CHIEFS v CRUSADERS
When: Friday July 27, 7.35pm
Where: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 19, Crusaders 14, Chiefs 5
In Hamilton: Played 8, Crusaders 6, Chiefs 2
Last match: Round 17, July 6, 2012: Crusaders beat Chiefs 28-21 at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
NEW ZEALAND fans will argue that this is the final everyone wanted to see, but it simply wasn’t to be.
The Sharks’ victory over the Reds in Brisbane ensured that the 2012 Super Rugby final would be a New Zealand v South Africa affair.
These teams have met twice this season already, with the honours shared one-all. Who could forget the lesson in power-scrummaging the Chiefs dished out in the Crusaders’ round three ‘home’ match in Napier, or the epic victory the red and blacks recorded in the return fixture at this same ground three weeks ago.
We’ve often said ‘get ready for fireworks’ in previewing games throughout the Super Rugby season, but this time we really mean it. Let’s just hope that the victors advance to next week’s final without too many injury problems.
It’s difficult to pinpoint specific areas in which either side could gain a definite edge, because they are even in many areas. Indeed, the overall aggregate between the sides in 2012 is 47-45 in favour of the Crusaders, who, need we remind you, are the most successful team in Super Rugby history with seven titles to their name.
The Chiefs have been strangely off-colour since returning from the June break, working hard to beat the Highlanders in Dunedin and then suffering back-to-back losses to the Crusaders (home) and Hurricanes (away). The Crusaders, on the other hand, put in a largely clinical performance to beat the Bulls in their sudden-death qualifier last week, after warming up for the playoffs with consecutive wins over the Chiefs and the Force (home).
There are mouth-watering showdowns all over the park (how does Mahonri Schwalger v Corey Flynn and Ben Tameifuna v Wyatt Crockett in the front-row grab you?), but it’s impossible to go past the master (Dan Carter) v apprentice (Aaron Cruden) clash at first five as the most intriguing encounter. Suffice to say, the winner of this individual battle will be suiting up again in next weekend’s final.
There were no new injuries for the Crusaders last week, but they are without Kieran Read, who is still a week away from making a return after suffering rib damage in the last match between these sides. The all-action No 8 played a key role in getting his side over the advantage line with his strong charges in that epic encounter, before being forced to leave the field in the second half.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 Crusaders 28-21 Chiefs, Hamilton
2012 Chiefs 24-19 Crusaders, Napier
2011 Crusaders 25-19 Chiefs, Napier
2011 Crusaders 34-16 Chiefs, Tauranga
2010 Crusaders 26-19 Chiefs, Hamilton
Our prediction: Chiefs 1-12
STORMERS v SHARKS
When: Saturday July 28, 5.05pm (3.05am NZT, July 29)
Where: Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Stormers 9, Sharks 9
In Cape Town: Played 8, Stormers 5, Sharks 3
Last match: Round 14, May 26, 2012: Sharks beat Stormers 25-20 at Kings Park, Durban
THE PARALLELS between this match and the previous night’s all-New Zealand clash are fairly obvious.
The Stormers won the right to host this semifinal after finishing the qualifying stage at the top of the log, but it is the visitors who will enter the match in better form after their impressive victory over the Reds in last week’s do-or-die qualifier in Brisbane.
Of course, the Stormers, like the Chiefs, didn’t play any code last weekend, but their recent form in Cape Town hasn’t been much to write home about, with the Lions and the Rebels both pushing the Allister Coetzee-coached side to the wire.
However, the Sharks will have the travel factor working against them this week, having travelled to Australia and back for last week’s game, although it didn’t seem to bother them at Suncorp Stadium, where they romped to an impressive 30-17 victory on the back of the most committed and accurate rugby they have arguably played all season.
It is worth noting, too, that the Sharks scored 32 and 34 points in their previous two games against the Bulls and Cheetahs respectively. Conversely, the Stormers have struggled to score points all season, with only three teams in the entire competition (Waratahs, Force and Lions) scoring fewer points throughout the qualifying phase.
Still, the Stormers have the best goalkicker in the competition in Peter Grant, while there is plenty of backline class in the form of Springboks Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon.
And while the hosts also have two of the most promising tight forwards in South African rugby in prop Steven Kitshoff and lock Eben Etzebeth, one feels this will be the match where they really miss the presence of injured skipper Schalk Burger, especially with Sharks forwards like Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee and Bismarck du Plessis all hitting their straps at the moment.
Expect the Stormers to advance to the final if this match is decided on penalties, but if the Sharks can dictate the pace of the game – as they did last week – the legendary Stormers’ defence will be up for the sternest test it has faced all season.
As with the Chiefs and Crusaders, these two sides have also met twice this year, with the Stormers winning by three in Cape Town in week two and the Sharks getting up by five in Durban in round 14.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 Sharks 25-20 Stormers, Durban
2012 Stormers 15-12 Sharks, Cape Town
2011 Stormers 32-12 Sharks, Cape Town
2011 Stormers 16-6 Sharks, Durban
2010 Sharks 20-14 Stormers, Durban
Our prediction: Stormers 1-12
This weekend throws up another set of games which could go either way.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?