© Graham Cousens / Scrum.com
Friday, March 6
Chiefs v Highlanders, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Head-to-head: Played 23, Won 15, Lost 8
In Hamilton: Played 12, Won 8, Lost 4
Last clash: Round 17, 2014 - Highlanders 29-25 Chiefs, Dunedin
Key Stats (Opta Sports)
- The Chiefs won their first three games of the season in 2010 and 2014, but went on to lose their fourth in each of those years.
- No side has shipped more penalties per game than the Chiefs this season (12.7), and they have benefitted from fewer opposition penalties per game (8.7) than any other team.
- The Highlanders rank second for turnovers won this season, with an average of nine per game. The Dunedin-based side has limited their opponents to a ruck success rate of 91%; no team in Super Rugby has had their opponents average a lower success rate at the ruck.
- Chiefs: Tom Marshall; Hosea Gear , Charlie Ngatai, Sonny Bill Williams, James Lowe; Aaron Cruden, Augustine Pulu; Liam Messam (captain) /Maama Vaipulu, Sam Cane, Johan Bardoul; Michael Fitzgerald, Matt Symons; Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Replacements: Quentin MacDonald, Siate Tokolahi, Mitchell Graham, Michael Allardice, Michael Leitch / Maama Vaipulu, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Andrew Horrell.
- Highlanders: TBA
- Chiefs: Nathan Harris (Ankle, TBC), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Knee, Season), Tevita Koloamatangi (Ankle, TBC), Tim Nanai-Williams (Calf, TBC)
- Highlanders: Richard Buckman (Knee, Round 4), Shane Christie (Knee, TBC), Kane Hames (Suspension, Round 9), Lima Sopoaga (Unavailable, Round 4), Pingi Tala'apitaga (Knee, TBC)
- Liam Messam has been bracketed with Maama Vaipulu at No 8 in the Chiefs back-row as he still awaits a concussion clearance, while Michael Fitzgerald replaces World Player of the Year Brodie Retallick, who is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks with a grade 3 AC joint injury. Vaipulu is returning from a shoulder injury. Hosea Gear comes back into the side on the right wing, while Michael Allardice and Japan captain Michael Leitch each get the chance to make their Super Rugby debut off the bench. Andrew Horrell will also get his first match of the season from the bench.
Greg Growden's Verdict: It's now down to four unbeaten teams, and by far the best of the unconquered are the Chiefs. Their defeat of the Crusaders was so conclusive. And the Highlanders will be easier foes.
Tips - Greg Growden: Chiefs by 8 Sam Bruce: Chiefs Brett McKay: Chiefs Brittany Mitchell: Chiefs Andy Withers: Chiefs
Johan Bardoul starts in the Chiefs' back-row having replaced Brodie Retallick in the tight five against the Crusaders © Getty Images
Brumbies v Force, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Head-to-head: Played 13, Won 8, Lost 4
In Canberra: Played 6, Won 4, Lost 2
Last clash: Round 19, 2014 - Brumbies 47-25 Force, Canberra
Key Stats (Opta Sports)
- The Force rank last when it comes to tackling (82%) and scrum (58%) success rates in 2015.
- The Brumbies have averaged fewer metres (281) and breaks (4) per game than any other side this season, despite kicking from hand less often than any other side on average (17.3).
- The Brumbies have been awarded more penalties per game (15) than any other team, as well as conceding the fewest (9 per game).
- Brumbies: David Pocock (Ankle, TBC)
- Force: Nick Cummins (Ankle, Round 4), Dane Haylett-Petty (Foot, Round 6-7), Matt Hodgson (Hamstring, Round 9), Francois van Wyk (Chest, Season)
Greg Growden's Verdict: The Brumbies have become a more rounded team under Stephen Larkham's command, with their excellent defence crucial in thwarting the Rebels last weekend. As the Force are so infuriatingly one dimensional, it could be like the Hurricanes encounter … a belting
Tips - Greg Growden: Brumbies by 12 Sam Bruce: Brumbies Brett McKay: Brumbies Brittany Mitchell: Brumbies Andy Withers: Brumbies
Keven Mealamu: 162 Super Rugby games and counting © Getty Images
Saturday, March 7
Blues v Lions, QBE Stadium, Albany
Head-to-head: Played 16, Won 12, Lost 4
In Auckland: Played 7, Won 6, Lost 1
Last clash: Round 5, 2014 - Lions 39-36 Blues, Johannesburg
Key Stats (opta Sports)
- Ihaia West has the best goal-kicking success rate (14/15; 93%) of any player to attempt more than two shots at goal this season.
- The Blues rank joint-first for average clean breaks (9) while the Lions rank joint-last (4).
- The Lions (85) and Blues (89) have averaged the lowest number of completed tackles per game, however no team has missed fewer than the Lions (10).
- Blues: Lolagi Visinia; Frank Halai,Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Melani Nanai; Ihaia West, Jimmy Cowan; Jerome Kaino (captain), Luke Braid, Steven Luatua ; Patrick Tuipulotu, Josh Bekhuis,; Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Replacements: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Hayden Triggs, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Simon Hickey, Hamish Northcott.
- Lions: Andries Coetzee; Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Sampie Mastriet; Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje; Warren Whiteley (captain), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel; Martin Muller, Franco Mostert; Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Corne Fourie. Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, Robert Kruger, Derick Minnie, Faf de Klerk, Jaco van der Walt, Howard Mnisi.
- Blues: Daniel Bowden (Foot, TBC), Blake Gibson (Jaw, TBC), George Moala (Knee, TBC)
- Lions: MB Lusaseni (Knee, Round 5)
- Keven Mealamu will establish a Super Rugby record having been named in to start against the Lions from South Africa, as it will be his 163rd appearance in Super Rugby. He currently shares the mark at 162 retired former Reds, Force and Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe. Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Frank Halai, each make their first start of the season, while Steven Luatua moves back to his regular starting spot in the loose forwards with captain Jerome Kaino and Luke Braid.
- Lions coach Johann Ackermann has made just two changes to the side the pushed the undefeated Stormers hard last week, with Corne Fourie named for the first time this season at loose-head and Ross Cronje preferred at scrum-half.
Greg Growden's Verdict: Wooden spoon encounter already? Maybe. Endless questions about Sir John Kirwan's coaching capabilities abound as the Blues again dither about, while the Lions have tapered off since last year's encouraging Currie Cup campaign. The Lions are triers, but struggle to finish off games.
Tips - Greg Growden: Blues by 1 Sam Bruce: Blues Brett McKay: Blues Brittany Mitchell: Blues Andy Withers: Blues
Reds v Waratahs, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Head-to-head: Played 23, Won 13, Lost 9, Drawn 1
In Brisbane: Played 12, Won 7, Lost 4, Drawn 1
Last clash: Round 19, 2014 - Reds 3-34 Waratahs, Brisbane
Key Stats (opta Sports)
- Liam Gill has won at least three more turnovers than any other player (9) this season.
- Reminiscent of 2014, the Waratahs rank top for carries, metres, breaks, defenders beaten and passes this year.
- Opponents of the Reds have a season-low scrum success rate (54%) but the Waratahs have won five opposition scrums in two matches.
- Reds: Quade Cooper (Shoulder, Round 7-10), Greg Holmes (Thumb, Round 7), James Horwill (Hand, TBC), Karmichael Hunt (Unavailable, TBC), Eddie Quirk (Knee, TBC), Duncan Paia'aua (Concussion, TBC), Beau Robinson (Calf, TBC), Rob Simmons (Shoulder, Round 4), Ben Tapuai (Hamstring, TBC), Jamie-Jerry Taulagi (Knee, Round 8-10)
- Waratahs: Wycliff Palu (Knee, TBC)
Greg Growden's Verdict: The two key figures in the late night Wallabies Melbourne junk food debacle are up against each other this week: Beale v O'Connor. Some were raving about O'Connor's first appearance in the Reds No.10 jersey last weekend. Not me. Still some way to go … so Waratahs by a sizeable margin.
Tips - Greg Growden: Waratahs by 16 Sam Bruce: Waratahs Brett McKay: Waratahs Brittany Mitchell: Waratahs Andy Withers: Waratahs
Try-scorer Boom Prinsloo is back in the Cheetahs' starting XV © Getty Images
Cheetahs v Bulls, Free State Stadium, Bloemfotein
Head-to-head: Played 13, Won 1, Lost 12
In Bloemfontein: Played 7, Won 1, Lost 6
Last clash: Round 12, 2014 - Bulls 26-21 Cheetahs, Pretoria
Key Stats (opta Sports)
- Willie le Roux has assisted at least two more tries (5) than any other player this season.
- The Cheetahs have scored 60 points in two outings, despite an average of 10min 26sec in possession; no other side has averaged less than 13 minutes.
- The Cheetahs' sole victory in this fixture, in Round 2 last year, produced fewer points in total (15-9) than any other match between the teams.
- Cheetahs: Willie le Roux; Cornal Hendricks, Francois Venter, Michael van der Spuy, Raymond Rhule; Joe Pietersen, Sarel Pretorius; Jean Cook, Oupa Mohoje, Boom Prinsloo; Francois Uys (captain), Carl Wegner; Coenie Oosthuizen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Danie Mienie. Replacements: Stephan Coetzee, BG Uys, Maks van Dyk, Tienie Burger, Steven Sykes, Tian Meyer, Willie du Plessis, Johann Sadie.
- Bulls: TBA
- Cheetahs: Willie Britz (Hamstring, Round 6-7), Lood de Jager (Elbow, Round 15), Armandt Koster (Back, TBC), Hilton Lobberts (Knee, Round 15), Sergeal Peterson (Jaw, Round 9-10), Willem Serfontein (Knee, Round 7-8), Ewald van der Westhuizen (Pinched Nerve, TBC), Elgar Watts (Knee, Round 7-8)
- Bulls: Arno Botha (Chest, Round 5), Werner Kruger (Ankle, Round 8-10), Bandise Maku (Chest, season), Burger Odendaal (Knee, Round 5-7), Pierre Schoeman (Knee, season), William Small-Smith (Foot, Round 11), Flip van der Merwe (Chest, Round 10)
- Boom Prinsloo has replaced Willie Britz in the Cheetahs' back-row, starting at openside flank with Jean Cook moving to No 8. Britz has a hamstring injury that is likely to keep him out of action for two to three weeks. The other change is on the bench, where former Sharks and Southern Kings lock Steven Sykes is set to debut for his third Super Rugby side.
- Bulls: TBA
Greg Growden's Verdict: Don't expect too much froth and bubble at Bloemfontein. Just an old-fashioned grind-a-thon on the veldt. Sleep appears preferable.
Tips - Greg Growden: Bulls by 4 Sam Bruce: Bulls Brett McKay: Bulls Brittany Mitchell: Cheetahs Andy Withers: Bulls
Stormers v Sharks, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Head-to-head: Played 22, Won 11, Lost 11
In Cape Town: Played 11, Won 6, Lost 5
Last clash: Round 19, 2014 - Stormers 10-34 Sharks, Cape Town
Key Stats (Opta Sports)
- Patrick Lambie has 58 points in three games, more than anybody else. He has kicked 20/24 - more than anybody else, while Demetri Catrakilis has kicked the second-most goals (15/19).
- The Sharks average more points scored (31) and conceded (30) per game than any other side this year. They have scored 93 points in three matches, and no less than 29 in any of these outings
- The Stormers are aiming to win their first four matches for the first time since 2012, when they won their opening six.
- Stormers: Ruan Botha (Ankle, TBC), Rynhardt Elstadt (Leg, Indefinite), Jean de Villiers (Knee, Season), Siya Kolisi (Hamstring, TBC), Jaco Taute (Knee, Round 4), Kobus van Wyk (Calf, TBC)
- Sharks: Tendai Mtawarira (Calf, Round 4-5)
Greg Growden's Verdict: Maybe the Stormers, rather than the Sharks, are the team that will be South Africa's biggest Super Rugby threat - especially with Schalk Burger and Eben Etzebeth returning for the home team. This game will provide an early pecking order.
Tips - Greg Growden: Stormers by 5 Sam Bruce: Stormers Brett McKay: Stormers Brittany Mitchell: Stormers Andy Withers: Sharks