Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

10th March 2011 21:12



Hurricanes: Back in business

Super Saturday sees a Kiwi derby, a trans-Tasman clash and basement battle between the Cheetahs and Lions in South Africa.

The Hurricanes haven't played since Round One, and will be raring to go against the Chiefs who finally got a win under their belt this season.

The Western Force then host the Blues in Perth, with the hosts - minus David Pocock - in search of a first victory in 2011. Can they make home ground advantage count against the travel weary New Zealanders?

The toothless Cheetahs and Lions bring the curtain down on Round Four in Bloemfontein where both sides will at least be bouyed by the fact that one of them are assured of notching up their first win - unless it's a draw!

Hurricanes vs Chiefs

The Hurricanes are back after a two-match break to take on the Chiefs in Wellington on Saturday.

It's felt like forever since we saw the men from the New Zealand capital in action, after going down to the Highlanders in their Super Rugby opener in Round One.

Since then, the Hurricanes' next fixture (Round Two) against the Crusaders was cancelled because of the devastating Christchurch earthquake and they had a bye last weekend (Round Three).

With two weeks to cool their heels since the 'Canes season-opening loss, one feels the home side's lack of Super Rugby game-time will only serve to fire them up even more for this weekend's all-Kiwi clash.

The Chiefs will provide a tough test in all departments as the Hurricanes search for their opening win of 2011 against a visiting side that grabbed its opening victory against the Melbourne Rebels at home last Saturday.

The two teams have already met once this year at Mangatainoka. In the very first warm-up match for both teams, the Hurricanes prevailed 35-31. But that will count for nothing when these two proud rivals run out on to Westpac Stadium.

Passion and intensity are bywords for Hurricanes versus Chiefs clashes throughout the history of Super Rugby, and with both sides needing to post valuable competition points this promises to be no different.

Fans of both sides will recall their Round 12 clash last year in Wellington that could have gone either way before the Hurricanes eventually prevailed 33-27. Down 8-24 after just 30 minutes of play, the Hurricanes came back to snatch a one-point lead with the clock fast winding. The Chiefs then missed a 35-metre penalty attempt that would have put them back on top, before Hurricanes prop Neemia Tialata burrowed over in the corner with the last act of the game to seal victory.

This followed on from two hard fought, gritty clashes between the sides in 2009 in which the Chiefs prevailed 16-8 in their Round 13 round-robin encounter and then 14-10 in their semi-final rematch that followed.

The Hurricanes have won each of their last five encounters in Wellington and on Saturday will be gunning to make it six in a row over the Chiefs at Westpac Stadium.

Meanwhile, the match in Wellington will feature the return of Chiefs outside centre Tana Umaga to his old stomping ground. The former All Blacks captain made 122 appearances for the Hurricanes from 1996 to 2007, before heading to Toulon in the south of France as a player and coach.

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jayden Hayward, 11 Andre Taylor, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Jack Lam, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 James Broadhurst, 3 Neemia Tialata 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Charlie Ngatai.

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

Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Joey Salmans (South Africa)
TMO: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)

Western Force v Blues

Injuries, suspensions and zero wins so far in 2011 - these are the obstacles facing the Western Force when they host the Blues in Perth on Saturday.

After losing their opening round clash at the death to the Reds, the Force had a bye and then returned to tackle the Sharks where they lost the match as well as star flank David Pocock, Mitch Inman (both injured) and Rory Sidey (to a three-week ban).

The winless Australian franchise will be desperate to bounce back with a first win of the 2011 season against the Blues - a team that has left Africa on the back of a loss against the Sharks and a win over the Lions. This follows an opening success against the Crusaders in Round One, which has now - as in the past - seen the three-time Super Rugby champs win one, lose one, win one...

With the Blues' now all too familiar roller-coaster ride of a campaign starting to gain momentum, it's no wonder that coach Pat Lam has refused to take any chances by recalling All Blacks Keven Mealamu, Anthony Boric, Daniel Braid and Rene Ranger to the starting XV after a week on the bench against the Lions.

But he has continued his rotation policy, benching All Blacks John Afoa and Alby Mathewson as Charlie Faumuina and Toby Morland get their first starts of the season.

The Blues have won four of their five encounters with the Force since the Western Australian side joined the Super Rugby competition in 2006.

Last year Joe Rokocoko scored a hat-trick as the Blues overran the Force 38-17 at Eden Park.

Luke McAlister has been retained at fly-half ahead of Stephen Brett following a man of the match performance against the Lions where he played a leading hand in two tries and racked up one thousand first class points with eight kicks from eight and a dropped goal.

But his kicking in general play did leave a lot to be desired, and coming up against young Wallabies superstar James O'Connor who has been exceptional for the Force this season, coach Pat Lam is urging his playmaker to sharpen up his game.

"It's fair to say that he stepped up and played very well last week but he's still got things to work on as he knows but he certainly deserves another chance in that position," Lam said.

"Luke set some clear goals he needed to achieve and he ticked those off but he also knows there's areas he needs to improve on like making sure his kicking accuracy in general play improves."

Lam was quick to praise McAlister's opposite number James O'Connor - a livewire and unpredictable player the Blues could ill afford to give any time and space.

"He's an amazing player and it's important we don't give him too much room," Lam said.

"He shoots down the blind, for a young guy he looks slight but he's strong in the tackle and gets those offloads away. He gets up flat and he's a good playmaker so if you hold off him he can cut you right open so he's certainly a big threat for us."

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

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

Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19:05 (11:05 GMT)
Referee: Nathan Pearce (Australia)
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Cheetahs vs Lions

The Lions will travel to Bloemfontein in search of their first Super Rugby victory since May 8, 2009.

The last time the Lions managed to beat a South African team in a Super Rugby derby, they trounced the Cheetahs early in 2009. John Mitchell's men will be hoping to repeat this feat and end their 17-match losing streak in the 'City of Roses' this weekend.

Since beating the Cheetahs in Johannesburg on two years ago in Johannesburg (34-28), the Lions have gone on to lose nine Super Rugby derbies on the trot. Mitchell is the Lions' third coach during this time in which they have won only a further four games - all of them in 2009.

The Lions have shown a lot of promise in their first three games of 2011, making the Stormers and the Bulls work very hard for their victories. Losing to last year's Super 14 finalists the Stormers (19-16) and Bulls (24-20) were the closest the Lions have come to breaking their winless run against South African opposition.

The Free Staters and Lions have met on six occasions in the history of the competition with each side securing three victories, however history suggests that the Bloemfontein team have always fancied their try-scoring chances against the Lions.

During last year's tournament, the Cheetahs ran in nine tries before comprehensively defeating their Johannesburg opponents 59-10.

Mitchell made two changes to his starting line-up for Saturday's derby against the Cheetahs, yet, most pundits were far more interested in the former All Black coach's views on the breakdown specialist Heinrich Brussow .

"We've obviously got history on the skills sets of Brussow. He's an outstanding openside flanker but so is Derick Minnie so it should be a pretty big contest," he said.

Asked what he is expecting from the opponents, Mitchell highlighted that there have been great improvements in the Cheetahs' squad since their last meeting.

"They're very direct, very blunt, and they defend a lot better since the Currie Cup.

"They always pride themselves on their directness and they have great belief at home.

"Then you have Ashley Johnson who, I think, is a key figure. He provides an enormous amount of momentum."

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

Lions: 15 James Kamana, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Rory Kockott, 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 Michael Rhodes, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Jaco Taute.

Date: Saturday, March 12
Kick-off: 17:05 (15:05 GMT)
Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

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