Quarter final time … Awesome that two SA sides are in the mix, but not so awesome that they have both travelled half way round the world in order to play …
Proof of that lack of awesomeness comes courtesy of the SuperSport Wrap team, who put together the play-off records of this year’s top six teams:
Stormers: Played five, won one (0/2 away)
Chiefs: Played three, won one (0/2 away)
Reds: Played five, won two (0/1 away)
Crusaders: Played 24, won 19 (2/7 away)
Bulls: Played nine, won six (1/4 away)
Sharks: Played ten, won three (1/7 away)
Basically – winning away from home is nigh on impossible, and can only be achieved via truly special performances from very special teams …
But the game is not played on paper, and as the SuperSport guys point out, the one time the Sharks did manage an away playoff win, it was against the Reds in Brisbane. And the Bulls and the Crusaders have met in four play-off matches previously, with the Bulls coming out on top three times …
Well, we can hope, but I am afraid I am not going to be putting money on it …
09:35 – Crusaders v Bulls, Christchurch
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistants: Keith Brown, Glen Jackson
TMO: Garratt Williamson
Most eyes will be on the clash of the international half backs, McCaw vs Spies and perhaps Fruean vs Engelbrecht, but as is my want, I will be keeping a particularly close eye on the scrum battle, as I see that going a long way to deciding the result. Even the best half backs in the world can be made to look pretty ordinary behind a non performing pack … Both are perceived to be good scrummaging sides, but have in fact struggled up front in recent times. The Crusaders have not settled on a starting combination, but this weekend I think they have it right with Wyatt Crockett at loosehead. Werner Kruger struggled when he came on for the Boks against the Poms, and he will have to up his game to keep Crockett in check. The return of big Flippie van der Merwe behind him should definitely aid his cause. Dean Greyling needs to opt in instead of out, as has been his inclination recently. It might look good for him easing forward down the side of the tighthead, but does nothing for the pack as a whole. In fact, it just splinters it, allowing the opposition to get their right shoulder …
McCaw is a rugby legend, full stop. But he does not look particularly comfortable at 8. Put the Saders scrum under pressure and McCaw could come badly unstuck at the base. And apart from his great ball carrying, and all round hard graft, this is where the Saders will miss Kieran Read hugely. He is a big loss for the home side. But it’s at 8 where the Bulls are hacking hardest, with Pierre Spies just not having the impact a man of his physique should be having.
What the Crusaders do unbelievably well – via both Carter and Ellis, is kick for field position. Often not going for touch, but with the aim of turning the opposition and then putting them under pressure via the chase. Yes both the Bulls and Boks play this way, but it’s the execution that counts. The Bulls back three will have to be properly on top of their game to counter this …
Sportingbet will give you 2/9 on the Saders and 4/1 on the Bulls, which is probably fair on the home side, but I might be inclined to put a few hard earned Rands on the Bulls at those odds. I do not think they can pull this one off, but I would not need resuscitation should they pull it off!
My prediction: Crusaders by 9
Last five results:
07 Apr 2012 Crusaders v Bulls 30-32 Pretoria
09 Apr 2011 Crusaders v Bulls 27-0 Timaru
22 May 2010 Crusaders v Bulls 24-39 Soweto
07 May 2010 Crusaders v Bulls 35-40 Pretoria
23 May 2009 Crusaders v Bulls 23-36 Pretoria
Average score: Crusaders 34 Bulls 24
Crusaders record vs Bulls:
Played 19, Wins 12, Losses 7, Draws 0
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Bench: 16. Quentin MacDonald 17. Ben Franks 18. Tom Donnelly 19. Luke Whitelock 20. Willi Heinz 21. Tom Taylor 22. Sean Maitland
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 12 Dean Greyling.
Bench: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.
11:40 – Reds v Sharks, Brisbane
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistants: Craig Joubert, James Leckie
TMO: Matt Goddard
Much talk about the loss of Quade Cooper, and rightfully so. Without him, the Reds have looked workmanlike rather than the defending champs that they are. And against the Tahs last weekend, the Will Genia and Cooper combination fired, hence the all important result that saw them sneak the Aussie conference, and with that, a cheeky home quarter final even though they have less points than both the Bulls and Sharks!
But I am not convinced that it offsets the loss of both Frans Steyn and Pat Lambie for the Sharks. The Sharks have looked a completely different outfit with the “Prodigal son” at centre, and while Freddie Michalak on song can unlock any defence in the world, he is prone to the odd off day.
Where the Sharks are truly monstrous, is up front. The DuPlessis brothers and Beast form perhaps the best front row in the competition, and they need to make this advantage count. Here’s hoping that Mr Kaplan is not too officious come scum time!
The big call of the weekend is the selection of man mountain Willem Alberts at lock. There is no doubt regarding the value Alberts brings to any side, but to my mind, that value is highest when he is playing a more roaming role at 7. This selection smacks a little of finding a way to get the man into the side, even if out of position – like when John Plumtree selected him at 8 last year. If Plumtree was not prepared to tweak his loose trio, a more gutsy call might have been to play Alberts from the bench, with his impact coming against tired legs in the second half?
Sportingbet will give you 4/7 on the Reds and 7/4 on the Sharks which is probably about right. Not sure there is much value to be had there …
My prediction: Reds by 7
Last five results:
17 Mar 2012 Reds v Sharks 22-27 Durban
03 Apr 2010 Reds v Sharks 28-30 Durban
14 Mar 2009 Reds v Sharks 25-13 Brisbane
29 Mar 2008 Reds v Sharks 10-22 Durban
07 Apr 2007 Reds v Sharks 16-59 Brisbane
Average score: Reds 23 Sharks 24
Reds record vs Sharks:
Played 14, Wins 8, Losses 6, Draws 0
Reds: 1. Greg Holmes 2. Saia Faingaa 3. James Slipper 4. Rob Simmons 5. Adam Wallace-Harrison (vc) 6. Jake Schatz 7. Liam Gill 8. Scott Higginbotham 9. Will Genia (c) 10. Ben Lucas 11. Digby Ioane 12. Mike Harris 13. Anthony Faingaa 14. Dom Shipperley 15. Luke Morahan
Bench: 16. James Hanson 17. Ben Daley 18. Radike Samo 19. Beau Robinson 20. Jarrad Butler 21. Nick Frisby 22. Ben Tapuai
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Bench: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Even the most inept amongst us should be able to secure a pink ticket to catch both these games … You might have to switch that golf game to Sunday, though! The tough call is deciding when to braai … To my mind there is not enough time between the games to do justice to a braai, so it’s biltong, droe wors and ice cold beer during the Sharks game, with an all out afternoon assault on the Weber and coolerbox in the afternoon – hopefully celebrating two miraculous wins, or at least discussing how the Stormers are going to possibly get past that Crusaders outfit, even at Newlands!
This weekend’s Currie Cup fixtures – Round 4:
Boland vs Griffons
Date: Friday, 20 July, Kickoff: 16:00
Venue: Boland Park, Worcester
Referee: Archie Sehlako
Assistants: Joey Salmans, Linston Manuels
EP vs Border
Date: Friday, 20 July, Kickoff: 19:10 (TV)
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistants: Marius van der Westhuizen, Christie du Preez
TMO: Johann Meuwesen
Pumas vs Valke
Date: Saturday, 21 July, Kickoff: 15:00 (TV)
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistants: Lesego Legoete, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Deon van Blommenstein
Leopards vs SWD
Date: Saturday, 21 July, Kickoff: 15:00
Venue: Profert Olën Park, Potchefstroom
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistants: Tiaan Jonker, Francois de Bruyn
Next weekend’s Super Rugby semi-finals:
Friday, July 27, Kick-off: 09:35
Chiefs v highest ranked Super Rugby Qualifier winner
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Saturday, July 28, Kick-off: 17:05
Stormers v lowest ranked Super Rugby Qualifier winner
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Eyeball my preview video with Sportingbet …