Super Rugby preview: Friday

Date published: March 8 2012

Round Three begins in Napier where Sonny Bill Williams faces his old team-mates before Western Force meet the Hurricanes in Perth.

Round Three of Super Rugby 2012 kicks off in Napier where Sonny Bill Williams faces his old team-mates before the Force meet the 'Canes.

Crusaders v Chiefs
McLean Park, Napier

The Crusaders will look to return to winning ways when they host the Chiefs at McLean Park.

The seven-time defending champions followed up their opening round win over the Blues with a shock defeat to the Highlanders, while the injury-hit Chiefs recovered from a home loss to the Highlanders by sweeping past the Aucklanders, and – like the Crusaders – enter their third Kiwi derby in as many weeks.

Both sides have tasted victory and defeat thus far in 2012, however, the Chiefs lead the Crusaders by one point in the New Zealand conference and overall table thanks to the four tries they scored last weekend.

The Crusaders got the better of their Kiwi rivals twice last year, winning 34-16 at Baypark Stadium and 25-19 at McLean Park. But things are a bit different this time around though. For one, the Chiefs now have the services of former Crusader Sonny Bill Williams and are under the guidance of new coaches Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith – whose influences came to the fore in last week's convincing win in Hamilton.

So impressive were the Chiefs, that their Round One loss to the Highlanders seems a distant memory. But to prove it was no fluke, Rennie's troops will be under no illusions that much of the same will be required against the men in red and black. And with more wet weather expected in Napier, the Chiefs will need to show off their superb handling skills once again in poor conditions.

The Crusaders were given a rude awakening by the Highlanders in Dunedin, where the forwards especially were out-muscled in the contact areas. To beat their hosts, the Chiefs may adopt a similar approach to the Highlanders and attack them at the breakdown while rushing up and hitting hard on defence.

It's an area that Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder will look to rectify and he has made four changes to his pack as a result by reshuffling his front-row and benching Sam Whitelock for Luke Romano.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have named an unchanged line-up for Friday's hit-out and will feel confident of inflicting back-to-back defeats over the Crusaders.

Prediction: Crusaders will take this. Expect plenty of positional switching between Israel Dagg and Sean Maitland at the back and the 'home side' to come out on top by about 10!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Adam Whitelock, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (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 Sam Whitelock, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Tom Marshall.

Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Shane Cleaver, 18 Mike Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Jackson Willison.

Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Television match official: Richard Kelly (New Zealand)

Western Force v Hurricanes
nib Stadium, Perth

The Force are out to avoid a hat-trick of defeats in Round Three when they take on the Hurricanes in their first home game of the season.

Derby defeats to the Brumbies and Reds have left the Perth-based outfit stranded at the bottom of the Australian conference and 14th overall.

The punters didn't give the Force much hope this season, and Richard Graham's troops are yet to prove their critics wrong. However, they did show glimpses of what they are capable of against the Reds when fighting back 23-6 down at the break to cut the lead to just six points (26-20) after the interval.

They eventually lost the match 35-20, but showed they're a side not willing to roll over so easily.

The winless Force, however, will be boosted by the return of Wallaby number eight Richard Brown and full-back Cameron Shepherd, with lock Sam Wykes on the bench.

The return of these influential players means the Hurricanes will have a big game on their hands, and will no doubt feel travel fatigue after making the long flight from South Africa where they left with a mixed bag of results having lost one (against the Stormers) and won one (against the Lions).

A key aspect of the Hurricanes' late win over the Lions last week was big defence, which held off the Lions for long periods and also created turnovers for two of their three tries.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett has made three changes to the side that started the 30-28 win over the Lions, with Julian Savea appearing for the first time this season on the left wing.

The Hurricanes won last year's match between the two sides 34-28 on the back of a late Aaron Cruden-inspired comeback at Palmerston North.

Home ground advantage doesn't exactly favour the Force either, who only won one and drew two of their seven games in Perth last year en route to finishing third in the Australian conference and twelfth overall.

Prediction: This will be close. The Hurricanes have showed they can mix it thus far but we just feel that home advantage for the Force might be the difference. Western Force by 7!

The teams:

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Stannard, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Kieran Longbottom.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Angus Cottrell, 20 Justin Turner, 21 Ben Seymour, 22 Alfie Mafi.

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Michael Bent, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Charlie Ngatai.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Simon Moore (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)