Super Rugby preview: Saturday

Date published: May 11 2012

Round 12 of Super Rugby continues on Saturday with Dunedin, Melbourne, Durban and Cape Town all hosting matches.

Round 12 of Super Rugby continues on Saturday with Dunedin, Melbourne, Durban and Cape Town all hosting matches.

The Highlanders and Hurricanes open proceedings on Super Saturday with a crunch derby clash, before Richie McCaw leads his Crusaders out against the Rebels.

The Sharks can't afford to slip-up when they host the Force, and then the Stormers will be looking to reclaim top spot in the South African conference with a win over the Cheetahs.

Highlanders v Hurricanes
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

After a tough tour of South Africa, the Highlanders are back home in Dunedin where they host the Hurricanes in what's shaping up to be a crucial Kiwi derby encounter at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
With vital points on the line for both sides, the sixth-placed Highlanders (34 points) and eighth-placed Hurricanes (30) can cement respective positions inside the top half of the overall standings with victory in this clash.
The hosts got the better of the 'Canes (19-17) in their previous meeting this season, but the momentum is with the visitors after dispatching the Blues 35-19 last weekend whilst potential back-to-back victories will no doubt help provide the men in yellow with a push for the play-offs.
The Highlanders, meanwhile, will be out to avoid two defeats on the trot after sinking to the Sharks in Durban and have also been ravaged by injury – particularly in the loose forwards where John Hardie (foot), Doug Tietjens (knee), Elliot Dixon (chest) and James Haskell (suspension) are all missing.
Besides season-ending injuries to deal with, they also have to overcome the travel factor against a very settled Hurricanes' starting XV who will be looking to move the ball at any given opportunity.
No team has scored as many tries (34) or managed as many bonus points (5) than the Hurricanes this season, but those stats will count for nothing once the opening whistle blows on Saturday as the Highlanders strive to defend their home turf.

Prediction: Revenge will be on the cards for the Hurricanes after suffering a home defeat to the southerners and would want nothing more than to give the Highlanders a taste of their own medicine. 'Canes by four!

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 Adam Thomson, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kendrick Lynn.

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Charlie Ngatai/Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Brad Shields, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Tusi Pisi / Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Tim Bateman /Alapati Leiua.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)

Rebels v Crusaders
AAMI Park, Melbourne

The Rebels will be out to knock over Super Rugby heavy-weights the Crusaders when they clash at AAMI Park, where the Melbourne outfit are looking to replicate their strong performance in last round's clash with the Bulls – albeit with a winning result.

After a stern examination against the Bulls last week, the hosts face another daunting task against the seven-time champions. Admittedly though the New Zealanders have not yet reached their unstoppable best so far this season.

An opening win over the hapless Blues, followed by two losses in succession to compatriots the Highlanders and Chiefs suggested the Crusaders might struggle to contend while their star players Richie McCaw and Dan Carter remained sidelined through long-term injury.

Since then, however, they have started to find their rhythm, winning six of their last seven games (their only loss a narrow two-point affair away to the Bulls).

Their 42-14 demolition of the Hurricanes in Wellington served as a reminder that brilliance is never far from the surface with the Crusaders, while their ability to close out the game against a gutsy Reds team in Christchurch last Sunday showed they also know how to grind out victories on their off days.

Complacency also shouldn't be a problem for a much-changed Crusaders outfit, because they would have seen how the Rebels gave the Bulls a real fright last week.

Even though the home team have won only twice this season, over the years in Super rugby, struggling teams caused the top tier teams the most strife,

“They've had some good performances against top tier teams and, if we don't give them the proper respect, they could easily beat us,” said Crusaders replacement prop Ben Franks.

Prediction: Whilst the Crusaders are yet to hit their straps, the Rebels will still have their work cut out. Crusaders by eight!

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (C), 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Tim Davidson, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Ryan Hodson, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Stirling Mortlock.

Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Israel Dagg.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Sharks v Western Force
Kings Park, Durban

From the moment the Force lost out to the then unfancied Brumbies in the first round of the season, fans of the franchise must have had that sinking feeling – another year of misery.

And they wouldn't have been wrong to have felt that way as the Perth outfit have won just two of their ten games thus far, leaving them bottom of the massively underwhelming Australian Conference.

To add insult to injury, coach Richard Graham announced he would be jumping ship at the end of the season and was promptly sacked. Salt was then added to the open wounds when Reds scrum-half Will Genia did a u-turn and decided against a move to the Force.

Unfortunately for David Pocock's men, their on-field performances have matched the off-field shambles.

That lack of a quality number ten has perhaps been their greatest failing. The loss of Willie Ripia in pre-season in unfortunate circumstances was always going to create