Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

17th March 2011 21:34


dan carter crusaders v highlanders

Carisbrook clash: The Highlanders host the Crusaders

Derbies are the name of the game in Round 5 of Super Rugby with two crunch matches in New Zealand and a traditional north versus south hit-out in South Africa.

There's a lot of southern hemisphere rugby to keep you glued to the couch this weekend - five games in all - with the Highlanders and Crusaders kicking off proceedings in Dunedin.

The action then moves to the North Island in New Zealand where the Blues will look to make home ground advantage count against the Hurricanes.

Across the Tasman, the Waratahs will be itching for the chance to get their Super Rugby campaign back on track against the lowly Cheetahs.

And in South Africa, the Lions are aiming to make it back-to-back wins in this year's tournament when they host the winless Western Force in Jo'burg before the Bulls host the Stormers in a repeat of last year's final.

Highlanders v Crusaders

The Highlanders will be looking to get back to winning ways this weekend, but face a tough task against the impressive-looking Crusaders in Dunedin.

New Zealand's surprise package of 2011 (um, the Highlanders - not the Crusaders) faltered for the first time last week, losing 18-6 to the Stormers after paying the price for gifting too many penalties away at Newlands.

They will have to tighten their discipline big time against their South Island rivals in Saturday's derby clash.

The Crusaders have been the big movers since returning to the competition after the devastating Christchurch earthquake and they will take over at the top of the New Zealand conference if they win at Carisbrook.

The seven-time Super Rugby champs delivered a fine opening act in Round Four, thanks to their 52-10 drubbing of the bumbling Brumbies in Nelson. Wing Sean Maitland entered the record books, joining a handful of players who have scored four tries in a Super Rugby match as the Crusaders' powerful back-line ran riot.

Despite the Highlanders' defeat in Cape Town, Jamie Joseph's troops maintained their position atop the New Zealand conference ladder with 12 points, putting them fifth overall - just one point and one place ahead of the charging Crusaders.

Both sides have pinpointed winning the breakdown as key to the outcome of the southern derby.

Even without All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, the Crusaders have fielded a potent loose forward combination of All Blacks Kieran Read and George Whitelock, and emerging openside flanker Matt Todd, but they will no doubt have a healthy respect for their Highlanders counterparts. Adam Thomson has been in rampaging form and number eight Nasi Manu and Alando Soakai have been nearly as good.

"The Crusaders, in all the pre-season training when you're running up hills, that's the game you're thinking about," said Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh, who is injured but is bracketed to start off the bench.

The Crusaders have won 12 of 18 matches between the sides, but the Highlanders have won two of the last three including a 26-14 win in Christchurch in 2008 when the Crusaders led the table with the Highlanders near the bottom.

Prediction: It won't be one-way traffic for the Crusaders as in their previous to outings, but a winning result non-the-less. Crusaders by nine!

The teams:

Highlanders:15 Ben Smith, 14 James Paterson, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Tony Brown, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 David Te Moana, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Chris King.
Replacements:16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray/Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Alando Soakai, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Telusa Veainu.

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 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Zac Guildford.

Date: Saturday, March 19
Venue: Carisbrook, Dunedin
Kick-off: 17.30 (04.30 GMT)
Referee: Marius Jonker

Blues vs Hurricanes

One New Zealand derby follows another when the Blues host the Hurricanes at Eden Park in Auckland. The clash pits teams placed third (Blues) and fourth ('Canes) in the New Zealand conference, with both on 11 points.

After a 22-day lay-off, the Hurricanes opened their account with a 29-26 win over the struggling Chiefs in Wellington. But the manner in which they achieved the error-ridden win would not have caused much celebration in the change room afterwards.

The Blues though would have been happy and even more relieved to have escaped with a 22-22 draw against the Western Force, thanks to an injury-time Stephen Brett penalty. The Blues failed to get going against the Force and required 10 points in the final four minutes to snatch two points in Perth.

The Blues, however, have done their long-distance travel (losing to the Sharks and picking up a bonus-point win over the Lions) and, apart from a trip to Brisbane, all their remaining matches are in New Zealand.

The last match the Blues played at home was against the Crusaders, where Pat Lam's men opened the 2011 tournament with a well-earned victory and will be hoping to repeat the same feat against their North Island nemises.

It will be a particularly special night for three players, with Blues prop Tony Woodcock set to become just the second player to notch up 100 caps for the Blues after skipper Keven Mealamu, while Andrew Hore and Ma'a Nonu will also play their 100th Super Rugby matches.

Prediction: Hard to call whenever the Blues are playing - home ground advantage at Eden Park didn't help much the last time these two sides met. But we're going for the Blues who seem to ride this tournament like a rollercoaster. Blues by five!

The teams:

Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Benson Stanley, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Kurtis Haiu, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keve Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements:16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Filo Paulo , 19 Matt Luamanu, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

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

Date: Saturday 19 March
Venue: Eden Park
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

Waratahs vs Cheetahs

The third-placed Waratahs ease back into the fray after a week off with a home game against the Cheetahs who languish at the bottom of the table.

The Australian hosts have had a week to reflect on their Round 3 humiliation to the Crusaders in Nelson after dominating the Rebels and Reds in weeks one and two respectively, while the Cheetahs became the first side to lose to the Lions in two years last weekend and remain the only team in the competition not to record a win or draw this season.

"We were very disappointed with the Lions result," Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske said after their latest defeat.

"We were over the try-line four times but didn't score, and in this competition you have to take those opportunities when they are given to you. It's frustrating for us, because every time we sort out one aspect of our play, another one crops up.

"The players need to take responsibility for this, and the team need to ensure that our standard of play is the same from one week to the next. This is a tough competition but those are the standards we need to live up to."

The Cheetahs have never won in Australia having conceded 12 consecutive defeats, and would like to change that by becoming only the third South African team in 10 years to win a Super Rugby match in Sydney (The Bulls and the Stormers are the only South African teams that have been successful).

However injuries have impacted on the Waratahs with flanker Phil Waugh and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau sitting out the game, though it shouldn't affect the home side too much with Berrick Barnes returning to the fold while powerful number eight Wycliff Palu makes his first start of the season.

"We don't underestimate the Cheetahs at all," said 'Tahs coach Chris Hickey.

"People underestimate them because they're sitting at the bottom of their conference.

"But they led the Bulls (in round two) for probably 70 minutes, they were probably unfortunate to lose to the Lions last week.

"They're a team that if they get forward momentum, they're not just a forward team; they've got a good backline, they've got plenty of speed and on the back of that forward momentum they'll be prepared to play."

Prediction: Easy. Waratahs by 30 points.

The teams:

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

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

Date: Saturday, March 19
Venue: Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:40 (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

Lions vs Western Force

The Force tackle the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday night in a match that will see Force coach Richard Graham go head to head with his predecessor and current Lions coach John Mitchell.

Mitchell coached the Force for five seasons before jumping ship to the Lions, who last week broke a 23-month losing streak with a 25-20 triumph over fellow strugglers the Cheetahs.

The Force, meanwhile, are desperate to notch a win after posting two losses and a draw from their first three outings. It's been a frustrating season so far for the Perth franchise, after losing at the death to the Reds in a game the Force deserved to win, playing with 14 men in their loss to the Sharks and suffering a draw to the lucky Blues in injury time.

A win should just be around the corner for the Aussie team, and on any other day would have targeted their upcoming clash against the Lions as a sure thing. But after four promising outings from Mitchell's pride - the hosts have certainly thrown a spanner in the works for the Force.

It hasn't been an easy ride for any of their opponents thus far - with the Bulls, Stormers and even the Blues sweating to victory. It was only a matter of time before they finally came good, and Saturday's win in Bloemfontein was just reward for the ever-improving Lions.

However, it's been four long years since the Lions managed back-to-back Super Rugby victories, something they'd like to change when Mitchell squares up against his former team this weekend.

"We always believed in ourselves. It was just about sticking to our guns under pressure," said Mitchell.

"We now have the opportunity to create our own identity and no longer carry the burden of the past."

Prediction: If there's anyone who knows how to beat the Force, it's former coach John Mitchell. Lions by three.

The teams:

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

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 (c), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Ben Whittaker, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Tevita Metuisela, 20 James Stannard, 21 Matt Brandon, 22 Pat Dellit.

Date: Saturday, March 19
Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Mark Lawrence

Bulls vs Stormers

After a week off, the Bulls get their title defence back on the road, hosting the unbeaten Stormers on Saturday in a repeat of last year's final.

The defending champion Bulls have started the season on a few low notes and have two unconvincing wins and a loss after three matches.

The Stormers moved up to second overall with their win against the Highlanders in a kick-fest at Newlands, Peter Grant's right boot proving to be the difference as the Stormers pivot landed six penalties from seven attempts to account for all of his team's points.

It is premature to say defence is again the dominant force in the Super Rugby tournament, but the Stormers have discovered you don't have to be scoring tries to be successful.

The unbeaten Stormers are sitting in second spot, relying on 17 penalty goals and a conversion to be one of only two unbeaten teams.

However, the men from the Cape have struggled with tries so far this season - managing only one in three outings that came in the 75th minute against the Lions. They winning their games, but their inability to cross the whitewash may come back to haunt them towards the business end of the competition.

History also isn't on the Stormers side when the face up to their South African rivals. It's been eight years since they last won a Super Rugby match in Pretoria and not one of the present players featured in that match.

Apart from winning their last three matches against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld, the Bulls also took the spoils in last year's Super 14 final, played at Orlando Stadium in Soweto and treated as a home game to them because of the unavailability of their Pretoria fortress.

Two of these games - the 14-75 massacre in 2005 and the 12- 49 loss in 2007, still rank as two of the Stormers' biggest ever defeats. In 2009 they fared much better, losing by only 10-14 in Pretoria.

Amazingly, seven of the Bulls' stalwarts have not lost a Super Rugby game against a fellow South African side in 13 outings - a record they'd like to build on when the Stormers travel to Pretoria this weekend.

The Bulls, last year's champions, will attempt to restart their season after a third-round loss to the Highlanders which ended their 20-match unbeaten run at home.

Prediction: This is going to be another tight affair. The Stormers will run the Bulls close, but we think the defending champs will bounce back with a win. Bulls by six points.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner , 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 MornÚ 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 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gurthr÷ Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Derick KuŘn, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Francois Brummer.

Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Pieter Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nick Koster, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Gary van Aswegen, 22 Juan de Jongh.

Date: Saturday, 19 March
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19:10 (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)

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