

Lions v Cell C Sharks
Date: Saturday, 12 April
SA Time: 19h10
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Other fixtures (South African kick-off times):

Friday, 11 April:
11h40: Reds v Brumbies – Brisbane

Saturday, 12 April:
09h35: Chiefs v Rebels – Hamilton
11h40: Force v Waratahs – Perth

Byes: DHL Stormers, Blues, Hurricanes

SA Schools 2015
Friday, August 07 2015
12:00 - South Africa U18 A vs Italy U18
City Park Stadium, Cape Town
14:00 - England U18 vs France U18
City Park Stadium, Cape Town
Absa Currie Cup Premier Division
15:30 - ORC Griquas vs DHL Western Province
Griqua Park, Kimberley
SA Schools 2015
16:00 - South Africa U18 vs Wales U18
City Park Stadium, Cape Town
Absa Currie Cup Premier Division
18:00 - Steval Pumas vs Cell C Sharks
Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Absa Under 19 Competition
Saturday, August 08 2015
09:30 - Eastern Province U19 vs Golden Lions U19
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, PE
10:30 - Free State U19 vs Blue Bulls U19
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Absa Under 21 Competition
11:30 - EP Kings U21 vs Golden Lions U21
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, PE
The Castle Lager Rugby Championship
12:05 - Australia vs New Zealand
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Absa Under 21 Competition
12:05 - Free State U21 vs Blue Bulls U21
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

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