Super Rugby preview: Friday

Date published: May 31 2012

It's Round 15 of Super Rugby and incredibly up to nine sides still have a chance of making the top-six play-offs!

It's Round 15 of Super Rugby and incredibly up to nine sides still have a chance of making the top-six play-offs!

The jammed competition table offers little forgiveness and any losses suffered in the remaining four rounds may be lethal.

Only the Cheetahs, Force and Reds are guaranteed points as they all have the weekend off. As for the rest, it's business as usual…

Super Rugby betting odds

Crusaders v Highlanders
AMI Stadium, Christchurch

The Crusaders will be out to pick up where they left off when they host the Highlanders in Friday's crucial derby clash in Christchurch.

The seven-time Super Rugby champions were in top gear from start to finish in their 59-12 win over the Blues a fortnight ago, but have since had a week off.

Whilst last year's finalists are looking better and better as the season progresses, recent history shows the Crusaders tend to struggle following an enforced break (as shown in their 28-21 win over the Cheetahs earlier in the season).

And while Todd Blackadder's troops – 12 of which return from All Blacks training – will be upbeat after the massacre of the Blues, there will not be any complacency in the Crusaders camp after they lost 24-27 to the Highlanders in Dunedin on March 3 and 18-26 to them in Nelson last year.

Both teams are pushing hard for a play-offs spot with the Crusaders currently fifth overall, but only two points ahead of the seventh-placed Highlanders who also managed to bag a bonus point against the Blues – albeit not as convincingly – in their last outing.

In such a congested New Zealand conference, victory is vital for both sides' finals ambitions whilst the two South Island rivals will also hope the Blues can do them a favour and upset the championship-leading Chiefs.

“We know where we are at and the importance of this game,” said Blackadder.

“The bye has given us the chance to recharge the batteries.

“The guys have come back from the All Blacks camp full of energy and really focused, and I expect us to continue where we left off.”

Prediction: This is a huge game, with Highlanders scrum-half Jimmy Cowan going as far as describing it as a 'final'. There are some good match-ups across the park and a lot of players vying for All Black places. The Crusaders have little reason not to be confident after brushing aside the Blues, but the southerners have proved they are no pushovers. Tough call. Crusaders by six!

The teams:

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

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Kade Poki.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)

Rebels v Brumbies
AAMI Park, Melbourne

The Brumbies will be out to take advantage of an injury-hit Rebels outfit in Melbourne as the visitors look to bounce back from last week's loss to the Reds.

Heading into this clash, the Brumbies sit just one point ahead of Queensland in the Aussie conference after their rookie fly-half Zack Holmes failed to snatch victory in the dying seconds with a last-gasp penalty attempt.

Instead, Holmes's shot sailed agonisingly wide of the posts and the Reds escaped with a one-point win to keep themselves in the play-offs race.

And with a guaranteed finals spot up for grabs for the side that tops their conference, the defending champion Reds will no doubt be cheering on the 12th-placed Rebels to knock over the Brumbies.

Easier said than done though, as the men from Melbourne's casualty list doubled following their 66-24 thumping by the Hurricanes a week ago with Kurtley Beale (shoulder), centres Lachlan Mitchell (head) and Lloyd Johansson (finger) as well as flanker Michael Lipman (head) all ruled out.

In fact, with Beale joining James O'Connor (liver) on the sidlines and Danny Cipriani back in England, the hosts will be fielding their fourth-choice pivot.

It doesn't bode well for the home side, who were demolished 37-6 in Canberra earlier this season with a full-strength line-up in tow.

''They're the top of the Australian conference and rightly so and we know we're in for a tough game,” admitted Rebels coach Damien Hill.

Prediction: We tend to agree with Hill. Brumbies by 14!

The teams:

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (C), 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Hugh Perrett, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Tom Chamberlain, 20 Tim Davidson, 21 Richard Kingi, 22 Nic Stirzaker,

Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Jesse Mogg, 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 Leon Power, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ruaidhri Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa 20 Ian Prior, 21 Henry Speight, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.