Eight points separate SA’s Super Rugby contenders going into the weekend
It is a huge weekend in the South African Super Rugby conference with five teams in action and only eight points covering first to last.
But the only interconference clash sees the Bulls travel to Buenos Aires where they meet the in-form Jaguares, in a match that will put a big dent in the losing team’s play-off hopes.
The Bulls go into the match with a mounting injury crisis having lost lock Lood de Jager for the season‚ as well as prop Lizo Gqoboka this week. But they have adequate replacements in both positions with Jason Jenkins and Trevor Nyakane coming in.
The Jaguares have won five of their last six matches‚ including four in Australasia‚ so there will be no shortage of confidence from the Argentinians.
The Bulls have battled to build momentum this season with some very good performances undone by middling to poor outings. They have also only managed one away win in five matches in 2018‚ so will have to find an extra level in the hostile heat of Buenos Aires.
The Sharks have displayed no fear of New Zealand sides this season and will be even happier knowing that the Chiefs team they meet at King’s Park is shorn of most of its star players.
Four All Blacks returned home after the Chiefs’ 15-9 win over the Stormers last week‚ presenting Robert du Preez’s side with a great chance for third New Zealand scalp this year.
Sharks coach Du Preez has also gone on a charm offensive with New Zealand referee Mike Fraser‚ who so incensed the Stormers last week it led director of rugby Gert Smal to write to Sanzaar and question some of the calls.
Du Preez‚ in a shrewd bit of coaching‚ claimed to have seen nothing wrong with Fraser’s interpretations.
"I’ve spoken to Mike and we’ve sent him the clips that we wanted him to have a look at‚" Du Preez said.
"I’ve looked at the scrums [from the Stormers match] and I’m not too sure where the complaints came from because I don’t see any issues with the way he officiated the scrums. I thought he was spot on. We have no problems with Mike Fraser."
The Lions‚ who head the conference on 31 points‚ should be too much for the Brumbies at Ellis Park. It’s a good opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the standings.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance in his 87th game for the Lions. He also earned 13 caps for the Stormers.
Coach Swys de Bruin continues to mix and match his team. This week De Bruin moved wing Aphiwe Dyantyi to centre, where he partners Rohan Janse van Rensburg in a new-look midfield combination.
The Stormers have to produce their first five-point haul of the season against the Sunwolves in Hong Kong to stay alive in the competition.
Coach Robbie Fleck has also shuffled his side with wing Seabelo Senatla coming in for Raymond Rhule, while Nizaam Carr and Cobus Wiese start in the back row with captain Siya Kolisi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe benched.
There is also a first start for flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis with Damian Willemse unavailable due to Junior Springbok commitments.
"There are certainly no more easy games and with the improvement of both [Argentina’s] Jaguares and the Sunwolves it certainly now is a competition that I think that people want to watch and that we want to be involved in‚" Fleck said.
Fixtures for Saturday:
Sunwolves vs Stormers – Hong Kong: 7.15am
Blues vs Crusaders – Auckland: 9:35am
Waratahs vs Highlanders – Sydney: 11.45am
Sharks vs Chiefs – Durban: 3.05pm
Lions vs Brumbies – Johannesburg: 5.15pm
Jaguares vs Bulls – Buenos Aires: 11.40pm