Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

Date published: May 27 2011

With four games of the regular Super Rugby left, teams in the running for a play-offs spot are now under pressure to get winning results.

With four games in the league stages remaining, teams in the running for a play-offs spot are now under pressure to get winning results. It's Round 15!

With six positions up for grabs and at least eight teams looking to secure the best possible of those positions come the knock-out rounds, the run-in is hotting-up with each week's action.

Any slip-ups mean breathing space for the others.

Super Rugby betting odds: Highlanders 1/9 – Lions 5/1 ; Brumbies 3/1 – Stormers 1/4; Sharks 1/2 – Waratahs 3/2 ; Bulls 2/9 – Cheetahs 3/1

Highlanders v Lions
Carisbrook, Dunedin

The Highlanders could strengthen their position on the table if they manage to beat the bottom-placed Lions in Dunedin on Saturday.

Both sides play an entertaining brand of rugby and will not deviate from their attacking game-plans but if things go according to the form book, then the Highlanders should be easy winners in this encounter.

They have been the surprise package this year and with the tournament heading towards its business end they will be keen to wrack up another win and in doing so, regain their position among the top six places on the table.

The Highlanders had a bye last week and will be looking to gain maximum points against the struggling Lions who have only won two matches this season.

Before their break, they registered a morale-boosting 13-6 victory over the Hurricanes which put their campaign back on track. Prior to that they suffered successive defeats to the Blues and the Chiefs

With the Crusaders playing away to the table-topping Reds in Brisbane the Highlanders know that if they collect maximum points and the Reds manage to shut out their neighbours, they have a great opportunity of drawing level on the table with the men from Christchurch.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph knows his charges will be highly motivated but will not allow for complacency against the lowly Lions, who went down 29-12 to the Waratahs in Sydney at the weekend.

The Johannesburg-based team came back strongly in that match, winning the second half 7-0 after they were trailing 5-29 at half-time.

That second-half performance coupled with their fine showing in their 29-20 win over the Brumbies in Canberra show that the Lions can make life difficult for their opponents if they manage to click as a unit.

These two sides have played each other on 13 previous occasions and although the men from New Zealand's South Island have been victorious in nine of those encounters, the Lions have always given a good account of themselves in this fixture.

In last year's match between the two sides the Highlanders triumphed 39-29 in Dunedin thanks largely to the efforts of their former full-back Israel Dagg, who contributed 24 points via his kicking boot.

Although both these teams have shown a willingness to run the ball this season the forward battle could determine the outcome of this match.

The Highlanders have a huge pack and pride themselves on winning their first-phase ball. They should have the edge in this department as the Lions' poor season is largely due to their inability to maintain possession for long periods in the tight exchanges.

Prediction: The Highlanders are fresh from their bye and should have too much firepower for the Lions who are in the third week of a tiring tour. However, it will not be a one-sided affair and expect the Lions to give a good account of themselves. Highlanders by eight!

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarred Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Mo Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 John Hardie, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Matt Saunders, 22 Robbie Robinson.

Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Dylon des Fountain, 13 Doppies la Grange (c), 12 Butch James, 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Josh Strauss (vc), 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Warren Whiteley, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Alwyn Hollenbach, 22 Michael Killian.

Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)

Brumbies vs Stormers
Canberra Stadium, Canberra

The Stormers cross the Tasman and into the Australian capital of Canberra, home of the Brumbies, where they will be out to bag their second win on the road.

Schalk Burger and his troops avoided a third defeat on the trot thanks to last week's remarkable come-from-behind win against the Blues, keeping hold of top spot in the SA Conference and third overall.

The Brumbies managed another defeat of their own, albeit through a draw against the Force, but remain winless from their last five outings – a poor run that sees them ten positions down from the Stormers in 13th place, and with half the amount of points (24) as their visitors (48).

Two wins is all the Brumbies have to show in what has been a dismal season for the two-time Super Rugby champs, who were known at the start of last year as the “Real Madrid of Australian rugby”. Now? Well, take your pic – I'm not a footy fan but my colleagues have gone for Arsenal and Liverpool… The Real duds of Australian rugby more like it.

It goes without saying that Jake White's reign as the Brumbies' new coach can't come soon enough.

The Brumbies have lost four home games this season. Be that as it may, the bumbling Brumbies cannot be written off against the Stormers who have have never won in Canberra in six attempts. And four of those Brumbies wins have been by over 13 points, with the Aussies ruling the head-to-head with ten wins from 13 matches.

The Stormers biggest ever win was a 34-3 triumph in Cape Town in 1996, but that is only one of two wins for the South Africans.

“The Brumbies are a better team than the log suggests and we will need to be up for it if we want to come away with the victory,” said Burger.

“As a team we have never beaten them away from home so we would like to put the record right on Saturday.

“They have some very experience guys like Rocky Elsom and also great game-breaker in Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper so we know it will be a huge challenge.”

A full 80-minute performance will be required by the Stormers if they are to end a bogey run of results in Canberra. They blew a 20-3 half-time lead two weeks ago against the Chiefs to lose 30-23, and had to dig deep in the second half against the Blues after trailing 3-19 at the break.

Prediction: The Stormers have some serious injury