Super Rugby preview: Saturday

Date published: June 1 2012

With nine teams realistically in contention for a top-six spot, we wouldn't recommend missing any Round 15 action on Super Saturday.

With nine teams realistically in contention for a top-six spot, we wouldn't recommend missing any Round 15 action on Super Saturday.

Indeed, with three rounds to go in the regular season the race for a spot in the play-offs is still wide open. And it's still anyone's guess who will be around at the business-end of the season.

Blues vs Chiefs

Few would have thought the Blues would be sitting on a measly 17 points after 13 rounds but that is where they find themselves.

Unfortunately for the Aucklanders, things do not get any easier this week as they face off with Super Rugby's leading franchise, the in-form Chiefs, who have lost only two.

As our Tipster mentioned yesterday, it seems that outfits tend to rest some of their star men when they face the Blues but that doesn't seem to be the case on Saturday as Dave Rennie names as close to full strength as he can get. The only left-field alteration sees Maritino Nemani in for Lelia Masaga.

One interesting statistic is that the Chiefs have won the last two matches between them and the two before that were won by the Blues. A sign of a change in the times maybe as these Chiefs continue to look like being one of New Zealand's top franchises for the a few more Super Rugby seasons.

A bonus-point success to go alongside the Highlanders beating the Crusaders would leave the Chiefs with top spot in New Zealand being all but sewn up.

Pat Lam has this week recalled Ma'a Nonu into his starting XV in what looks a much stronger line-up than the one last lost out to the Highlanders.

A change at fly-half has Michael Hobbs move in one position as Nonu occupies the centre spots with youngster Francis Saili. Lachie Munro, Rudi Wulf and Rene Ranger form an all-new back-three which, let's face it, strikes more fear into opponents than Hadleigh Parkes, David Raikuna and Sherwin Stowers.

The Blues need a win, but with familiarity of winning and a certain Sonny Bill Williams being in good form, one feels this has Chiefs win all over it.

Prediction: Many wait for the Blues to click as their squad is not that of a basement dweller, but we feel this week won't be it. Chiefs to win by 15!

The teams:

Blues: 15 Rudi Wulf, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Luke Braid (c), 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Hadleigh Parkes, 22 David Raikuna.

Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Maritino Nemani, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Lelia Masaga.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

Waratahs vs Hurricanes

Two teams on the periphery of their respective Super Rugby conference meet in Sydney on Saturday as the Waratahs take on the bang-in-form Hurricanes.

Confidence will no doubt be high in the 'Canes camp after that nine-try beating of the Rebels in Wellington. But this weekend should be much tougher.

Why? The form book for one as the Hurricanes have lost to the Waratahs in their last four toe-to-toe. It's eight wins each from the sixteen meetings.

The Waratahs, despite going down to a fifth consecutive negative, might count themselves unfortunate to have lost in Bloemfontein last week as a poor speculator found its way to captain Adriaan Strauss. The hooker ran 50 metres in what ultimately proved to be the difference in an entertaining game.

Defeat did come with some positives though for Michael Foley's side as the form of Rob Horne and Adam Ashley-Cooper in midfield while Dave Dennis and Sitaleki Timani up front impressed.

And such a positive performance has led to Foley making just two changes, with Sarel Pretorius brought in at nine. The other alteration sees Jono Jenkins replace Chris Alcock in the back-row – an area where the 'Tahs will have to be on their toes against the 'Canes.

Mark Hammett's trio of Victor Vito, Jack Lam and Faifili Levave caused the Rebels all kinds of issues last week and the well-balanced combination may fancy themselves to come out on top once again on Saturday. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen is also adding steel to the pack that has stunned several opponents.

Behind them the kicking of Beauden Barrett last week was outstanding and with TJ Perenara continuing to give the All Blacks food for thought – while Andre Taylor most definitely does the same from fifteen – the Hurricanes have swiftly become close to the complete package. Hats off to Hammett there.

Prediction: Away win here – Hurricanes by 8!

The teams:

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

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 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 Reg Goodes, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Jayden Hayward.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)

Lions vs Sharks
Coca-Cola Park Stadium, Johannesburg

The Sharks are one of the in-form teams in the tournament and will fancy their chances against their hapless hosts, who last tasted victory on the opening weekend.

The Durban-based franchise are on a high after claiming a deserved 25-20 win over the Stormers last week. That result means that they are now on a four-match unbeaten run in which they have scored 14 tries.

When these two sides met in the corresponding match in Round Three, the Sharks ran out 32-20 winners in Durban.

But despite going into the match as overwhelming favourites, Sharks coach John Plumtree is taking nothing for granted and expects a tough challenge from the Lions.

“It's a really big game for us after four excellent results over the past month,” he said.

“But the Lions should not be underestimated (even though they are bottom of the table).

“You have to respect everyone in this competition and it will be no