Planet Rugby

S14 Preview: Round Three, Part Two

26th February 2010 10:10


Morne Steyn

On a roll: Can anyone stop the Bulls charge in this year's Super 14?

Round Three continues this weekend with a whopping five matches on Super Saturday that will no doubt produce more thrills, spills and everything else in between.

The Lions are up against the Hurricanes in Wellington first up - a daunting task indeed and not an easy start to their double crossing of the Tasman on their five-match tour.

There are two games on Australian soil this weekend, with the Reds and Western Force at home to the Blues and Chiefs respectively.

The Cheetahs and their new-found confidence will make life hard for the Highlanders as the Kiwis kick-start their South African tour in Bloemfontein. And finally, the Bulls and Waratahs end off the weekend's proceedings at Loftus Versfeld in what should be another bruising spectacle on the Highveld.

Hurricanes vs Lions

Former All Blacks fly-half Carlos Spencer returns home with the struggling Lions for Saturday's match with the second-placed Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

The Hurricanes have started the season with two wins, while the Lions have lost both their opening two matches at home to the Stormers and the Chiefs, going down to the latter 65-72 in a tournament record high score.

The Hurricanes piled on 29 second-half points after leading the Force 18-8 at half-time to remain unbeaten in this year's competition. After struggling to score only one try against the Blues the previous week, they looked a more polished unit as they piled on seven tries to pick up a bonus point.

For the Lions, this match is the first of five straight away encounters in New Zealand and Australia, with fixtures against the Brumbies, Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders to follow - no easy task for any side.

This side has been one that the Hurricanes backs have found much success against over the years. The Hurricanes have totalled 49 tries against them in all matches and 41 of these have been scored by the backs.

The Lions can at least take heart knowing that they are the only South African franchise to keep the Hurricanes to less than 10 points in a match - with their 30-7 win in 2007.

In 49 previous matches at Westpac Stadium, the Hurricanes have won 34, lost 13 and drawn two. If they beat the Lions it will be their fifth straight win at their Wellington venue.

The question on Saturday will be whether the Lions - inexperienced as individuals in many instances and lacking time on the field as a team - will be able to adapt to the notorious Wellington conditions.

And, of course, whether Lions director of rugby Dick Muir has fixed their defence malaise that let the Chiefs in for nine tries last weekend.

Super head to head: Once more the Lions midfield will come up against quality players of size. The All Blacks pair of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are of the best in the world, and Deon van Rensburg and Doppies Eksteen will have their work cut out.

Prediction: Sadly for the Lions, this is a no-brainer. The Hurricanes to win by 20 points.

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 David Smith, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Andre Taylor.

Lions: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Carlos Spencer, 9 JP Joubert, 8 Todd Clever, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 George Earl, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Charles Emslie, 17 Kevin Buys, 18 Jacques Lombaard, 19 Robert Kruger , 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Walter Venter, 22 Michael Killian.

Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: Westpac Stadium
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Nathan Pearce (Australia)

Reds vs Blues

The Reds have their third straight home game when they the Blues at Ballymore Stadium on Saturday in the first of two trans-Tasman clashes this weekend.

The home side will be brimming with confidence after thrashing the Crusaders 41-20 last week, and the memories of their 31-24 victory over the Blues at North Harbour Stadium last year are sure to provide plenty of motivation.

But remarkably the Reds have been unable to put back-to-back wins on the board since 2006.

The Blues meanwhile will also be out to make it two wins in a row after they saw off a late Highlanders onslaught to run out 19-15 victors.

In recent years the Reds have made the glitzy new facility of Suncorp Stadium their home, but Saturday's clash sees Ewen McKenzie's men return to their former ground in Brisbane.

Blues coach Pat Lam played his first game for Auckland against Queensland at Ballymore in 1990. A bright-eyed Lam helped Auckland overcome a tough challenge to defeat Queensland 27-12.

20 years on Lam knows not much has changed when it comes to taking on the Reds in Brisbane.

"It's a huge challenge," Lam said.

"They're red hot at the moment. We saw what they did to the Crusaders last week and over there in February playing an hour earlier than last week and playing at Ballymore makes it a massive challenge.

"But that's all it is - it's just a challenge and we've prepared well. They boys are up for it and they know they need to be."

It is the first time the Blues will come up against their former team-mate Daniel Braid. The one-time capped All Black departed New Zealand shores to join the Reds last year but a ruptured Achilles tendon ruled him out of last year's clash.

However he is now back to full fitness and has been handed the responsibility of vice captain of the Reds after inspirational leader James Horwill suffered a season-ending injury.

With the Reds boasting a lethal back three featuring Digby Ioane, Peter Hynes and Rod Davies, they pose a real threat on the counter-attack. The key to the Blues overcoming their opponents will lie up-front, tidying up their work at the set piece and maintaining possession.

Super head to head: The Blues' 9, 10 pairing of new imports Alby Mathewson and Stephen Brett have been developing nicely as the two playmakers continue to develop their partnership, but they will face perhaps their biggest challenge of the season against the exciting duo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper.

Prediction: Based on the two sides' performances after two outings, the Reds look the better the two and should be able to add another victory to their name on Saturday. Reds to win by six points.

The teams:

Blues: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 John Afoa.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Viliami Ma'afu, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Lachie Munro.

Reds: 15 Peter Hynes, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Van Humphries, 4 Adam Byrnes, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Sean Hardman, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Leroy Houston, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Tim Walsh, 22 Will Chambers.

Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: Ballymore, Brisbane
Kick-off: 18.40 (08.40 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)

Western Force vs Chiefs

The third-placed Chiefs, who won both their matches in South Africa, will be favourites for Saturday's second trans-Tasman match against the Western Force in Perth.

The Force are still searching for a win in this year's competition, but despite their never-ending injury crises they have showed encouraging signs of mixing it up with the top guns.

They've been able to sign Scott Staniforth and former Chiefs fly-half David Hill to help fill a couple of holes, which should give them some confidence at ME Bank Stadium.

Defence took a backseat as the Chiefs completed a dizzying 72-65 win over the Lions in Johannesburg, but despite returning from South Africa with a prized nine points, the side will be unhappy with its final quarter lapses which saw them given a fright after leading 72-25.

Their wins over the Sharks and Lions also came at a cost. Major strike weapon Sitiveni Sivivatu is out with a shoulder injury, and they'll also be missing captain Sione Lauaki who has been suspended for two weeks. Lock Craig Clarke and Prop James McGougan are also sidelined through injury.

This shouldn't distract last year's finalists too much though as their replacements have shown some good touches when asked to take the field over the past two weeks.

"We don't just want it to be two out of three, we want it to be three and we're going to do everything in our power to make that happen on Saturday," said Chiefs assistant coach Craig Stevenson.

Super head to head: The Western Force v Lelia Masaga. There are few figures as consitently threatening in the Super 14 and the Masaga is one of them. All eyes will be on the Chiefs speedster after his return from injury and the Force have to be on their toes all night if they want to stop this speed machine.

Prediction: The Force will have to turn their season around this weekend or run the risk of becoming the punch bag of the competition. We just can't see it happening yet against a side who have tasted that winning feeling, and will want more of it. Chiefs to win by nine points.

The teams:

Force:15 Mark Bartholomeusz, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Sam Wykes, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Pek Cowan, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Tyrrell, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Richard Stanford, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Chris O'Young, 21 Sam Harris, 22 Dane Haylett-Petty.

Chiefs: 15 Mike Delany, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Dwayne Sweeney, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Colin Bourke, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Nathan White, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Luke Braid , 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: ME Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19.00 (11.00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Cheetahs vs Highlanders

The Cheetahs will be out to maximise their home ground advantage when they come up against the touring Highlanders in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The Cheetahs claimed their first win in this season's Super 14 with a 25-20 victory over the Sharks in an all-South African tussle - their first away win in the competition in 11 attempts dating back to May 2007.

Highlanders arrived in the republic with just one bonus point on the board, but shouldn't be underestimated following close defeats to the Crusaders and Blues.

The Cheetahs have never beaten the Highlanders since joining the expanded tournament in 2006, but for the first time in a very long time hold the cards in their favour.

The trip from Dunedin to South Africa is one of the toughest any team has to make so the Highlanders need to be fully recovered from jet-lag against a Cheetahs side full of confidence.

The men from Bloemfontein also have a tough Australasian tour coming up, and this is a game they will have targeted as "must win" at home.

Super head to head: The front row. We probably sound like a broke record, but when a team like the Cheetahs can boast the best front row in the tournament it's hard to ignore. But when a team like the Highlanders can boast the second best front row in the tournament, then you can expect fireworks!

Prediction: The Cheetahs will need another workmanlike performance to get a second win under their belt. This is a game they should win, but the problem is they haven't in the past. Their promising start to the season will count for nothing if they can't beat the Highlanders at home after dispatching the Sharks in Durban. This will be close, but we reckon the orange-clad supporters might influence the Cheetahs to victory. Cheetahs to win by four points.

The teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Danwel Demas, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Frans Viljoen, 7 Juan Smith (c), 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Hennie Daniller.

Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 John Hardie, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Chris King, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 Steven Setephano, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 James Paterson.

Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: Vodacom Park, Bloemfontien
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Bulls vs Waratahs

The Waratahs will have the onerous task of stopping the Bulls' juggernaut at their Pretoria fortress in this weekend's final third round clash.

The defending champions have swatted away the Cheetahs and Brumbies in a maximum-point start to the Super 14 season and the Waratahs are next up at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

It has been an ominous start to the new campaign for Frans Ludeke's Bulls, racking up 101 points and stretching their winning home run to 12 games, going back to their last Pretoria defeat in April, 2008.

The Bulls have won all of their last four matches with the Waratahs, but their last two home wins over the Sydneysiders have been close: 16-13 two years ago and 26-17 in 2006.

The Waratahs, two-time finalists and fifth last season, looked pretty ordinary in last week's 27-6 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town and will need to step up a gear if they want to avoid leaving the Republic empty-handed.

With two wins this year (50-32 and 51-34 against the Cheetahs and Brumbies respectively) plus the 61-17 Super 14 final win against the Chiefs last year, it would take a brave man to bet against the Bulls.

However, the Waratahs showed against the Stormers last weekend that they scrum well, compete with the best at the breakdown, defend like Trojans and can dominate possession (the Stormers had to make 76 tackles to the Waratahs 46).

The scrums in particular will be interesting. On occasions the Waratahs were clearly on top of the Stormers who now pride themselves on their proficiency in this facet; and the Bulls have made great strides due to hard work and no doubt the prowess of Gary Botha.

Super head to head: Victor Matfield v Dave Dennis. Many have tried to nullify Matfield's influence, but few have succeeded. The vastly experienced lock is never intimidated, usually effective in the tight-loose, and always impossible to match at line-out time. Dave Dennis would have learnt a bagful of tricks on tour with the Wallabies last year, and if there was any time to pull a rabbit from the hat - it's now.

Prediction: The Bulls are the undoubted favourites, even if only because of the new breakdown applications that demand discipline - something the Bulls have used as a basis for their successes over many years. Bulls to win by seven points.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 MornÚ Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Danie Rossouw, 7 Pedrie Wannenburg, 6 Derick KuŘn, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gurthr÷ Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 John Mametsa/Jaco van der Westhuyzen.

Waratahs: 15 Sosene Anesi, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Tom Carter, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Will Caldwell, 19 Locky McCaffrey, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Rob Horne.

Date: Saturday, February 27
Kick-off: 19:10 (17:10 GMT)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

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