At the end of Round 13, Australian teams had played 15 games against New Zealand teams to be 8–7, but in their 16 games against South African teams they were only 6.5–9.5. This adds up to a record of 14.5–16.5 against foreign teams — or 47%.
There had also been 13 Aussie derby games played.
There will be three games against SAffer teams this weekend and one derby game.
Rebels v. Stormers
Like the Force, the Rebels won’t mind another close game; so long as they win one for a change, and in front of their home crowd. Their coaches won’t say so, but the next best thing would be a low-scoring loss; this would indicate some progress in improving their defence.
Last week the Rebels left too much space out wide and got punished by some grinning Blues. As usual they came back with great spirit; could have won, but lost narrowly.
The Stormers kept to their defensive system against the Waratahs. They were not dangerous on attack but their relentless pressure on defence in the right real estate earned them 15 points for penalty goals kicked. But when the .reserves came on they lost their defensive rhythm and the game.
Team changes: After playing in eleven games from the bench in the last two years Nic Stirzacker gets his first start for the Rebels. Nick Phipps, who has started in every other game in 2013 gets a well-deserved rest.
Phipps is playing for the Waratahs next year and the coaching staff wants to have a good look at the apprentice before then anyway.
After playing from the bench in his first Super game last week, Bryce Hegarty, the Rebels’ 20 year-old fourth-string flyhalf, makes his starting debut. Recruited by rugby league out of schools rugby at Marist College Ashgrove, he returned to the union code this year. He replaces James O’Connor, who injured his left sternoclavicular joint against the Blues.
Rory Sidey comes back into the side at inside centre, which enables Lachie Mitchell to switch to the wing to cover for Cooper Vuna who strained his calf last week.
The injuries to flanker Rynhardt Elstadt and no.8 Duane Vermeulen cause changes in the Stormers pack this week. Versatile hooker, Deon Fourie, switches to the backrow to sub for Elstadt, and Nizaam Carr replaces Vermeulen.
After playing six games in three seasons as a reserve, hooker Siya Btubeni gets his starting debut. THP Pat Cilliers is rotated in for Frans Malherbe.
After unhappy games against the Waratahs last week, scrummie Dewaldt Duvenhage and flyhalf Gary Aswegen give way to Louis Schreuder and Elton Jantjies, respectively.
The Plans: The Rebels are scoring enough points to win games but their defence against the Blues was poor — or, I could have written Chiefs or Crusaders, depending on what week it was. They get you thinking they are a good team then, of a sudden, they become the 3rd XV on defence — either around the ruck, or out wide.
Their plan? They should drop everything and work only on defence in training before the game, and do that for the rest of the season. Well, they could also practise measures to retain their ball in the ruck, because they have the worst record in the tournament.
In choosing attack-minded Elton Jantjies at flyhalf the Stormers have signalled a change to their normal plan of bashing their opponents on defence and taking advantage of their indiscipline when they infringe to protect their ball.
The poor performance of the Stormers’ halves in Sydney last week was part of the reason for the selection of Jantjies. But the several chunks or poor defence in most of the Rebels’ games this year must have persuaded coach Allister Coetzee that attacking rugby could with the lowest number of tries in the competition, pay dividends even for his team.
The Matchup: The makeshift halves pairing of both teams will be a feature of uncertainty. As mentioned: the Rebels 9 and 10 are making their starting debuts but although Stormers’ flyhalf Jantjies is a Springbok, his play does not suit the Stormer style – and scrummie Schreuder has started in only four Super games, and never with Jantjies.
Opponent to watch out for: I need a break from giving warnings about Andries Bekker for his lineout organisation and poaching; so this week I will mention inside centre Jean de Villiers as the one to look out for. If Coetzee allows flyhalf Jantjies to let the ball sing, JdV will be the choir master.
Prediction: One cannot suppose that the Rebels’ defenders will scan attackers better, match up better, advance more quickly together better, and apply shoulders to runners front-on better, all in one week of training. And, on another point: who knows if the team who has the most yellow cards for the season won’t earn another?
They are also missing both of their rainmakers, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale
Nor should one hope that the Stormers — they who have scored the least number of tries in the competition — will not be able to rack up tries against defenders who play as individuals. Although they have won just one of their six games away from home this year – Stormers by 10
Force v. Sharks
The Force must be sick and tired of losing bravely. They will want to put the injured Sharks out of their misery in front of their loyal Perth fans.
The Sharks are a basket case on the field, in the boardroom, and in the press. They have to win in Perth to lift their team and to attest to the folks back home that Sharks’ rugby is on its way back.
Last week the Force were on the back foot at the breakdown in the first half and had to infringe to stop the Chiefs from taking their chances. They were able to gain momentum from the likes of Cummins either side of oranges but it was a bridge too far, and though they scored two tries to one, they lost the game by one point.
The Sharks got blitzed by the Reds in the first half at Suncorp, much as they were by the Brumbies in Round 5 in Durban. They scored two tries to none in the second half but it didn’t matter and they deserved to lose their fifth game in a row.
Team changes: The Force fields exactly the same matchday squad as they used last week against the Chiefs, except that scrummie Alby Mathewson, who was rested for the first time this year, starts the game and Brett Sheehan rides the pine.
For the Sharks, Springbok THP Bok Jannie du Plessis runs on with the 1st XV after resting in the reserves last week, as does Anton Bresler in the second row. Willem Alberts starts for the first time in Super Rugby this year and plays on the blindside flank.
That means that prop Wiehahn Herbst, who played well at Suncorp, young lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flanker Jean Deysel, all play from the bench, which has a 5/2 split again.
The backline is the same this week except that the experienced Odwa Ndungane starts on the right wing instead of Piet Lindeque.
The Plans: The Force have to go back to what they did against the Crusaders and in some losing games, such as against the Waratahs, and get more physical at the breakdown and do it earlier. They lost the hit in the tackles and rucks last week and it caused a chain reaction which ended in penalty goals being kicked against them.
The Sharks just have execute everything better. Getting back to basics is an old catch-cry and as boring as hell, but it’s what the Sharks have to do.
The Matchup: The contest between the backrows will be influential in the game. It’s good to see that the Force are using Chris Alcock, a specialist opensider now, and are not just rotating Cottrell, McCalman and Brown in two positions.
The Sharks balance is a bit better this week with Alberts starting, but with his build and style of play he should be at no. 8. Skipper Daniel plays a lighter game and should be a flanker.
Opponent to watch out for: Apart from the odd blowout the Force are defending well, but they have to keep an eye on Lwazi Mvovo who is so fast that he can switch the light off and get into bed before it gets dark.
Prediction: The Sharks have lost their last five games in a row, have a dozen good players missing from their roster and are playing away from home.
In the last seven games the Force have had a win, a draw, one blow-out loss against the Brumbies, and the other four were losses by only seven points or less.
Despite that I am picking the Sharks to bounce back – Sharks by 5