Vodacom Super Rugby enters the exciting knockout phase this weekend when four matches will be played across three countries, in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa respectively.
One match takes place on Friday morning, while the rest of the action is scheduled for Saturday, when the three South African teams – the Emirates Lions, DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks – will all be in action.
Australian conference winners the Brumbies kick-start the playoffs when they host the Highlanders on Friday in Canberra in a 10h00 kick-off (SA time).
Wildcard entry, the Cell C Sharks, will be the first South African side in action in the playoffs when they front up to table-topping Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday morning. This match at the Westpac Stadium starts at 09h35 SA time.
The Emirates Lions, who finished the league stages of the competition in overall second place and as Africa Conference 2 winners, are next in action on Saturday. The Highveld outfit take on the visiting Crusaders in a 16h30 kick-off at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg.Coach Johan Ackermann has restored his first-choice team for the match against the Crusaders, with regular skipper Warren Whiteley set to return to action after passing a fitness test.
The Emirates Lions have been in prolific form this season, scoring 71 tries so far in their campaign. They face a Crusaders side who are smarting from last week’s defeat to the Hurricanes. Another exciting battle is expected between the two sides.
In Cape Town, the DHL Stormers are hosting the Chiefs at 19h00 at DHL Newlands, where another cracking battle between the sides is on the cards. The Cape side are going into the knockout match on the back of four wins in a row, the last two of which were on the road in Australia.
The four winning sides will face each other next weekend in the semi-finals.
Brumbies vs Highlanders
Date: Friday, 22 July
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistants: Ben O’Keeffe and Nic Berry
TMO: George Ayoub
· David Pocock will return to the Brumbies side following six weeks on the sidelines with a fractured eye socket.
· Rory Arnold has been ruled out of this week’s clash with an elbow injury and Blake Enever will take his spot spot in the starting side.
· In other changes for the squad, Robbie Coleman is back in the mix. He replaces James Dargaville on the wing, with the latter named on an extended bench.
· Ruan Smith starts at tighthead prop and Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin is on bench duty.
· Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has made two changes to his starting line-up, with Liam Squire getting the start at No 8 and versatile Luke Whitelock moving to lock.
· Co-captain Shane Christie is back from illness and on the side of the scrum, replacing James Lentjes.
· Prop Josh Hohneck and hooker Ash Dixon will both make their 50th Super Rugby appearances.
· The Brumbies have won seven of their last nine games against the Highlanders, though they scored only 10 points against them in an away loss to the NZ side in round 10 this season.
· The Highlanders will be searching for back-to-back wins against the Brumbies for the first time since 2006 after snatching a low-scoring victory in their last encounter.
· The Brumbies have won their last four games at home, outscoring opponents by a combined 156-45, though they’ve won just one of their last four home games against NZ opponents.
· The Brumbies have averaged 17 minutes and 28 seconds in possession per game this season – the second most of any team and the most of any team that has made it through to the post season.
· Lima Sopoaga has kicked 27 penalty goals so far this season, the equal most of any player, on his way to 177 points, only seven behind league-leader Beauden Barrett (184).
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Leali’ifano (co-captain), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Stephen Moore (co-captain) 1 Scott Sio. Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 James Dargaville, 24 Lausii Taliauli.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (co-captain), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Luke Whitelock, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown. Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Rob Thompson.
Hurricanes vs Cell C Sharks
Date: Saturday, 23 July 2016
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistants: Nick Briant and Paul Williams
TMO: Glenn Newman
· Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd made three changes to his starting line-up for the home playoff against the visiting Cell C Sharks on Saturday in Wellington (kick-off 09:35 SA time).
· In the only change to the backline, Matt Proctor – who has recovered from a hamstring strain – comes in at centre. His return sees Jason Woodward moving out to left wing in place of Julian Savea, who is now on the bench.
· The other two changes are upfront, where props Loni Uhila and Ben May come into the front row.
· The Cell Sharks have been strengthened by the return of Willie le Roux, Paul Jordaan and Jean-Luc du Preez for the match in Wellington. All three are back in the starting team after missing the previous matches with injury.
· Springbok Le Roux takes over the No 15 duties from Rhyno Smith, who drops out of the match day squad, while Jordaan slots into midfield and JP Pietersen returns to the wing.
· Du Preez returns to the side of the scrum where he replaces Tera Mtembu (bench).
· The Cell C Sharks have won six of their last nine games against the Hurricanes (L2, D1), though only one of those wins came whilst in New Zealand (in 2010).
· The Canes have lost seven of their nine finals games. Their two wins, however, were at home.
· The Hurricanes have won three and drawn one of their last five games against the Durban side on home soil, including wins in the last two repeats of this encounter.
· The Hurricanes have won their last five fixtures in succession; the last time they won more in a row was when they opened the 2015 season with seven straight wins – a stretch that included three wins against South African opposition.
· The Hurricanes have won eight of their last nine games against South African teams, though the only blemish in that span came in the most recent such fixture in a 32-15 loss to the Cell C Sharks in Round 11 this campaign.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Loni Uhila. Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Vince Aso, 23 Julian Savea.
Cell C Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 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 Dale Chadwick, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Emirates Lions vs Crusaders
Date: Saturday, 23 July
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistants: Marius van der Westhuizen and Rasta Rasivhenge
TMO: Marius Jonker
· Emirates Lions coach, Johan Ackermann, has included regular captain Warren Whiteley in his starting line-up to face the Crusaders at home after recovering from a shoulder injury.
· As expected, the squad is changed entirely from the one that lost to the Jaguares last weekend in Buenos Aires.
· Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has made four changes to his side for the quarter-final visit to Johannesburg on Saturday against the Emirates Lions.
· Scrumhalf Andy Ellis is back in the side after recovering from his calf injury and takes over from Mitchell Drummond.
· The only other change to the backs sees Fijian wing Jone Macilai starting in the No 11 jersey as replacement for the injured Nemani Nadolo.
· Amongst the forwards, Sam Whitelock is back following an illness and replaces Scott Barrett at lock. Flanker Jordan Taufua will don the No 6 jersey and Jimmy Tupou is now on the bench.
· The Emirates Lions’ position on the log is the highest it has ever been in Vodacom Super Rugby. In 2001, still playing as the Cats, they finished third (and lost to the Cell C Sharks in the semi-final), while the Cats were fourth in 2000 (and lost to the Brumbies in the semi-final).
· The Crusaders have won their last seven games against the Emirates Lions, scoring 28 points or more on all but one occasion.
· The Highvelders have won their last four games on home soil. A fifth straight win would be their longest home winning streak in a single Vodacom Super Rugby season.
· The Crusaders have won 19 of their last 23 games against South African opposition (L4), including victories in each of their last four finals games against them.
· The Johannesburg side have won an average of 8.7 turnovers per game so far in 2016, the most of any team and 1.2 per game more than the Crusaders.
· Only one player this season (Matt Faddes – 29) has made more clean breaks than Crusasders duo of Nemani Nadolo (28) and Johnny McNicholl (27).
Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylon Smith. Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques Van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Jaco van der Walt/Sylvian Mahuza.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Jone Macilai, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
DHL Stormers vs Chiefs
Date: Saturday, 23 July
Venue: DHL Newlands
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistants: Jaco van Heerden and AJ Jacobs
TMO: Johan Greeff
· Flyhalf Robert du Preez returns to the DHL Stormers side in place of the injured Jean-Luc du Plessis to face the Chiefs at DHL Newlands on Saturday (19:00 kick-off).
· Nic Groom returns at No 9 after he was rested against the Southern Kings, with Louis Schreuder and Brandon Thomson providing cover on the bench.
· In the pack, Bongi Mbonambi starts at hooker with Scarra Ntubeni moving to the bench, while props Oli Kebble and co-captain Frans Malherbe also return as substitutes.
· Springbok locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are restored to the starting team and Siya Kolisi also return to the starting 15 in place of Rynhardt Elstadt, who joins fit-again Nizaam Carr on the bench.
· The Chiefs have won seven of their last 11 games against the DHL Stormers (L4), including wins in each of their last two encounters with a come-from-behind win in the most recent such fixture (trailing at half-time). The Cape side have won only one of their seven finals games. They’ve managed to score 20+ points in a finals match only once.
· After winning eight of their first nine games this season, the Chiefs have won only three of their last six matches, though they’ve won nine and drawn two of their last 13 games against South African opposition.
· The DHL Stormers have relied on penalty goals more than any other team this season slotting 2.6 per game so far, the most of any team, and 1.1 per game more than the Chiefs.
· No player has beaten more defenders than Damian McKenzie, and the Chiefs’ fullback is just seven carries shy of becoming the second player to make 200 carries this season.
· He is also one of just two players to play every minute of the campaign (the other is Raymond Rhule of the Toyota Cheetahs).
DHL Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger (co-captain), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Ezebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Alistair Vermaak. Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Nizaam Carr, 22 Louis Schreuder, 23 Brandon Thomson.