Vodacom Super Rugby resumes in South Africa this weekend, with two pool matches remaining before the top six can set their sights on the playoffs.
As it stands, the Cell C Sharks are assured of winning the South African Conference and will feature in the knock-out rounds. Ditto the Waratahs in Australia, while the New Zealand Conference is still wide open, with all five their teams still in the hunt.
The Vodacom Bulls still have a mathematical chance to reach the top six, but the DHL Stormers, Lions and Toyota Cheetahs will only play for pride in the next fortnight.
The Lions kick off the weekend from a local point of view against the Rebels in Johannesburg, where a win will mean 2014 will be the best ever for the side from Ellis Park.
On Saturday, two local derbies take place. First up, the DHL Stormers host the Vodacom Bulls in Cape Town before the Cell C Sharks take on the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein as the KwaZulu-Natalians aim to keep alive their hopes of finishing in the top two on the log.
Lions v Rebels
Victory over the Rebels at Ellis Park on Friday evening will mean the Lions have had their best season to date, since the old Cats franchise split up after the 2005 Vodacom Super Rugby season.
The Lions’ previous best was in 2007, when they won five of their 13 matches as they finished 12th in the old Vodacom Super 14 competition, on 22 log points.
This year, they’ve already won five of their 14 matches for 22 log points. Their next best was in 2009, when the Lions won four from 13.
This is only the second time these two teams will be facing each other. Their only previous encounter was in 2012, when the Lions won an entertaining match at Ellis Park by 37-32. Franco van der Merwe, Elton Jantjies, Anthony Volmink, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Dreyer, Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronje all featured in that match.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann said his team wants to finish the season on a high.
“After the break, these two games are almost a campaign on its own and in rugby you only get remembered for the last game you played,” said Ackermann.
“If we don’t do well in the last two games, the Vodacom Super Rugby season will be remembered as not being too good. The opposite side of the coin is that if we win the games, we can look back on a good season with a few mistakes.
“We have high expectations that we end well so it is going to be a massive game for us.”
The teams are:
Lions: Coenie van Wyk, Deon van Rensburg, Stokkies Hanekom, Alwyn Hollenbach, Anthony Volmink, Marnitz Boshoff, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley (captain), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Jacques van Rooyen / Corné Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, Willie Britz, Derick Minnie, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe.
Rebels: Jack Debreczeni, Tom Kingston, Tamati Ellison, Mitch Inman, Tom English, Bryce Hegarty, Luke Burgess, Scott Higginbotham (c), Scott Fuglistaller, Colby Fainga'a, Luke Jones, Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, Shota Horie, Toby Smith. Replacements: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah-Nau, Paul Alo-Emile, Cadeyrn Neville, Jordy Reid, Nic Stirzaker, Jason Woodward, Telusa Veainu.
SA Time: 19h10
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
DHL Stormers v Vodacom Bulls
This might sound a bit funny, but the fewer tries the Vodacom Bulls score against the DHL Stormers, the better their chances of winning.
That certainly has been the case since 2007, the last time the team from Pretoria recorded a big win over their southern counterparts.
In 11 Vodacom Super Rugby matches since, the Vodacom Bulls have scored 12 tries – one in each match and two in one of their matches in 2012, which they ended up losing.
During this time, the DHL Stormers were outscored by the Vodacom Bulls only twice.
In the nine matches where the Capetonians scored the same amount of tries or more than the team from Pretoria, the men in blue won five, including the 2010 Final in Soweto, where the visitors scored two tries to one.
Earlier this year in Pretoria, the DHL Stormers scored two tries to the Vodacom Bulls’ one, but still lost by 28-12 in a hard-fought match.
Allister Coetzee, head coach of the DHL Stormers, said he is not expecting anything different this weekend.
“Matches between the Stormers and the Bulls are always hard-fought and memorable encounters and this will be no different,” said Coetzee.
“Both teams have come off a break and both sides have had players playing for the Springboks, but you don’t have to ask any player twice to get himself up for a game of this nature.”
Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said his team aims to keep their slim play-off hopes alive and need to play positive rugby at DHL Newlands.
“We all know the maths – we need to go to Cape Town and get the full haul,” said Ludeke.
“It is a massive challenge but we feel that we can do it. Making the play-offs was one of our clear targets and we need a very positive performance at Newlands to make it happen.”
Vodacom Bulls captain Victor Matfield said: “The Stormers are playing without any pressure at the moment and with their new confidence on attack, will test our defence. I believe defence is all about attitude, so we will have to look at ourselves first and decide how much we really want this.”
The teams are:
DHL Stormers: Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Juan de Jongh, Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt Coleman, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger (captain), Nizaam Carr, Ruan Botha, Michael Rhodes, Pat Cilliers, Deon Fourie, Alistair Vermaak. Replacements: Tiaan Liebenberg, Sti Sithole, Martin Dreyer, Manuel Carizza, Siya Kolisi, Louis Schreuder, Peter Grant, Seabelo Senatla.
Vodacom Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Handré Pollard, Francois Hougaard, Grant Hattingh, Jacques Engelbrecht, Jono Ross, Victor Matfield (captain), Paul Willemse, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Morné Mellett, Marcel van der Merwe, Marvin Orie, Roelof Smit, Piet van Zyl, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, William Small-Smith.
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Toyota Cheetahs v Cell C Sharks
The Cell C Sharks have always enjoyed travelling to Bloemfontein to face the Toyota Cheetahs, a team once deemed their Vodacom Super Rugby bogey side.
And although three of their four wins over the Cell C Sharks were achieved in Durban, the men from Central South Africa have lost their last three home matches against the KwaZulu-Natalians who have an overall record at the Free State Stadium of four from five.
Jake White’s team will know that nothing else but a victory will suffice in Bloemfontein, if they are to remain in the top two and automatically qualify for a home semi-final.
But the Cell C Sharks will not make the mistake of underestimating their opponents based on their position on the log. The Toyota Cheetahs have eight current Springboks in their team and will be keen to finish a disappointing season on a high.
“We are playing at home, so it’s very important for us to get a win for our fans,” said Toyota Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske.
“All the pressure will be on the Sharks. They want to secure a home semi-final and need to win their next two games, but we’ve already seen this year that anything can happen in South African derbies.
“The Sharks’ pack is big and physical, so if we want to win, we will need to take them on upfront.”
White said his team has taken notice of the Toyota Cheetahs’ home record.
“They have knocked over some good sides at home and despite all the Springbok players they have from the weekend, it’s not really about the players they have in their roster, they’re a good team,” said White.
“We just need to make sure we prepare ourselves properly. We have a good away record, probably better than our home record this year strangely enough, although it’s not something we are really concentrating on or giving too much attention to. We just want to make sure we win.”
The teams are:
Toyota Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Johann Sadie, Ryno Benjamin, Raymond Rhule, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Philip van der Walt, Teboho Mohoje, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Caylib Oosthuizen, Luan de Bruin, Carl Wegner, Jean Cook, Henco Venter, Shaun Venter, Elgar Watts, Hennie Daniller.
Cell C Sharks: SP Marais, JP Pietersen, S’bura Sithole, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Tim Swiel, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel (captain), Marcell Coetzee, Anton Bresler, Stephan Lewies, Lourens Adriaanse, Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick. Replacements: Thomas du Toit, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Tera Mtembu, Charl McLeod, Odwa Ndungane, Tonderai Chavhanga.
SA Time: 19h10
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)