Preview: Stormers v Lions

Fifth takes on first in the South African Conference this Saturday as the struggling Stormers look to salvage some pride against the Lions.

It's been a disappointing season for Robbie Fleck's men as they are 12 points adrift of the Lions, who are not in the best form themselves.

The Stormers have lost eight games while the Lions haven't fared much better with six defeats, but still hold a mini cushion at the summit. However, with the Jaguares in fine form of late - winning their last five - that could soon be cut as the Argentines have one game in hand.

It would have been unthinkable for the Lions not to finish top of the pile in their Conference after a strong start that saw them win four out of their opening five games. But two slumps in form has seen their buffer reduced, with last week's win over the Brumbies much needed.

This is these sides' final outing before the June international break which adds to its importance as if the Lions (36) were to lose and the Jaguares (29) win then it would be a mouth-watering run-in to the regular season from late June, with the Argentines in the box seat. The Stormers, meanwhile, know it is win or bust for them this weekend, with another defeat set to pile more pressure on head coach Fleck.

What may concern Fleck is that the Lions have won their last three games in a row against the Stormers by an average margin of 14 points; they had previously earned just one win in 13 games against the Cape Town team (D1, L11), so form is certainly with Swys de Bruin's side.

The Stormers though have been largely solid at home this season, having won five out of five before the Chiefs prevailed on May 12. And with seven of the last nine South African derbies having been won by the home team on the day, including each of the last three, that is welcome reading for Stormers' supporters, who will be desperate for a morale-boosting success that would keep their play-off hopes alive.

The last time the teams met: It was a memorable day for Madosh Tambwe in their Round 8 meeting earlier this season as he ran in four tries for the Lions in their 52-31 win in Johannesburg. Lionel Mapoe, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert and Ruan Combrinck also crossed while Elton Jantjies kicked 12 points. Wilco Louw, Damian Willemse and Paul de Wet scored tries for the Stormers, who were also awarded a penalty try.

Players to watch:

For Stormers: On a milestone game it is fitting that Sikhumbuzo Notshe is our one to watch, with the dynamic number eight set to be a proud Stormer on Saturday. Such a dangerous carrier who combines well with captain Siya Kolisi, Notshe also knows his way to the try-line so the Newlands faithful will hope he caps his 50th game with a score and more importantly a victory.

For Lions: If the Lions are to win in Cape Town then much rests on Elton Jantjies' shoulders. The Springbok fly-half was in the news this week with rumours of a move to Ulster in the pipeline, but he'll want to do his talking on the pitch on Saturday, with his battle with youngster Jean-Luc du Plessis set to be a highlight. Jantjies' game management alongside Nic Groom though should give them an edge.

Team news: Loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe will play his 50th Super Rugby game for the Stormers this weekend.

Notshe’s inclusion at number eight comes as part of a new loose forward combination, with captain Siya Kolisi back in the starting team and Kobus van Dyk shifting to blindside flank. Cobus Wiese and Nizaam Carr will provide cover on the replacements bench.

The only other change to the starting forward pack comes in the second-row, with Jan de Klerk in for Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was ruled out due to illness.

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi and loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff are both back from injury and will feature among the replacements.

The only change to the backline sees Raymond Rhule on the left wing in place of Seabelo Senatla, who has returned to the Springbok Sevens squad, with EW Viljoen and Craig Barry providing cover on the replacements bench.

Meanwhile, Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has rung the changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s derby match.

There are seven alterations in all with Jacques van Rooyen and Marnus Schoeman returning to the forwards at loosehead prop and on the openside respectively, with Kwagga Smith moving from the side of the scrum to number eight.

In the back-line, Aphiwe Dyantyi moves to the left wing from the midfield which means Harold Vorster returns to the run-on side as Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s centre partner while Ruan Combrinck is back at right wing.

Six changes were made to the bench of which the most notable is Rhyno Herbst’s inclusion as second-row cover.

Form: It's been an inconsistent season for the Stormers as just five wins have been recorded. They are currently on a two-game losing run after going down to the Chiefs and Sunwolves, with their best runs of form in 2018 being two-game winning streaks in March and April/May.

The Lions still sit atop the Conference but are by no means assured of finishing there. Three recent losses were ended with a win against the Brumbies last week, with their Australasian tour seeing them win just one of their four matches. This is vital game in their campaign.

Prediction: With plenty riding on this result, expect a close scoreline at Newlands but we expect the visitors to sneak it. Lions by 3.

Previous results:

2018: Lions won 52-31 in Johannesburg
2017: Lions won 29-16 in Cape Town
2016: Lions won 29-22 in Johannesburg
2015: The teams drew 19-19 in Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 22-19 in Johannesburg
2014: Stormers won 18-3 Cape Town
2014: Lions won 34-10 in Johannesburg
2012: Stormers won 27-17 in Cape Town

The teams:

Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 EW Viljoen, 23 Craig Barry

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrink, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Franco Mostert (c), 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques Van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Madosh Tambwe, 23 Sylvian Mahuza

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Newlands
Kick-off: 17:15 (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
Television match official: Christie du Preez (South Africa)

Preview: Bulls v Brumbies

The Bulls will be looking to bounce back after last weekend's loss to the Jaguares when they host a struggling Brumbies outfit on Saturday.

The disappointing result in Buenos Aires leaves the Bulls four points adrift of the Sharks, who occupy the final spot in the play-off race.

For that reason this game will be crucial to John Mitchell's men as another loss would leave them on the brink heading into the Test break.

The Brumbies meanwhile are well off the pace as defeat at the Lions was their eighth this season, leaving them 12 points off the play-offs. They enter this match hoping to end a five-game losing run in Super Rugby, with this campaign having been hugely disappointing in general.

What may give the out of form Brumbies hope at Loftus Versfeld is they have won four of their last five games against the Bulls, including each of their last two; the last time they won more was a five-game streak from 1999 to 2003. Both of those games however were in Canberra.

In the Bulls' favour is they have won four of their last six games on home turf, as well as picking up one losing bonus point in that time.

The hosts enter the game as favourites for victory as they look to add that solid record on home soil. If they could overcome the Brumbies they would ultimately gain ground on either the Jaguares or Sharks, who clash on Friday in Buenos Aires, as the Conference races heats up.

"We know that our effort last weekend was not good enough. It was a setback in our efforts and ambitions for the season. We do get another opportunity a week later and we are playing at home, so we have a great chance to redeem ourselves in front of our support," said Mitchell.

Meanwhile, returning Bulls captain Burger Odendaal is expecting the Brumbies' all-round game to prove a handful to his side this Saturday.

"They are certainly well-balanced and we need to be sharp in execution and finishing off if we want to secure a win. The guys are keen to embrace this opportunity though, especially at home in front of our supporters," he said as they look to get their campaign back on track.

The last time the teams met: The Brumbies were 23-6 winners in Canberra in 2016 thanks to crossings from Nigel Ah Wong and Tomás Cubelli, with Christian Lealiifano knocking over 13 points off the tee. In reply the Bulls' only points came via Francois Brummer's two penalties.

Players to watch:

For Bulls: The return of Burger Odendaal means Handre Pollard is back in the fly-half jersey this weekend, after a disappointing team performance in Argentina. With his captain alongside, Pollard and Odendaal will look to dominate proceedings at Loftus and expect a strong outing from the number 10 as he looks to push his case for a starting Springbok shirt one last time before June.

For Brumbies: With Rob Valetini ruled out, more responsibility will be on the shoulders of Isi Naisarani to get them over the advantage line. Such a dynamic carrier and with David Pocock's unique skills at the breakdown and Lachlan McCaffrey's general workrate complimenting the back-row nicely, Naisarani is allowed to express himself in attack. If he enjoys a busy game, the Bulls are in trouble.

Team news: Regular inside centre and captain, Burger Odendaal, returns to lead the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Odendaal missed last weekend’s clash against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, but is ready to lead the side again.

His return will see Handre Pollard starting at 10 again, with Manie Libbok back onto the bench in place of JT Jackson.

In the other changes to the team from last weekend, Nic de Jager comes into the starting team at flank, where he takes over from Thembelani Bholi, with the latter moving to the bench and Jaco Visagie will switch with Adriaan Strauss at hooker.

Strauss will again extend his South African appearance record in Super Rugby when he takes to the field for the 156th time.

Bulls coach John Mitchell also introduced two new faces to the bench. Ruben van Heerden will be backing up at lock and there is a potential Bulls and Super Rugby debut for Matthys Basson, who comes in for Frans van Wyk at prop.

Meanwhile, Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar has made two changes to his starting line-up as Blake Enever and Lachlan McCaffrey are recalled in the absence of the suspended Rory Arnold and injured Rob Valetini.

Enever will partner co-captain Sam Carter in the lock position for the first time this season, while McCaffrey slots back into the blindside role having been named as a replacement in the defeat to the Lions last weekend. The physical ball-carrier will be joined in the back-row by David Pocock and Isi Naisarani.

The rest of the starting team is the same that played in Johannesburg with the front row of Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and Allan Alaalatoa packing down together for the eighth match in succession, bringing a forceful and formidable look to the engine room of the scrum.

Behind the pack, Joe Powell and Christian Lealiifano will be the half-back pairing for the fifth time this season, although prior to the Lions match the duo hadn’t formed the axis since the Round 4 clash with the Rebels in Melbourne.

Kyle Godwin remains at centre alongside Brumbies newest centurion Tevita Kuridrani, the Wallaby international celebrating his 100th cap with a try in Johannesburg. Out wide Andy Muirhead, Henry Speight and two-try Tom Banks will be looking to cause more carnage having been afforded the licence to run last time out.

Form: A dismal opening five games to the season saw the Bulls win just once, losing the other four. They then went on a run that saw them win three in a row before losses to the Highlanders and Stormers were followed up by victory over the Sharks before losing at the Jaguares.

The Brumbies meanwhile are in terrible shape having lost their last five matches. Their only wins this campaign came against the Sunwolves, Sharks and Reds as they are a whopping 15 points behind Australian Conference leaders the Waratahs. They have not won a game since April 7.

Prediction: This could be a high-scoring affair on the Highveld but one which the hosts should edge. Bulls by eight.

Previous results:

2016: Brumbies won 23-6 in Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 22-16 in Canberra
2014: Bulls won 44-23 in Pretoria
2013: Brumbies won 26-23 in Pretoria (semi-final)
2013: Brumbies won 23-20 in Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 36-34 in Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 50-32 in Pretoria
2009: Brumbies won 32-31 in Canberra

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Mox Mxoli, 18 Matthys Basson, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nick Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andrew Smith

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Jaco Pretorius (South Africa)
Television match official: Willie Vos (South Africa)

Preview: Reds v Highlanders

The Reds and Highlanders will be determined to get their respective campaigns back on track when they face off in Brisbane this Saturday.

Both these teams head into this match with plenty to prove after losing their respective games last weekend.

The Reds gave a good account of themselves in their clash with the high-flying Hurricanes before going down 38-34 in Wellington, while the Highlanders were totally outplayed in their encounter with the Waratahs in Sydney and eventually suffered a humiliating 41-12 loss.

That latter result was a signinficant one as it means the Highlanders became the first side from New Zealand to lose against an Australian team since the Waratahs beat the Chiefs in Round 14 of 2016.

But despite that loss to the Waratahs, the Highlanders will still fancy their chances of bouncing back against the Reds as they have won seven of their last nine games in Australia - they had won just one of 15 games in the country prior to that run.

Meanwhile, the Reds have won five of their last seven games against the Highlanders, but just one of their last three - they haven’t lost back-to-back games against the men from Dunedin since 2004 and 2005.

The Reds have won four of their last five games on home turf, however, their only loss in that time came in the only one of the five against New Zealand opposition (Chiefs).

Reds head coach Brad Thorn knows his side face another stern test against a good team but takes confidence from the last time they played at home when they claimed a 27-22 win over the Lions in Round 11.

"It’s another tough challenge this weekend," he said.

"The Highlanders are a good side and they’ll be hurting.

"We have shown we can be competitive. Now we need to take it to the next level.

"The guys are pumped to be back at home this weekend. We haven’t played in front of the Queensland faithful in four weeks and the last time we were there was a pretty special win over the Lions. We’re hoping to replicate that great atmosphere on Saturday."

The last time the teams met: The Highlanders claimed a convincing 40-17 triumph when these sides met in a Round 17 encounter in Dunedin last year. Waisake Naholo, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tevita Li and Ash Dixon crossed the whitewash for the Highlanders and they were also awarded a penalty try while Lima Sopoaga added four conversions. For the Reds, Izack Rodda, Alex Mafi and Caleb Timu dotted down and Quade Cooper slotted a conversion.

Players to watch:

For Reds: Although he is 37 years old, former Wallaby George Smith has shown that he is still one of the tournament's best flankers since he returned to action just over a month ago. Smith is renowned for his prowess at the breakdowns and he will determined to dominate that facet of play in this encounter. He will also be dangerous on attack and his ball carrying should give the Reds much needed momentum.

For Highlanders: It's a testament to New Zealand's back-line depth that Rob Thompson was not included in the All Blacks squad for next month's three-Test series against France as the centre has delivered several superb performances for the Highlanders this year. A brilliant attacker, Thompson's ability to straighten the line and creativity with ball in hand means he constantly keeps defenders guessing and the Reds' defence will have to be at their best to keep him in check.

Team news: Reds head coach Brad Thorn has made two alterations to his starting line-up for this Super Rugby clash. In the forwards, 19-year-old lock Harry Hockings earns his run-on debut and in the back-line, Izaia Perese returns to the wing.

The match will be Hockings’ ninth in Super Rugby, after making his debut in Round Three. He has been named to start ahead of Kane Douglas, who has moved to the bench.

Perese is back in the starting side for the first time since Round 10 and takes the place of first-year flyer Filipo Daugunu, who has dropped out of the matchday 23.

The Reds have opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench, allowing the return of flanker Caleb Timu, who has recovered from an ankle injury suffered in Queensland’s Round 11 win over the Lions.

Meanwhile, All Blacks flanker Liam Squire has been named as a replacement in the Highlanders’ matchday 23.

All Blacks Ben Smith, Luke Whitelock, Shannon Frizell and Liam Coltman are not included this week but Waisake Naholo will start in his normal right wing spot while Squire returns from his round four injury to take his place on the bench, he will be accompanied by Aaron Smith and Richard Buckman, who will be making his first appearance of the season.

Lock Josh Dickson and hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate also come into the matchday 23.

An elbow injury to Elliot Dixon, sustained in last week’s game against the Waratahs, means a new look back-row. James Lentjes will play in the blindside flanker position and Marino Mikaele Tu’u earns his first run on of the season.

Teihorangi Walden returns to his midfield partnership with Rob Thompson and it will be a Highlanders’ debut for young full-back Josh McKay.

Form: The Reds have found the going tough in 2018, winning just four out of 11 matches this season. Although they were competitive in last weekend's loss to the Hurricanes, they were totally outplayed in their Round 13 clash with the Sunwolves, who beat them 63-28 in Tokyo. The Reds had a bye before that in Round 12 but beat the Lions in Brisbane the week before.

The Highlanders have won seven of their 11 matches but they have delivered a mixed bag of results in recent weeks. After beating the Bulls in Pretoria in Round 11, they lost to the Sharks in Durban before returning to winning ways against the Lions in Dunedin but suffered that defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend.

Prediction: Although the Reds have shown plenty of improvement, the Highlanders will prove too strong for them. Highlanders to win by 10 points.

Previous results:

2017: Highlanders won 40-17 in Dunedin
2016: Reds won 28-27 in Brisbane
2015: Highlanders won 20-13 in Dunedin
2014: Reds won 38-31 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 34-33 in Dunedin
2012: Reds won 19-13 in Brisbane
2010: Reds won 38-36 in Brisbane
2009: Highlanders won 24-19 in Invercargill

The teams:

Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Liam Wright, 22 Moses Sorovi, 23 Aidan Toua

Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 James Lentjes, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Josh Dickon, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jordan Way (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)

Preview: Chiefs v Waratahs

The Chiefs will be looking for their eighth straight win against Australian sides when they host the Waratahs in Hamilton on Saturday.

Indeed, the Waikato outfit have won 11 of their last 12 matches against Australian opposition while the 'Tahs have won just one of their last 10 games played outside Australia, picking up just two losing bonus-points in that time.

Both sides will be desperate for a win to keep their qualification hopes on track. The Chiefs are in fifth position in the overall standings while the Waratahs are third as they top the Australian Conference while the Hamilton side are third in the New Zealand Conference.

The Chiefs have won seven of their 11 matches this season, while the Waratahs have six from the same number played.

Although the Chiefs were outplayed in their 28-24 defeat to the Sharks last weekend, bear in mind they fielded a second string outfit. They welcome exciting All Blacks back in Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown among seven changes to a completely new-look side.

But they still lack depth in key departments with the strength of their loose trio a cause for concern as they sorely miss the talismanic Sam Cane.

Head coach Colin Cooper said that the team are doing a lot of work and planning on how to nullify the Waratahs attack.

“The team have travelled back from South Africa well, and brought five points back, which we are pretty happy about. Now it’s about getting ready for a tough Waratahs match. They have really shown against New Zealand opposition what their attack can do, so we are doing a lot of work defensively to stop the Waratahs and their attack play," he said.

“Recovery is key. We felt there were some inaccuracies in our attack flow in our previous game and we will look to execute better this weekend.”

The Waratahs have been wildly erratic this season and one finds it difficult to predict which 'Tahs side will turn up on the day.

There will be an interesting sideshow between Chiefs scrum-half Brad Weber and Waratahs full-back Israel Folau. Weber was an outspoken critic of Folau's controversial statements on homosexuality. He branded Folau's comments as disgusting so expect some tension in the air.

Folau continues to relish playing against New Zealand opposition, having now scored seven tries in his last six matches against Kiwi sides, bagging three braces in that time, with last weekend's double against the Highlanders his most recent.

In the Chiefs, the Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson believes his side face an opponent known for their physicality.

“That’s what we are expecting again this weekend. The way they play the game, they are strong in contact and at the breakdown. They are also good with ball in hand from loose play so we cannot afford to be loose in any way," he said.

“It is no secret that we like to play positive rugby with the ball in hand, that’s a combination of what we have been doing at training. At the same time, we are really trying to tighten up our turnovers because with adventure comes mistakes.”

The last time the teams met: The Chiefs ended a two-match winless run when they claimed a deserved 46-31 victory over the Waratahs in Hamilton last season. The two-time champions were full value for their win and outscored their opponents by six tries to four with James Lowe leading the way with a hat-trick.

Players to watch:

For Chiefs: Damian McKenzie returns to give his side much-needed attacking impetus. McKenzie has performed well in the fly-half position, having plenty of experience there at school level. The 22-year-old has made the second-most clean breaks (15) in the competition while he has beaten the fourth most defenders (47). Such a threat.

For Waratahs: Taqele Naiyaravoro is second on the Super Rugby try-scorers charts, having dotted down 10 times this season from nine matches. Naiyaravoro has played two fewer games than Ben Lam, who is first with 14. He has run for 809 metres, the fourth most in the competition and made 21 clean breaks (also the fourth-highest).

Team news: Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has made seven changes to his starting line-up.

In the forwards, All Blacks Nathan Harris and Brodie Retallick return to the number two and four jerseys respectively, while exciting flanker Mitchell Karpik gets a start at number seven. Veteran Liam Messam will wear the number eight jersey.

Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown return to the backline after time at the All Blacks camp, and Toni Pulu starts at right wing. It’s a first chance this season to see the midfield pairing of Charlie Ngatai and Lienert-Brown in action together, which fans can get excited about.

Newest All Blacks recruits Karl Tu’inukuafe and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi both feature in the 23, with Tu’inukuafe starting at loosehead and Tahuriorangi on the bench.

The return of scrum-half Nick Phipps to the starting XV is the only change to the Waratahs' run-on team. Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has also named rookie back-row Brad Wilkin on the bench, alongside veteran prop Paddy Ryan.

Form: After an opening-day defeat to the Crusaders, the Chiefs put together a five-match winning streak with victories over the Blues, Bulls, Sunwolves, Highlanders and Blues before that run was halted by the Hurricanes. Since then, they have alternated wins and losses with victories over the Reds and losses to the Jaguares and Sharks.

Meanwhile, the Waratahs began their campaign with a last-gasp victory over the Stormers, before drawing with the Sharks and then losing to the Jaguares. A four-game winning sequence followed with wins over the Rebels, Brumbies, Sunwolves and Reds before a three-match losing run ensued with defeats to the Lions, Blues and Crusaders. However, in their last game, they bounced back with victory over the Highlanders.

Prediction: The Waratahs to upset the Chiefs on home soil. 'Tahs by five.

Previous results:

2017: Chiefs won 46-31 in Hamilton
2016: Waratahs won 45-25 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 33-17 in New Plymouth
2013: Waratahs won 25-20 in Sydney
2012: Chiefs won 30-13 in Hamilton
2011: Waratahs won 23-16 in Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 46-19 in Hamilton
2009: Waratahs won 11-7 in Sydney
2008: Chiefs won 20-17 in Hamilton

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai (c), 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Shaun Stevenson

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Bryce Hegarty

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Waikato Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Mabey (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
Television match official: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)

Top 14 Preview: Semi-finals

The Top 14 has reached the semi-final stage and it is fair to say few would have predicted these last-four contests.

While Montpellier and Racing 92 – two of the biggest spenders in the competition – have unsurprisingly made their way into the penultimate week, Lyon and Castres have had to do it the hard way, by going through the barrages and upsetting two giants of French rugby, Toulon and Toulouse respectively.

Montpellier vs Lyon
Groupama Stadium

After securing automatic qualification for the semi-finals, Montpellier are meant to have a distinct advantage and, in many ways, they do, but certain aspects also favour their opponents.

By going into extra time and defeating Toulon on tries scored – the game ended in a 19-19 draw – Lyon will be more tired than Vern Cotter’s men, who have had three weeks break, but peculiarly it might not be too much of an issue for Pierre Mignoni’s charges.

With the match taking place at the Groupama Stadium, coincidently the new home of the Lyon football team, travel will not be a factor and they will be backed by a vociferous support.

All the pressure will also be on the side that finished at the summit. Cotter’s outfit have enjoyed an excellent domestic campaign and are effectively a top international team with the ability they have throughout their squad, but their opponents do not care much for reputation.

That was shown in the remarkable triumph in the barrages, where few gave them a chance against the three-time European champions. However, given the quality of Montpellier and the fact Lyon have already made history by winning their first ever match in the Top 14 play-offs, it may ultimately be a game too far.

Mignoni’s side will not be discounted but the league leaders should have enough to make their first domestic final since 2011.

Date: Friday, May 25
Kick-off: 21:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Jean-Luc Rebollal
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin

Racing 92 vs Castres
Groupama Stadium

Montpellier may have finished top of the table but Racing, who were one point below them in second, ended the campaign as the form side. It therefore makes Castres task harder, but they have already shown their resilience in the play-offs.

Like Mignoni’s outfit, Christophe Urios’ men produced an incredible result by overcoming Toulouse 23-11 in the quarter-finals, despite spending the final quarter down to 14 men after Jody Jenneker’s sending off.

They are one of the league’s most consistent teams having won the title in 2013 and reached the top-six in four of the five years following that triumph. However, the question still remains as to whether they have the top-end talent to challenge the financial giants of the Parisians.

Castres will be boosted with the knowledge that both Dan Carter and Pat Lambie are out of the contest, leaving 34-year-old Remi Tales to steer the ship from fly-half, but the pivot does not lack ability having garnered 24 France caps.

Tales can also call on Teddy Iribaren to help take the pressure off following the scrum-half's outstanding display in the European Champions Cup final.

Racing have a 23 stacked full of talent and, as a result, the 2016 champions are clear favourites to move into the final yet again.

Date: Saturday, May 26
Kick-off: 16:45 local (14:45 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz
Assistant referees: Laurent Cardona, Bruno Gabaldon
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure

Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe to captain Barbarians

Retiring flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe has been given the honour of captaining the Barbarians against England in the Quilter Cup match on Sunday.

The former Argentina captain, 36, will be making the last appearance of his distinguished playing career at Twickenham.

Lobbe won 71 caps for the Pumas, played in three World Cups and lifted French and European titles with Toulon.

The squad he leads at Twickenham includes stars from 11 different nations, including All Blacks Victor Vito and Malakai Fekitoa, England’s Chris Ashton, Scotland half-backs Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell, and Wales’ Justin Tipuric.

"It’s a real honour to to lead the Barbarians,” said Lobbe.

"Since I was a kid I’ve been watching them play and to me they represent the purest values of rugby. Everyone comes together to play and the Barbarians is a good place to be.

“Playing England is a massive challenge as they’re a top nation but we have the sort of players here who love that kind of challenge – it’s a beautiful one to have.

"It’s my last game ever but I’m okay and at peace. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and this last year I’ve enjoyed every minute.”

Barbarians squad

Backs: Niyi Adeolokun (Connacht & Ireland), Chris Ashton (Toulon & England), Malakai Fekitoa (Toulon & New Zealand), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont & Scotland), Luke McAlister (Toulon & New Zealand), Josh Matavesi (Newcastle Falcons & Fiji), Semi Radradra (Toulon), Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors & Scotland), Josua Tuisova (Toulon & Fiji), Rhodri Williams (Bristol & Wales)

Forwards: John Afoa (Gloucester & New Zealand), Denis Buckley (Connacht), Ultan Dillane (Connacht & Ireland), Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (Toulon & Argentina), Ramiro Herrera (Stade Francais & Argentina), Benjamin Kayser (Clermont & France), Nili Latu (Newcastle Falcons & Tonga), Tatafu Polota-Nau (Leicester & Australia), Sitaleki Timani (Clermont & Australia), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys & Wales), Loni Uhila (Clermont), Flip van der Merwe (Clermont & South Africa), Victor Vito (La Rochelle & New Zealand)

Brumbies change two for Bulls clash

Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar has made two changes to his starting line-up for their Super Rugby clash with the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.

Blake Enever and Lachlan McCaffrey are recalled to the starting line-up in the absence of the suspended Rory Arnold and injured Rob Valetini.

Enever will partner co-captain Sam Carter in the lock position for the first time this season, with the only previous time the pair have been selected in the same starting XV coming when Enever started in the back-row in the Round 11 match with the Crusaders in Canberra.

McCaffrey meanwhile slots back into the blindside role having been named as a replacement in the defeat to the Lions last weekend. The physical ball-carrier will be joined in the back-row by David Pocock and Isi Naisarani.

The rest of the starting team is the same that played in Johannesburg with the front-row of Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and Allan Alaalatoa packing down together for the eighth match in succession, bringing a forceful and formidable look to the engine room of the scrum.

Behind the pack, the backs will be looking to replicate the attacking flair and fearless attitude shown against the Lions, with the Brumbies very much in the match until a brace of cards late on left them with a mountain to climb to contain the rampant home side.

Joe Powell and Christian Lealiifano will be the half-back pairing for the fifth time this season, although prior to the Lions match the duo hadn’t formed the axis since the Round 4 clash with the Rebels in Melbourne.

Kyle Godwin remains at centre alongside Brumbies newest centurion Tevita Kuridrani, the Wallaby international celebrating his 100th cap with a try in Johannesburg. Out wide Andy Muirhead, Henry Speight and two-try Tom Banks will be looking to cause more carnage having been afforded the licence to run last time out.

There are three new faces on the bench with hooker Connal McInerney, flown in during the week after Robbie Abel suffered a calf strain, joined amongst the finishers by lock Richie Arnold and fly-half Wharenui Hawera.

Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin reverts to his normal role of prop, after his three-minute spell at hooker at the tail-end of the match against the Lions with fellow front-rower Nick Mayhew and flanker Tom Cusack the other forward options as McKellar reverts to a bench consisting of five forwards and three backs. The back replacements are scrum-half Matt Lucas, Hawera and the versatile Andrew Smith who will be hoping to earn his 72nd Super Rugby cap should he be called upon to enter the fray.

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nick Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andrew Smith

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Jaco Pretorius (South Africa)
Television match official: Willie Vos (South Africa)

Andy Friend named Connacht coach

Connacht have announced Andy Friend as the province’s new head coach, with the former Sevens specialist signing a three-year contract at the Sportsground.

Friend has extensive coaching experience at both club and international level. His professional coaching career extends back to the advent of the professional game when he worked within the Australian Institute of Sport rugby programme in 1995.

He went on to hold assistant coaching positions at the Waratahs and the Brumbies, where he worked as skills coach under Eddie Jones.

In 2005 he took up the head coach role with Premiership side Harlequins for three seasons. He subsequently returned to the Brumbies as head coach where he remained until 2011. Friend also worked as a head coach in Japan for four seasons.

On the international stage he worked as part of Jones’ Wallabies coaching team for the Tri Nations Series in 2002 and the Rugby World Cup in 2003. He guided the Australian U21 team to the final of the World Championships in 2005 and his most recent role was as Head Coach of the Australian Sevens team.

Commenting on the appointment, CEO of Connacht Rugby Willie Ruane said: “We are delighted to announce Andy Friend as the new Head Coach of Connacht Rugby. Andy has a wealth of experience at international and club level and shares our ambition for Connacht Rugby over the coming seasons. He will arrive in the Sportsground at the end of June and will oversee the preseason training plan ahead of the 2018/19 season.”

Following his appointment, Friend added: “I am extremely excited and honoured. Connacht is a proud province with huge potential to build on the success of recent seasons. I look forward to meeting the players, staff, supporters and wider community when I arrive in the Sportsground ahead of the new season.”

Bok prop Lood Muller passes away

Former Springbok prop Lood Muller has passed away at the age of 58 years old.

He was killed in a motor vehicle accident near Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, earlier this week.

Muller played two Tests - against New Zealand in Cape Town and Australia in Johannesburg - in August 1992.

"One of the first games I ever commentated on for SuperSport was at King's Park," renowned rugby commentator Andy Capostagno wrote on Facebook.

"John Robbie was alongside me and there was a lineout on halfway. The director cut to a closeup of Lood just as John Allan was shouting the lineout call. Reacting to the closeup, John said, 'Lood Muller', and Lood responded, right on cue, 'What?', to which John's reaction was to shout into the microphone, 'Lood Muller!' RIP."

Captained by fly-half Naas Botha, Muller shared a powerful scrum with fellow front-rankers Uli Schmitt and Johan Styger, locks Adri Geldenhuys and Adolf Malan and loose forwards Wahl Bartmann, Ian Macdonald and Jannie Breedt against the All Blacks. Heinrich Rodgers replaced Styger for the clash against the Wallabies.

South Africa lost both matches - the first 24-27; the second 3-26.

The team also featured scrum-half Robert du Preez, who is currently head coach of the Sharks - the KwaZulu-Natal franchise. Muller was capped by the same province 90 times, after a successful debut in 1989.

By Jonhenry Wilson

Burger Odendaal back to lead Bulls

Regular inside centre and captain, Burger Odendaal, returns to lead the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday when they face the Brumbies.

Odendaal missed last weekend’s clash against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, but is ready to lead the side again.

His return will see Handre Pollard starting at 10 again, with Manie Libbok back onto the bench in place of JT Jackson.

In the other changes to the team from last weekend, Nic de Jager comes into the starting team at flank, where he takes over from Thembelani Bholi, with the latter moving to the bench and Jaco Visagie will switch with Adriaan Strauss at hooker.

Strauss will again extend his South African appearance record in Super Rugby when he takes to the field for the 156th time.

Bulls coach John Mitchell also introduced two new faces to the bench. Ruben van Heerden will be backing up at lock and there is a potential Bulls and Super Rugby debut for Matthys Basson, who comes in for Frans van Wyk at prop.

“We know that our effort last weekend was not good enough. It was a setback in our efforts and ambitions for the season. We do get another opportunity a week later and we are playing at home, so we have a great chance to redeem ourselves in front of our home support,” Mitchell said.

Odendaal admitted that the Brumbies' all-round game could prove a handful.

“They are certainly well-balanced and we need to be sharp in execution and finishing off if we want to secure a win. The guys are keen to embrace this opportunity though, especially at home in front of our supporters," he said.

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Mox Mxoli, 18 Matthys Basson, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Jaco Pretorius (South Africa)
Television match official: Willie Vos (South Africa)

50 up for Sikhumbuzo Notshe

Loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe will play his 50th Super Rugby game for the Stormers when they take on the Lions at Newlands on Saturday.

Having made his debut against the Reds in 2014, the 24-year-old has wasted little time in reaching his Stormers half-century and will lead the team out this weekend.

Notshe’s inclusion at number eight comes as part of a new loose forward combination, with captain Siya Kolisi back in the starting team and Kobus van Dyk shifting to blindside flank. Cobus Wiese and Nizaam Carr will provide cover on the replacements bench.

The only other change to the starting forward pack comes in the second-row, with Jan de Klerk in for Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was ruled out due to illness.

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi and loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff are both back from injury and will feature among the replacements.

The only change to the backline sees Raymond Rhule on the left wing in place of Seabelo Senatla, who has returned to the Springbok Sevens squad, with EW Viljoen and Craig Barry providing cover on the replacements bench.

Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck said that his team are intent on delivering a complete performance at Newlands.

“It is great to be back at DHL Newlands this weekend for what should be another big game," he said.

“Our focus is to be as accurate as possible and execute our plans so that we are able to impose ourselves."

Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 EW Viljoen, 23 Craig Barry

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Newlands
Kick-off: 17:15 (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
Television match official: Christie du Preez (South Africa)

Lions ring the changes for Stormers

Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has rung the changes to his starting line-up for Saturday's Super Rugby derby with the Stormers in Cape Town.

There are seven alterations in all with Jacques van Rooyen and Marnus Schoeman returning to the forwards at loosehead prop and on the openside respectively, with Kwagga Smith moving from the side of the scrum to number eight.

In the back-line, Aphiwe Dyantyi moves to the left wing from the midfield which means Harold Vorster returns to the run-on side as Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s centre partner while Ruan Combrinck is back at right wing.

Six changes were made to the bench of which the most notable is Rhyno Herbst's inclusion as second-row cover.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrink, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Franco Mostert (c), 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques Van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Madosh Tambwe, 23 Sylvian Mahuza

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
Television match official: Christie du Preez (South Africa)

Tevita Nabura still waiting on hearing date

Highlanders flyer Tevita Nabura is still waiting to have a time set for his disciplinary hearing after he was sent off against the Waratahs.

The 25-year-old received a red card midway through the first half during the Highlanders' 41-12 defeat in Sydney last weekend, when he kicked Waratahs wing Cameron Clark in the face after gathering a high ball.

The Highlanders are set to play the Reds in Brisbane this weekend but Nabura returned to New Zealand earlier this week with his hearing initially scheduled for Tuesday night.

It has been delayed, however, and the Dunedin-based outfit's assistant coach Mark Hammett said it would still be "24 to 48 hours" before a time was set.

"I believe that's when we'll know," Hammett told the New Zealand Herald.

Nabura is facing a spell on the sidelines for his transgression. His place in the Highlanders' starting line-up for their clash with the Reds has been taken by Tevita Li.

Preview: Jaguares v Sharks

The Jaguares’ record against the Sharks reads four successive defeats since their inception into Super Rugby, but can they end that run this weekend?

This should be the hosts’ best chance of reversing their fortunes against the Durban-based outfit following the team's outstanding form, which has very much put them in the play-off race. Five successive victories have lifted Mario Ledesma’s men into second position in the South African Conference and seventh overall, one point ahead of Friday’s opponents.

Head coach Ledesma has done a wonderful job in his first year in charge, improving the basics of the game that constantly frustrated the Buenos Aires-based outfit over the last two seasons. While Raul Perez’s stance was admirable in attempting to develop their skills and attacking play, he went too far away from what the country were renowned for and, as a result, the franchise were mistake-ridden.

They were too easy to play against but the former hooker has rectified that somewhat and Ledesma’s charges are now genuine contenders for the knockout stages. With the Lions struggling before their victory over the Brumbies, both the Jaguares and Sharks have an opportunity to put future pressure on Swys de Bruin’s side.

While most of the praise in the conference has been heaped on the Jaguares, Robert du Preez’s men should also not be discounted after their recent improvement. Consistency had been an issue for the South Africans but three victories out of four suggests that they are starting to find their rhythm.

The Durban team have a very talented XV and, most crucially, individuals in fine form, with Andre Esterhuizen, Jean-Luc du Preez and Curwin Bosch all standing out this season, but is it enough to halt the Argentinian juggernaut?

Du Preez’s outfit have an impressive record against the hosts but all of them were tight encounters – the biggest margin of victory being eight – and their opponents have, over their previous five contests, produced some superb displays.

Although the Jaguares have been hampered by some of their best players going overseas to Europe, it is still close to the best Argentina has to offer and the Sharks may go the same way as the Bulls.

The last time the teams met: It was a narrow victory for the Sharks, who went away with an impressive 33-25 triumph over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. The visitors started well and touched down through Phillip van der Walt, but the home side responded via Joaquin Tuculet and Matias Orlando efforts. Tries for Etienne Oosthuizen and Thomas du Toit put the Durban-based team in control before Bautista Ezcurra hit back for the hosts, but the kicking of Curwin Bosch proved the difference, with the youngster scoring 18 points from the tee.

Players to watch:

For Jaguares: The main reason for the Argentinians’ success recently has been because of their improvement up front and youngster Marcos Kremer is at the heart of that. The 20-year-old has already featured 12 times for the national team but this almost feels like his breakthrough season. Kremer has stepped up significantly, particularly over past five games for the franchise, and was superb against the Bulls. He is an excellent athlete and the flanker will look to get the Jaguares regularly over the gain line on Friday.

For Sharks: Having been earmarked as a huge talent for a few years, it is about time tighthead Thomas du Toit stepped up and showed why some think he will eventually be a world class prop. The 23-year-old was dominant at age-grade level but it has taken time for him to translate that into senior rugby, despite regularly featuring for the Durban-based outfit. Du Toit has yet to break into the South African squad and the Sharks will hope that he can start matching the performances of front-row colleagues Tendai Mtawarira and Akker van der Merwe.

Team news: The Jaguares have made just one alteration to their starting XV.

The only change from the run-on side which claimed an impressive 54-24 victory against the Bulls last weekend sees Ramiro Moyano starting on the left wing where he replaces Sebastian Cancelliere.

This means Emiliano Boffelli will start at full-back again while back-row Tomas Lezana continues as captain in the absence of first-choice skipper Pablo Matera, who is still sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Head coach Mario Ledesma has also made one change to his replacements bench with Juan Manuel Leguizamón taking over from fellow veteran Leonardo Senatore as back-row cover.

Meanwhile, Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has once again had the good fortune to be able to name an unchanged line-up, having retained the match-day 23 from last week’s match.

They have a lethal backline which contains the in-form Curwin Bosch, Andre Esterhuizen and Robert du Preez, while the pack is similarly strong.

Tendai Mtawarira, Akker van der Merwe and Thomas du Toit form a powerful front-row and in Jean Luc du Preez – Robert’s brother – they arguably have the outstanding flanker of this season’s competition.

Form: Following the dominant 54-24 triumph over the Bulls, the Jaguares recorded their fifth victory in succession to put further pressure on the Lions, who still top the South African Conference. It has been a remarkable turnaround for Mario Ledesma’s men after starting the campaign with four losses in their opening five encounters, but matters have improved significantly since then. They went unbeaten on their Australasian tour, which included wins over the Blues and the Chiefs, and the Argentinians continued that superb run at home last weekend.

The Sharks have also impressed over recent rounds, emerging triumphant in three of the past four matches. Their only loss in that time came at the Bulls, where they succumbed 39-33 at Loftus Versfeld, but victories over the Highlanders and Chiefs hinted at a team who are ready to challenge the Jaguares and Lions. They reside just one point behind this weekend’s opponents and another victory would set them up nicely heading into the final three games.

Prediction: The Sharks are playing well but their opponents have been outstanding over the past few weeks and we see that continuing. Jaguares by 8.

Previous results:

2017: Sharks won 33-25 in Buenos Aires
2017: Sharks won 18-13 in Durban
2016: Sharks won 25-22 in Buenos Aires
2016: Sharks won 19-15 in Durban.

The teams:

Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de le Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomas Lezana (c), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia

Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Makazole Mapimpi

Date: Friday, May 25
Venue: Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 16:40 local (19:40 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Damian Schneider (Argentina), José Covasi (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)

Ramiro Moyano returns for Jaguares

The Jaguares have made just one alteration to their starting XV to take on the Sharks in their Super Rugby clash in Buenos Aires on Friday.

The only change from the run-on side which claimed an impressive 54-24 victory against the Bulls last weekend sees Ramiro Moyano starting on the left wing where he replaces Sebastian Cancelliere.

This means Emiliano Boffelli will start at full-back again while back-row Tomas Lezana continues as captain in the absence of first-choice skipper Pablo Matera, who is still sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Head coach Mario Ledesma has also made one change to his replacements bench with Juan Manuel Leguizamón taking over from fellow veteran Leonardo Senatore as back-row cover.

Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de le Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomas Lezana (c), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia

Date: Friday, May 25
Venue: Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 16:40 local (19:40 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Damian Schneider (Argentina), José Covasi (Argentina)
Television match official: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)

Matt Symons signs for Harlequins

Harlequins have announced that second-row Matt Symons has signed for the London club ahead of next season, joining the Stoop from Wasps.

The 6ft 7in, 18 stone lock is one of a very select group of English players to experience Super Rugby, courtesy of two seasons in New Zealand with the Chiefs, where he became a first team regular and captained the side.

“I am hugely excited about signing for Harlequins and cannot wait to get down to The Stoop and join up with the squad,” said Symons.

“I’d like to thank Wasps and the fans for the opportunity and the support they showed me during my time at the club, I will always cherish the memories from my time there.

“It is an exciting time to be joining Harlequins, as I know there is huge ambition to take the club back to the top of the English and European game and I hope to contribute to that next season.”

Forwards coach Graham Rowntree commented: “Matt is a player who has been on my radar since his time with the Chiefs in New Zealand. He brings a physicality and lineout authority that we’ve been looking for, as well as adding some power to our engine room.

“He'll be a solid addition to the group and has some great leadership qualities. I’m looking forward to working with him next season.”

Wayne Pivac hails 'fantastic' Tadhg Beirne

Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has praised star forward Tadhg Beirne ahead of the PRO14 final against Leinster in Dublin on Saturday.

On Friday night, the Dublin-born loose forward featured in Scarlets’ emphatic PRO14 semi-final victory over Glasgow Warriors to make their way to a second consecutive final.

He was named Fans’ Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season, as well as receiving the award for Try of the Season at the region’s end of season celebrations.

On Wednesday, Beirne received his long-awaited call-up to the Ireland squad; he will tour with Joe Schmidt’s 32-man squad to Australia this summer.

The week, and his tenure at Scarlets, will draw to a close on Saturday evening as he lines up against his former side Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

Reflecting on Beirne’s contribution to the Scarlets, head coach Wayne Pivac said: “He’s been fantastic. For a player that was sitting there languishing, looking like he didn’t have a contract, and he was the last position for us to do. We didn’t have a lot of money and had a good look around to see what was available. We did a bit of research and we took Tadhg on board. He’s repaid us tenfold, he’s been superb!

“He’s played second-row, six, eight, he’d even play on the wing if you wanted him to. He’s a great team man. He’s great off the field and works very hard at his game. He’s contributed really well.

“He’s been superb, I can’t say enough about him. He’s done very well.”

Jack Maddocks commits to Rebels

Highly-rated Melbourne Rebels young prospect Jack Maddocks has signed a two-year deal, keeping him at the club until the end of the 2020 season.

The 21-year-old back has extended his contract into a third and fourth season in Melbourne, following his debut in 2017.

Maddocks now boasts 16 Super Rugby caps and six tries with the Melbourne Rebels, the highlight of these a hat-trick scored against the Sunwolves in Tokyo in March.

One of the Rebels and Australian rugby’s brightest prospects, Maddocks has played in all but one Super Rugby match for the Rebels in 2018, predominantly as the starting full back covering for injured Wallabies full-back, Dane Haylett-Petty.

Maddocks’ bright season to date continues on from his impressive debut year, that saw him invited as a development player to the Wallabies’ November tour.

The Sydney-native said he was happy to continue calling Melbourne home.

“I’m really happy to be staying at the Rebels. The development of the rugby program and the environment that we’re creating under Dave (Wessels) made it a really easy decision in the end,” Maddocks said.

“We are definitely on the right track to building a long-term, successful club and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

“The Wallabies are an ambition of mine, but I know that can only happen if I play good rugby for the Rebels, so I’m looking forward to putting my head down and working hard.”

Melbourne Rebels head coach Dave Wessels said Maddocks’ re-signing was another big tick to the club’s rugby programme.

“We’re delighted that Jack has chosen to commit his future to our club and wants to continue his development in the environment we are building in Melbourne,” Wessels said.

“Jack is a quality person and has played well this year – a real testament to the work he’s put in. He’s highly-regarded within our club and by his teammates because of the way he plays the game; with a lot of love and care for the team.

“We are striving to build a world-class environment in Melbourne to be able to support players like Jack to fulfil their dreams of playing Test rugby.”

James Slipper suspended for cocaine use

Wallabies and Reds front-row James Slipper has been banned for two months after returning two positive tests for cocaine, between February and May this year.

Under Rugby Australia's Illicit Drugs policy the first test is kept confidential, with only Rugby Australia's (RAU) integrity unit and the relevant doctors made aware, with a focus on player welfare, but a second positive test is made public and the player is punished.

Slipper received the minimum punishment of a two-month stand down and a AUS$27,500 fine, with Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle saying a series of 'significant personal issues' had been taken into account when the tribunal made its decision.

"We are extremely disappointed to be in this position today, with one of our most senior international players having submitted two positive tests for cocaine," she told the Australian Rugby Union's official website.

"We are fully aware that James is dealing with very significant personal issues and we have been working with him since February on these matters.

"We are ensuring that James is receiving full help and support including specialist medical treatment.

"James has expressed his sincere remorse for his actions and for placing himself, Rugby Australia and the Reds in this very difficult situation."

Castle admitted more needed to be done to create an open environment for players to speak about their mental health issues.

"I think the time period has become news to us throughout this situation and that's one of the things about depression, if anyone's done any background research and reading on this particular subject is people work really hard to hide any mental health or depression challenges they have themselves for a very long time before they're prepared to front it," she said.

"And that's where as a sport we need to try and encourage people to come forward earlier because the earlier they come forward the more they can help them."

In a statement, Slipper said he would speak publicly when 'fit and ready' and Rugby Union Players' Association CEO Ross Xenos said Slipper's emotional state after the tribunal reflected some of his struggles.

"Speaking with James quite a lot over the course of the last week, his first expression and his first emotion when he found out about the situation was relief," he revealed.

"I think that's an indication of some of the demons that he has been battling over the course of the last little while that he now has some time to get himself right away from the daily grind of professional rugby and clearly he's going to be well supported by rehabilitation plan and also medical experts working with him."

Slipper took over the captaincy of the Queensland Reds in 2015, before stepping down from the role this season, and captained the Wallabies in 2015 against the USA.

He has played 95 Super Rugby matches for the Reds and 86 Wallabies Tests, after making his debut in 2010.

Queensland Rugby Union chairman Jeff Miller has called for a possible review of the Rugby Australia Illicit Drugs Policy, with the club not able to be made aware of Slipper's drug use until after his second test.

Miller said he was confident there was no drug culture at the Reds, despite both Slipper and Karmichael Hunt being embroiled in drug problems this season.

"I'm confident in saying that because this is an issue with a player who's played over 100 games and been of the absolute highest character in our game," he explained.

"I believe there are extenuating circumstances with James that we need to take into account."

Miller said coach Brad Thorn had moved to help Slipper deal with some of his personal problems through the season, but was not aware of any of the drug-related issues.

"Brad had spoken to James early in the piece," he said.

"He made some accommodations around his training program to allow for James to accommmodate that.

"We have been aware of those issues, but we haven't been able to cover all of James's issues."

Rugby Australia's policy is in line with other major football codes - the NRL also keeps the first test private, but a second positive test within a year results in a punishment.

The AFL has a three-strike policy, with only the AFL Medical Director aware of the first two positive tests, with a third within four years of the first the only trigger to tell club doctors and officials.

Rebels coach David Wessels expressed his sympathy to Slipper, when asked about whether the illicit drugs policy needed a tweak.

"I don't know James well, but from everything I do know about him from the playing group, everyone says he's a really good guy," he said.

"I'm sorry this has happened to him and he obviously has some struggles and he needs to overcome that.

"From a player welfare point of view, I think it's a timely reminder that this is an ongoing thing for all the clubs that we have to pay attention to this all the time, not just in one-off instances or as a reaction to something like this when it happens, but we need to be invested in this from a resource point of view and also from a time point of view all the time."

Reds change two for Highlanders

Reds head coach Brad Thorn has made two alterations to his starting line-up for Saturday's Super Rugby clash with the Highlanders in Brisbane.

In the forwards, 19-year-old lock Harry Hockings earns his run-on debut and in the back-line, Izaia Perese returns to the wing.

The match will be Hockings’ ninth in Super Rugby, after making his debut in Round Three. He has been named to start ahead of Kane Douglas, who has moved to the bench.

Perese is back in the starting side for the first time since Round 10 and takes the place of first-year flyer Filipo Daugunu, who has dropped out of the matchday 23.

The Reds have opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench, allowing the return of flanker Caleb Timu, who has recovered from an ankle injury suffered in Queensland’s Round 11 win over the Lions.

Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “We’ve kept a pretty similar side to last week.

"Kane (Douglas) had a good game last week and he has been in strong form, but we felt the time was right to give Harry (Hockings) an opportunity to start. He has been making great strides in his development and this is the next step for him. Kane will provide good impact off the bench.

"Izaia (Perese) has been working hard to get back to the form he showed us in the pre-season, before his knee injury. He has had some chances off the bench and now he gets another crack in the starting side.

"It’s good to see Caleb (Timu) return from injury too. He was in damaging form before that setback and hopefully he will bounce back quickly."

Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Liam Wright, 22 Moses Sorovi, 23 Aidan Toua

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jordan Way (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)