Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Friday

03rd March 2011 09:03


crusaders v waratahs

Crusaders v Waratahs: Emotions will be running high in Nelson

The Sharks, Bulls, Waratahs, Stormers and Highlanders are the only unbeaten sides left in the Super Rugby competition as we head into Round Three.

The Chiefs are the only team without any log points, while the Crusaders will look to make up for lost time having pulled out of last week's round following the fatal earthquake that rocked Christchurch.

The seven-time Super Rugby champions are back in action against the Waratahs, who have been arguably the most impressive of the fifteen sides so far in the tournament.

The Lions then host the Blues in Johannesburg, where the South African side will be hunting for their first win of the season and end a terrible run of 16 losses.

Crusaders v Waratahs

It will be an emotionally charged Super Rugby encounter in Nelson when the Crusaders take to the field for Friday's opening clash against the Waratahs.

The Crusaders have spoken at length during the week about dedicating the match to the victims of the Christchurch earthquake, as well as the families of last year's Pike Creek mine tragedy - who they will honour with a commemorative jersey.

Trafalgar Park will be the temporary location for the Crusaders' next two home matches (they host the Brumbies in Round 4) with AMI Stadium out of action following last week's quake. The ground, which can hold 12,000 fans, is sold out for the game.

The hosts are third in the New Zealand conference behind the Highlanders and Blues, with the Hurricanes and Chiefs below them. Of course, it's not a true reflection of their form with Todd Blackadder's team opting out of their Round Two match against the 'Canes with the sides taking two points each.

It's back to work for the Crusaders this weekend though, having lost to the Blues (22-24) in the opening weekend in Auckland before the tragic earthquake struck. And they face a tough day at the office against the unbeaten Waratahs who have picked up maximum points from their last two outings without conceding a single try.

Big derby wins against the Rebels and Reds have put last year's semi-finalists top of the Australian conference as well as the overall Super Rugby standings - and are on pace for the guaranteed finals spot that comes with winning it.

Their 30-6 defeat of the struggling Reds was the Waratahs' biggest ever Super Rugby win over their traditional rivals, and have really impressed with their physicality and ruthless finishing.

Chris Hickey's side face their biggest test of the season so far though when they travel across the Tasman to face the Crusaders. The last time these two teams met was in Christchurch last year, when a try in the dying minutes to halfback Khan Fotuali'i gave the home side a 20-13 victory.

They will, however, be bolstered by the return of skipper Phil Waugh who suffered a serious bicep injury last weekend. It was originally thought he would be out for three months. But miraculously, having been told he cannot further injure the arm by playing, Waugh is back to lead his side on the paddock.

"You never win these competitions in the first two or three weeks, but you can set yourself up with an opportunity to be there at the end of the year," said Hickey.

"Hopefully if we can perform this weekend, we can do that."

Prediction: The Crusaders will need to score points early to put pressure on their much-fancied opponents. However given the raw passion the hosts will take into the match and with Berrick Barnes out as well as skipper Phil Waugh playing hurt, the Waratahs are in for a mighty battle against an All Blacks-stacked side. Crusaders to win by six points.

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams,11 Adam Whitelock, 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 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Tom Marshall.

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Pat McCutcheon, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Ryan Cross, 22 Afa Pakalani.

Date: Friday, March 4
Venue: Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)

Lions v Blues

The Lions were supposed to be easy beats, but the evidence of the first two weeks suggests the Blues will face a tough test in Johannesburg when these two sides clash.

John Mitchell's pride have pushed the two finalists from last year's Super 14 final to the wire over the opening two rounds - losing 24-20 to the Bulls and going down 19-16 to the Stormers last weekend.

They really should have won on both occasions, with the normally reliable boot of fly-half Elton Jantjies letting them down in Jo'burg and Cape Town. And sadly, however good the Lions were last week they could still not end their losing streak - they have now lost their last 16 matches!

However the Lions will have gained plenty of confidence from their last two outings, and one feels that a win isn't too far away.

Indeed, the winless South African franchise will be licking their lips when the inconsistent Blues - so impressive in winning their opening match against the Crusaders and then so disappointing against the Sharks - come to the 'City of Gold'.

The three-time Super Rugby champions were soundly beaten 26-12 in Durban where their hunt for a first win in since 2004 ended in disappointment as they were forced to play catch-up rugby in hot and humid conditions after trailing 9-16 at half-time.

Hampered by handling woes and a misfiring line-out, the Blues were unable to build concerted pressure, and a resolute Sharks defence kept their dangerous backs tryless.

They now face a huge challenge playing at altitude on the back of their patchy performance last weekend. Blues coach Pat Lam has made six changes to his starting line-up with skipper Keven Mealamu on the bench alongside Anthony Boric, Daniel Braid, Stephen Brett and Rene Ranger.

If it's simply a case of resting his big names, Lam is obviously looking at the long term with a long season ahead. However, if he's underestimating the Lions by fielding a weaker team... Lam could be in for a big surprise.

History of course is with the Blues who have run riot at Coca-Cola Park (Ellis Park) in their previous two visits - winning 56-14 and 55-10 in 2010 and 2008 respectively. The Lions have, however, got the better of the Blues on their home patch when they won 34-33 five years ago.

Prediction: We're going out on a limb here... Lions to win (by a whisker!).

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 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patrick Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Kevin Buys, 18 Dries van Schalkwyk, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Burton Francis, 22 James Kamana.

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

Date: Friday, March 4
Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 19:10 (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Joey Salmans (South Africa), Phillip Bosch (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

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