Super Rugby preview: Saturday

Date published: April 6 2012

Whilst kids are out hunting Easter eggs, six Super Rugby teams will be on the hunt of a different kind as the Round 7 action continues.

Whilst children are out hunting Easter eggs, six Super Rugby teams will be on the hunt of a different kind on Saturday as the Round Seven action continues.

First up, the Highlanders host the Stormers in a top-of-the-table clash in Dunedin where the visitors will be out to continue their unbeaten run with an opening win on the road.

The injury-plagued Lions then tackle the in-form Cheetahs, with John Mitchell's pride out to end a four-game losing streak in the competition. The match in Welkom will be intriguing, considering that the Lions took the honours in the derby clash in week one.

And to end off Round Seven proceedings, two superpowers responsible for no less than ten combined titles go head to head at Loftus Versfeld.

Highlanders v Stormers
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

The Stormers face their toughest test yet when they clash with their nearest rivals, the Highlanders, in what could be the most exciting match of the round.

That the Highlanders are amongst the leading team in the standings is somewhat of a miracle as their squad has been decimated by injuries.

At the momment coach Jamie Joseph is without the services of Colin Slade (ankle), Lima Sopoaga (shoulder), Siale Piutau (ankle), Kendrick Lynn (neck), John Hardie (toe) and Nick Crosswell (knee).

They will look to their captain Jamie Mackintosh and All Blacks flanker Adam Thomson to lead the charge up front while speedster Hosea Gear and experienced midfielder Tamati Ellison will be at the forefront of the effort amongst the backs.

Thomson is on a high after scoring a hat-trick of tries in the win over the Rebels last week and the Stormers is sure to keep a close eye on him.

With first-choice fly-half Slade and his back-up Sopoagqa out, the southerners have sent an SOS to Mike Delaney but the former Chiefs pivot will play no part in this match.

The hosts must still fancy their chances of handing the Stormers their first defeat of the competition, however, as the visitors will be feeling the effects of their strenuous journey from Cape Town.

Despite having one of the best defensive records in the competition, the Stormers' inability to score tries must be a concern for their supporters and are the only team in the competition who are yet to register a bonus point this season.

Coach Allister Coetzee is under no illusions about the magnitude of the task that awaits his team on their tour to Australia and New Zealand but is confident his charges will do well.

“It is a hell of a tough tour but we are looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

Dunedin's inclement weather has been the undoing of several of the Highlanders' opponents over the years but it will not be a factor in this match as the stadium is enclosed, which means that conditions should be ideal for a free-flowing game.

It will be interesting to see how the Stormers' young brigade of lock Eben Etzebeth, flank Siya Kolisi and props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe fare in their first encounter outside of South Africa.

The quartet have exceeded all expectations with some fine performances in front of their fanatical home fans at Newlands in Cape Town and will be keen to show that they are capable of giving similar showings in unfamiliar territory.

Prediction: The Highlanders have proven to be a formidable on their home turf and must fancy their chances against the travel-weary Stormers. That and the after effects of their bruising encounter against the Bulls could be the visitors' undoing. Highlanders by five points!

The teams:

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

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean De Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Brok Harris, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nick Koster, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

Cheetahs v Lions
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

A resurgent Cheetahs team will be keen to build on their recent good form when they host the Lions in this South African derby.

The boys from Bloemfontein are brimming with confidence after some impressive performances on their tour recent to Australia and New Zealand.

They won their clashes with the Rebels and Hurricanes and secured bonus points for losing by seven points or less in their losses to the Brumbies and Crusaders.

Their 47-38 victory over the Hurricanes last weekend was a momentous occasion as it was the first time ever that they have won a match in New Zealand.

Young fly-half Johan Goosen has been one of the stars competition so far this season and is currently the tournament's leading points scorer. After six rounds of action, Goosen has 98 points and he is should become the first player to notch 100 points for the season in this match.

Despite their successful overseas tour, Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské believes his side can still improve.

“Our season has been up and down and we have mixed feelings about the results,” he revealed.

“But it was a tough start – we've played five out of our first six games away from home.

“I do feel, however, that we should've won our games against the Lions and the Brumbies – we lost both of them through late penalty goals.

“Now we have 10 games in South Africa and seven in Bloemfontein to look forward to. We are improving each week and know we need to win our home games,” added Drotské.

The Lions are a shade of the side that won last year's Currie Cup and have it all to do against a Cheetahs team that have been the surprise packages in the competion this year.

Although injuries have played it's part in the Johannesburg-based side's poor start to the campaign, the 2011 Currie Cup champions have struggled to adapt to the rigours of Super Rugby.

They have showed a steady decline after beating the Cheetahs 27-25 in their season opener at the Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg. After that triumph, they suffered consecutive defeats to the Hurricanes, Sharks and Stormers although they were competitive in all of those matches.

They will depend largely on the kciking boot of fly-half Elton Jantjies whose duel with Goosen could determine the outcome of the match.

Coach John Mitchell knows a tough ask awaits his charges this weekend.