Planet Rugby

Super 15 Preview: Round One, Saturday

18th February 2011 08:40

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blues v crusaders

Arch rivals: Blues v Crusaders

It's big match Saturday of Super Rugby with a mouth-watering derby affair between the Blues and Crusaders kicking off the day's action.

The action at Eden Park in Auckland is followed by the Brumbies and Chiefs battling it out in Canberra before South African sides get a taste of the action when the Sharks and Cheetahs clash in Durban.

The Bulls travel to nearby Johannesburg to play the Lions to end the day with one match scheduled for Sunday, where the Reds and Western Force close out the weekend's action in the second Australian and sixth overall derby of Round One.

The opening weekend's action sees seven matches taking place and with 15 teams in the tournament, one must sit out - the Stormers have a bye.

Saturday, February 19

Blues v Crusaders

The Blues face arch rivals the Crusaders in their opening match of this year's Super Rugby competition at Eden Park on Saturday.

The Blues have in the recent past found it though to get the better of the Crusaders, but still have enough talent to beat the men from Christchurch who have won four out of the last five Super Rugby encounters between the sides.

Around 35,000 spectators are anticipated to make it along to the game and there's a genuine excitement among rugby folk in Auckland to see how the Blues go. Blues coach Pat Lam says everyone involved with the team realises just how huge this game is.

''It's a big game for everyone, for our franchise, for our team and to get off to a good start,'' he said.

''But at the end of the day it's not the individuals, because you can look at the individuals in the team and they don't necessarily come from those regions, but you've got red and blue and the history that goes with it.

''There's a lot of spice with it being the first game, the new stadium is looking great and it looks like a big crowd is going to turn out.

''It will be a good day, we've just got to perform.''

With this being a World Cup year and the bulk of the All Black team in the Crusaders squad, one would expect of the visitors to create some fond memories at the city where the final will be played later this year.

The last time these two sides squared off against each other, it was the Crusaders who came out on top, winning a thrilling encounter 33-20 in Christchurch. It should be another thrilling contest between two potential title contenders, despite the absence of the Crusaders' two heavyweights.

The seven-time Super Rugby champs will be without influential skipper Richie McCaw who is recovering from surgery and injured centre Sonny Bill Williams, but it should still be interesting to see how new recruit Israel Dagg fares in his first game since leaving the Highlanders.

Prediction: Tough call first up. There are 24 players who have worn the All Black jersey that will run onto the Eden Park pitch on Saturday, which means plenty of experience and plenty of game-breakers. Hmmm... Blues by five!

The teams:

Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Broic, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney/Ash Dixon, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Adam Whitelock, 11 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Francis Smith, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Tom Marshall/Tyler Bleyendaal.

Date: Saturday, February 19
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathon White (New Zealand), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Brumbies v Chiefs

The Brumbies host the Chiefs at Canberra Stadium on Saturday, in the only non-derby match of the opening round.

Off-field news fell under the spotlight this week when Brumbies playmaker Matt Giteau announced he was leaving Australian shores and joining Toulon in France after the Rugby World Cup.

With Stirling Mortlock now with the Rebels, George Smith plying his trade at the same French club Giteau is set to join and Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom out of action until Round Six, the Brumbies faithful must be feeling a tad anxious for the season ahead.

The team dubbed the 'Real Madrid of Australian Rugby' failed to flatter with last season's sixth placing, but will be under pressure yet again to relive their past glories. Champions in 2001 and again in 2004, the Brumbies have not made the semi-finals since despite consistently fielding an impressive array of internationals.

Andy Friend is the current Brumbies coach under pressure to deliver in his third year in charge. His team only accrued three try-scoring bonus points last season, a deficiency which proved crucial as they finished the campaign four points outside the top four in sixth.

The Chiefs - finalists in 2009 - had a rather forgettable season last year, but will be out to make ammends with a star-studded squad that just oozes talent. And with former All Blacks legend Tana Umaga back on the big stage, you can just sense there is something special brewing in the Chiefs' camp.

With two away matches on the trot though, Ian Foster's troops will have to hit the ground running if they wish to return home with a win or two under their belts in Round Three.

Prediction: It's always been high-scoring affairs when these two sides clash and we could be in for a try-fest in Canberra. But kicks also win matches and the Brumbies will need their skipper Giteau to fire on all cylinders... especially with the flawless Stephen Donald at the tee. Brumbies to win by six points.

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Pat McCabe, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Mitch Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Steve Moore 1, Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Stephen Hoiles, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Matt Toomua, 22 Andrew Smith.

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Tana Umaga, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Toby Smith, 17 Daniel Perrin, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Lelia Masaga.

Date: Saturday, February 19
Venue: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:40 (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Sharks v Cheetahs

The Sharks will look to put last season's disappointment behind them when they open up against the Cheetahs in what will be a definitive match for both sides.

While the Cheetahs stand to benefit from the increased number of derbies in the competition, the Sharks know that they have to start positively to avoid a repeat of last year's poor start.

Five consecutive defeats - albeit by five points or less - completely destroyed the Sharks' 2010 campaign, though confidence would have been restored after winning the Currie Cup as the hunt begins once again for that elusive Super Rugby title.

Standing in their way first-up are the Cheetahs, a bogey team that have proved to be a big pain in the neck for coach John Plumtree and his troops. Rivalry between the Free State squad and their coastal rivals hasn't been this tense in years. In two of the three Cheetahs' visits to Durban they have come away as winners - including last year.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske played down talk that his side had become the Sharks' bogey team after creating a few upsets against the Durban-based team in the last few seasons and said history would have no significance when the teams meet on Saturday.

"As a coach I have to hope that every player believes we have what it takes to beat the Sharks at home," he said.

"But I don't think the victories against them in the past will mean much this week. This is a new competition and the Sharks will enter the series with confidence after winning the Currie Cup last season."

Despite boasting very few top Springbok players compared to the richer provincial unions, Drotske named a team with vast Super Rugby and Currie Cup experience, which is expected to test the Sharks in all departments this weekend.

Fortunately for Drotske, most of the players have played for the Cheetahs for a few seasons, which could be a bonus as his team prepares to face a star-studded Sharks side determined to prove a point after suffering defeats in both their Neo- Africa series warm-up clashes against the Lions and Stormers.

Prediction: The Cheetahs look strong, and we would have given them our backing until their inspirational skipper Juan Smith pulled out of the line-up with an injury. Sharks to win by ten points.

The teams:

Sharks:15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane,13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman,11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10.Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (c).
Replacements: 16 Tendai Mtawarira, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Adrian Jacobs.

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Philip Burger, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Ryno Benjamin, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Kabamba Floors, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Kobus Calldo, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Riaan Viljoen.

Date: Saturday, February 19
Venue: Kings Park
Kick-off: 17:00 ( 15:00 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

Lions v Bulls

The Lions will have their work cut out against the defending champion Bulls in Johannesburg on Saturday, for what is expected to be a typical bone-crunching SA derby.

The less said about the home side's campaign last year the better, but the Lions will be looking to improve dramatically under former All Blacks coach John Mitchell after losing all their 13 matches in 2010.

The Bulls - chasing a Super Rugby hat-trick after capturing the last two editions - will be mindful of the fact that it is not the same Lions team of last year and that Mitchell's men are very eager to prove their worth.

The Lions have a host of new players in their team which means that two former skippers - Cobus Grobbelaar and Wikus van Heerden - have to start from the bench.

In contrast, the Bulls have a settled outfit and it was no accident that they won the final Super 14 at the Orlando Stadium last year. Apart from a few injuries and the introduction of winger Bjorn Basson, the Bulls are close to the line-up that dominated the last two years.

"Derbies are very special and we are respectful of what the Bulls have achieved in the competition," said Mitchell.

"They have set benchmarks in South African Rugby and its up to us now to set our own."

Mitchell added that the Lions are under no illusions as to the tough task they face this weekend, but is confident his charge will not let him down.

"It is important to start well and it is important to win and get early momentum," he said.

"I believe we can win as long as we stay in touch with our feelings and thoughts, as longs as we continue to do what we do and believe in what we do and continue to move forward every week we will enjoy this journey."

The former Western Force coach also made it clear that his men will not put all their eggs into one basket as the tournament will test the team's player-depth.

"They are only one team, the Bulls are only this week and there are some very good teams we have to play in the competition so I will not be expecting my team to put all their energy into this one match."

Prediction: Poor Lions. They will give it their all, but that's about it. Bulls to win by fourteen points.

The teams:

Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Josh Strauss, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe (c), 4 George Earl, 3 Patrick Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Kevin Buys, 18 Wikus van Heerden, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Burton Francis, 22 James Kamana.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Derick Kuun, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Jaco van der Westhuyzen.

Date: Saturday, February 19
Kick-off: 19:10 (17:10 GMT)
Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

Sunday, February 20

Reds v Western Force

To wrap up the first week's events, the Reds host the Western Force in Brisbane on Sunday.

The West Aussies have been labelled underdogs against a Queensland outfit widely tipped to feature near the top of the ladder this season.

However new Western Force coach Richard Graham is confident in his side's preparations following a tough pre-season slog and believes they'll be ready to fire.

"There's enough good footballers in this team to know what we're capable of, and, I don't think the underdog status does anything for us," Graham said.

"All we can control is ourselves and I'm really happy with where we're at and our preparation and I think we go in to the game on Sunday well prepared."

While there are plenty of expectations on the Queenslanders this season following a resurgence in 2010, the Perth side are one of the big unknowns according to the experts. Internally thou Graham said everyone was comfortable with the way they've prepared and looking forward to kicking-off the new campaign.

"I think for us it's important to go about your business quietly and do your talking on the field," he said.

"I would much prefer to under promise and over deliver than be out talking about ourselves."

After convincing a stack of Queenslanders to head west when the Force joined the competition in 2006, the Reds needed no extra motivation when they came up against their Aussie rivals in the following couple of years. But that's all in the past now.

The emotion the Reds will be thriving on comes from all the hardship the State has gone through in the pre-season from the massive floods that tore through the city and neighbouring towns.

Suncorp might have been under water a month ago but the Reds will be running on top of the ground this week, as they unleash one of the best attacking backlines in Super Rugby.

The teams:

Reds: 15 Peter Hynes, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Ed Quirk, 6 James Horwill, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Van Humphries, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Aidan Toua.

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Gene Fairbanks, 11 David Smith, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Ben McCalman, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Ben Whittaker, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Tevita Metuisela, 20 James Stannard, 21 Alfie Mafi, 22 Rory Sidey.

Date: Sunday, February 20
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 16.40 local (17.00 AEDT; 06.40 GMT)
Referee: Ian Smith
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson, Damien Mitchelmore
TMO: Steve Lesczcynski

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