Super Rugby preview: Saturday

Date published: March 16 2012

The weekend's Super Rugby action continues with matches in each of the three competing nations.

The weekend's Super Rugby action continues with matches in each of the three competing nations.

Saturday's action kicks off with a New Zealand derby between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders in Wellington.

After that Australian neighbours, the Waratahs and the Western Force, do battle in Sydney before the Sharks face the Reds in Durban to bring the day's proceedings to a close.

On Sunday, the Rebels and Cheetahs bring the curtain down on Round Four with a bottom-of-the-table scrap in Melbourne.

Hurricanes v Highlanders
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett's young side face a stern examination when they host the unbeaten Highlanders in Wellington.

Despite being on the road, the Hurricanes have been competitive in all three their opening matches and have proved to be the surprise packages at this early stage of the tournament.

They lost their opening match to the Stormers after matching the Cape Town-based side for most of the 80 minutes. After that, they won a thriller thanks to a late penalty by exciting fly-half Beauden Barrett in the closing stages of their match against the Lions in Johannesburg.

And last weekend they registered another valuable away win when they beat the Western Force 46-19 in Perth and scored six tries in the process.

With Barrett proving a revelation in the playmaking role and other youngsters like Andre Taylor (full-back), Dane Coles (hooker) and TJ Perenara (scrum-half) also putting their hands up in a big a big way, the future looks bright for the NZ franchise.

Perenara announced himself by scoring a hat-trick against the Force last week and the Highlanders defence will be on high alert when he is in possession close to the tryline.

Being unbeaten will boost the Highlanders' confidence and it will be interesting to see if the Hurricanes can replicate their away form in front of an expectant home crowd.

The southerners have grinded out victories over the Chiefs, Crusaders and Waratahs in their previous matches and will be highly-motivated to add the Hurricanes to their list of conquests.

Under the guidance of coach Jamie Joseph, the Highlanders have struck a fine balance between a physical set of forwards and an exciting back-line that have complimented each other well in their previous fixtures.

Up front, seasoned internationals like Andrew Hore and Adam Thomson have been impressive along with captain Jamie Mackintosh while the likes of All Blacks speedster Hosea Gear and former Hurricanes stalwart Tamati Ellison have stood out amongst the backs.

Another player to keep an eye on is scrum-half Jimmy Cowan who has been confined mostly to a role on the replacements bench in previous matches. Cowan will be keen to show Joseph that he should start regularly in the number nine jersey and his battle with Perenara could be one of the highlights of the match.

Prediction: Both sides head into this clash full of confidence after recording impressive wins last week. This should make for an entertaining spectacle with plenty of end-to-end action! Although the Hurricanes are an exciting side, the Highlanders should have too much experience in their ranks – especially in the forwards – to stay undefeated. Highlanders by six!

The teams:

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 Jack Lam, 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 Michael Bent, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Charlie Ngatai.

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

Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)

Waratahs v Western Force
Allianz Stadium, Sydney

The Waratahs head into Saturday's clash with the Western Force brimming with confidence despite losing to the Highlanders in Dunedin last week.

The Sydney-based franchise came close to breaking the Highlanders' winning streak but eventually went down 18-17.

New coach Michael Foley has done well to be competitive in all their previous encounters, despite having a squad that has been decimated by injuries to key players.

New captain Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman, Wycliff Palu, Pat McCutcheon, Damien Fitzpatrick, Chris Alcock, Drew Mitchell and Lachlan Turner will all be missing this weekend's clash through injury.

However, they still have several experienced players in key positions who will be expected to lead the charge against their opponents.

Wallabies front-rowers Benn Robinson and Tatafu Polota-Nau and seasoned campaigners like Dean Mumm (lock) and Dave Dennis (flanker) will be vital in the exchanges up front while Daniel Halangahu (fly-half) and Berrick Barnes (inside centre) are expected to lead the onslaught from the back.

The Force, have been struggling to build momentum in this year's tournament and are also struggling with injuries to some of their stalwarts. They are yet to win a match after their three opening encounters and face an uphill task against the Waratahs who are always competitive on their home turf.

Last weekend the Perth-based side suffered a humiliating home defeat to the Hurricanes and they will be desperate to get their show on the road as another loss could see them rooted to the bottom of the table.

A lot will be expected of experienced Wallabies like former captain Nathan Sharpe – who last weekend became the first player to play 150 Super Rugby matches – and his successor David Pocock.

Prediction: The Waratahs will fancy their chances against the visitors who were totally outplayed in their clash with the Hurricanes last weekend. Derbies are usually close encounters but this could be the most one-sided match of the weekend if the rain stays away. Waratahs by 17!

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Bernard Foley, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Daniel Halangahu (c), 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Tevita Metuisela, 7 Jono Jenkins, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Tom Carter.

Western Force: 15 David Harvey, 14 Samu Wara, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 James Stannard, 9 Brett