Confidence and desperation will collide when the Bulls travel to Durban to face the Sharks in the final Super Rugby clash of Round 15 on Saturday.
The Bulls head to Kings Park as one of the form teams of the competition, having strung together a five-match winning streak since returning from their Australasian tour.
The Sharks, in turn, snapped a five-match losing skid against the Western Force at the weekend and make the trek back from Perth knowing full well that a loss on Saturday would dash their slim hopes of still qualifying for the play-offs.
Three other South African franchises will be in action in the two preceding matches. In Port Elizabeth, the Cheetahs will aim to complete the double over the Southern Kings before the Stormers will look to restore lost pride against the Reds in Cape Town.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at Saturday’s final three fixtures.
Southern Kings v Cheetahs
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth – kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)
The Cheetahs will want to capitalise on the lessons learned from their first encounter against the Southern Kings in the return fixture at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Cheetahs comfortably negotiated the Super Rugby newcomers in Bloemfontein last month, keeping them try-less en route to a 26-12 win.
However, they failed to secure an all-important four-try bonus points against a demoralised Kings outfit coming off a humiliating 34-0 home loss to the Bulls.
The Cheetahs were hampered by fatigue as it was their 10th match in as many weeks, but it was nevertheless an opportunity lost for the Free State collective, who are chasing their first ever Super Rugby play-off berth.
They will be much sharper this time round, but the same can be said for the Kings, who bounced back admirably from the shutout against the Bulls and the record 72-10 home massacre at the hands of the Waratahs with a 34-27 bonus point win over the Highlanders last time out.
They will be re-energised following last week’s bye, would have written off the defeat at the Free State Stadium and regard the weekend’s rematch as a fresh challenge and an opportunity to strengthen their bid to escape the dreaded promotion-relegation matches that loom for the last-placed South African franchise.
The primary lesson the Cheetahs would have taken out of the teams’ previous game was the need for a clinical edge on attack. They squandered a number of opportunities and will know they’d need to be more accurate in their execution if they are to leave Port Elizabeth with a full house.
“Our attacking game is not bad, but there is still room for improvement,” acknowledged Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie.
“We have worked hard on that and put plenty of time and effort into that [our attacking game]. We believe we are getting much closer to what we want to achieve on attack as a team.”
The Cheetahs scored two tries in their 27-13 victory over the Reds last weekend, both through promising scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, but Fourie feels their first phase play wasn’t up to standard.
“I feel that the execution of our plays from first phase was not good enough against the Reds this past weekend. There were a few uncharacteristic handling errors, which disappointed us,” he said.
With the four-try bonus point at the back of their minds, Fourie, who was pleased with their tactical kicking against the Reds, insisted they won’t be tactically naïve as they were in the disappointing home defeat to the Hurricanes a fortnight ago when they were guilty of running from deep inside their own territory.
“Our kicking game was much better [than in the loss to the Hurricanes]. We must maintain those standards and put pressure on the Kings by playing most of the game in their half,” said Fourie.
Prediction: While the Kings will put up a greater fight in terms of keeping in touch with the Cheetahs, the end result will not differ too much from that of the previous encounter between the sides. Cheetahs by 12.
Southern Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Siyanda Grey, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Luke Watson (captain), 6 Wimpie van der Walt, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steve Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 Rynier Bernado, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Shane Gates, 22 George Whitehead.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagné, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Riaan Smit, 22 Raymond Rhule.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwessen (South Africa)
Stormers v Reds
(Newlands, Cape Town – kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Stormers will hope that home comforts bring about a turnaround of fortunes against the Reds after hitting a new low in Melbourne last weekend.
The Cape Town contingent are in dire straits after slumping to their first ever defeat to the Melbourne Rebels last Friday and losing Andries Bekker, Juan de Jongh, Pat Cilliers, Frans Malherbe and Deon Fourie to injury.
Indeed, the cupboard is bare, and confidence is in equally scarce supply.
The Reds’ loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend will only have complicated matters further for the Stormers as they can now brace for a Reds backlash.
Reds playmaker Quade Cooper had an ill-timed off day against the Cheetahs that severely hurt his chances of earning a late call-up to the Wallaby squad for the upcoming three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
He will therefore look to make a statement and has the tools to cause the Stormers defence problems both at first receiver and from the kick return.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is wary of Cooper’s mercurial skills and expect the Reds to launch a full scale assault on their line.
“Quade’s passing gives a lot of width to their game and creates time and space, no matter how strong your defence is, to put little kicks through, so it will be challenging,” said Coetzee.
“They will probably be disappointed about losing last week so they will come out firing and look for a four-try bonus point.”
Coetzee also identified scrumhalf Will Genia as a dangerman and said the synergy between Genia and Cooper is what makes the Reds such a lethal team with ball in hand.
“Will is a world-class player. He’s a clever player, a great decision maker and there’s a great understanding between him and Quade Cooper,” he said.
“We’re playing against a classy, street-smart, championship team – they’ve been there and done that so it’s going to be tough but we have plans to keep them from getting going.
“Our defence has been strong in this competition and we hope that we can just bring the other aspects on a similar level,” added Coetzee.
The latest spate of injuries in the Stormers camp has resulted in Eben Etzebeth being shifted to No.5, from where he will call the line-outs, with Gerbrandt Grobler set to earn his first start at No.4 and Marius Coetzer providing cover on the bench.
“It is a great opportunity for Eben Etzebeth at No.5, being able to call the line-outs against [James] Horwill and an experienced Reds pack,” said Coetzee.
“Eben is going to play to his strengths, he can basically play both – he can play to the ball at times and he has been carrying well.
“Gerbrandt has to play to the ball and do the cleaning out job for us because it will be required.
“They have got Liam Gill there who is a great stealer and we have to make sure that we look after the ball and keep our possession.”
The injuries also see two Super Rugby debutants drafted into the matchday 22 in prop Chris Heiberg and flank Rohan Kitshoff, who have both been named on the bench.
Touching on the duo, Coetzee said: “Chris Heiberg played for our Vodacom Cup side this season and Rohan Kitshoff – we all know – has played in a World Cup for Namibia and has played Currie Cup for us and has played a lot of first-class rugby.
“He has played at this level and I don’t think he will have any stage fright and this is a great opportunity for him.”
Prediction: Both teams desperately need a win for contrasting reasons. Ironically, it’s the hosts who will feel the effects of travelling having returned from their final tour match in Melbourne, while the Reds took the short flight from Bloemfontein to Cape Town.
The difference between the teams, though, will be in pedigree where the Reds hold a decided edge over the depleted Stormers. Reds by nine.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Don Armand, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Eben Etzebeth, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons , 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O’Donoghue, 19 Eddie Quirk, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Ben Tapuai.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Marc van Zyl (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Sharks v Bulls
(Kings Park, Durban – kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The Bulls could find themselves sitting pretty at the top of the log with a win over an injury-ravaged Sharks side at Kings Park.
The Pretoria outfit’s stellar form since returning from Australasia has seen them shoot up to second place, and a sixth successive victory this weekend may see them overtake the Chiefs at the top of the table.
The defending champions, who hold a two-point lead over the Bulls, might be at home on Friday but they are anything but assured of victory against a resurgent Crusaders side who will be eager to close the gap between them and the New Zealand Conference leaders.
The Australian Conference-leading Brumbies are level with the Bulls on 46 points but they face a tough away assignment against the fifth-placed Blues on Saturday.
The Bulls, who have a six-point cushion over their closest rivals in the South African Conference the Cheetahs, could thus use the 10th-placed Sharks as a stepping stone to the summit.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, however, insists that they will not underestimate the depleted Sharks. “It is a vital game for us,” said Ludeke.
“The Sharks are fresh and back at home and we know they are going to have a huge go at us, so it’s vital for us to be at our best.”
Bulls captain Pierre Spies, who will go head-to-head with Sharks skipper Keegan Daniel, said the Durban team’s win over the Western Force last weekend will ensure that the hosts lay it all on the line as they fight to keep their play-off aspirations alive.
“It’s always tough against the Sharks. They scored a vital last win on tour to get their campaign back on track, while it’s always difficult to play them in Durban,” said Spies.
The Sharks need to win all five of their remaining regular season matches to give themselves a chance of reaching the play-offs.
They snuck into the Finals Series (and went on to reach the Final) last season after winning six of their last seven round-robin games, but that was achieved with a near full strength squad.
Desperately short on quality depth, the Sharks will have their work cut out for them against a vastly experienced Bulls side.
Tendai Mtawarira’s return from injury comes as a welcome boost, however, it does little to restore balance in the squad with the Sharks losing Springbok flyer JP Pietersen (injured), Anton Bresler (injured) and loan players JC Janse van Rensburg and Derick Minnie (back to Lions) this week.
As a result, they will have another new centre pairing in Meyer Bosman and Super Rugby greenhorn Piet Lindeque and inexperienced pair Tian Meyer and Sean Robinson among the replacements.
Lindeque can expect to have his crucial outside centre channel targeted by the Springbok-laden Bulls backline and if the 22-year-old is found wanting on defence, it could be a long night for the Sharks.
Prediction: The Bulls have form, momentum, experience and depth on their side while the Sharks are resigned to pride and desperation. Home ground advantage will aid the Sharks but the Bulls will simply have too much firepower. Bulls by 10.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Piet Lindeque, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Sean Robinson.
Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché/Jan Serfontein, 22 Lionel Mapoe.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Article source: http://sport.iafrica.com/rugby/news/861031.html