Super Rugby preview: Saturday

Date published: July 6 2012

It's Round 17 and with the permutations out the way, a loss now for any team outside the top six will basically end their play-off chances.

Round 17 continues on Super Saturday and with all the permutations out the way, basically a defeat now for any team outside the top six will all but end their play-off chances.

Four games to preview, lets get to it then shall we?

Blues v Western Force
Eden Park, Auckland

Two injury-depleted teams on the wrong end of the table face off in Auckland hoping to avoid finishing in the bottom two in the standings.

While yet another poor campaign from the Force has come as no surprise, most pundits expected the star-studded Blues to shake off their early-season woes and climb up the standings. The Aucklanders have had no such luck so far with just two wins (against the Bulls and Lions) all year.

The Blues have come under massive fire for their dismal season but coach Pat Lam will point to their long injury list and plead for mitigating circumstances. But there will be no excuses for losing to a travelling Force side deprived of the services of David Pocock.

The revolving door at the Blues' nurses office has been in full swing again this week. While Keven Mealamu has finally returned, outside backs Rudi Wulf and David Raikuna are the latest casualties.

But the man most people will have an eye on is All Black centre Ma'a Nonu, who is raring to make an impact after enjoying a five-week break during the June Test window. Rumours are that Sonny Bill Williams will not play in the Rugby Championship due an impending move to Japan (and then the NRL) and Nonu has been kept fresh as a result.

So far this season Nonu has failed to show the kind form that once made him the first-choice 12 for the world champs. It's time for him to come good. Likewise, Piri Weepu, who starts, also needs to show why he deserves a place in New Zealand's squad.

Also keep and eye on ex-Blues centre Winston Stanley, who lines up in the visitors' midfield.

Morale can't be very high in the Force side, who have won just one game since late March. They still have plenty to play for, however, as they try to climb above the Rebels at the foot of the Australian conference.

The last game between these sides ended in a 22-all draw (in Perth) but the Australian team have only ever beaten the Blues once, back in 2008.

Prediction: Four tries against the tournament leaders last time out suggests the Blues are finally starting to get it together. The bookies reckon the hosts should win by 14, which sounds about right. Blues by fifteen.

The teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Andrew Van der Heijden, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements:16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai'i, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.

Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffery, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements:16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ollie Atkins, 19 Anare Koliavu, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Patrick Dellit.

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)

Waratahs v Brumbies
ANZ Stadium, Sydney

In tale of contrasting fortunes, the Waratahs will have nothing to lose when they host the Brumbies – who have everything to lose – in Sydney on Saturday.
With the play-offs no longer a focus for the Sydneysiders, Michael Foley's troops will be out to ruin the hopes of the current Aussie conference leaders and influence the make-up of the top six.
The Brumbies – chasing their first finals appearance since their tournament-winning season of 2004 – need to beat the Waratahs, as well as the Blues in their final game for a guaranteed spot in the knockouts.
Only five points seperate the Brumbies from the Reds, but are a whopping 20 points clear of the 11th-placed Waratahs. Be that as it may, whilst the in-form Brumbies head into this must-win encounter with their tails up, history favours the home side.
The Brumbies have never won at ANZ Stadium and triumphed just once in Sydney (10 years ago in the 2002 semi-final). But this rejuvenated Brumbies team will have high hopes of overcoming a Waratahs outfit that's lost their last six matches, and have tasted success just four times this season – their worst ever.
The men from the Aussie capital have shown they are more than capable of breaking records and ending droughts. Despite improving from finishing third-last in 2011 to topping their conference in 2012, they also became the first Brumbies team to win in Wellington in nine years and notched up their most successful two-game tour of South Africa.
Indeed, former Bok coach Jake White has taken this team from zero to hero but knows all their hard work can come crashing down if they don't finish off what they started.
“They(the Waratahs) have got 1069 Super Rugby caps and probably 400 Test caps, 11 Wallabies and they are a formidable opponent,” he said.
“They will pose a massive challenge for us.
“We've got to focus on executing well, doing the things we've done well all year both defensively and in attack and things should take care of themselves.”

Prediction: If there's an upset on the cards this weekend, then it will come in Sydney. Waratahs by four!

The teams:
Waratahs: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rae, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Tom Carter, 22 Tom Kingston.
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Jesse Mogg, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegaty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Cam Crawford.

Cheetahs v Stormers
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Neutral fans will be overjoyed that the South African conference leaders are heading to the City of Roses this weekend, not because of the potential result, but rather because it means we could be in for a rare treat – an exciting Stormers game.

Although they lie second in the overall standings, the Stormers have seldom been anything but boring this year. Lucky for us, the Cheetahs are almost always guaranteed to put on a good show.

The Free Staters