Four teams will battle it out to secure a place in the 2016 Super Rugby next weekend, but who will it be?
Hurricanes vs Chiefs
The Hurricanes thumped the Sharks last week at the Cake Tin 41-0 to secure a home semi-final against the Chiefs in the South Africans’ first 2016 clash with a Kiwi team and the likes of Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara made their marks in horrendous conditions.
The Chiefs’ form line is just as impressive having travelled to Cape Town and knocking off the Stormers. It was the Stormers’ heaviest defeat at home while the Chiefs recorded 60 points for just the fourth time in their 280-game history. Fullback Damien McKenzie starred with 25 points, rediscovering his early season form.
The Hurricanes have won nine of the last 11 matches against the Chiefs at home
The Hurricanes have never defeated a New Zealand team in the playoffs, including last years’ Super Rugby final.
The Chiefs have won three of their four Super Rugby semi-final matches.
The Hurricanes have named an unchanged line-up for the first time this season though coach Chris Boyd is still waiting on confirmation of captain Dane Coles who left the field early in the quarter final with a rib injury. All Blacks wing Julian Savea will remain on the bench after former Rebels utility Jason Woodward impressed on the wing.
The Chiefs have made three changes to their side with All Black Seta Tamanivalu recovering from his MCL injury ahead of schedule to return the centres, while Tawera Kerr-Barlow will start at scrumhalf ahead of Brad Weber and Michael Leitch returning to the team via the bench.
Where the game will be won
Saturday’s semi-final has set up a mouth-watering clash at flyhalf between Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden. Both players have been in fine form this season and while both are expected to be part of the All Blacks match day 23 on August 20 against the Wallabies, the battle for the number 10 jersey is well and truly on.
15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (vc); 1 Loni Uhila., 2 Dane Coles (c)/Ricky Riccitelli, 3 Ben May, 4 Vaea Fifita, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 6 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 8 Victor Vito.
Bench: Riccitelli/Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Mike Kainga, Mark Abbott, Callum Gibbins, Jamison Gibson-Park, Vince Aso, Julian Savea.
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow; 1 Kane Hames, 2 Nathan Harris, 3 Atu Moli, 4 Dominic Bird, 5 Brodie Retallick, 6 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 8 Tom Sanders.
Bench: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Lachlan Boshier, 20 Michael Leitch, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Toni Pulu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Lions vs Highlanders
The Lions have been praised this season for the way the way they play their rugby and their attacking flair was on display once against last week. The Johannesburg-based side jumped out to a 15-0 lead early before knocking off the Crusaders 42-25 to secure a home semi.
The Highlanders continue their hectic traveling scheduling having been from Port Elizabeth, Argentina, Canberra and now to Johannesburg in the past month to face the Lions. The Highlanders held on to defeat the Brumbies 15-9 but their victory was soured over a contentious try decision that denied the Brumbies the win.
The Highlanders are looking for their fourth straight away win, a feat that they’ve only achieved once before.
The teams have split the spoils in their last eight clashes, with the Highlanders victorious in their last encounter, 35-15.
The Lions have won eight of their 10 home games this season, though both losses have been against New Zealand sides.
The Lions have suffered a massive blow heading into semi-final with skipper Warren Whiteley ruled out after suffering a calf injury in their victory over the Crusaders. Jaco Kriel will take over as captain with Ruan Ackermann replacing Whitely in the starting side. Steph de Witt and Dillon Smit have been added to the bench.
For the Highlanders, co-captain Shane Christie has been replaced by James Lentjes and second rower Alex Ainley will start after Luke Whitelock was shifted to No. 8. Coach Jamie Joseph has named the same backline that defeated the Brumbies last weekend.
Where the game will be won
The final minutes cold be telling for the Kiwi side. The Highlanders’ intense traveling schedule will be put to the test once again. The Highlanders held off the Brumbies’ late charge last weekend, but the Lions’ attacking threats could prove too much.
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 1 Dylan Smith, 2 Malcolm Marx, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 4 Andries Ferreira, 5 Franco Mostert, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 8 Ruan Ackermann.
Bench: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Steph de Witt, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Jaco van der Walt.
15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2 Ash Dixon, 3 Josh Hohneck, 4 Alex Ainley, 5 Tom Franklin, 6 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 8 Luke Whitelock.
Bench: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Dan Pryor, 22 Te Aihe Toma, 23 Marty Banks