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FEATURED

Vodacom Super Rugby Preview – Round 11

PUBLISHED: May 3, 2012



The Vodacom Bulls can go top of the South African Conference in Melbourne this weekend, while The Sharks have a tough home game to stay in touch with the Vodacom Super Rugby front runners

The Rebels have not beaten a South African team yet since their inclusion in Vodacom Super Rugby – a record the Vodacom Bulls would not like to let slip when they face the Aussie newcomers in Melbourne on Friday.

On Saturday morning, the MTN Lions kick off their tour against the high-flying Chiefs in Pukekohe, a venue that is not often used in this competition.

The Sharks will be looking to build on a good win streak against the Highlanders in Durban on Saturday afternoon, before the Toyota Cheetahs host the Force in Bloemfontein.

The DHL Stormers have a bye this weekend.

Rebels v Vodacom Bulls

The Vodacom Bulls will play their first-ever Vodacom Super Rugby match in Melbourne against the Rebels on Friday morning.

They are only the fourth South African team to visit AAMI Park and would like to build on the victories achieved there by The Sharks and DHL Stormers (both last year) and the Toyota Cheetahs (earlier this season).

Vodacom Super Rugby’s newest kids on the block, the Rebels, have only won four of their 12 home matches since joining the competition in 2011. Those victories were against the Brumbies, Hurricanes, Force and Blues.

And even though the Vodacom Bulls, on a three-match winning streak, will be considered favourites on Friday – they crushed the Rebels by 47-10 in Pretoria last year – Frans Ludeke, head coach of the Pretoria-based franchise, is not taking anything for granted.

“We need to start well and everyone is aware of that,” Ludeke said. “The Rebels are one of those teams who refuse to go away and we will need to play for 80 minutes to beat them. We have travelled well and in good spirits, so we are keen to play.”

According to Vodacom Bulls captain, Pierre Spies, he and his teammates are excited about playing in Melbourne and realise they need to get a tough tour off to a good start.

“This is a new venue for us and the importance of getting the tour under way with a positive performance makes everyone very keen to get out there,” said Spies. “The Rebels challenges you with good scrambling defence and have playmakers all round, so we need to focus on our strengths for this one.”

In recent years, the Vodacom Bulls have enjoyed their opening tour match. Since 2006, they’ve only lost a first tour match once – in 2008 by 8-40 against the Brumbies.

They’ve won the rest – by 30-21 against the Force in Perth in 2006, by 19-7 against the Brumbies in Canberra in 2007, by 19-14 against the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2009, by 28-15 against the Force in Perth in 2010 and by 26-14 against the Hurricanes in Napier in 2011.

 

Head to head (since 2011)

Rebels

 

Vodacom Bulls

0

Won

1

1

Lost

0

0

Drawn

0

10

Points for

47

47

Points against

10

1

Tries scored

7

7

Tries conceded

1

Rebels v Vodacom Bulls

Date: 4 May

SA Time: 11:40

Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)

Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)

Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)

Chiefs v MTN Lions

It’s been 12 years since Pukekohe, south of Auckland and home venue of New Zealand provincial side Counties Manukau, has seen Vodacom Super Rugby, but for the MTN Lions it can almost be viewed as half a return.

See, back in 1999 the Cats franchise, which consisted of players predominantly from the Golden Lions and the Free State Cheetahs, played the Chiefs in Pukekohe. They lost by 42-44 on that day, but it’s still the closest this team from South Arfrica (albeit in the guise of the Cats) ever came to beating the team from Waikato in New Zealand.

Saturday’s task will not be any easier. The Chiefs have won their last eight matches – the best winning streak of 2012 – and occupy top position on the Vodacom Super Rugby log. On the other side of the standings, the MTN Lions are in 14th position, following one win and seven straight defeats.

Injuries have not helped the MTN Lions’ cause – this weekend’s second row combination of Franco van der Merwe and SA Under-20 lock Ruan Botha is their sixth of the season – and after facing the Australian Conference leaders last week, they have the top New Zealand team on Saturday.

It’s also a homecoming of sorts for MTN Lions coach John Mitchell, who coached the Chiefs in 2001, before being appointed as All Blacks mentor.

Interestingly, out of the five South African franchises, the MTN Lions hold the highest average points scored against the Chiefs. In their history, the average score between these two sides is 37-31 to the Kiwis.

They also “beat” the Vodacom Bulls by an average of 32-20 and the Toyota Cheetahs by 28-24, but the Chiefs come up short against the DHL Stormers (26-24) and The Sharks (25-24)

The MTN Lions’ points tally against the Chiefs is no doubt helped by the freakish game between them at Coca-Cola Park in 2010. A number of records were set in this match, won 72-65 by the Chiefs, which is said to have had more missed tackles than successful tackles.

It’s the most points ever scored in a Vodacom Super Rugby match (137), the most tries (18), the most conversions (16), the highest score by a team playing away from home (72 by Chiefs), the highest losing score (65 by MTN Lions) and both sides posted their highest scores against all opposition and also conceded their highest against all opposition – and that in a single match!

 

Head to head (since 2006)

Chiefs

 

MTN Lions

4

Won

2

2

Lost

4

0

Drawn

0

219

Points for

185

185

Points against

219

28

Tries scored

20

20

Tries conceded

28

 

Chiefs v MTN Lions

Date: 5 May

SA Time: 09:35

Venue: ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe

Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)

Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Grant Stuart (New Zealand)

Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

The Sharks v Highlanders

The Highlanders’ last victory over The Sharks saw the KwaZulu-Natalians firing their coach. That happened in 2005, when the team from Otago crushed the Durbanites by 43-7 at Mr Price Kings Park, following which Kevin Putt lost his job.

It feels like an eternity ago, but that was the last time the Highlanders have managed to beat The Sharks. Only one member of their squad from that day remains – Springbok wing Odwa Ndungane got a few minutes off the bench against the Highlanders on 19 March 2005, but by then the game was over as a contest.

Since then, The Sharks have beaten the Highlanders in five successive games and in that time, the Kiwis have not scored more than 17 points against the team from Durban. They didn’t play each other last year.

This year, however, the Highlanders have been playing solid rugby. Last weekend they fought back from 30-9 down to beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 36-33 in Bloemfontein, something that Sharks coach John Plumtree took cognisance of.

“The Highlanders are a very courageous side, to come back like that to win in Bloemfontein, even though they had a bit of luck, shows they’re a quality side,” said Plumtree.

“To travel all the way to South Africa from New Zealand to win their first game up takes a good effort, it shows what a quality, tight-knit unit they are.”

Speaking of his team’s own ambitions, Plumtree said: “We want to play well every week and improve every week. It’s not just about relying on winning at home. We have a job to do – home and away – if we want to be where we aim for. Playing a quarterfinal in New Zealand is no fun. We have to set our sights higher than that. Making the play-offs in this competition is a good effort because it’s such a tough competition, but we want to talk about going further than that.”

 

Head to head (since 1998)

The Sharks

 

Highlanders

8

Won

5

5

Lost

8

0

Drawn

0

305

Points for

326

326

Points against

305

36

Tries scored

35

35

Tries conceded

36

The Sharks v Highlanders

Date: 5 May

SA Time: 17:05

Venue: Mr Price Kings Park, Durban

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)

Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)

Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

Toyota Cheetahs v Force

Toyota Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske will be hoping his team shows more commitment on defence when they host the Force at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening.

Last weekend the Toyota Cheetahs missed too many tackles in their 36-33 defeat to the Highlanders, especially in the last 25 minutes, when the visitors were behind by 30-9.

A week earlier, the Free Staters conceded five tries as they lost 39-33 to the Chiefs. Even in their impressive round six victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington (47-38), the Toyota Cheetahs conceded four tries.

This weekend they are playing one of the teams with the least number of tries scored thus far this season. The Force have only scored 17, the same number as the Reds, and more than the DHL Stormers (16), the Blues (15), and the Rebels and MTN Lions (12 each).

Even though the Force have not been the most prolific try-scorers in 2012, the Toyota Cheetahs will not take Saturday’s match lightly.

“By this time we all know there is no such thing as a good or a bad side,” said Toyota Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske.

“The Force showed last weekend against the Stormers that they have a good defensive pattern and that they can attack. They are a very physical team and if we want to win, we’ll have to be 100% switched on.

“In the last 20 to 30 minutes last week, some players made individual errors on the defence that cost us. This week we’ve worked very hard at eradicating those mistakes.”

 

Head to head (since 2006)

Toyota Cheetahs

 

Force

1

Won

4

4

Lost

1

0

Drawn

0

85

Points for

107

107

Points against

85

11

Tries scored

12

12

Tries conceded

11

 

Toyota Cheetahs v Force

Date: 5 May

SA Time: 19:10

Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)

Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)

Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

Other fixtures (SA times):

Friday, May 4

09:35: Hurricanes v Blues (Wellington)

Saturday, May 5

11:40: Brumbies v Waratahs (Canberra)

Sunday, May 6

06:00: Crusaders v Reds (Christchurch)

Bye: DHL Stormers