Vodacom Super Rugby Preview – Round 8

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The Sharks will be aiming to finish their Australasian Vodacom Super Rugby tour on a high against their “favourite” New Zealand team when they face the Blues in Auckland on Friday.

 

Their record against the three-time champions is very good and The Sharks will not want to tarnish it with a below-par performance at Eden Park.

 

On Saturday, the DHL Stormers face arguably the toughest challenge in Vodacom Super Rugby – taking on the Crusaders in Christchurch.

 

The high-flying Chiefs visit Bloemfontein where the Toyota Cheetahs will be aiming for their first-ever victory against the men from Waikato, while the MTN Lions host the Vodacom Bulls in the first Jukskei Derby of 2012.

 

 

Blues v The Sharks

 

The Sharks have not lost to the Blues since going down by 36-13 in Auckland in 2005. That is seven straight victories over the team that won the Vodacom Super Rugby crown in 1996, 1997 and 2003.

 

It’s quite remarkable, because in that time, the KwaZulu-Natalians twice beat the Blues in New Zealand and also won the semi-final in Durban in 2007. The Sharks were the first team in Vodacom Super Rugby history to put ten wins on the board against the Blues, even beating the Crusaders to that mark.

 

In fact, The Sharks’ winning record of 11 out of 15 against the Blues (73.3%), is their best against any New Zealand team. Against the Highlanders (61.5%) and Chiefs (50%), they move in positive territory, but things look much less rosy against the Hurricanes (46.7%) and especially the Crusaders, against whom the team from Durban have only won 12.5% of their encounters.

 

These teams have an interesting Vodacom Super Rugby history – they contested the first Super 12 final, on 25 May 1996, while their 1997 semi-final saw 14 tries scored (Blues 8, Sharks 6), which is the most in a playoff match ever (only the 2004 final, during which 13 tries were scored, has since threatened that tally).

 

The Sharks would be keen to put last week’s disappointing result against the Hurricanes behind them against a team that is currently reeling in second last place on the combined Vodacom Super Rugby log on 10 points – a whopping nine behind the Crusaders, the fourth placed team in the New Zealand Conference.

 

Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis, one of the most experienced members of the Sharks’ squad, has warned his team mates not to be fooled by the Blues’ position on the standings and that they can expect a tough encounter.

 

“The fact of the matter is if we think the Hurricanes were a physical side, we know from previous years that the Blues are way more physical. I don’t care about their record this year, they have a proud rugby history. They are one of the two best rugby playing teams in the country in a proud and successful rugby-playing nation and we know we have our work cut out for us,” said Du Plessis.

 

“Like us, they’re also fighting for their lives, they’re also in a difficult spot, it’s going to be a tough game and very physical, we’ll need to play ten times better than last week to be in with a shout.”

 

Head to head (since 1998)

Blues   The Sharks
4 Won 11
11 Lost 4
0 Drawn 0
310 Points for 375
375 Points against 310
34 Tries scored 36
36 Tries conceded 34

 

Blues vs The Sharks

Date: 13 April

SA Time: 09:35

Venue: Eden Park, Auckland

Referee: Steve Walsh

Assistant referees: Jonathon White, Nick Briant

Television match officials: Bryce Lawrence

 

Crusaders vs DHL Stormers

 

No team in the history of Vodacom Super Rugby is as formidable at home as the Crusaders, seven time champions and hosts of the table-topping DHL Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday.

 

Since rugby turned professional and the franchise system was first used in New Zealand, the Crusaders have won 91 of their 111 home games, played at a number of venues. That is a winning percentage of 82%. They have lost 16 times and drawn four home matches.

 

In New Zealand, the next best home record belongs to the Blues (71.7%), followed by the Hurricanes (60.6%), Highlanders (59%) and Chiefs (57.4%).

 

The best home record on Australian soil belongs to the Brumbies (76.6%), which is also the overall next best in the history of the competition, while the most difficult venue to win in South Africa is in Durban against The Sharks, where they win 61.8%.

 

Only two South African teams, the Vodacom Bulls (as Northern Transvaal) in 1996 and the Cats in 2001 have beaten the Crusaders at home, with the former happening in Christchurch and the latter in Nelson. In their 40 home games against South African opposition, the Crusaders have won 36, lost two and drawn two.

 

“We know it is going to be a massive challenge. They are a quality side with a huge amount of experience. They are not just physical but technically sound in every department,” said DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee.

 

“We have learnt a lot from our losses last year to them, but will certainly need to up the ante if we are to maintain our unbeaten run. Accuracy and execution will be key. It’s another great opportunity for this team to test themselves against a quality outfit.”

 

Head to head (since 1998)

Crusaders   DHL Stormers
12 Won 4
4 Lost 12
0 Drawn 0
474 Points for 327
327 Points against 474
50 Tries scored 33
33 Tries conceded 50

 

Crusaders vs DHL Stormers

Date: 14 April

SA Time: 09:35

Venue: Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch

Referee: Chris Pollock

Assistant referees: Vinny Munro, Mike Fraser

Television match officials: Kane McBride

 

Toyota Cheetahs vs Chiefs

 

The Toyota Cheetahs have a very interesting history against the Chiefs, the New Zealand franchise whom they have the least amount of defeats against, yet they have never beaten the team from Waikato.

 

These two sides square off at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.

 

In their five previous encounters – these two sides didn’t meet last year – the Toyota Cheetahs have lost three and drawn twice.

 

They’ve lost more against all four other New Zealand teams – five from seven against the Crusaders, all six against the Highlanders, four from seven against the Hurricanes and five from six against the Blues.

 

The Chiefs have arrived in Bloemfontein as the current New Zealand Conference leaders following a great start to the competition – they’ve lost only one of their six games to date.

 

Naka Drotské, coach of the Toyota Cheetahs, has told his team they have to replicate their form in their impressive victory over the Hurricanes a few weeks ago, if they would like to beat the Chiefs for the very first time.

 

“We have to learn from the Hurricanes game. You can’t play 70% of the rugby and still trial by 11-32 on the score board simply because you gave away the ball three times on your opponents’ tryline,” he said.

 

“Our plan is to play low risk rugby, not make 50-50 passes and not to concede possession unnecessarily. The Chiefs, with the backs that they have, will punish you if you turn over possession against them.”

 

Head to head (since 2006)

Toyota Cheetahs   Chiefs
0 Won 3
3 Lost 0
2 Drawn 2
109 Points for 130
130 Points against 109
11 Tries scored 17
17 Tries conceded 11

 

Toyota Cheetahs vs Chiefs

Date: 14 April

SA Time: 17:05

Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan

Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende, Stefan Breytenbach

Television match officials: Shaun Veldsman

 

MTN Lions vs Vodacom Bulls

 

An inexperienced MTN Lions team will be desperate to record only their second victory of the season when they host the Vodacom Bulls in the first Jukskei Derby of Vodacom Super Rugby 2012 at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg on Saturday evening.

 

After winning their first game of the season, against the Toyota Cheetahs in the first round, the MTN Lions have lost five on the trot and occupy last position on the log.

 

It won’t be easy against the Vodacom Bulls, a team they have never beaten and conceded 229 points to in seven matches at an average of almost 33 points per game. The team from Pretoria also did well to beat the Crusaders last week and will be looking to build on that performance.

 

MTN Lions coach John Mitchell said his players were not patient enough in their 26-5 defeat to the Toyota Cheetahs last weekend.

 

“Unfortunately we have a group that has an average of 1.36 Vodacom Super Rugby seasons per person,” said Mitchell.

 

“We have 11 guys playing their first campaign, six playing their second and three guys playing their third. So, whether people like it or not, you have to be patient with this group because they are inexperienced.”

 

Mitchell’s Vodacom Bulls counterpart, Frans Ludeke, who coached the Cats earlier in his career, said that the MTN Lions will still prove a tough competitor, even though they’ve not fired this season.

 

“The Lions never stop playing and the Cheetahs had to make more than 200 tackles against them last week as they kept on attacking until the final minute,” said Ludeke.

 

“We will have to improve on the basics of the game, especially early on. We don’t want to play catch up like we did against the Blues, Stormers and Crusaders, because of a bad start.”

 

Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies said he expected the MTN Lions to play with more urgency in front of their home fans on Saturday.

 

“It is a derby, so things will be pretty physical and tough. We will have to execute our basics very well in order to control the tempo of the match. Few teams run defences as ragged as the Lions,” Spies warned.

 

Meanwhile, Vodacom Bulls flyhalf Morné Steyn could become the second player to reach 100 Vodacom Super Rugby points this season – it would be the fourth consecutive season he reaches a century of points. He is currently on 95 points and should reach the milestone on Saturday.

 

Four players though have the opportunity to beat him to second spot behind Johan Goosen of the Toyota Cheetahs, who reached 100 points last week. It will take a great display though for Joe Pietersen (DHL Stormers, 81 points), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs, 81 – if he gets selected against the Toyota Cheetahs), James O’Connor (Force, 77) or Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies, 73) to beat Steyn to 100.

 

The Hurricanes’ Beauden Barrett, who would’ve been first last weekend had he kicked better against the Sharks, is on 98 points, but his team have a bye this weekend.

 

Head to head (since 2006)

MTN Lions   Vodacom Bulls
0 Won 7
7 Lost 0
0 Drawn 0
104 Points for 229
229 Points against 104
12 Tries scored 25
25 Tries conceded 12

MTN Lions vs Vodacom Bulls

Date: 14 April

SA Time: 19:10

Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg

Referee: Garratt Williamson

Assistant referees: Keith Brown, Christie du Preez

Television match officials: Johann Meuwesen

 

Other fixtures (SA times):

 

Friday, 13 April:

13:40: Force v Waratahs (Perth)

 

Saturday, 14 April:

11:40: Brumbies v Rebels (Canberra)

 

Byes: Highlanders, Hurricanes, Reds


 

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