Vodacom Super Rugby Preview – Round 18

PUBLISHED: July 12, 2012

With one round of league action to go, eight teams can still make the Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series, with only two – the DHL Stormers and the Chiefs – guaranteed of their positions.

These two sides have already won the South African and New Zealand Conferences and depending on this weekend’s results, will contest the first two positions on the log.

If the Chiefs (63 log points) can get a full house of five points from their match against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday morning, they will top the Combined Log.

The DHL Stormers (62) need a solitary log point against the Rebels at DHL Newlands on Saturday to secure second position on the Combined Log, but they can move into first spot if they get one point more than the what the Chiefs get on Friday, since the Capetonians have won more games.

One point will also ensure the Brumbies (58) win the Australian Conference and secure a spot in the playoffs. However, if they get a full house against the Blues and the DHL Stormers fail to get a single point against the Rebels, the team from Canberra can still slip into the top two.

If the Brumbies lose and get zero on Saturday morning and the Reds get five against the Waratahs in Brisbane, the defending champions can still win the Aussie Conference.

The Crusaders (56) can’t finish higher than fourth and need at least three points against the Force in Christchurch to secure their spot in the playoffs.

The Vodacom Bulls (54) will feature in the Finals Series if they can get five points against the MTN Lions in Pretoria.

The Sharks (54) also need five points against the Toyota Cheetahs in Durban to secure their spot in the playoffs.

If both the Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks manage five log points from their final league fixure, the team with the best points difference will finish higher on the log.

The two teams currently outside the top six that can still sneak in, are the Reds and the Hurricanes (both on 53).

The Reds need to win and if they catch the Vodacom Bulls or The Sharks on the log, the Queenslanders will advance as they have won more games. But they will remain in seventh position on the log if both these South African teams win with bonus points – it could be an agonising wait for the team from Brisbane.

A similar scenario applies for the Hurricanes – they would hope that at least two of the teams ahead of them slip up and then they also need to give the Chiefs a hiding at the Cake Tin, as they are worse off than all the teams ahead of them when it comes to points difference.

Unfortunately for the Toyota Cheetahs and the MTN Lions nothing more than pride is at stake when they visit Durban and Pretoria this weekend.

The Toyota Cheetahs can’t finish higher than their current 10th position on the log, but the Waratahs can still overtake them.

The MTN Lions are in 15th spot on the log and can overtake the Force and the Blues if they upset the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus and some other results go in their favour.

DHL Stormers v Rebels

The DHL Stormers can set an interesting record this weekend if they manage to beat the Rebels without getting a try-scoring bonus point. They will then become the first team ever to reach the playoffs without once scoring four tries in a regular season match.

Only seven teams have completed a season without scoring any bonus points. In 1996, Western Province finished 11th with three wins, in 1999 the Blues got four wins and came ninth, in 2000 the Sharks won one and finished last, in 2006 the Highlanders came ninth with six wins, in 2007 the MTN Lions managed five wins but still finished 12th, while the Reds came last with only two wins, and in 2008 the MTN Lions won twice and came last.

In 1999, the Reds managed their first and only try-scoring bonus point for the season in their final league match, against the Sharks. They topped the log but lost in the semifinals against eventual champions, the Crusaders.

The DHL Stormers have already set a South African record for the most wins in a single season when they beat the Toyota Cheetahs last week (13). The Reds, with 15, hold the overall record for the most wins in a season (2011).

It’s only the second time the DHL Stormers are taking on the Rebels and also the Melbournians’ first visit to Cape Town. They are still looking for their first victory over South African opposition, but it looks unlikely this weekend. Last year the DHL Stormers scored five tries in their 40-3 victory.

Allister Coetzee, coach of the DHL Stormers, said his team will chase the four-try bonus point, something that’s always been part of their game plan: “The game plan was always to go and score as many tries as possible and I would like to see an improvement this week when it comes to our finishing.

“On attack, we created even more scoring opportunities, but in the end some bad decision-making that let us down. Creating try-scoring opportunities is one thing, but finishing them is another. We know that is something we have to get right going into the play-offs where you might only get one opportunity to score and you have to take it.”


Head to head (since 2011)

DHL Stormers   Rebels
1 Won 0
0 Lost 1
0 Drawn 0
40 Points for 3
3 Points against 40
5 Tries scored 0
0 Tries conceded 5

DHL Stormers v Rebels
Date: 14 July
SA Time: 15:00
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

The Sharks v Toyota Cheetahs

The Sharks will focus on one thing and one thing only this weekend – beating the Toyota Cheetahs and scoring four tries in the process. That will be enough for them to progress to the Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series for the second time in as many years.

Even though there are theories out there that a sixth place finish (and possible subsequent visit to Canberra rather than Christchurch) will be better than ending fifth, the fact is that The Sharks won’t be able to influence something like this, as they play before the Vodacom Bulls do.

Yes, there are many permutations out there, but in the end a win over the Toyota Cheetahs – who need one victory to make 2012 their best season ever – is what The Sharks are looking for.

The emphasis will be on a continuation of the superb foundation laid by their pack against the Vodacom Bulls last weekend, as Sharks coach John Plumtree stressed this week.

“The battle is always won upfront in these big games: the scrummaging, the driving lineouts, the intensity of the breakdown,” said Plumtree.

“The Cheetahs have a guy like Heinrich Brüssow who we have to look after, he’s a big threat.

“Our setpiece has been going really well, we took some real confidence from our lineout last week, we’ll just have to make sure that as a group, that wasn’t a one-off performance. We have competition coming back into the pack, and if we can get our loosies and locks fit, it will be good for us.”

The Sharks have won their last three matches against the Toyota Cheetahs, whose last victory in Durban was also their last against the KwaZulu-Natalians, by 25-20 in February 2010.

The Sharks v Toyota Cheetahs
Date: 14 July
SA Time: 17:05
Venue: Mr Price Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

Vodacom Bulls v MTN Lions

The Vodacom Bulls know their hard work during a topsy-turvy Vodacom Super Rugby season will come to nothing if they fall over the last hurdle, against the MTN Lions at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday evening.

As it stands, a bonus-point win over their southern neighbours will be enough to put the Vodacom Bulls into the Finals Series. They missed out last year by virtue of defeat at the hands of The Sharks at Loftus and would like to avoid a similar scenario in 2012.

“We don’t need to tell the players at this stage of the competition what is at stake,” said Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, whose team has never lost to the MTN Lions in Vodacom Super Rugby.

“Everyone knows that the rewards for the hard work that we have put in can be justified with a good win. We had the play-offs as our first objective for the season, but definitely not our only one.

“We respect the Lions and are expecting them to come at us with everything they have. They have nothing to lose, so will be a very dangerous side. We need to focus on what we want to achieve, go out and execute that. The pressure will be on us to improve from last weekend.

“We will be going for the win first and foremost. We are not going to try and dictate any permutations. If you try to do that, you can lose focus on the task at hand. If we lose we are out, so the win will be the only focus for us.”

In their eight clashes since 2006 – when the Cats split up into the MTN Lions and the Toyota Cheetahs – the Vodacom Bulls have won with a try-scoring bonus point four times, of which two matches were at Loftus. On both those occasions (51-11 in 2010 and 46-17 in 2006) the home team scored a total of six tries.

The MTN Lions will be chasing only their third away win against South African opposition in Vodacom Super Rugby. They’ve won two from 17 – in 2008 (23-22) and 2011 (25-20) against the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

In fact, they’ve won more away games against overseas opposition (five from 31) than in South Africa.

Head to head (since 2006)

Vodacom Bulls   MTN Lions
8 Won 0
8 Lost 8
0 Drawn 0
259 Points for 122
122 Points against 259
30 Tries scored 14
14 Tries conceded 30

Vodacom Bulls v MTN Lions
Date: 14 July
SA Time: 19:10
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: JC Fortuin (South Africa)

Other fixtures (SA times):

Friday, July13
09:35: Hurricanes v Chiefs (Wellington)

Saturday, July 14

07:30: Brumbies v Blues (Canberra)

09:35: Crusaders v Force (Christchurch)

11:40 Reds v Waratahs (Brisbane)

Bye: Highlanders