Super Rugby Preview: Friday

Date published: April 15 2011

Having been down to the bare bones last week with three teams enjoying byes, Super Rugby is back at full force this week.

Having been down to the bare bones last week with three teams enjoying byes, Super Rugby is back at full force this week.

The week's action kicks off with a Kiwi derby that's sure to see the whitewash crossed a fair few times, while over in Melbourne the Rebels will look to continue their impressive debut season with another win.

Chiefs v Crusaders

Much of the focus heading into this New Zealand derby has been the return of Richie McCaw (and rightly so), with the All Black skipper set to run out for the first time this season.

With the World Cup on the horizon it's not only Crusaders fans who'll be eagerly anticipating the sight of McCaw scavenging around the park.

McCaw is not the only All Black returning to action, with the Chiefs boosted by the return of captain Mils Muliaina. However, with the greatest respect to the full-back, Muliaina's return is unlikely to have the same impact.

The Crusaders unequalled depth is again illustrated with Samoan international Kahn Fotuali'i replacing Andy Ellis at scrum-half, while a shuffle in the front row sees the Franks' brothers fill the prop berths with Wyatt Crockett dropping to the bench.

The continued absence of Dan Carter is of course a blow, but Matt Berquist is no mug and Messers Williams, Fruean and Dagg showed against the Bulls that they can demolish even the best of defences without the talented number ten.

The Chiefs welcome the Crusaders to Tauranga knowing that there will be no time to dust off the cobwebs after a week off, and a slow start against Todd Blackadder's men will be near impossible to recover from.

With just two wins from the competition, the Waikato-based outfit have enjoyed their best form on home soil, beating the Rebels and the Sharks (who were unbeaten at the time) and going down by three points against the Blues, but even an improved showing is unlikely to be enough.

Prediction: The Crusaders are unstoppable at the moment; the men from Canterbury by fifteen.

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Nathan White, 18 Craig Clarke, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tana Umaga, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Matt Berquist, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Tom Marshall, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Date: Friday, April 15
Venue: Baypark Stadium, Tauranga
Kick-off: 19:35 (7:35 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Nick Briant (New Zealand)

Melbourne Rebels vs Highlanders

It's a surprise to many that the Rebels have been able to rack up three wins this early in their Super Rugby existence.

What isn't so surprising is the team's slightly bipolar nature – capable of a brilliance one moment and disaster the next. In that sense they've met their match in the Highlanders.

One of the early pace-setters, the Highlanders have performed in fits and spurts since then but have generally struggled to eke out victories since the highs of beating the Bulls in Pretoria.

The Highlanders have made just one change from the side that beat the Cheetahs last week, with Aaron Smith replacing Jimmy Cowan who drops to the bench.

While not explicitly stated, it's fair to assume that the move is one to ensure that such a key figure like Cowan isn't burnt out by the time the business end of the competition arrives.

Not for the first time the Rebels have shuffled their back-line, with Cooper Vanu replacing Luke Rooney on the wing and James Hilgendorf coming in for injured skipper Stirling Mortlock at 12.

In addition to the two personnel changes there are three positional switches as Rod Macqueen looks to find his strongest combinations.

What Macqueen would not dare tinker with is his half-back pairing and loose trio, and it's here that the game will be won and lost.

Danny Cipriani and Nick Phipps are forming a profitable partnership while the back row of Gareth Delve, Michael Lipman and Jarrod Saffy has been solid throughout.

The battle in the loose will be particularly interesting considering the sensational form of Adam Thomson, but the number six will need to spend less time out on the wing and more time in the ruck if he and his team are to triumph this time around.

Prediction: It could go either way. Refreshed after a week off, the Rebels may have been slight favourites, but the late loss of Mortlock means the Highlanders will take it by less than five.

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Richard Kingi, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mark Gerrard, 12 James Hilgendorf, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Rodney Blake.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Adam Byrnes, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Hoani Macdonald, 21 Luke Rooney, 22 Afusipa Taumoepeau.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 David Te Moana, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 James Paterson.

Date: Friday, April 15
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:40 (09:40 GMT)
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Steve Hardy (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)