As we know it is almost time for the antepenultimate weekend of Super 15 rugby. It has been a fantastic season. One of the closest I have seen in a very long time. Let’s have a look at the games being played this weekend and then I’ll give my reasons as to who I think the winners will be.
Crusaders vs. Bulls – Christchurch (Sat 09:35am)
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 ZacGuildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Sean Maitland.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.
Yes this is a semi semi-final. Both teams will be highly motivated and raring to go. The Crusaders have a plethora of players that are all brilliant players and who seem to have hit their straps at the right time. Their timing in that respect always seems to be spot on! The Bulls have 14 Boks in there team but unlike the Crusaders their rugby has been mediocre at best. Their forwards were demolished by the Lions last week and that in itself should be worrying to the men from Pretoria. For so long their game has been about forward dominance, but the current crop don’t seem to be able to deliver. The front row of the Bulls, containing 3 Springboks, got schooled by the Lions front row, containing no Springboks. Can you just imagine what a front row consisting of the Franks brothers and Crockett will do to the men in blue? I shudder at the thought. In the back row it will be Spies up against McCaw. Spies had a good series against the English, up until the last game where he faded once again when things got tight, so in my opinion this is a no brainer, McCaw will dominate as he always does. Add to that his poaching abilities and the Bulls should have a tough time on the ground. Hougaard is class but behind a pack that hasn’t dominated, his short comings have been exposed. He is still a dangerous player and overall should pip Ellis. The battle between Steyn and Carter should also be one way traffic. Steyn has had a shocker of a season. He was never any good at playing a running game but now that his kicking has gone haywire he doesn’t offer much, if anything. Carter is the complete package, he can kick, run and pass plus his decision making is top notch. All in all Ellis and Carter should dominate thanks to a superior pack of forwards. The Bulls will lose this game. Yes they have travelled and that is never easy but it will all boil down to the Crusaders being superior in every way and hitting form when it matters. The Bulls will pour heart and soul into this game but I feel the Crusaders will take it by 10 or more.
Reds vs. Sharks – Brisbane (Sat 11:40am)
Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Tapuai.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinhach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
This game will be a tougher one to call than the Crusaders and the Bulls. The Sharks have his some fantastic form and so have the Reds. Up front the Sharks should easily out-muscle the Reds. The interesting move is Alberts at 4 but I am sure he will be just as bone jarringly effective as he has been most of this season. The back row tussle should be more of a level footing. Gill has been excellent on the ground and Higginbotham’s general play has been great. Daniel and Marcell have had stellar seasons for the Sharks. But what should edge it the way of the Sharks is how Kankowski has played in his last few games. Against the Bulls he was fantastic, outplaying Spies by miles! He had just as good a performance against the Cheetahs last week. McLeod against Genia should be interesting but, in my opinion, Genia is the best in the world at the moment. The unknown for the Reds is Ben Lucas. Saturday will tell if it is a good call but Michalak should easily have the edge on him. He has had a great season at the Sharks this year. I feel the loss of Frans Steyn in the middle will have an impact but it gives the exciting Paul Jordaan a chance to show case his talent, of which it looks he has plenty. The back three should be an interesting tussle with Ludik having recently found some good form. I call this game in favour of the Sharks and I put that down to their forwards being a shade better than the Reds. The Sharks should win by 5 or more.