Super Rugby preview: Saturday

Date published: May 18 2012

Round 13 continues on Super Saturday with five crunch clashes set to make or break the season of several play-off hopefuls.

Round 13 continues on Super Saturday with five crunch clashes set to make or break the season of several play-off hopefuls.

Indeed, the race for a finals spot heats up with just three rounds to go before the three-week June Test window.

Five matches, five previews… lets get to it then!

Highlanders v Bulls
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

The table-topping Bulls head into this encounter full of confidence after they started the Australian leg of their tour with two successive wins over the Rebels and the Waratahs.

Although both those matches were too close for comfort and the men from Pretoria will be keen to put in a more clinical performance against the Highlanders.

The three-time champions can, however, expect an even tougher assignment against their hosts who have held the upper hand in matches between these two sides.

The Bulls have only managed to beat New Zealand's south islanders on four occasions in 14 matches between the two teams since 1998, and last year the Highlanders were victorious in Pretoria to end the Bulls' 20-match winning streak at home in matches which go back to April 2008.

Despite being the leading side in the standings, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is not underestimating the Highlanders.

“We worked hard to be on top of the log, but the reality is that teams will be coming harder at us than before,” he said.

“The Highlanders had two disappointing results in their last outings and will come out to knock us over, no doubt.

“We have picked up good momentum from our Australian leg of our tour and can welcome back three experienced campaigners, so if we focus on our own game and play to our strengths, we will be competitive.”

The Highlanders are still in the race for the play-offs, despite suffering a somewhat surprising 26-20 home defeat to the Hurricanes last week.

They are currently in seventh spot on the table – just a place below the Sharks who are ahead of them in the standings by a single point – and will be targeting this weekend's clash as the perfect opportunity to improve their position.

Andrew Hore, Adam Thomson, Aaron Smith, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith will be buoyed by their call-ups to new All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's 35-man training squad but the Bulls will have to keep a watchful eye on star wing Hosea Gear who was amongst the unlucky ones – along with fellow Highlander,lock Jarrad Hoeata – who missed out on selection.

Prediction: Expect a close encounter as both these teams have plenty to play for in this clash. The Bulls, however, have their tails up whereas the Highlanders could be a little deflated after their recent loss at home. Bulls by five!

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Siale Piutau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Hoani MacDonald/Josh Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kenny Lynn.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.

Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)

Crusaders v Blues
AMI Stadium, Christchurch

The Crusaders will be out to make amends for last week's shock defeat to the Rebels when they take on the Blues.

The seven-time Super Rugby champions will want to quickly forget their first Super Rugby outing in Melbourne, which ended in an unexpected 28-19 win for the home side.

The Crusaders were held scoreless in the second half for the first time in three years as the spirited Rebels roared home. Another worry for the Crusaders is that they have scored just one try in the last two matches.

Even though the red and black machine have not been firing on all cyllinders, coach Todd Blackadder is positive about the Crusaders chances for the play offs.

“It's not over yet. There are still plenty of points on offer and there will be a few twists and turns to come,” Blackadder told the NZ Herald.

“You look at a team like Manchester City and what they've managed to do (win the title in the final minutes of the last match of the season).”

Blackadder must now pick his team up for Saturday's return derby clash with the Blues, whose torrid run of defeats finally came to an end as they tamed the Lions 25-3 at Eden Park.

It was by no means pretty or clinical, nor was it overly convincing against the Super Rugby cellar dwellers, but it was a crucial win nonetheless after seven long weeks of agony.

But with yet another player now added to the Blues' injury toll in the form of inmpressive prop Charlie Faumuina, the injury-savaged visitors will have a hard time repeating last week's success.

Ten players in the Blues' 22 for Saturday's clash were not in the side when the two teams played each other in the opening round of the season, with nine out injured – Jerome Kaino, Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Chris Lowrey, Anthony Boric, Brad Mika, Isaia Toeava, Rene Ranger and Rudi Wulf.

Only three players in the starting XV are in the same position in the second match that they were for the first – Ali Williams, Daniel Braid and David Raikuna.

However there are two All Blacks who did not face the Crusaders in round one who line up for the New Zealand derby in Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu who will add some much needed experience and direction to a relatively young side.

Blues coach Lam said he was expecting a fierce challenge from the fired-up Crusaders.

“It's certainly going to be a dogfight down there,” he said.

“There's going to be a full crowd I hear and they're hurting, we're hurting but at the end of the day it's a Blues v Crusaders game and there will be plenty of feeling like there always is. It's a great opportunity for us to try and back up from last week.”

Prediction: Crusaders to hit the ground running and bounce back with a bang… Crusaders by 14!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Tom Marshall.

Blues: 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12