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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Aussie-SA showdowns top the bill



Two matches featuring inform Australian teams playing at home against South African opposition who need to win just to stay alive in the competition top the bill in the 12th round of Vodacom Super Rugby action.

Okay, so perhaps the Reds aren’t in quite as good form now as they were a few weeks ago, but they still pose a formidable obstacle to a Sharks team that will at least go into Friday’s game in Brisbane with the confidence of knowing that they have won the last two games between them. The Sharks won big in Durban in the league game in 2012 and then did the same in the Brisbane quarterfinal.

But that also means the Reds have a score to settle with the Sharks. With Jean Deysel back in the starting team and Keegan Daniel moving back to No 8 the Sharks have a better selection at forward than last week, and although JP Pietersen has been moved to centre because of injury, they do have a team that on paper looks equipped to win.

The game isn’t played on paper though, and the Reds, if you consider they came from behind to snatch the two draws on their recent record and ditto their close win against the Blues, are getting right what the Sharks are failing to do – they are just managing to reach the line each time.

They will have to improve significantly on their last effort against the Western Force in Perth though or an upset, with the Sharks winning and bouncing back into the race, could well be on the cards. If the Sharks lose, it won’t be by much.

The Stormers didn’t lose by much last week against the Blues in Albany – and frankly they shouldn’t have lost. That they did was down to a combination of bad luck, their own poor decision-making and the refereeing.

Having said that though, they made too many mistakes when frustration and possibly pressure too started impacting on them in the third quarter, and they can’t afford that against a Waratahs team that can pounce on any mistakes and has found impressive try-scoring momentum.

The Stormers have Eben Etzebeth back but have a big task ahead of them as they go out to tame an all-Wallaby pack that was awesome against the Kings.

What is in favour of the Stormers is that they have won in Sydney in recent years and the Waratahs have had to fly home from South Africa. What counts against the Stormers is the pressure that is constantly building…

The Brumbies, Crusaders and Bulls aren’t in action this weekend but the four points for the bye will ensure that two of those teams, the Brumbies and the Bulls, remain on top of their conference, while Crusaders will climb up the table and into strike distance of the top bracket.

PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS (all times CAT, SA, GMT+2)

CHIEFS v WESTERN FORCE (Hamilton, Friday 9:35am)

The Chiefs have been back on the winning trail over the past two weeks and are top of the New Zealand conference and near the top of the overall log, but they won’t be too happy with their game at the moment. Some bizarre TMO decisions did help the Melbourne Rebels make a game of it last week, but the Chiefs should still be concerned that they have leaked so many tries just recently. Last year they were one of the top defensive teams in the competition and it was because of the balance between their defensive game and their attacking game that they won the title. They have made one significant change this week, with Gareth Anscombe moving to flyhalf from fullback and Aaron Cruden being dropped to the bench. It will be interesting to see what impact it has as Cruden hasn’t been as influential in the past month or so as he was last season. Regardless of what happens at No 10 though, the Chiefs should expect to win against the Force at home.

Prediction: Chiefs by 14 to 22.

REDS v SHARKS (Brisbane, Friday 11:40am)

It’s becoming hard to bet on the Sharks winning because they have started to pick up a losing habit. Their coach John Plumtree is right though in saying that his men have made significant improvements to their attacking game over the past two weeks, and for them it is now just a case of getting over the line. They were unlucky against the Highlanders, and the previous week they paid for being asleep at the start, when the Chiefs scored 24 points and made it almost impossible for the Sharks to win once they did get momentum later. The Sharks have lost Frans Steyn to injury and Craig Burden has also flown home but they have gained Willem Alberts, who will be on the bench. The Reds haven’t been great in their last two games but although I have a funny feeling the Sharks will repeat the feat of last year, when they won the quarterfinal at the same stadium, I’m not going with my gut but Brisbane home ground advantage, which is always worth a lot to the Reds.

Prediction: Reds to win narrowly.

TOYOTA CHEETAHS v HURRICANES (Bloemfontein, Friday 7:10pm)

A rare Friday night game and the Cheetahs are coming back from their bye. How will it impact on them? They looked tired after playing 10 consecutive games last time out against the Kings, so they should be refreshed, and with not too many changes to the side that has gone through most of the season confounding the critics, they must start as strong favourites against a Hurricanes team that was poor last time out. But sometimes a poor performance can be a bad thing for the team that is next in line, and I have a feeling this game will be a lot closer than most anticipate. The Cheetahs can’t afford to take their eye off the ball defensively as this is a team that can punish any laxness. The hosts will be playing without Lappies Labuschagne for the first time this season and it will be interesting to see how they go without him.

Prediction: Cheetahs by 5 to 10.

BLUES v MELBOURNE REBELS (Auckland, Saturday 9:35am)

The Blues are like the Cheetahs in the sense that they are playing for each other. Last week they hung tight for a win over the Stormers that on the balance of play they probably didn’t quite deserve, but then it was the other way around the previous week, when they probably should have beaten the Reds in Brisbane. Their last two games have seen one point in it – a win and a loss. It won’t be like that against the Rebels. They’ll win by some distance.

Prediction: Blues by more than 10.

WARATAHS v DHL STORMERS (Sydney, Saturday 11:40am)

I think I’ve been drawn in by Tony Johnson’s prediction in his latest column – there will be one South African winner and one Australian winner in the double-header between the two countries this weekend. Of the two coastal teams, the Stormers probably have slightly more momentum, having won the week before last, and the Waratahs, good though they were against the Southern Kings last week, have had to fly home and maybe the lack of fizz and physicality in their previous game won’t help them against a Stormers team that will certainly front physically. Last week was one of the few times this season, the Cheetahs game being the other, where I have had a Stormers game wrong this season, so hopefully it’s a good sign for Stormers fans that I think they should win this week. Just.

Prediction: Stormers to squeak it.

SOUTHERN KINGS v HIGHLANDERS (Port Elizabeth, Saturday 5:05pm)

The Southern Kings desperately need to stand up after last week and I have a hunch that Luke Watson’s return to the starting team as captain will inspire them to a big effort. So it shouldn’t be as one-sided as last week. However, the Kings at the moment look like a team desperately in need of a bye after nine successive games, in many of which they had to raise their play significantly to be competitive, and it may well be a case of the mind being willing but the body not. That’s why the Highlanders should win.

Prediction: Highlanders by 7 to 12.

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