Super Rugby preview: Saturday

Date published: March 2 2012

Super Rugby derbies are the order of the day once again on Super Saturday as the Round Two action continues.

Super Rugby derbies are the order of the day once again on Super Saturday as the Round Two action continues.

With four key matches to get through, lets skip the chit-chat and get straight to it shall we?

Highlanders v Crusaders
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

In the second all-New Zealand clash of the weekend, two Round One victors face-off in Dunedin.

While many would have expected the Crusaders to pip the Blues first up, the Highlanders win over a strong Chiefs side came as more of a surprise. Jamie Joseph's men put in a spirited second-half showing and demonstrated strength both up front and in the backs.

The Highlanders will field a new half-back combination for this weekend's game, with Jimmy Cowan benched in favour of Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga coming in for the injured Chris Noakes. Such an inexperienced combination is sure to come under some pressure from the Crusaders and their ability to cope under the gun will be vital to the Highlanders' hopes.

Todd Blackadder has made just one change to his starting XV with the injured Ryan Crotty replaced in the midfield by Adam Whitelock. Zac Guildford, who returns from suspension, is forced to contend with a spot on the bench.

Last year's runners-up didn't quite hit their straps against the Blues but as they have done on so many occasions, they did what was needed to secure the win.

Man for man one feels that the Crusaders have the edge even without Richie McCaw and Dan Carter; but then that is one of the beauties of the Canterbury outfit – their strength in depth.

There is reason to be excited about Saturday's clash, even if one doesn't consider this to be one of the more mouth-watering encounters on offer, with the Highlanders running out at the impressive Forsyth Barr Stadium for the first time. There has been a lot of doom and gloom surrounding rugby in Otago of late and this at least gives some reason for cheer.

The Crusaders have won 13 of the last 20 clashes between the two outfits but lost last time the two teams met – is another surprise in the offering?

Prediction: The Highlanders certainly won't go down quietly, but the Crusaders should have enough quality to take this one… by ten!

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali'i, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 James Haskell, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Colin, Slade, 22, Telusa Veainu.

Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Adam Whitelock, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willie Heinz, 21 Patrick Osborne, 22 Zac Guildford.

Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Reds v Western Force
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Last-second drama stunned Sydney in Round One when Dom Shipperley raced from his own half to crush the Waratahs' hopes of beating the champion Reds.

It wasn't vintage rugby from the Queenslanders in their season opener and the absence of Quade Cooper for the early part of the campaign was glaringly apparent. Despite Mike Harris performing well in his place, the New Zealander would be the first to admit that an on-form Cooper possesses something rather special.

But they don't have the Wallaby for a while, as mentioned, and are also without key back-row forward Scott Higginbotham this week after he strained his gluteus muscle during Tuesday's training session. That has prompted the return to starting action for veteran number eight Radike Samo.

There is also the absence of fellow Wallaby Anthony Faingaa to contend with as Jono Lance fills the gap at centre while Albert Anae moves ahead of fitness struggler James Hanson in the hooking slot. Lance is no slouch however and will be an asset to the side as he was in the Super Rugby final.

On a positive note for the Reds, the return of Rod Davies who will be on bench duty will warm Ewen McKenzie as last year's title-winning coach aims to make it two victories from two in 2012.

Meanwhile, in the battle between two outfits many had predicted to finish close to the bottom, the Force missed the opportunity to get their term off strongly with a victory on the road as they fell to the Brumbies in Canberra. It was by no means a classic between the two of the weaker Australian franchises.

Their back-row trio has been a strong point and it will need to be at its best this weekend, alongside the five players in front of them as the Force look to put young Reds hooker Anae under pressure. Nathan Sharpe was his usual bustling self last week while Toby Lynn is warming Sam Wykes spot well.

The Western Force are also boosted by the return of centre Patrick Dellit, who will make his return to Super Rugby after being picked ahead of Rory Sidey.

Prediction: Home comforts will help the hosts in Brisbane and don't be wary of the loss of Anthony Faingaa as the versatile Jono Lance will step in with ease. Will Genia was way off his best last week and it'll be interesting to see how he responds. But they should have too much class. Reds by 17!

The teams:

Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Jono Lance, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Albert Anae, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Van Humphries, 19 Eddie Quirk, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Rod Davies.

Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Stannard, 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 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Angus Cottrell, 20 Ben Seymour, 21 Rory Sidey, 22 Sam Wara.

Kick-off: 18:40 (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)

Cheetahs v BullsFree State Stadium, Bloemfontein

After a bruising encounter went their way against the Sharks, the Bulls will be away from home for the first time this season looking to edge their old foes from the Free State.

The three-time Super Rugby champions completed the double over the Cheetahs last season and will be hoping for a repeat performance in the 2012 event.