iafrica.com columnist BJ Botha takes a look at the Super Rugby semifinals taking place this weekend and makes his calls.
Chiefs v Crusaders:
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 9.35am
The Crusaders will be feeling confident ahead of this match after their performance against the Bulls last week, but while they were undeniably fired up against the South Africans, the one thing they were missing is that clinical execution that they have become known for…
I think we will see more from them against the Chiefs on Friday, because they know how dangerous the latter is on the counter-attack and they will have that in the back of their minds.
The Chiefs are at their most dangerous on turnover ball – even more so than the Crusaders - with their dangerous finishers out wide capable of doing a lot of damage to the opposition. I think the Crusaders will bring the physicality they showed against the Bulls, but they will need to combine it with a more clinical attitude.
The Crusaders will have the upper hand in the set-pieces, particularly at the lineout, and that is vital in play-off games as they will look to suffocate the classy Chiefs backline of ball… the breakdown area will also be a key factor with the Crusaders traditionally strong there.
The Chiefs went off the boil slightly towards the end of the round-robin stage, but I think they will come back stronger after having a week off, which will have given them some time to get over their niggles and re-gather themselves ahead of the semifinal.
They have proved a lot of their critics wrong this season with a consistent display of rugby, but this may be somewhat unknown territory for them now. They have been involved in the play-offs before, of course, but they have not been the leaders in the competition throughout, while the Crusaders are so used to playing in these high-pressure games.
Having the experience, players seem to make the decision with greater ease and they absorb the pressure so much better… the Crusaders definitely have one-up on the Chiefs because of that.
Having said that, the Chiefs need to come out and play their natural game. They have always played their best when they back themselves to play attacking, open rugby and I am worried that they will now look to hold themselves back a little in that department in order to limit mistakes, rather than just play their natural game.
The Chiefs forwards have really stepped up this season, but they will want the ball to be in the backline. The Crusaders have a better balance across their teams, but they will need to mix it up against the Chiefs, who have arguably a more dangerous backline.
Prediction: Crusaders 27-21
Stormers v Sharks
Newlands, Cape Town, 5pm
The Stormers will feel they have the advantage going into this game with the game being played at Newlands, while the Sharks have also had to travel to and from Brisbane over the course of the week.
But coming back is not nearly as bad as heading to Brisbane as you actually pick up time, so the travel would have effected them more against the Reds last week – so in that respect it may not affect them that much at all judging by last week’s game!
The Sharks showed unbelievable commitment on defence and they have really grown in their attitude in that department and have proved how hungry they are to succeed.
The Stormers have the home ground advantage and they have had some time to rest, while the biggest factor for the Sharks would have been sitting in a plane for hours after a big game with a lot of bumps and bruises. They do have time on their own home ground to prepare, however, and playing at a coastal venue - a venue they enjoy – will help, while they will take a massive amount of confidence from their win over the Reds.
I am leaning towards the Sharks to take this one and against the odds as they have the momentum going into this fixture and proven confidence. I think they have that fire in the belly that you need in these matches, but it will be a very tight affair.
Again, the set-piece will be cruclal in this game. In the lineout, the Stormers will have the upper hand, while the Sharks will be the stronger side at scrum time.
They are very evenly matched, meaning the guys that come right in the beginning of the game will need to hold onto it. Both are incredibly strong defensive sides and we may be in for a low-scoring game and the points will need to be taken wherever possible.
The Stormers weapon has definitely been their defence and that has shown to be crucial at this stage of the competition. The team that score first or gets away early may just hold out because of their defence.
The Sharks also have to deal with the loss of some key personnel with Paul Jordaan adding to the loss of Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn. I think that will hurt them in the midfield as the Stormers combination has been around for a while now,
It is a big attacking platform for them and the Sharks will again be forced to change in the centres.
The Stormers have been the more consistent in the midfield and they lay a solid platform for the players out wide. The Sharks have some fantastic finishers, but they need to shut the Stormers down in midfield first. I would lean towards the Stormers midfield trumping the Sharks, but the latter have certainly shown what they are capable of.
Like I said, the sides are very evenly matched, but on the day, and especially in Cup rugby anything can happen.
Prediction: Sharks 17-12