Semi Final week sees the Hurricanes and Chiefs traversing the Indian Ocean in opposite directions to take on the Lions and Crusaders, respectively.
Oddly enough, under the semi final model used until this year the match-ups would have been reversed. In addressing the logistical issue of quarter final winners having up to four possible semi final destinations, therefore, SANZAAR have inadvertently handed them an even greater travel burden.
In the 21 years of Super Rugby 14 teams have crossed the Indian Ocean following a playoff win, with only three also winning the following week. In each of those cases the second win was in South Africa, and was followed by a loss upon returning to Australasia.
Read more about this phenomenon here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/rugby/news/article.cfm?c_id=80&objectid=11894270
CRUSADERS v CHIEFS IN CHRISTCHURCH – 17:35 AEST SATURDAY
The Crusaders have named a 23 unchanged from that which saw off the Highlanders last week, Seta Tamanivalu and Matt Todd recovering from minor injuries to take their places on the wing and side of the scrum, respectively.
The Chiefs have made two changes, Charlie Ngatai replacing Stephen Donald in the centres and wing Tim Nanai-Williams being promoted from the bench. Both have had injury-affected seasons but having not played in Cape Town last week will at least be fresh.
This will be the third Semi Final between the two, the Chiefs having won 20-17 in 2012 and 20-19 in 2013, albeit both were in Hamilton. Most recently the two met in Round 13, the Crusaders winning 31-24.
Christchurch is due for another wet and cold Saturday night, not so wet as last week but somewhat colder. That obviously makes their formidable forward pack once again pivotal to their prospects. Often overlooked, though, is their superb defence both close to the ruck and in the midfield where Ryan Crotty has established himself as the best defensive organiser in the New Zealand conference.
The Chiefs have a definite edge in the backs, with Damian McKenzie arguably New Zealand’s Super Rugby player of the year and James Lowe not far behind. The forwards generally play above their vital statistics – none more so than lock Mitchell Brown – with lock Brodie Retallick and hooker Nathan Harris being key to ensuring the backs receive enough ball to cut loose.
History tells us that no team has managed to win a playoff match in South Africa one week and another in Australasia the next. That looks unlikely to change.
Crusaders by six.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody. Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown , 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames. Substitutes: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner, Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: Glenn Newman
LIONS v HURRICANES IN JOHANNESBURG – 22:30 AEST SATURDAY
The Lions will field the same 23 that scraped home against the Sharks last week. There was talk of fit-again Springbok centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg being promoted from the bench to combat the ‘Canes big midfield, but coach Ackermann has opted to reward Harold Vorster for his fine recent form.
The Hurricanes have made two changes. Hooker and captain Dane Coles will make his first run-on in nearly four months and in doing so bring up 100 appearances. Centre Vince Aso is back after two weeks out, pushing Jordie Barrett back to fullback, Nehe Milner-Skudder to the wing, and Julian Savea to the bench.
The teams haven’t previously met this season, but the Hurricanes won both matches played last year, 50-17 in Johannesburg during the regular season and 20-3 at home in the Final. Overall they’ve met on 18 occasions with the Hurricanes winning 15, including five from eight in Johannesburg.
It’s hard to gauge just how good the Lions actually are with them not having played any of the New Zealand sides this year. Even Joel Stransky thinks that will count against them, as it did the Stormers last year. The counter-argument, of course, is that the Lions will be something of an unknown quantity and may present the ‘Canes with some unexpected challenges.
The Hurricanes like to score tries and have the backs to do it plus the forwards to provide sufficient ball for the Barrett brothers in particular to weave some magic. What sometimes gets overlooked is that they’re also a well-organised, aggressive defensive unit, too, with Brad Shields, Ardie Savea and Vaea Fifita just three of the heavy hitters in and around the ruck, and Ngani Laumape fast earning comparisons to Ma’a Nonu a little further out.
Australasian sides are four from eleven in playoffs in South Africa and the Hurricanes have the all round game to extend that record.
Hurricanes by eight.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen. Substitutes: 16 Akker vd Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Ben May. Substitutes: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Julian Savea
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Rasta Rasivhenge
TMO: Marius Jonker