The Stormers will look to solve Super Rugby’s Rubik's Cube when they play host to Jake White’s unbeaten Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday.
The previously undefeated Sharks last weekend became the Brumbies’ fourth victims when they were brushed aside on home soil and the log leaders now have their sights set on leaving South Africa with two wins from two matches for only the third time.
Prior to the Cape Town clash, the Cheetahs will aim to complete a historic Australasian hat-trick with victory over the Western Force in Perth.
The Sharks are out for redemption following their aforementioned home defeat; they play the Melbourne Rebels, who could become victims of circumstance if the Sharks are able to perform to their potential.
Round Six concludes in Sydney on Sunday where the struggling Waratahs entertain a rested Blues side fresh off a bye.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the weekend’s final four fixtures.
Saturday, March 23
(NIB Stadium, Perth - kick-off; 18.45; 12.45 SA time; 10.45 GMT)
When the Cheetahs assembled in Bloemfontein for pre-season planning in January, they would have targeted this game as their best bet of claiming a rare overseas win.
In a four-week Australasian tour comprising clashes against the Chiefs, Highlanders, Waratahs and Force, one would have agreed with this assessment.
However, a day removed from the Perth match, the Cheetahs have an opportunity to make history with a third straight win in the Antipodes.
Following character-filled victories over the Landers and Tahs, a win over the Force - on the surface - still appears probable.
Scratch the surface, though, and it comes to light that it might have transformed into a much sterner test, as the recent physical battles will have taken their toll on the tourists.
Moreover, the Cheetahs have lost their star player in Johan Goosen, the young Springbok pivot set to undergo knee surgery after a freak training ground injury earlier in the week.
With the blue chipper unavailable, Riaan Smit will start in the No.10 jersey for the first time this season, and you don’t have to be a rugby virtuoso to know the Force will target the stand-in flyhalf in the hope of disrupting the visitors and keeping them on the back foot.
It’s not to imply that the Cheetahs are a one-man army, they’re not, but the absence of Goosen is a significant blow for the Bloemfontein outfit.
Springbok fetcher Heinrich Brüssow has slowly returned to form in recent weeks after a lengthy injury lay-off and he will earn his first start of the season on Saturday.
Another player who will be in the spotlight is Sias Ebersohn, who will play against twin brother Robert and his former teammates.
Visiting teams generally back themselves to leave NIB Stadium with a win, such is the Force’s mediocre home record. Based on current form, the Cheetahs should do just that, but I for one feel the Goosen-less Cheetahs will run out of puff in the second half. Western Force by two.
Chris Alcock, Richard Brown, Nathan Charles, Angus Cottrell, Pek Cowan, Patrick Dellit, Sias Ebersohn, Tetera Faulkner, Kyle Godwin, Jayden Hayward, Matt Hodgson (captain), Toby Lynn, Salesi Ma'afu, Alfie Mafi, Alby Mathewson, Ben McCalman, Hugh McMeniman, Junior Rasolea, Mick Snowden, Winston Stanley, Heath Tessmann, Will Tupou, Sam Wykes.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johan Sadie, 2 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuisen, 18 Rynhardt Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Ian Smith (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Sharks v Melbourne Rebels
(Kings Park, Durban - kick-off; 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Sharks will be out to prove a point after what coach John Plumtree considered an “embarrassing” defeat last weekend.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. They have just the solitary win - over the Western Force in the season opener - and are on a three-match losing streak.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the visitors. They’ve had a week of recovery and have welcomed back influential captain Gareth Delve from injury.
"Gareth has made an immediate impact since returning. His on and off field leadership will be a great acquisition for this young Rebels side taking the field," Rebels coach Damien Hill said earlier in the week.
Delve’s return also frees James O’Connor of the captaincy and allows the playmaker to focus solely on his own game in the No.10 jersey.
That being said, the Rebels will struggle to match the mettle and class of last year’s finalists, who remain a strong side despite Plumtree having wielded the axe.
Plumtree’s selections suggest the hosts will aim to play a high pace, expansive game that will test the Rebels’ frail defence; the Melbourne side being joint second with the Bulls and Waratahs in tries conceded (12) behind the Cheetahs (13).
Prediction: The Sharks are yet to secure a bonus point this season but surely a full house beckons on Saturday. If the Rebels can survive the early storm they could leave Kings Park with their pride intact. Failing that, the Sharks will coast home. We anticipate the latter. Sharks by 15.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Francois Steyn, 22 Riaan Viljoen.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Angus Roberts, 14 Jason Woodward, 13 Mitchell Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Aloe-Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Jordy Reid, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Rory Sidey, 22 Richard Kingi.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa).
Stormers v Brumbies
(Newlands Stadium, Cape Town - kick-off; 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
Jake White and his band of Brumbies rolled into Cape Town high on confidence and momentum.
They have been the surprise pacesetters this season as a result of their total gameplan. They have played smarter, been more clinical, made fewer mistakes, attacked more purposefully and defended more wholeheartedly than any other team.
They look damn near unstoppable, but even the best can be beaten, and the Stormers possess valuable Intel to plot the Brumbies’ demise.
The four match tapes each tell a different story with its unique lessons, the latest underlining the importance of being wary of an early ambush and the importance of winning the gainline battle.
But the Stormers’ greatest asset for this particular encounter is Allister Coetzee, White’s World Cup-winning Springbok lieutenant from 2004 to 2007.
Coetzee arguably knows White’s strengths and weaknesses as a tactician better than anyone, and with the added bonus of a week’s rest, the Stormers will be the best prepared team the Brumbies will face to date.
They also possess the player personal to execute the plan on the pitch and have received a timely boost in this regard in the return to fitness of Juan de Jongh.
De Jongh, and his midfield partnership with Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, is an integral cog in the Cape side’s much vaunted defensive system.
Their tried and tested defensive structure isn’t suddenly inadequate; it’s the absence of De Jongh that’s created a degree of uncertainty that the Chiefs - and Tim Nanai-Williams in particular - exploited so expertly.
On the flip side, the Brumbies’ lack of big-name players has proved to be a strength rather than a weakness. Stephen Moore, captain Ben Mowen and the returning George Smith aside, the Canberra outfit are very much an exuberant, developing side.
Subsequently, a different match winner jumps out of the woodwork in such unpredictable manner that every player in the matchday side demands the full respect and attention of the opposition.
It’ll be rugby’s equivalent of a chess match at Newlands and that’s what makes this clash a can’t miss affair.
Prediction: This is as close to a toss up and one gets. One would think home ground advantage would go a long way towards taking the Stormers over the line, but it’s the Brumbies who have had the upper hand in this rivalry both home and away. From 1998, the visitors have lost in Cape Town on just two occasions.
Ultimately, the Stormers will be considerably fresher than the touring Brumbies and that should be the difference between the sides on the day. Stormers by three.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Damian de Allende, 22 Jaco Taute.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 George Smith, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements (one player to be omitted): 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Nic White, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Clyde Rathbone, 23 Mark Swanepoel.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Marc van Zyl (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Sunday, March 24
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - kick-off; 16.05; 05.05 GMT)
It may still be early days in the marathon Super Rugby season, but Sunday’s match is very much a must-win game for hosts the Waratahs.
The Tahs sit at the foot end of the Australian Conference, below the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels on points difference, and are on a downward slide as they prepare for their meeting with the Blues.
The win over the Rebels was hoped to have been turning point as it was the first under new coach Michael Cheika and captain Dave Dennis.
Instead, they slumped to back-to-back defeats to the Brumbies and Cheetahs. It’s last weekend’s 26-27 home defeat to the men from Bloemfontein that would have convinced the Blues that their hosts are ripe for the picking.
Whereas the Tahs are still struggling in their transitional period, the Blues have taken to new mentor John Kirwan’s gameplan and coaching ethos like fish to water.
They would have learned a valuable lesson in complacency in their home loss to the Bulls last time out, which followed two sublime bonus-point wins over the Hurricanes and Crusaders respectively.
Despite the defeat, the Blues are just two points adrift of the New Zealand Conference-leading Chiefs and will be determined to keep the pressure on the defending champions.
Prediction: Given the importance the fixture holds for the Waratahs, they should come out with renewed purpose and intensity. Their physicality in the collisions has been a feature of their game and will stand them in good stead against the Blues.
It’s their flaky defence and knack to lose composure once they do let in a try of two that have been integral to their losses this season. Both of these will be tested by the free-running Blues, who we feel will be well rested and will bounce back from their loss to the Bulls. Blues by five.
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Will Houston (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
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