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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Robbie Fleck © Gallo Images

Interesting examination awaits Lions and Stormers



"Offence sells tickets, defence wins championships." That quote from Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards might appear to be an odd way to start the preview for the fifth round of Vodacom Super Rugby, but it just seems to be particularly apt to both South African teams in action this weekend.

With the Cell C Sharks and the rampaging Vodacom Bulls both taking a bye this week, there are just two games of particular relevance to local fans.

The Stormers get the weekend action rolling by hosting the Jaguares at Newlands on Friday night and the Emirates Lions are at home to the Rebels on Saturday.

While the Sharks and Bulls will be resting, the results of the two games in question will be eagerly anticipated by both in terms of the message they send out and what it will mean to the conference battle.

Let's not forget either that the Jaguares are in the South African conference, and thus any away win they achieve will be meaningful.

But back to that quote. It’s relevant to the Stormers because their poor try-scoring record so far is starting to become a talking point again among a fan base that sometimes appears to prioritise style above the end result that for most others is the bottom line.

The Stormers have eked out two ugly wins in their last two games and, as their coach Robbie Fleck put it, it has enabled them to start heading back towards an even keel after the damage that was done by the embarrassing opening defeat at the hands of the Bulls.

The way he spoke this week though it appears Fleck is anticipating what is going to come next - the expectation is always there for the Stormers (or Western Province) to play an all-embracing game that features lots of ball in hand.

So while an ugly win should really be enough against a Jaguares side that isn't far off test match strength and which plays test match type rugby, Newlands patrons will be expecting Fleck to be true to his word now that some of the pressure is off the team will start to play the type of game they like playing.

Fleck will know too though that if it is the championship, meaning the Super Rugby title, that his team are after, another ugly win will certainly be worth a lot more than a 10-try thriller that wows the crowds but which his team ends up losing.

The Jaguares are not going to be easy. A one point win will be reason for the Stormers to celebrate ahead of their trip to Australasia, and lets not forget that the Argentine side won twice in New Zealand last season.

The Lions are in the opposite place to the Stormers as they prepare to play the Rebels. The focus on them will be on defence as much as it will be on offence for the Stormers.

There was certainly nothing wrong with the Lions' defence in the early part of the season. It was in fact their defensive effort that enabled them to beat the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on the opening weekend.

And they'd probably have succumbed to the Stormers sooner than the last move of the game at Newlands a week later had it not been for their defensive effort there.

But they say that defence is about attitude, and the Lions, if they were honest, might reflect that most of their attitude was expressed in their scrumming and other aspects of their forward play last week, and not in their defensive effort.

The Jaguares were effectively swept off the park in the first 50 minutes by a rousing attacking performance from the Lions.

They should have finished a lot more than eight points ahead. That they were held to such a close end result was as much down to their neglect of defence as it was to the Jaguares' commitment to giving the ball air once they were behind. Even when they were charging early on, the Lions were giving away points to easily.

For instance, while the Lions' maul was excellent, as it invariably is, their defence of the Jaguares' attempts to maul were abject. They gave away tries too easily, and they can't do that if they want to maintain a challenge that listed badly following their emphatic defeat to the Bulls the week before last.

Of course, their defensive frailties against the Jaguares might be entirely understandable. A raft of changes were made to the team for that game, and it does take a while for a playing unit to properly come together defensively.

Maybe it is just that, and it will be interesting to see what Swys de Bruin comes up with in his selection.

WEEKEND FIXTURES AND PREDICTIONS

SOUTH AFRICAN CONFERENCE

DHL Stormers v Jaguares (Cape Town, Friday 7:15pm)

If there are members of the Newlands faithful who are venturing to their spiritual home anticipating a similar try-fest to the one that was evidenced when the Lions beat the Jaguares in Johannesburg, they should rethink.

The Jaguares were under-strength for that game. They made 11 changes in what was effectively a loud message that they sent out to the Stormers.

They were targeting the game against the Cape team. And it was reflected in the way they appeared to lose interest at times in the first half.

Friday night's fixture is the real deal for the Jaguares, one that they are taking a win at all costs attitude into. They will be on a test match footing, and while the Stormers must start as slight favourites, slight is the operative word.

Robbie Fleck has made four changes to the side that beat the Sharks but none of them are significant enough to make a quantum difference to their chances of repeating that performance.

Prediction: DHL Stormers by 5

Emirates Lions v Rebels (Johannesburg, Saturday 3:05pm)

The Lions sent out a strong message last week. They definitely don't intend slipping back into the maelstrom of being just also-runners in this year’s competition, and won’t settle for less than what they have achieved in the last few years. Meaning a place in the playoffs and preferably the final.

But you also have to be realistic when the team is made up of relative newcomers, even when those newcomers are hugely talented, as the likes of Wandisile Simelane undeniably are.

So this game against the top team in the Australian conference so far will be an examination for the Lions, not least for the youngsters to back up but also for the team as a whole to return to the life depends on it defensive attitude that wins championships.

Prediction: Emirates Lions by 7

AUSTRALASIAN CONFERENCE

Chiefs v Hurricanes (Hamilton, Friday 8.35am)

Prediction: Hurricanes by 9

Brumbies v Waratahs (Canberra, Friday 10.45am)

Prediction: Brumbies to scrape it by less than 7

Sunwolves v Reds (Tokyo, Saturday 6.15am)

Prediction: Reds by 6

Highlanders v Crusaders (Dunedin, Saturday 8.35am)

Prediction: Crusaders by 8



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