It's Round Three of Super Rugby and with five games lined up, we're sure to see plenty of thrills, spills and everything else in between.
It's Round Three of Super Rugby and with five games lined up, we're sure to see plenty of thrills, spills and everything else in between. Fasten your seatbelts folks, it's going to be a bumpy ride!
The Hurricanes have a bye – it's the second week in a row they miss out on game time – but the Western Force get back in the ring after sitting out last weekend.
The winless Chiefs and rejuvenated Rebels open proceedings in Hamilton, before the Brumbies host the Reds in an all-Aussie affair in Canberra. The action then moves west where the Force take on the unbeaten Sharks.
In South Africa, the out-of-sorts Stormers and injury-ravaged Cheetahs go head to head at Newlands while the Bulls play their first home game of the season against the high-flying Highlanders.
The quest for bonus points in the 2011 edition of Super Rugby has yielded very little bounty for 14 of the tournament's 15 competitors – the Waratahs the only side to have notched up (two) bonus-point wins.
Chiefs vs Melbourne Rebels
The Chiefs will hope it's a case of third time lucky when they host the Rebels at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.
After two rounds the Kiwis are winless, fifth in the New Zealand conference without a point and stone last on the overall standings after going down to the Brumbies and Highlanders.
Both losses were on the road, and the 2009 finalists will welcome their first home game of the year. However, the ground hasn't been a happy hunting ground for them for some time.
They failed to win any of their six matches there last year, and were belted 46-19 by the Waratahs on their last appearance. The last time the Chiefs tasted victory in Hamilton was in May 2009, when they beat the Hurricanes in a Super 14 semi-final.
While there is no history to go by, the Chiefs are slight favourites by way of home advantage. But the momentum is with the tournament newcomers as they look to secure their first away victory.
The Rebels enter this match with a bit more confidence after bouncing back from their embarrasing opener against the Waratahs to win their first Super Rugby match 25-24 against the shell-shocked Brumbies. That win was based on plenty of defensive resolve against opponents who had the majority of the possession and territoy.
One Rebel who is no stranger to the Waikato Stadium and it's surroundings is former Chiefs lock Kevin O'Neill.
“It's one of the few grounds in New Zealand that's very similar to AAMI Park, where the crowd is right beside you – and it's a noisy crowd – ÂHamilton is a small town with a very parochial crowd who get right behind their team, they're very passionate,” he said.
“It's quite an occasion for me. I've still got a lot of mates at the Chiefs and there's plenty of banter going backwards and forwards already so I'm really looking forward to it.
“It'll be a good trip for the boys, our first trip away for a Super Rugby game so it'll be a good test for how we go on the road.”
Prediction: The Rebels will give them a good run for their money, but we just can't see the Chiefs losing three on the trot and at home. Chiefs to win by ten points.
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Tana Umaga, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Scott Waldrom, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Sona Taumalolo, 17 Hika Elliot, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Steven Setephano, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Rebels: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Julian Huxley, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Adam Byrnes, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessman, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Tom Chamberlin, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Peter Betham.
Referee: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Reds
Saturday's Australian derby sees the Brumbies host the Reds in Canberra with both teams looking to get back to winning ways after suffering defeats last weekend
The Brumbies have had plenty of drama ahead of this Round Three showdown following the shock axing of coach Andy Friend after just two games this season.
Friend was replaced by assistant coach Tony Rea and his dismissal followed the Brumbies' disappointing one-point loss to the Rebels after a scratchy opening-round win against the Chiefs.
The Reds, the most adventurous Australian team last season, were held try-less in going down to a record defeat to the Waratahs and are also counting the cost of their last round thrashing.
The Queenslanders are without Peter Hynes and captain James Horwill with injuries while Wallaby scrum-half and stand-in skipper Will Genia is expecting to face a fired-up Brumbies' team.
“They were obviously disappointed from having lost to Melbourne and then losing their coach doesn't really help. They'll come out ready to play,” Genia said.
“(But) we are in trouble ourselves here a little bit.”
The Brumbies hold an impressive record against the Reds – they've won all nine Super Rugby matches at home against Queensland, losing only one of 16 overall. One feels the Reds are in a lot more trouble than Genia thinks they are.
Prediction: Wonder who former coach Andy Friend will be supporting? Hard to choose a winner. Based purely on past results between the two sides, it has to be the Brumbies by seven points.
Brumbies: 15 Pat McCabe, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Matt Giteau (c), 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Colby Faingaa, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Michael Hooper, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Matt Toomua, 22 Christian Lealiifano.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Van Humphries, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Ed Quirk, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Luke Morahan.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Western Force v Sharks
The Western Force are back in action after last week's bye when the tackle the unbeaten Sharks in Perth.
The Sharks have left the humidity of Durban for the heat of Perth having landed in the warm Western Australian home of the Force, for their first of their four overseas commitments.
After losing their first five games last year, it's a completely different story in 2011.