Record Crowd Set for 2017 Super Rugby Final

On Saturday the 2017 Super Rugby Final kicks-off at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg between the Lions (South Africa) and the Crusaders (New Zealand). The match is set to break the all-time attendance match record of 61,823 crowd set at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, at the 2014 Super Rugby Final.

The Lions, runners-up in 2016 to the Hurricanes, are appearing in their second successive Super Rugby final and will be keen to add their name to the Champions list for the first time. The Crusaders are the most successful team in Super Rugby history having won the Super Rugby title seven times.

SANZAAR CEO, Andy Marinos said, “The final is highly anticipated by rugby fans and will see the best two teams of the season go head to head for the title this year. Lions fans, disappointed not to have seen their team win the title last year in Wellington, have ensured a bumper crowd will be present in Johannesburg with the Lions confirming it is a sell out.”

Lions CEO, and former Springbok, Rudolph Straueli, said, “Lions fans are passionate about their rugby and are desperate to see their team win the title. When the tickets went on sale they sold out within a matter of two hours. The last time we had a sell out was the Springboks versus All Blacks a few years ago and I believe we will set a new Super Rugby record on Saturday when the Lions take on the Crusaders.”

The two teams had their captain’s run training sessions at Emirates Airlines Park today and both declared themselves fit and raring to go in the final. Lions captain Jaco Kriel and Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock appeared with the Super Rugby trophy at the stadium to promote the global broadcast by SuperSport.

2017 Super Rugby Final

Saturday 5 August: Lions versus Crusaders at Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg.

Kick-off Times

Saturday 5 August: 1100 Argentina, South Africa 1600, Singapore/West Australia 2200, Japan 2300, Australia (Mid-night 0000)

Sunday 6 August: 0200 New Zealand

Super Rugby Past Winners

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Unchanged Emirates Lions and Crusaders set for titanic deciding battle in 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final

Capacity crowd to watch 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final in Johannesburg

The Emirates Lions and the Crusaders have announced unchanged teams for their 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final on Saturday in Johannesburg.

Kick off at Emirates Airline Park is at 16h00 and the decider will be televised live on SuperSport 1.

Emirates Lions coach Johan Ackermann has announced the same match 23 for a third consecutive encounter following their sensational 44-29 comeback triumph over the Hurricanes at the same venue last weekend. Springbok flanker Jaco Kriel will again lead the Johannesburg side in the injury absence of regular skipper Warren Whiteley, who is battling with a groin problem.

They will run out against an unchanged Crusaders team which defeated the Chiefs 27-13 last weekend in Christchurch, thus keeping alive their quest for an unprecedented eighth title triumph.

The Highveld team is only the second South African side to play in two consecutive Finals and they follow in the footsteps of the Vodacom Bulls who first achieved the feat in 2009 and 2010. They fell to the Hurricanes in the 2016 Final in Wellington.

Last Saturday’s thrilling victory over the ‘Canes was also the 15thconsecutive home win for the men in red, which extended their record for a sequel of consecutive wins.

The Emirates Lions will play the seven times champions in front of a record, capacity crowd of 62 000 home supporters and a Test-match like atmosphere is expected at their Johannesburg fortress.

The statistics and record-breaking feats aside, the match will also be an emotional affair for the team, their loyal supporters and especially Ackermann. The Final is his farewell game after in charge of the Emirates Lions before he heads to Gloucester in England, with assistant coach Swys de Bruin set to take over the head coaching duties.

The dream final also sees the competition’s two top-ranked team going into battle against each other.

The Emirates Lions finished in first place on the overall standings on 65 points, two more than the Crusaders in second. Both sides lost only one of their 15 regular fixtures, with the Joburg outfit crucially bagging two more bonus points and home ground advantage throughout the playoffs.

According to Kriel, his team has received an enormous amount of support and encouragement from all over South Africa since their sensational semi-final win.

“The amazing amount of messages we have received from all over the country since last Saturday is just incredible,” explained Kriel.

“We are very humbled and grateful for this support and were are also very determined to give our best performance against the most successful team in the history of the competition. It will be a very tough but exciting contest on Saturday.”

If the scores are tied after full-time, then the teams will play two extra halves of 10 minutes each with a break of five minutes in-between. The Final will be refereed by Jaco Peyper, who will be assisted by South African compatriot Marius van der Westhuizen and New Zealander Glen Jackson. Marius Jonker (SA) will perform the television match official duties.

Teams and match information:

Emirates 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. Replacements: 16 Akker van der 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.

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. Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge.

PIC Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders

Match information:
Date: Saturday, 5 August 2017
SA Time: 16h00
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson, Marius van der Westhuizen
Television match official: Marius Jonker

Issued by SA Rugby Communications

Sharks vs Stormers match preview for today 5.10pm kick off

This week it has been something of a mutual admiration society between the coaches of the Sharks and Stormers but nobody is under any illusion that it will be all-out war at Newlands come 5.15pm this evening.

In the best traditions of derbies between the sides, Gary Gold and Robbie Fleck have been talking up the opposition while behind closed doors the teams are preparing to rip each other’s heads off.

The bookies have the unbeaten Stormers as favourites, mostly by virtue of being at home and that their combinations are better known while a number of Sharks are still finding their feet in Super Rugby.

The bookies are probably spot on. The Stormers were emphatic in beating the Bulls at Newlands in round one and showed character to outmuscle the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein while the Sharks struggled to subdue the Kings in the first half of their round-one match but then showed admirable courage in seeing off the Jaguares in Durban last week.

“We have a lot of respect for a Stormers team that is probably a few years ahead of us in terms of progression and continuity from (outgoing coach) Alistair Coetzee to (his long-time assistant) Robbie Fleck. They are a tight unit and we will show them the respect they reserve by the urgency with which we will play. We are not just going to pitch up in Cape Town and see how it goes …!”

The Sharks are in a good place, psychologically-speaking. They know they are not world beaters just yet but have taken confidence out of their wins over Toulon, Toulouse, the Kings and the Jaguares. The Argentineans did not score a point in the second half at Kings Park because of tenacious defence from the home side.

“We are making incremental progress and recognise that what has gone before this season for us will not be good enough against the Stormers, who will pose very tough questions at a packed Newlands,” Gold said.

“Fleckie is taking their game to a new level,” Gold continued. “He has had his own influence on how he would like to see things done. He has taken the strengths built by Allistair, the set pieces and defence, and added his attacking mindset to that foundation. We hear from guys in their squad that they are very happy under Fleckie and as a South African I am ecstatic that the Stormers went that route. Fleckie is a very smart guy and certainly did his apprenticeship. He was a great Springbok player and then an assistant coach for six years. I am very happy for him and for SA rugby that he has been recognised and I think he is doing an outstanding job.”

Fleck, in turn, has heaped praise on the Sharks, in particular their vastly improved defence following last season’s pitiful effort in this regard. They conceded a whopping 43 tries, and in the off-season recruited defence guru Omar Mouneimne.

“We know Omar from the time he spent coaching at the Stormers between 2008 and 2010, he’s a very good defence coach and you can see a big difference in the Sharks’ defensive system,” Fleck said.

“The Sharks are looking good, and appear to be a well-rounded side. There are some clear changes from last season, they’re very organised defensively and have a well-balanced kicking game, with good kickers in Joe Pietersen and Willie le Roux. But I also think they’re looking to keep the ball in hand a bit more. We’re actually two quite similar teams.”

Pietersen has been a steady influence at 10 in taking over from injured Patrick Lambie and his experience has been preferred to the flair of youngster Garth April. Fleck knows Pietersen inside out having coached him when he was the Stormers’ fullback for a number of seasons.

“Joe’s a really good rugby player, and when he has time on the ball he can be very dangerous. He generally makes good decisions, so we can’t just let him have it all his own way, we have to put him under a bit of pressure. He’s a point-scoring machine, and he’s got a nice flow into the Sharks’ attack and he’s running things smoothly. I like the way the Sharks are playing, they’ve got some big strong backs and a mobile pack.”

So it is pats on the back all round from the respective coaches but the phoney war is just about at and end and this evening’s game will not be for the faint at heart.

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)

Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (co-captain), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.

Substitutes: Scarra Ntubeni, Oli Kebble, Vincent Koch, JD Schickerling, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Nic Groom, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Huw Jones.

Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (capt).

Substitutes: Kyle Cooper, Juan Schoeman, Lourens Adriaanse, Hyron Andrews, Philip van der Walt, Michael Claassens, Garth April, S’bura Sithole.

By Mike Greenaway

ENDS

Sharks with twins Daniel and Jean-Luc,test are at Newlands this Saturday

The Du Preez twins, Daniel and Jean-Luc, have been picking up Man of the Match awards with eyebrow-raising regularity this season ( including the pre-season tour to France) thus precluding their no doubt proud Dad from being involved in selection issues just yet in his portfolio as Sharks attack coach.

But Robert du Preez senior knows that there can be no such thing as family ties when it comes to selection issues that will inevitably crop up down the line. Du Preez, a Springbok that first started out at Western Transvaal in the Currie Cup B section way back in 1982 and – via a distinguished period at the Bulls partnering Naas Botha in the heyday of both players – finished an impressive career at Natal in 1998.

Du Preez subsequently went into the business world and was a major achiever in marketing Mr Price, who for some time were the anchor sponsors of the Sharks.

“It is a professional environment and I have to behave accordingly, and so do my sons,” Du Preez said. “I had good advice from Ian McIntosh (who was coach of the Sharks when his son, Craig, played a few games for the province). You have to make rugby decisions and make sure you don’t go out of your way to be tough on your kids (while obviously not favouring them). You must see it as business as usual.”

This week Du Preez has been spared a confrontation between his twin sons, who are currently featuring in the Sharks’ loose trio, and their elder brother Robert, who would have started at Newlands on Saturday against the Sharks had he not been injured against the Cheetahs last week. The 22-year-old Robert Jnr (the twins are 20) has a potentially serious knee ligament injury.

It is going to be a massive test for a Sharks team that has thus far beaten second-string French sides in Toulon and Toulouse, thumped the hapless Kings and then ground out a character-building win over a very tough Jaguares team in Durban at the weekend.

The Stormers away will ask a new set of questions of a Sharks side that is rich in potential but, by Du Preez’s admission, still has searching examinations ahead of them.

“The Stormers are going to be very difficult in Cape Town,” he said. “They are similar to us in how they want to play. Already their forward pack is commanding a lot of respect and we are under no illusion as to the challenge in front of us but we are a confident bunch and we will give it our best shot.”

The Stormers are indeed without Robert Jnr at flyhalf but they have one of the best second-row pairings in the world in the former Shark Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth, the Man of the Match in his team’s win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

“We are a work in progress but we like to think we are getting better as the season progresses and it has definitely boosted our morale to have won four out of four,” Du Preez said. “The confidence in how we want to play is growing. We won’t hold back on Saturday.”

Du Preez reckons the Sharks have the ideal balance this year between youth and experience.

“Gary Gold and the management are creating something special and there is a nice spirit in the camp,” Du Preez said. “This last week against the Jaguares was obviously very difficult with ball in hand because it was very slippery, which is what you get in Durban at this time of the year. Our intent was there but we coughed up too many balls. We created a number of opportunities but should have converted more and that has got to improve if we are to beat the Stormers.”

by Mike Greenaway

Super Rugby Preview -Sharks in must win game against the Lions on Saturday

We are 20 years into Super Rugby, and there have been detractors that have said the competition has run its course, but how can you give a death sentence to a competition that after just one round has a premier team in the Sharks fighting for their lives?

For those who think this a melodramatic statement, consider the following: it is a given that teams hoping for a shot at the title first and foremost have to win their home games. The Sharks have lost their first home game, a fixture every rugby pundit in the Southern Hemisphere, outside of The Volksblad newspaper in Bloemfontein, said they would win.

And tomorrow they host a Lions team that for a few years now under the ultimate rugby rabble rouser, Johan Ackermann, a living legend that was still bossing the Bok scrum at the age of 37, have been threatening to restore the red and white to the glory days of the ‘90s when, funnily enough, they were the chief rivals to the Sharks.

The Lions lost last week to the Hurricanes in a match they totally dominated in Johannesburg, but they could not put the ball between the uprights while the bemused Wellingtonians scored tries on rare forays into the Lions half, and won a game they had no right to.

So the Lions are miffed. So too are the Sharks, whose game against the Cheetahs was glaringly similar to the Lions’ game.

So we have two annoyed teams determined to right the wrongs of last weekend. The difference is that there is way more pressure on the Sharks, the home team.

Let’s look at it like this. The Sharks have already broken the cardinal rule of losing at home. And if they lose at home to the Lions, what chance have they got of winning their next three fixtures – away to the Bulls at Loftus, then the Stormers in Cape Town, followed by the a return joust with the Cheetahs in Bloem?.

We are saying that if the Sharks lose tomorrow, they could well end up 0-5 down after five weeks of the competition, stone last, and fighting a rearguard battle for the rest of the tournament.

So is this a must-win game for the Sharks? You bet your life it is, because a second successive home defeat will rob them of confidence and momentum going into three away derbies against South African teams.

The stakes could not be higher for the Sharks. Lose and face the possibility of going five-zip down or win, enhance belief in the game plan, and stand a chance of winning some of those three away games before a homecoming match against the Chiefs, the recent two-time champions who will hardly be push-overs, the home ground advantage of Kings Park notwithstanding.

Gary Gold, the Director of Coaching who is only into his second week in charge after the pre-season had been under the tutelage of Brendan Venter, has had to make several injury-enforced changes to his team. Lock Mouritz Botha is out with an eye injury and is replaced by the exiting Pumas lock Giant Mtyanda. He is an exceptional talent and is indeed a beast, speaking of which, Tendai Mtawarira is sidelined with a calf injury, and that is okay given the excellent form Dale Chadwick showed when he came on as substitute at loosehead prop, and is rewarded with a start in the position.

On the right wing, there is a welcome return for veteran Odwa Ndungane because of an injury to S’Bura Sithole. The loss of the latter is a blow, and when he is fit it is hoped that his dynamicism will find its way back into the midfield, where he can be a potent threat at outside centre.

At hooker, captain Bismarck du Plessis is restored after missing the opening match with a shoulder complaint. The TV cameras that trained on him last week showed a man in patent torment.

“You saw a Sharks man suffering serious disappointment,” Du Plessis said. “I just knew that we were a much better side than that. We let ourselves down in a lot of areas of the field, especially when it came to exiting out of our own half. We had the right idea of how we want to play, but were not doing it in the right areas of the field.”

Du Plessis will be on pitch tomorrow night to direct affairs. Sharks fans will be desperate for him to expertly conduct the home orchestra. Because if he gets it wrong, and the Sharks lose two home games in a row, they almost certainly will go five games down, and it will be a forlorn battle from then on.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (capt), 1 Dale Chadwick.

Subs: Kyle Cooper, Thomas du Toit, Matt Stevens, Marco Wentzel, Jean Deysel, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, André Esterhuizen.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (capt), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1. Jacques van Rooyen.

Subs: Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe, Julian Redelinghuys, JP du Preez, Ruaan Lerm, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Harold Vorster.

by Mike Greenaway

Sharks Captain Keegan Daniel and that scurrilous report

The writer has been covering Sharks and Springbok rugby for 17 years and in that time I have seldom encountered one of my journalistic colleagues getting it as grieviously wrong as the Beeld man who effectively labelled Keegan Daniel a fascist and a zenophobe.

The inference in the scurrilous report was that Daniel dislikes Afrikaans-speaking people and as leader of the Sharks wants fewer of them in the Sharks squad.

It is a remarkable accusation to make considering Daniel is the captain of the Sharks because he is both popular and a populist. His coach, John Plumtree, knows this because before he last year settled on a successor to John Smit (at Super Rugby level) and Stefan Terblanche (Currie Cup) he consulted with the senior players at the Sharks, almost all of whom were Afrikaans-speaking, as to who they wanted as captain.

Bismarck du Plessis, as Afrikaans as they come, was another leading contender but the senior leadership group to a man chose Daniel, making it an easy choice for Plumtree in the end.

No wonder the coach was furious when Daniel was accused of being fed-up with the Afrikaner majority in the squad.

I am fortunate to be covering the Sharks’ current tour and have seldom seen a group more content with each other’s company. They are hugely disappointed with the results, make no mistake, but they are not turning on each other.

And while they understand that the old chestnut of “divisions in the camp” inevitably crops up in the media when a team is on a losing streak, they don’t have to like it, and if anything they are becoming a more closely knit group as a result of the unsubstantiated rumours.

The fact of the matter regarding the demographics of the Sharks is that the team has been turning incrementally Afrikaans just about since Ian McIntosh recruited Vleis Visagie from the Free State in the late ‘80s.

Until now, nobody has noticed or cared, thankfully, because why would it matter? Right now, if you really want to know, the 26-man touring squad consists of three Zulus, two Xhosas, three English-speaking whites and … 18 Afrikaners.

There was a similar demographic this time last year when the Sharks made the Super Rugby final and the Currie Cup final. It did not matter then, so why should it matter now, just because the team is losing?!

The bottom line is the unifying force of the Sharks jersey and the common good of the team. This is something that the current coach, John Plumtree, feels strongly about. The New Zealander has coached and won titles and made many a final with Swansea (Wales), Wellington (in his native country) and the Sharks after having had a long career as a player in New Zealand and South Africa (with Natal).

He has been around the block a few times and has learned that what matters is the jersey and its history, the legacy left by those that have gone before and, if a player is not committed to the traditions, he will be gone under Plum, whether he is pink, blue or speaks Japanese. That is how it should be, obviously.

The values that Plumtree holds dear are the values he recognised in Daniel when he settled on making him captain.

As Daniel himself told me not long after he was appointed captain: ““How I live my life and carry myself in the public eye, and treat other people, is very important to me. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today if did not have a spiritual grounding.”

“For me captaincy is as much about winning rugby games as it is about developing people and, in fact, the more you invest in the well-being of the players, the more games you are going to win. In a squad you have a cross-section of guys, all of whom go through ups and downs on and off the field. I just feel that if there is contentment, then you will get more out of a player.

“If you are performance driven and are just worried about a number at the end of the day, you will be successful in the short term, but if you are people driven, and show a genuine interest in their welfare ahead of the result, they will want to produce the result and you have a better chance of getting it.”

Heartfelt words, indeed, and the players I have spoken to this week have testified that this is how Daniel conducts himself.

An Afrikaans-hater? It just does not add up …

By Mike Greenaway

May Super Rugby Madness comes to Nelson Mandela Bay – Southern Kings

May Super Rugby Madness has come to Nelson Mandela Bay as the Southern Kings continue to strive to make Super Rugby accessible to the people of the region.

“With three home games on the cards in May, starting with the show down against the Waratahs on Saturday, the Highlanders the following weekend and our second game against the Cheetahs at the end of the month, we realised that attending every game could prove quite taxing on the average man in the street’s pocket,” said Southern Kings interim CEO, Charl Crous.

Crous said as a result the Southern Kings, together with the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium operator, Access Management, had decided to launch May Super Rugby Madness, a special rugby ticket package that allowed people to watch all three May home games for the price of two.

“People can now buy a ticket bundle that encompasses all three games, and effectively pay for just two games,” he said.

Crous went on to say that the bundles would be valid across most of the ticket price range offerings, from the R45 ticket offerings behind the poles on North and South, the R75 ticket offerings on the East Pavilion and the R110 ticket offering on the main West Pavilion.

“So where you would normally pay between R135 and R330 for tickets to three games, you will now be paying between R90 and R220,” he said.

Crous said the tickets bundles were available from Computicket outlets, as well as through the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium’s ticketing office and the ticketing office at The Boardwalk, but that the offer was limited to this week only.

“We have really been overwhelmed by the support shown by the people of the region towards the Southern Kings and the idea of having a super rugby franchise in the region and this is just one of the ways for us to say thank you for that ongoing support,” he said.

Crous said the May Super Rugby Madness special was an additional value offering, and people would still be able to purchase tickets to watch individual games.

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