Planet Rugby

Preview: Super 14 Week 11, part two

23rd April 2010 08:03

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Brumbies v Waratahs

All to play for in Sydney as the Waratahs and Brumbies square up

There's a winner-takes-all Aussie derby, a must-win for the Blues in South Africa and the Bulls' return to Loftus on Saturday of Week 11.

The Waratahs and Brumbies go head-to-head with both sitting uncomfortably outside the top four, a match where defeat will be a death knell for play-off hopes.

Talking of death knells, New Zealand's most disappointing teams this season face off in Dunedin when the Highlanders host the Hurricanes, while another Kiwi anti-climax, the Blues, has to win in Durban against the Sharks to maintain an improbable late surge towards the semi-finals.

The Bulls, fresh off a tough tour of Australasia, welcome bottom side the Lions to Loftus, a handy way to warm up for the visit of the Stormers and Crusaders over the next fortnight. It's all to play for in Week 11!

Highlanders vs Hurricanes

After breaking a five-match winless streak, the Hurricanes will back themselves to dispatch the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

The Hurricanes are eight points off the fourth-placed Reds and need to win their final four in a row to have any play-off chance. They clung grimly to their competition lifeline, and remain in contention following some tough defence in an ugly 23-13 win over the sixth-placed Brumbies last weekend.

The victory has turned the tables on their past five weeks, in which the Hurricanes had gone without a victory - close to a franchise record. But not only did they keep their finals campaign intact, the win has Hurricanes' coach Colin Cooper believing they're hitting their straps after flying under the radar.

"The media have sort of given up on us and to be fair, we didn't deserve to be seen in their eyes, but we always knew ourselves," he said.

"I always knew we were better than the last five games. We've only lost the last three by four points so we weren't far away.

"We've got a lot of confidence and belief in ourselves and to travel to Canberra and beat the Brumbies at home ... there's no saying where we might go."

For now, they go to Carisbrook where the equally embattled Highlanders await. Although the southern men were routed by the Western Force two weeks ago before having the week off, the visitors should be prepared for a physical encounter at the House of Pain.

Highlanders captain Jimmy Cowan and his troops will be desperate to produce their third win of the season - and only their second at home after another disappointing campaign.

History isn't with the home side however, and the last time they beat the Hurricanes was five years ago.

Super head to head: Adam Thomson v Victor Vito. Thomson has been the shining light for the fading Highlanders and, together with Alando Soakai, will definitely attack the breakdown. Always strong with ball in hand and good in the lineout, the 23-year-old former Sevens star is now doing the hard graft on defence and at the breakdown too. Even when the Hurricanes slid to four defeats in a row then had the agonising draw with the Crusaders, Vito's consistent form barely wavered.

Prediction: Coming off a bye, the Highlanders might be a little under-done and the Hurricanes will know anything less than a bonus point win at Carisbrook won't be enough to keep their flame flickering. Hurricanes to win by eight points.

The teams:

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 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Peter Mirrielees, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Tuineau, 19 John Hardie, 20 Scott Cowan, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 James Paterson.

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

Date: Saturday, April 24
Venue: Westpac Stadium
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Vinny Munro

Waratahs vs Brumbies

The blockbuster Super 14 clash between the Waratahs and Brumbies is going to be a test of finals mettle when this all-Aussie derby kicks off at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.

Defeat for either side could prove to be a fatal blow to their semi-final ambitions, and that should make for an enthralling contest.

The injury-depleted Brumbies put their finals campaign on shaky ground following their defeat to the Hurricanes last week, which pre-game, loomed as a possible catapult into top four contention.

Coming off their 61-15 walloping over the Cheetahs in Round Eight, the Brumbies' loss was a sobering reminder of what intensity is needed in the dying stages of the season.

With George Smith and Stirling Mortlock still nursing injuries, it's imperative that other senior players - Rocky Elsom, Stephen Moore, Stephen Hoiles, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper - step up this week. Another loss this week and it's curtains for the men from Canberra.

The Waratahs had won five straight for the fifth time in Super Rugby prior to losing to the Crusaders just before their bye. That defeat dropped them from first to fourth position on the championship ladder, subsequently being pushed out of the semi-final positions during the bye weekend, when the Reds took advantage of their absence to leap into fourth.

While past games have been evenly split between the two franchises - with the Waratahs having won eight to the Brumbies' seven - home advantage has been decisive on all but two occasions, which adds to this weekend's puzzle given that ANZ Stadium is perceived by most as a neutral venue.

Super head to head: Luke Burgess v Josh Valentine. There's certain to be plenty of blood spilled as these two not only fight for survival but try to grab an advantage in the battle for Wallabies jumpers. However, with Reds number nine Will Genia calling the shots in Australia at the moment - it's only the reserve jersey they'll be fighting for.

Prediction: The Brumbies only previous victory in Sydney was way back in the 2002 semi-final, when they hammered the 'Tahs 51-10. This time round, however, will be a closer encounter and one that should ultimately be won by the hosts. Waratahs to win by four points.

The teams:

Waratahs: tba

Brumbies: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Tyrone Smith, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 Colby Faingaa, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Ben Hand, 19 Michael Hooper, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Brackin Karauria-Henry, 22 Alfie Mafi.

Date: Saturday, April 24
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.40 (09.40 GMT)
Referee: Bryce Lawrence

Bulls vs Lions

The winless Lions take their shot at becoming the first side to break the Bulls' fifteen-game unbeaten streak in Pretoria when these two old foes clash at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Lions are seeking to restore pride and record their first win of the competition, while the Bulls need to bag all five points on offer to stay entrenched in the top four with the semi-finals just a stone throw away.

While the bare statistics would suggest that Dick Muir's men have no chance, local derbies have a habit of throwing up surprises. And they don't get much more local than this, with Loftus Versfeld barely an hour up the road from the Lions' home base at Coca-Cola Park.

Derby clashes seem to bring out the best in South African teams and Muir will be hoping this trend continues against the defending champs, who are back home from a rollercoaster tour of Australasia where they won, lost, won and lost again.

With fly-half Morne Steyn not near his best - both as a player and goal-kicker - and the Bulls forwards outplayed by the Blues as well as the Reds on their recent overseas trip, the Lions could cause the upset of the season to date - and give the hosts' home play-off hopes a mighty dent.

The Lions have the ability to score tries - and if they can stop leaking points early on, this could be their turn-around game. Is it likely? No. Possible? Undoubtedly.

Super head to head: Wynand Olivier v Walter Venter. The Bulls will look to attack at the set-phase and in midfield were Olivier will be aiming for the new-look Lions' centre combination in his attempts to drag the men in blue past the gain line. Olivier is an underestimated force and knows his way to the tryline, which means Venter will need to be on high alert for 80 minutes to keep this Bok midfielder in check.

Prediction: The Lions have come close enough despite a huge deficit early on in a number of their matches not to be taken lightly. They'll make a nuisance of themselves for 60 minutes, but the Bulls' superiority across all facets of play will then come to the fore. Bulls to win by fourteen points.

The teams:

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

Lions: 15 Carlos Spencer, 14 Michael Killian, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Herkie Kruger, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Nico Luus, 3 Gert Muller, 2 Hans van Dyk, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Hannes Franklin, 17 Kevin Buys, 18 Wouter Moore, 19 Justin Wheeler, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Deon van Rensburg, 22 Tonderai Chavhanga.

Date: Saturday, April 24
Kick-off: 15:00 (13:00 GMT)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Sharks vs Blues

After four wins in a row, the Sharks will be aiming to secure maximum points from their clash against the Blues on Saturday in Durban and keep their tiny chance of making the Super 14 semi-finals alive.

The hosts are currently nine points behind the fourth-placed Reds, and still have crucial matches against the Bulls in Pretoria, the Stormers as well as the Western Force in Durban.

Another four consecutive wins - but this time with bonus-points to boot - could leave the Sharks with a mathematical chance of sneaking into the semis, but realistically it is such a faint possibility that there is no point on the team focusing on play-off permutations.

After their first two defeats were followed by another three losses on the road, the Sharks' focus solely shifted towards simply restoring some pride and confidence by finding a way to win. Impressively, they eventually fought their way back into the winners' circle and three victories before their week-nine bye were mighty good food for the soul.

With some spring back in their step, they have recently begun to place an emphasis on not only winning, but doing so with a try-scoring bonus-point, something they achieved for the first time against the Lions at the weekend.

But they have it all to do in the weekend's last match on Saturday against a side that have been up and down in performance and who haven't strung together successive wins since Round Three.

Be that as it may, the Blues arrive in Durban after keeping their slim hopes alive with a 38-17 win over the Force and an opening victory on their SA trip will work wonders for their confidence.

A bonus point victory will keep them in touch with the top four but they're going to have to reverse a recent trend if they are to come away with the points. They haven't beaten the Sharks since 2005, losing five in a row.

Super head to head: The front row. The scrums will be a massive contest. Whether the Sharks' Springbok front row will have the measure of their all-All Blacks counterparts at scrum time remains to be seen. Up front, the Sharks battled in the early stages of the tournament, but have got better and better with Smit leading the way. They face their biggest test, however, against the likes of Afoa, Mealamu and Woodcock. Crouch, touch, pause...engage!

Prediction: The Blues - as shown against the Bulls - are capable of causing an upset on their day, but the Sharks are also capable of firing even though their better performances have come in spurts. This is a tough call. Will the Blues go fishing and head to Bloemfontein with the catch of the day? Or will the Sharks give the Aucklanders another case of the losing blues? Draw! Nope, my editor says there has to be a winner. In which case... the Sharks to win by the smallest of margins.

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (c).
Replacements:16 Craig Burden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Riaan Swanepoel, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

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

Date: Saturday, April 24
Venue: Absa Stadium
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs724
4Western Force722
5Waratahs720
6Highlanders719
7Crusaders718
8Bulls818
9Lions816
10Hurricanes716
11Blues716
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15Stormers76
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PosTeamPPts
1Brumbies825
2Western Force722
3Waratahs720
4Reds815
5Melbourne Rebels712
New Zealand Conference
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PosTeamPPts
1Chiefs724
2Crusaders718
3Hurricanes716
4Blues716
5Highlanders615
South African Conference
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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Bulls717
3Lions816
4Cheetahs89
5Stormers66