Super Rugby preview: Final round

Date published: July 13 2012

It's the final round of regular-season action in Super Rugby with just two sides – the Stormers and Chiefs – guaranteed a play-off berth.

It's the final round of regular-season action in Super Rugby with just two sides – the Stormers and Chiefs – guaranteed a play-off berth.

That leaves eight teams battling it out for a place in the top six, which means there will be two very disappointed sides when Round 18 comes to an end after the final whistle is blown in Pretoria.

Six matches, all of them crucial in determining which teams will clinch the remaining wildcard spots, so lets get to it!

Brumbies v Blues
Canberra Stadium

One point on Saturday will be enough to ensure the Brumbies win the Australian Conference and secure a spot in the play-offs – and thus end an eight-year drought – but it's far from a done deal against a resurgent Blues team.

This weekend will be a true test of not only the Brumbies' nerves but their play-off credentials as they face a team that have finally started to gel.

Indeed the Blues have averaged nearly 30 points per game in their last three starts. Their revival is thanks in no small part to the return of some injured players meaning others have been able to play in their preferred positions. That trends is set to continue as Charlie Faumuina's return means the Blues have been able to field their full-strength front row for just the third time this season.

A win for the Blues should see them rise above the Rebels into 11th position – not exactly what they were hoping for at the start of the year, but significantly better than what was feared a few weeks ago.

But the visitors' preparations have been disrupted by the interview process for the Blues head coach job for next year as Pat Lam fights to keep his job. Lam will stay behind to interview for his position on Friday along with the other candidates, then catch a later flight to rejoin the team in Canberra.

“It can't be advantageous to have your coach staying behind and not flying over with the team, and obviously the uncertainty,” said Brumbies coach Jake White on Thursday.

The hosts won't have to worry about other team's result as they take the field before the Reds, who need the Brumbies to lose and then must hammer the Waratahs to claim top spot in the Aussie conference.

“The thing we've got in our favour this week is we play first,” added White.

“Literally by the time the final whistle goes, we'll have an understanding of where we are.”

Keep an eye on the battle between Ma'a Nonu and Pat McCabe, who could very well face off again a month from now in the first Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship clash of the year.

The last time these teams met, back in 2010, the Blues won 39-34 at Eden Park

Prediction: The hosts have managed to pick up at least one tournament point in every game of the season so far and that's all they need. We reckon they'll do a bit better though. Brumbies by six points.

The teams:


Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Robbie Coleman.

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Steven Luatua, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Andrew Van der Heijden, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai'i, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)

Crusaders v Western Force

It is a strange situation for the Crusaders this week as they cannot finish any better in the standings but could end up missing the knockout stages.

Standing in their path is not the toughest proposition as the Force are currently sitting in fourteenth spot.

Therefore the majority are expecting nothing but a home victory and we can see no reason to go against the grain if the weather is kind.

Coach Todd Blackadder will be looking for more of the same from his men who – judging from last week's success in Hamilton – seem to be hitting form. That win over the Chiefs left their fate in their own hands and if they can seal home advantage for next week, the top two will be keen to miss them.

If the hosts can repeat their clinical and knockout-like performance of Round 17 then surely the Force will have no answer to what is coming at them.

The Crusaders' opponents will carry plenty of emotion into this match as they bid farewell to Super Rugby's most-capped player, Nathan Sharpe. While it will be his 162nd and last in this competition, injury to James Horwill means he will carry on for Australia in the Rugby Championship. He should receive a warm welcome and goodbye in Christchurch.

Therefore the Force must have already been thinking about next term when they're without their stalwart and possibly David Pocock, as the rumour mill continues to turn in Australia's press. Whether he will go over to Canberra to take the jersey of soon-to-be Waratah Michael Hooper remains a mystery.

But there is no mystery about where this result at AMI Stadium is heading as we see the likes of Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford thriving behind a pack that is set to go forward and a half-back duo that have been there, seen it and done it. It could be a long evening for the struggling Western Force.

Prediction: No upsets here. Crusaders by 25!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Adam Whitelock, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Robbie Fruean.

Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Will Tupou.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)

Reds v Waratahs
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

The Reds will attempt mission improbable when they take on the Waratahs in Saturday's interstate grudge match in Brisbane.

The defending champions must score their first bonus-point victory over their arch-rivals in nine years to stand a chance of gaining last