The penultimate round of Vodacom Super Rugby matches will be played this weekend, and the action kick off on Friday evening in Johannesburg where competition leaders the Emirates Lions host the Southern Kings. The match at Emirates Airline Park starts at 19h00.
Springbok flanker Jaco Kriel will again lead the Emirates Lions in the absence of regular skipper Warren Whiteley, who will miss the rest of the competition because of a shoulder injury.
The Highveld side have already qualified for the playoffs and will be looking to maintain their momentum against the Eastern Cape side. Kriel and his team mates have won their last four matches with a bonus point and are currently top of the overall standings. A bonus-point win will not only secure them home advantage for the rest of the knockout stages, but will also see them equal their franchise winning record of five victories in a row.
The rest of the South African teams are all playing on Saturday. In Perth, the DHL Stormers will be aiming for a second away win in a row on Australian soil when they face the Western Force at the NIB Stadium in a 13h55 kick-off. The Cape side recorded a record win last week over the Rebels in Melbourne, and another win will see them consolidate their top spot in the second African conference. Utility forward Rynhardt Elstadt will earn his 50th DHL Stormers cap if he comes off the bench.Vodacom Bulls coach, Nollis Marais, named Bok skipper Adriaan Strauss as captain for their clash against the Sunwolves at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. Strauss was rested against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires but he is back in the No 2 jersey. They are chasing a bonus-point win and must hope the Toyota Cheetahs down the Cell C Sharks in Durban to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Durban side, meanwhile, will be eager to bounce back from their defeat in Johannesburg, while the Free State visitors eye a second consecutive win following their narrow 30-29 success over the Force in Bloemfontein last Saturday.
Elsewhere, the Blues host the Brumbies on Friday morning in Auckland (09h25) and the Reds entertain the visiting Chiefs in an 11h45 start at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. On Saturday, the Crusaders are playing at home in Christchurch (09h35) and that clash is followed by the Waratahs versus Hurricanes fixture in Sydney (11h45).
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Emirates Lions vs Southern Kings
Date: Friday, July 8
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
SA Time: 19h00
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper(South Africa), Ben Crouse(South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
· Emirates Lions coach Johan Ackermann has chosen the same match day squad that defeated the Cell C Sharks 37-10 in Johannesburg for Friday’s home clash.
· Flank Jaco Kriel will again captain the side in the absence of Warren Whiteley who is injured.
· Southern Kings, coach, Deon Davids, made six changes to his team for their away fixture in Johannesburg. Flanker CJ Velleman is out for the last two games with a knee injury.
· Lock Steven Sykes is sitting out for personal reasons and hooker Edgar Marutlulle takes over the captaincy. Sykes is to take up a contract in France at the end of the season.
· The three newcomers in the side are Andile Ntsila (flank), Sintu Manjezi (lock) and Junior Bok captain Jeremy Ward (utility back). Ntsila gets a start because of injuries to Velleman and Chris Cloete.
· There is also a return to the side for Junior Bok scrumhalf James Hall, while Louis Fouche is preferred over Elgar Watts at flyhalf.
· Sti Sithole rotates with Schalk Ferreira at loosehead, and Jacobie Adriaanse is fit again and joins him in the front. Schalk Oelofse takes the place of Sykes.
· This will be just the second meeting between these sides in the competition. The Emirates Lions defeated the Kings 45-10 in their first meeting, in April this year.
· The Kings are searching for their second away win; they’ve lost each of their last 10 with those defeats coming by an average margin of 30 points.
· The Johannesburg side have won their last four and a fifth straight win would equal the franchise record winning streak in the competition.
· They have starved their opposition of possession so far this season, allowing their opponents only 13 minutes and 13 seconds with the ball in hand each game, the fewest of any team.
· Kings lock John-Charles Astle has won 60 lineout so far this season, including three last week, the fourth most of any player after 15 rounds.
Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith. Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Southern Kings: 15. Malcolm Jaer, 14. Lukhanyo Am, 13. Stefan Watermeyer, 12. Shane Gates, 11. Wandile Mjekevu, 10. Louis Fouche, 9. James Hall, 8. Aidon Davis, 7. Stefan Willemse, 6. Andisa Ntsila, 5. John-Charles Astle, 4. Schalk Oelofse, 3. Jacobie Adriaanse, 2. Edgar Marutlulle (Captain), 1. Sithembiso Sithole. Replacements: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Schalk Ferreira, 18. Tom Botha, 19. Sintu Manjezi, 20. Jacques Engelbrecht, 21. Ntando Kebe, 22. Dewald Human, 23. Jeremy Ward.
Force vs DHL Stormers
Date: Saturday, 9 July
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
SA Time: 13h55
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
Television match official: Peter Marshall (Australia)
· DHL Stormers coach Robbie Fleck made two injury-enforced changes to his starting team for the match against the Force in Perth. Versatile loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe replaces the injured Nizaam Carr on the flank and Alistair Vermaak starts at loosehead prop in place of Oli Kebble.
· Young prop Wilco Louw and utility back Huw Jones are drafted onto the bench.
· Utility forward Rynhardt Elstadt will earn his 50th DHL Stormers cap if he comes off the bench.
· The DHL Stormers have won seven of the nine meetings between these sides, including the last four in a row.
· The Force have lost 13 of their last 14 home games, including the last nine in a row.
· The Perth side have lost their last three home games against South African opposition, however, they have never lost four such games on the bounce.
· The Cape team have conceded only nine tries when the opposition begins possession within the Stormers 22m zone, the equal fewest of any team in the competition (Highlanders).
· Dane Haylett-Petty (1,0620m) joined Israel Folau (1,090m) and Damian McKenzie (1,052m) as one of only three players to gain in excess of 1,000m so far this season.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Luke Morahan (captain), 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Richard Hardwick, 5 Rory Walton, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Guy Millar, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Pek Cowan. Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
DHL Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Daniel du Plessis, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger (captain), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Alistair Vermaak. Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, JP Smith, 18 17 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Scott van Breda.
Vodacom Bulls vs Sunwolves
Date: Saturday, 9 July
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
SA Time: 17h05
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Television match official: Willie Vos (South Africa)
· Vodacom Bulls coach Nollis Marais named Bok skipper Adriaan Strauss as captain for the clash against the Sunwolves at Loftus Versfeld. Strauss was rested against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires but he is back in the No 2 jersey.
· Strauss replaces Bandise Maku, while Prop Pierre Schoeman starts at loosehead in place of injured Lizo Gqoboko. Werner Kruger gets the nod at tighthead over Marcel van der Merwe.
· Kruger, who has made 118 for the side, will play in his last match at Loftus.
· The new loose trio combination now consists of No 8 Renaldo Bothma and flankers Jannes Kirsten and Lappies Labuschagne.
· Springbok Jesse Kriel moves to fullback, which means Dries Swanepoel will partner Burger Odendaal in midfield. There is also a return to the starting team for scrumhalf Piet van Zyl.
· On the bench, Nqoba Mxoli will make his Super Rugby debut if he takes to the field.
· This will be the second meeting between these two sides – the Vodacom Bulls won the first clash 30-27 in Round 5.
· The Pretoria team suffered their second heaviest home defeat in their last such game, however, they were unbeaten in five at home before that (W4, D1).
· The Sunwolves are yet to win away from home (L5) and they have conceded over 30 points in each away game and an average of 54 per game on the road.
· They have conceded only six second-half penalty goals so far this campaign, only the Chiefs and Emirates Lions (5) have conceded fewer.
· Pieter Labuschagne has made 133 tackles, missing a further eight, which is the fifth most of any player in the competition and the most of any South African-based played.
Vodacom Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Nqoba Mxoli, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Grant Hattingh, 21 Arno Botha, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Tian Schoeman.
Cell C Sharks vs Toyota Cheetahs
Date: Saturday, 9 July
Venue: Growthpoint KINGS PARK, Durban
SA Time: 19h15
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
· Cell C Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold has handed former Pukke fullback Rhyno Smith his first start for this Saturday clash after he impressed off the bench last week against the Emirates Lions. Smith is a recipient of the “Overall Player that Rocks” accolade for the 2015 Varsity Cup.
· Gold made one more tweak to the starting line-up, with Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen coming in for Lourens Adriaanse in the front row. Promising Junior Springbok fullback Curwin Bosch is included on the bench.
· Toyota Cheetahs coach Franco Smith made just one change to his side for their away game in Durban, opting for continuity. Scrumhalves Shaun Venter and Tian Meyer switches places, with Venter now starting and Meyer named on the bench.
· There is also a change to the bench, with Charles Marais coming in for Luan de Bruin. The Bloemfontein side defeated the Force 30-29 last Saturday.
· Six of the last nine meetings between these sides have been won by the away team on the day, including each of the last two.
· The Toyota Cheetahs have lost their last six away from home, with four of those defeats coming by more than 12 points.
· Despite winning three of their last five at home to fellow South African teams, the Cell C Sharks haven’t won consecutive home games against teams from South Africa since 2014.
· They have conceded only five tries on the opposition’s first phase of possession, though the Free Staters have crossed for 19 first-phase tries this season, the most of any South African team.
· Francois Uys won a league-high 10 lineouts in Round 15 to take his season tally to 70, more than any other player.
Cell C Sharks: 15. Rhyno Smith, 14. S’bura Sithole, 13. JP Pietersen, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Garth April, 9. Michael Claassens, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Jean-Luc du Preez, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Coenie Oosthuizen, 2. Franco Marais, 1. Tendai Mtawarira (captain). Replacements: 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17. Thomas du Toit, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Ruan Botha, 20. Tera Mtembu, 21. Stefan Ungerer, 22. Heimar Williams, 23. Curwin Bosch.
Toyota Cheetahs: 15. Clayton Blommetjies, 14. Sergeal Petersen, 13. Francois Venter (captain), 12. Michael van der Spuy, 11. Raymond Rhule, 10. Fred Zeilinga, 9. Shaun Venter, 8. Paul Schoeman, 7. Oupa Mohoje, 6. Uzair Cassiem, 5. Francois Uys, 4. Carl Wegner, 3. Maks van Dyk, 2. Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1. Ox Nche. Replacements: 16. Joseph Dweba, 17. Luan de Bruin, 18. Johan Coetzee, 19. Reniel Hugo, 20. Henco Venter, 21. Tian Meyer, 22. George Whitehead, 23. William Small-Smith.
Friday, 8 July
09h35 Blues vs Brumbies at Eden Park, Auckland
11h45 Reds vs Chiefs at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Saturday, 9 July
09h35 Crusaders vs Rebels at AMI Stadium, Christchurch
11h45 Waratahs vs Hurricanes at Allianz Stadium, Sydney
23h40 Jaguares vs Highlanders at Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires