Vodacom Super Rugby Preview – Round 5

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David Raikuna of the Auckland Blues brushing off the Crusaders defence.

Gauteng is the place to be for local Vodacom Super Rugby action this week – first there is the Clash of the Champs in Pretoria, before the MTN Lions host the DHL Stormers in Johannesburg.

Both these games are preceded on “Super Saturday” by clashes Down Under.

The Sharks face their Aussie nemesis, the Waratahs, in Sydney and then the Toyota Cheetahs take on the Crusaders in the first Vodacom Super Rugby match in Christchurch since 2010.

Waratahs vs The Sharks

Historically speaking, The Sharks face their toughest Australian challenge when they take on the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday morning.

Out of all five Australian Vodacom Super Rugby franchises, The Sharks have the worst record against the Waratahs. The team from Durban have only won 27% of their matches against the New South Welshmen, or four out of 15 encounters.

That doesn’t compare well with their winning percentages against the Reds (45%), Brumbies (48%), Force (83%) or Rebels (100%). In their eight matches in Sydney since 1998, The Sharks have only won once, way back in 2000 (26-19).

John Plumtree, coach of The Sharks, realises his team doesn’t have a great record in Sydney and admits it’s something they have discussed.

However, the KwaZulu-Natalians have won their last two Vodacom Super Rugby encounters, while the Waratahs have won only one of their four matches thus far this season, including losing at home against the Reds and the Force, who shocked the team from Sydney by 21-20 last weekend.

“We just need to put emphasis on making sure we don’t get distracted while we’re here, that rugby is the reason why we’re here, winning is why we’re here. That we really focus this week on having as good as possible build-up to Saturday,” said Plumtree.

“The Waratahs have always been difficult to beat in Sydney, but as the Force showed against them, it’s not an impossible task. They will be pretty focused on Saturday, they will be desperate not to drop a second home game. It’s going to be a tough encounter, but we’ve got to put in a performance we’re proud of.”

Waratahs vs The Sharks

Date: 24 March

SA Time: 06:35

Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)

Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)

Crusaders vs Toyota Cheetahs

Even when they’re struggling, the Crusaders are never easy opponents, especially at home. And seeing that they will be back in Christchurch this weekend for the first time since 2010, the Toyota Cheetahs can prepare for a very tough Vodacom Super Rugby encounter.

In 14 attempts, the Toyota Cheetahs have never won in New Zealand, but they would have taken a lot of confidence out of last weekend’s magnificent 33-26 win over the Rebels in Melbourne, when replacement scrumhalf Pieter van Zyl scored the winning try in injury time.

The closest the Toyota Cheetahs came to winning in New Zealand, was in 2010 when they drew 25-all with the Chiefs in Hamilton. Their previous three visits to Christchurch ended in big defeats, with the Crusaders amassing 23 tries to the Free Staters’ three in these encounters.

That is not to say the Toyota Cheetahs don’t know how to beat the Crusaders. They managed to beat the seven time Vodacom Super Rugby champions in Bloemfontein last year and in 2009, but on Saturday they will be many thousands of kilometres from the Free State Stadium.

The Toyota Cheetahs have never recorded a try-scoring bonus point against the Crusaders, but the New Zealanders have managed that on four previous encounters.

Saturday’s game will be the first time since May 14, 2010, that the Crusaders will play in Christchurch, after this city on the South Island was hit by a devastating earthquake early last year.

Because of damage to their regular home base, AMI Stadium, the Cantabrians played their 2011 home games in Nelson, Napier, Timaru, Wellington and even London. AMI Stadium is still out of use, but the new Christchurch Stadium has been upgraded and a capacity crowd of 17,500 is expected on Saturday.

Crusaders vs Toyota Cheetahs

Date: 24 March

SA Time: 08:35

Venue: Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch

Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)

Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Matthew Muir (New Zealand)

Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

Vodacom Bulls vs Reds

The Vodacom Super Rugby champions of 2010 and 2011 face each other at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon when the Vodacom Bulls host the Reds.

These two sides still share the record for the biggest victory in Vodacom Super Rugby history, when the Vodacom Bulls crushed the Queenslanders by 92-3 in 2007. Chances of that happening again on Saturday are very slim.

Only two players from the Vodacom Bulls who started against the Reds on that day, have been chosen for Saturday’s match. They are Pierre Spies and Wynand Olivier, while Morné Steyn was on the bench back in 2007.

Reds and Wallaby captain James Horwill is the only “survivor” from the Queensland team of 2007. The team from Brisbane have not won in Pretoria since 2001.

Both sides come off defeats in their last outings – the Reds lost against The Sharks in Durban last weekend, while the Blues had the better of the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria a fortnight ago.

Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke and his team know their performance against the Blues was well below par for the three time champions and they would like to rectify it this weekend against the Reds in a match he described as their toughest challenge this season.

“They are the champions and that will be how high the bar will be set. We will have to deliver a championship performance if we want to beat them. The effort against the Blues was below par and we know that. We worked hard to be accurate on the weekend and to create and convert chances,” said Ludeke.

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has selected Dallan Murphy at flyhalf for his first start and second cap in Vodacom Super Rugby. The last time a rookie flyhalf started at Loftus, was two weeks ago when the Blues’ Gareth Anscombe scored all 29 his team’s points as they beat the Vodacom Bulls by 29-23.

Vodacom Bulls vs Reds

Date: 24 March

SA Time: 17:05

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)

Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

MTN Lions vs DHL Stormers

Even though the MTN Lions are reeling from numerous injuries to key players, they still present the DHL Stormers with a big challenge when these sides meet in a Vodacom Super Rugby match at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday.

The DHL Stormers have not lost to the MTN Lions since 2006, when the old Cats franchise split up, but the team from Cape Town will not be resting on their laurels in Johannesburg on Saturday when they aim to better their position at the top of the log.

Jean de Villiers, captain of the DHL Stormers, was in Johannesburg last October as a member of the DHL Western Province side that lost heavily to the home side in the Absa Currie Cup semi-finals.

Even though the MTN Lions are going through a serious injury crisis, De Villiers is adamant they won’t be easy opponents.

“The last time we played in Johannesburg, we got smashed. We will definitely not be underestimating their team,” said De Villiers earlier this week.

“In this competition, it is dangerous to underestimate any side and it doesn’t matter who is selected. It is typically South African that when a team is down that is when they are at their most dangerous so we are very much aware of that.”

In announcing his side that will face the DHL Stormers, MTN Lions coach John Mitchell said: “The new players are getting the necessary learning experience during these matches which over time will again bring success. I’m pretty excited about this group of boys and am looking forward to Saturday night.”

MTN Lions vs DHL Stormers

Date: 24 March

SA Time: 19:10

Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)

Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)

Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

Other fixtures (SA times):


Friday, 23 March:

08:35: Blues vs Hurricanes (Auckland)

10:40: Rebels vs Force (Melbourne)

Saturday, 24 March:

10:40: Brumbies vs Highlanders (Canberra)

Bye: Chiefs

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