Super Rugby preview Round 11: Big opportunity for Brumbies, Waratahs

The Brumbies were superb in defence to defeat the Stormers in Cape Town, April 20, 2019 Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty Images

After registering upsets in Round 10, can the Lions and Brumbies cause further tipping nightmares away to the Crusaders and Jaguares respectively?

It might be an easier assignment for the Brumbies, who defeated the Jaguares in their only previous encounter in Buenos Aires.

Elsewhere, the Hurricanes and Chiefs lock horns in a tough local derby while the Sharks will be looking to bounce back from their shock loss to the Reds in the first game of their Australasian tour. The Durban-based side are in Sydney to face the Waratahs.

Read on for some of the key storylines to follow this weekend.

AUSTRALIAN CONFERENCE

Brumbies, Tahs can really give Rebels the wobbles

Their Round 11 challenges take on vastly different forms, but the prizes are almost identical for NSW Waratahs and the Brumbies as they prepare to face the Sharks and Jaguares respectively.

So what's on offer exactly? Well, not only can they draw level with the Rebels at the top of the Australian conference, but by notching back-to-back victories, they can really snatch the momentum for the run to the finals as, too.

With the Rebels and Reds both enjoying their second byes for the season, wins for the Waratahs and Brumbies this weekend would leave just one point separating first from third in the Australian conference. If the Brumbies were to record a bonus-point victory in Buenos Aires it would be a three-way tie at the top, while five points for NSW would see them lead the conference on their own.

With a tough two-week tour of Africa still to come, as well as a final-round visit to face the Highlanders in Dunedin, this weekend's match-up is arguably more important for the Waratahs, though.

Daryl Gibson's men produced a dogged second-half comeback to defeat the Rebels last week, following a difficult fortnight brought about by the Israel Folau saga. But they must back it up against the Sharks, in what will be the Waratahs' first game at the new Bankwest Stadium.

For so long the Waratahs have been accused of neglecting Sydney's western corridor, but with a new state-of-the-art boutique stadium now at their disposal, they would be stupid not to play at least a couple of games there every year into the future.

And what better way to christen it than with a convincing victory over the Sharks, who last week slipped to a shock defeat at home to the Reds; proving that they have learned from the mistakes that saw them back up their brilliant win over the Crusaders with a turgid effort against the Sunwolves?

The Brumbies, meanwhile, have enjoyed success on their last few trips to South Africa; but last week's amazing defensive performance against the Stormers must surely top the lot. In making an incredible 195 tackles and overcoming just a 34 percent share of possession, the Brumbies demonstrated a willingness to dig in for the fight.

But they, too, have been guilty of inconsistency. Earlier in the season the Brumbies notched separate victories over the Chiefs and Waratahs, only to then turn in poor performances away to the Hurricanes and Reds respectively.

Having won two on the trot for the first time this year, however, growing accustomed to the prolonged absence of David Pocock in the process, the two-time champions might just be settling into a groove. Their growth without Pocock is evidenced by the fact they lead the competition for turnovers won with an average of 8.6 per game.

Still to have their second bye of the season, an upset win in Buenos Aires could prove invaluable as the competition turns to its closing weeks.

NEW ZEALAND CONFERENCE

Can Jordie jump right into fullback reckoning?

What exactly is Jordie Barrett's best position?

So far this season he's started in both centre spots, the wing and this weekend will play his second game at fullback for 2019.

Barrett certainly prefers to play fullback and made his international debut there, in the drawn third Test against the British & Irish Lions in 2017, but such are the Hurricanes' backline riches, and an unfortunate run with injury, that he at last returns to the No. 15 jersey for the first time since Round 2.

With Damian McKenzie's injury, there has certainly been plenty of discussion around whether the All Blacks need a third fly-half. But it may in fact just force a shift in thinking for the utility-type player they carry on their bench.

Barrett's ability to cover any position from No. 10 out certainly makes him a valuable commodity and someone who would factor in that decision, but the 22-year-old will also be eyeing off the All Blacks No. 15 jersey himself.

The All Blacks have used Ben Smith on the right wing enough over the past few years to suggest that they will again consider him there, particularly given Waisake Naholo's mixed form over the last 18 months. The Highlanders winger is also sidelined by injury right now.

Saturday night's game against the Chiefs certainly represents a real opportunity for Barrett. The Hurricanes should win and win well, but he will want to have as much involvement as possible and prove himself under the high ball.

It's clear he has the kicking ability required to play fullback at Test level but we are yet to see how he handles a concentrated aerial assault.

The Hurricanes, too, will be looking for a far more complete team performance after they narrowly avoided a loss to the Sunwolves in Tokyo last week. Beauden Barrett returns to the side alongside his brother and Ardie Savea, the back-rower giving the Hurricanes a huge physical presence through the middle of the paddock.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Brodie Retallick again misses through injury; that means the two-time champions are without 154 caps worth of international experience given McKenzie and co-captain Sam Cane are also on the long-term injury list.

The Chiefs managed to scramble a 23-all draw with the Hurricanes earlier in the season, but they certainly look to be up against it here.

SOUTH AFRICAN CONFERENCE

Jantjies' selection at 12 full of intrigue as Lions face ultimate test

Step forward, Shaun Reynolds.

The Lions have elected to start their third-choice fly-half in Christchurch this week, against the best team in the competition by a country mile, having flown him from Johannesburg in the week as an injury replacement for Gianni Lombard. Reynolds, 23, has played six Super Rugby games, but none this season; talk about a tough season's debut.

We will certainly keep eyes open to view Reynolds' performance against the nine-time Super champions, who are fresh off the bye, but the most interesting storyline from a South African Super Rugby point of view this week is the Lions' selection of Elton Jantjies in the No. 12 jumper for the second week in succession.

Jantjies was impressive in the jumper as the Lions trumped the Chiefs in Hamilton last week, playing a key role outside Lombard until the 10 suffered what turned out to be a tour-ending knee injury -- at which point he slipped one spot inside.

Of course, Jantjies did not play as a "traditional 12" outside Lombard -- rather he was a traditional second five-eighth, as he and Lombard shared the playmaking decisions -- but his selection in the position for the second week in succession, outside an inexperienced fly-half, and with an genuine 12, Franco Naude, on the bench, hints that the Lions are looking to develop the point of difference in their game plan.

The Lombard-Jantjies axis was not the reason the Lions defeated the Chiefs last week -- you can't go past the omnipresence of the reunited back-row of Warren Whiteley, Kwagga Smith and Cyle Brink, and the intensity without the ball -- but it certainly was a success on the night, and it's interesting that Ivan van Rooyen, the assistant coach standing in for Swys de Bruin after the head coach headed home from Hamilton for "personal reasons" confirmed subsequently as "struggling to deal with the pressures of the head coaching job", has retained the playmaker-in-chief in the second line of attack.

It's also an interesting development from a Springboks point of view given the noise that's been developing around the Sharks' hard-running crash-and-bash 12, Andre Esterhuizen.

Jantjies certainly looked good last week: The stats showed that Lombard and he both ran more than Jantjies previously had done at 10, suggesting a twist to the game plan, while he benefitted also from the extra time he seemed to have when the Lions had the ball; his decision-making was excellent, and he offered a dimension to the Lions' attack that is not evident when he plays at 10 with an "inside centre" outside him.

Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby's director of rugby and head coach of the Springboks, will also be keeping his eyes on Jantjies; the Lions playmaker is clearly the No.2 South African fly-half behind the Bulls' Handre Pollard, but he has never convinced as a Test pivot. Yet he may offer an alternative to the identikit Esterhuizen and Damien de Allende at 12. Erasmus, perhaps is unlikely to select Jantjies outside Pollard in a 10-12 playmaking axis -- at least not against a Tier 1 team such as their Rugby World Cup-opening opponents, New Zealand -- but who knows; he's brought Jantjies on previously, to play at 10 with Pollard shifted outside him, but that's same same but different as the latter has been used as a "direct runner".

Before then, might Erasmus also be looking at the Lions' continued selection of Jantjies? The playmaker has featured in all nine of the Lions' Super Rugby campaign to date, playing in all but 27 minutes of the team's season, but he'll have to rest sometime in line with the Springboks' Rugby World Cup protocols. One suspects he may have been on the plane home with Malcolm Marx had the Chiefs squeezed home last week, but they didn't and he wasn't.