Lions v Crusaders, Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Key stat (Opta Stats)
The Crusaders have won their last seven games against the Lions, scoring 28 points or more on all but one occasion.
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Courtnal Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (captain), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Dylon Smith Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Jacques Van Rooyen, Ruan Ackermann, Cyle Brink, Ross Cronje, Howard Mnisi, Jaco van der Walt / Sylvian Mahuza
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Ryan Crotty, David Havili, Jone Macilai, Richie Mo’unga, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett Replacements: Ben Funnell, Alex Hodgman, Mike Alaalatoa, Scott Barrett, Jimmy Tupou, Mitchell Drummond, Ben Volavola, Kieron Fonotia.
Lions captain Warren Whiteley has been cleared to play after struggling with a shoulder injury.
The Crusaders have made five changes to the 23 that played the Hurricanes last weekend. Halfback Andy Ellis and lock Sam Whitelock were late withdrawals from the team last week, but both have been declared fit to play against the Lions (Ellis recovering from a calf strain and Whitelock from a virus). Jordan Taufua comes back into the starting line-up at 6, and Jimmy Tupou shifts to the bench. The only changes to the backs are Jone Macilai taking the wing in the place of the injured Nemani Nadolo, and Ben Volavola taking a spot in the reserves in place of Mitchell Hunt.
UBET verdict: Lions $1.85, Crusaders $1.95. Not much separating these two in the betting. The Lions rested all of their players last week, and have lost 12 of the last 13 vs. the Crusaders, but are a different side in 2016. The worry for the Lions is that they have played three Kiwi sides at home this year, and only beat the Blues, and prior to that lost to the Hurricanes and Crusaders (Round 6 lost by six). Early money is with the Crusaders.
Greg Growden’s verdict: Lions to prevail.
Stormers v Chiefs, Newlands, Cape Town
Key stat (Opta Stats)
No player has beaten more defenders than Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs’ full-back is just seven carries shy of becoming the second player to make 200 carries this season.
Stormers: Jaco Taute, Kobus van Wyk, Huw Jones, Damian de Allende, Leolin Zas, Robert du Preez, Nic Groom, Schalk Burger (co-captain), Siya Kolisi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Ezebeth, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Alistair Vermaak. Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, Oli Kebble, Frans Malherbe (co-captain), JD Schickerling, Rynhardt Elstadt, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Brandon Thomson.
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Sam McNicol, Anton Lienert-Brown, Stephen Donald, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (co-captain), Brad Weber, Tom Sanders, Sam Cane (co-captain), Taleni Seu, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Atu Moli, Nathan Harris, Kane Hames Replacements: Hika Elliot, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Mitchell Graham, Tevita Koloamatangi, Lachlan Boshier, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Toni Pulu, Shaun Stevenson.
The Brumbies host the Chiefs in the Match of the Round.
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Robert du Preez returns to the Stormers‘ side for the first time since he injured a knee in Round Two, replacing Jean-Luc du Plessis who was injured against Southern Kings last week. Nic Groom returns inside him, after being rested against the Kings. Up front, Bongi Mbonambi starts at hooker, with Scarra Ntubeni moving to the replacements bench where he will be joined by props Oli Kebble and co-captain Frans Malherbe who are both returning from injury. Locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit both return after sitting out last week, while Siya Kolisi returns to as the only chanage to the back-row.
Stephen Donald replaces injured Seta Tamanivalu alongside Anton Lienert-Brown in the Chiefs‘ midfield, with Sam McNicol preferred ahead of Toni Pulu on the right wing and Brad Weber back as the starting scrum-half. Kane Hames, Nathan Harris and Atu Moli form the front-row while Dominic Bird and Brodie Retallick will continue their solid lock partnership. With Liam Messam unavailable, Tom Sanders shifts over to No. 8 and is joined in the back-row by Taleni Seu and co-captain Sam Cane.
UBET verdict: Stormers $2.25, Chiefs $1.65. Another tricky match here. The Stormers have not played a NZ side all season which is pretty bizarre; but come into this game having won their last four at home. That was against the Kings, Force, Rebels and Cheetahs however; so poor opposition. The Chiefs can travel and win, and that is where the money has gone.
Greg Growden’s verdict: Despite the long travel, Chiefs to get by Stormers in a nail biter.
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