Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

04th March 2011 06:10

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pat lambie james oconnor western force v sharks

Head to head: O'Connor v Lambie

It's Round Three of Super Rugby and with five games lined up, we're sure to see plenty of thrills, spills and everything else in between. Fasten your seatbelts folks, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

The Hurricanes have a bye - it's the second week in a row they miss out on game time - but the Western Force get back in the ring after sitting out last weekend.

The winless Chiefs and rejuvenated Rebels open proceedings in Hamilton, before the Brumbies host the Reds in an all-Aussie affair in Canberra. The action then moves west where the Force take on the unbeaten Sharks.

In South Africa, the out-of-sorts Stormers and injury-ravaged Cheetahs go head to head at Newlands while the Bulls play their first home game of the season against the high-flying Highlanders.

The quest for bonus points in the 2011 edition of Super Rugby has yielded very little bounty for 14 of the tournament's 15 competitors - the Waratahs the only side to have notched up (two) bonus-point wins.

Chiefs vs Melbourne Rebels

The Chiefs will hope it's a case of third time lucky when they host the Rebels at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.

After two rounds the Kiwis are winless, fifth in the New Zealand conference without a point and stone last on the overall standings after going down to the Brumbies and Highlanders.

Both losses were on the road, and the 2009 finalists will welcome their first home game of the year. However, the ground hasn't been a happy hunting ground for them for some time.

They failed to win any of their six matches there last year, and were belted 46-19 by the Waratahs on their last appearance. The last time the Chiefs tasted victory in Hamilton was in May 2009, when they beat the Hurricanes in a Super 14 semi-final.

While there is no history to go by, the Chiefs are slight favourites by way of home advantage. But the momentum is with the tournament newcomers as they look to secure their first away victory.

The Rebels enter this match with a bit more confidence after bouncing back from their embarrasing opener against the Waratahs to win their first Super Rugby match 25-24 against the shell-shocked Brumbies. That win was based on plenty of defensive resolve against opponents who had the majority of the possession and territoy.

One Rebel who is no stranger to the Waikato Stadium and it's surroundings is former Chiefs lock Kevin O'Neill.

"It's one of the few grounds in New Zealand that's very similar to AAMI Park, where the crowd is right beside you - and it's a noisy crowd - ­Hamilton is a small town with a very parochial crowd who get right behind their team, they're very passionate," he said.

"It's quite an occasion for me. I've still got a lot of mates at the Chiefs and there's plenty of banter going backwards and forwards already so I'm really looking forward to it.

"It'll be a good trip for the boys, our first trip away for a Super Rugby game so it'll be a good test for how we go on the road."

Prediction: The Rebels will give them a good run for their money, but we just can't see the Chiefs losing three on the trot and at home. Chiefs to win by ten points.

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Tana Umaga, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Scott Waldrom, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Sona Taumalolo, 17 Hika Elliot, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Steven Setephano, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Rebels: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Julian Huxley, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Adam Byrnes, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessman, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Tom Chamberlin, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Peter Betham.

Referee: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

Brumbies v Reds

Saturday's Australian derby sees the Brumbies host the Reds in Canberra with both teams looking to get back to winning ways after suffering defeats last weekend

The Brumbies have had plenty of drama ahead of this Round Three showdown following the shock axing of coach Andy Friend after just two games this season.

Friend was replaced by assistant coach Tony Rea and his dismissal followed the Brumbies' disappointing one-point loss to the Rebels after a scratchy opening-round win against the Chiefs.

The Reds, the most adventurous Australian team last season, were held try-less in going down to a record defeat to the Waratahs and are also counting the cost of their last round thrashing.

The Queenslanders are without Peter Hynes and captain James Horwill with injuries while Wallaby scrum-half and stand-in skipper Will Genia is expecting to face a fired-up Brumbies' team.

"They were obviously disappointed from having lost to Melbourne and then losing their coach doesn't really help. They'll come out ready to play," Genia said.

"(But) we are in trouble ourselves here a little bit."

The Brumbies hold an impressive record against the Reds - they've won all nine Super Rugby matches at home against Queensland, losing only one of 16 overall. One feels the Reds are in a lot more trouble than Genia thinks they are.

Prediction: Wonder who former coach Andy Friend will be supporting? Hard to choose a winner. Based purely on past results between the two sides, it has to be the Brumbies by seven points.

The teams:

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

Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Van Humphries, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Ed Quirk, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Luke Morahan.

Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

Western Force v Sharks

The Western Force are back in action after last week's bye when the tackle the unbeaten Sharks in Perth.

The Sharks have left the humidity of Durban for the heat of Perth having landed in the warm Western Australian home of the Force, for their first of their four overseas commitments.

After losing their first five games last year, it's a completely different story in 2011.

Their home side will be wary of their visitors who retained their position as log leaders in the South African conference by securing a 26-12 win over the Blues last weekend. In doing so John Plumtree's men have also remained second on the combined log.

They also have yet to concede a try.

"They play a similar game to us, they back themselves, especially in the line-outs and they are a brilliant team. You can't relax against them or they will punish you if you do," said Sharks number eight Ryan Kankowski.

"We know we need to raise our game, that's going to be important for us, not to slacken off but bring our top game and hopefully end up with a good result."

The Force come off a week's bye and following their first round 20-21 defeat to the Reds in Brisbane, will want to do well in their first home game of the season. With Wallaby wing James O'Connor playing at fly-half for the Perth side following an injury crisis at pivot, it will be a match-up of the 20-year-olds with Patrick Lambie starring in the 10 jersey for the Sharks.

O'Connor scored all 20 of his team's points in their opening game to put his team in the lead, only for a late Reds try to steal the win and certainly they will look to impress at home and against a Sharks side who have beaten them on four of the five occasions these two have met.

Prediction: The Sharks know how to win in Perth and should upset the locals at home. Sharks by five.

The teams:

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 Matt Dunning, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Tevita Metuisela, 20 James Stannard, 21 Alfie Mafi, 22 Rory Sidey.

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

Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)

Stormers v Cheetahs

The Stormers and Cheetahs battle it out in the only SA derby hit-out of the weekend in Cape Town.

A big improvement from the hosts is needed if last week's performance is anything to go by. Last year's finalists played in their first outing of the season and were nearly defeated by the ever improving Lions.

They effectively won a game they should have lost.

It was the second successive game against Super Rugby standard opponents that the Stormers have won by coming from behind.

They did something similar against the Sharks in the Neo Africa Tri-Series a couple of weeks ago. So maybe they are learning to win the games they should lose, which they say is what distinguishes champions from also-rans.

That, though, will be small consolation for the Stormers, as for most of the way they were second best against the Lions, and clearly have a lot of work to do ahead of some of the tougher obstacles that lie ahead.

First up is the Cheetahs who suffered a heart-breaking 25-23 loss to the Bulls after leading the defending champs 23-8 in the final quarter of the match. The winless Cheetahs now have to soldier on without inspirational leader Juan Smith, after the Bok flank was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament.

The Stormers suffered a few injuries of their own, with captain Schalk Burger out of action for a month and centre Jaques Fourie sitting out this one with a chest injury.

The Cheetahs said at the start of the season that they were happy with the draw which sees them play more derbies - but so far, they are yet to win any of them. If they fail again at Newlands, it's going to be another long season for Naka Drotske and his troops.

Prediction: The Cheetahs won't roll over so easily - they've shown they have what it takes to cause an upset this year. Though we don't think it will happen this weekend. Stormers to win by eight points.

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Conrad Jantjes 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Juan De Jongh, 12 Jean De Villiers (capt), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Duane Vermuelen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Pieter Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nick Koster, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Gary Van Aswegen, 22 Paul Bosch.

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

Referee: Pro Legoete (South Africa)

Bulls v Highlanders

The Highlanders begin their tour of the Republic with a tough outing against the defending champion Bulls at fortress Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

Two of the four remaining unbeaten teams in this year's tournament go head to head, where the misfiring Bulls play their first game of the year in front of their rugby-mad supporters.

The men in blue will also be looking for their 21st successive home win, which will see them equal the second-best home unbeaten streak held by the Blues. The Crusaders hold the record of 26 consecutive home wins achieved during 2004-2007.

The Bulls have won both their games so far this season, but failed to impress against the Lions and Cheetahs.

The Highlanders on the other hand, have really come to the party and - surprisingly - remain the only unbeaten of the New Zealand teams in rugby's revamped Super 15.

The Highlanders top the New Zealand conference, four points ahead of the Blues, after they battled back from a seven-point half-time deficit to beat the Chiefs 23-13 in Dunedin last week. Their forwards laid the base for the win with an authoritative performance, backed up by some gritty defence and incisive running from the backs when it counted.

Much of the same will be needed against the Bulls if the Kiwis are to have any chance of pulling off an unlikely upset.

"We took note of the Highlanders' conditioning and the passion they play with," said Bulls head coach Frans Ludeke.

"One of their strengths, like all the New Zealand sides, is their ability to get front-foot ball and to get the ball into space.

"They are also very competitive at the breakdowns, so they are a solid side and they have won both games so we are in for a battle on Saturday."

Prediction: The Bulls are due for a big one, and will be hard to stop in front of their passionate supporters. Bulls to win by nine points.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretoruis, 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 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Derick Kuun, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Juandre Kruger, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Stephan Dippenaar.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Siale Piutau, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Kade Poki, 10 Robbie Robinson, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Alndo Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrod Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c)
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 John Hardie, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Tony Brown, 22 Telusa Veainu.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

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PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Crusaders1651
3Sharks1650
4Brumbies1645
5Chiefs1644
6Highlanders1642
7Hurricanes1641
8Western Force1640
9Bulls1638
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14Cheetahs1624
15Melbourne Rebels1621
Australian Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Brumbies1645
3Western Force1640
4Reds1628
5Melbourne Rebels1621
New Zealand Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Crusaders1651
2Chiefs1644
3Highlanders1642
4Hurricanes1641
5Blues1637
South African Conference
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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624