Round Ten continues on Super Saturday, with the Cheetahs and Western Force back in action after last week's bye.
Round Ten continues this weekend with the Cheetahs and Western Force back in action after last week's bye.
Super Saturday kicks off with a much anitcipated derby clash between the table-topping Chiefs and Hurricanes in Hamilton, where the home side return after their unbeaten three match tour to Perth and South Africa.
They're the kiwi team everyone wants to beat, and needs to beat, if they are to have a chance of winning the New Zealand conference.
The Force – minus sacked coach Richard Graham – then welcome the second-placed Stormers who will be banking on another away win to put them back on top of the SA conference now that the Bulls pick up an easy four points courtesy of their bye.
And finally, the Highlanders will be gunning for seven wins in a row against the Cheetahs knowing victory will keep them in the top six on the overall ladder.
Chiefs v Hurricanes
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Winning against touring teams is all very well, but taking inter-conference clashes counts for a fair bit more in the revamped Super Rugby format.
After nearly two months since their last NZ derby clash – the 24-19 win over the Crusaders – the Chiefs will be looking to press their NZ conference advantage home against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Undefeated since the opening day, the Waikato team is showing all the signs of fulfilling the potential all saw at the start of the year. From the free-scoring Sona Taumalolo at prop, to the revelation that has been lock Brodie Retallick, through the reliability of flank Liam Messam and exuberance of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, to the maturity shown by Aaron Cruden, the brilliance of Sonny Bill Williams and the electrifying running of Tim Nanai-Williams and Lelia Masaga, it's a Chiefs team with barely a chink in the armour and in form from 1-15.
Contrast that to their opposition, whose yo-yo form through the tournament has continued to exasterate the Wellington faithful, and you've got an intriguing match-up with a clear favourite but a nagging doubt. What can you expect from a team that annihilates the Sharks one week, has a bye to freshen up, then promptly ships 30 unanswered points against the Crusaders in the first half?
The 'Canes are a team for the future. Beauden Barrett is learning fast at the coalface while Andre Taylor continues to wow with his counter-attacking prowess, even if the defence is still suspect. Behind some mainstay starters there are some fine players coming through. In many ways, they are where the Chiefs were at about four years ago.
Which is all very well, but thus far this season they have proven to be nuts far too easy to crack. Any team that can co-ordinate against them at pace has a chance, although they have proven adept at defending a more patient and structured approach.
Pace is the Chiefs' byword though. Fast ball, wide ball, look for space, offload, bring the wingers into holes… you name it, they can do it. Back at Hamilton, back relishing the prospect of derby bragging rights, in scintillating form and on the back of a triumphant tour, they are going to be too tough to stop.
Prediction: On the back of a disappointing defeat to the Crusaders, expect the Hurricanes to come out with gusto… but expect the Chiefs to have too much firepower. Chiefs by eleven.
Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliott, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
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 Karl Lowe, 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 Reg Goodes, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Alapati Leiua.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Western Force v Stormers
nib Stadium, Perth
This clash promises plenty of action between two sides who are at different ends of the Super Rugby table.
The Stormers are currently in second place in the standings while the Force occupy 12th spot.
The Cape Town-based franchise's leadership group, in particular, is very thin as they have already lost several stalwarts through injury on their tour to Australia and New Zealand.
Players who have headed back home to South Africa through injuries include Springboks Jean de Villiers and Gio Aplon as well as loose forwards Duane Vermeulen and Nick Koster.
And current captain Andries Bekker also missed the win over the Reds last week after leaving the field through injury early in their only defeat of the tournament against the Crusaders in Christchurch two weeks ago.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee remains positive that his charges can secure the victory regardless of the disruptions.
“Despite the injuries this week and some enforced changes, the touring group is in high spirits and is very motivated,” he revealed.
“Our motto for the week is 'nothing special has ever been achieved in ideal conditions'. A win this week will be the difference between a good tour and a great one and this group knows that.
“We have picked a strong side, our sessions this week have been excellent and we will be going all out for a win in this game,” added Coetzee.
The Force have problems of their own after they fired their coach Richard Graham last week when revealed that he is leaving to take over the reins at the Reds in 2013.
The Western Australians have managed just two victories this season, with their last triumph coming in Round Four when they beat the Waratahs 21-20 in Sydney.
With Graham gone and no permanent coach in place, the Force will rely heavily on the experience of lock Nathan Sharpe and captain and flank David Pocock. The Wallabies duo will take the fight to the Stormers up front while the performances of half-back pairing, David Harvey and Brett Sheehan could prove crucial amongst the backs.
Prediction: Although the injury bogey has hit the Stormers, they should win this encounter comfortably. don't be surprised if they manage to secure their first try-scoring bonus point in this match. Stormers by 10!
Western Force: 14 Alfie Mafi, 14 Rory Sidey, 13 Nick Cummins, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 David Harvey, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Salesi Manu, 18