Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

25th March 2011 07:44

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blues v chiefs

Kiwi derby: Chiefs host the Blues

In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the Round Six of Super Rugby throws up a series of critical matches for teams attempting to keep alive, rebuild or sustain campaigns.

There's five games to get through, so lets hop straight to it shall we?

Reds vs Cheetahs

The Cheetahs will be out to prove that last week's upset win of the century against the Waratahs was no flash in the pan when they tackle the Reds.

Normally we'd begin a preview such as this one by pointing out that the South African tourists have never won a match Down Under, bla, bla, bla... but after last week's victory in Sydney, that can finally be put to bed.

Like the Waratahs, the Reds would have circled this fixture on their Super Rugby calender as an easy five log points - we doubt that will be the case anymore and will be wary of a side that proved never to under-estimate the opposition. Ever!

Returning Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Brüssow's pilfering gave his side a ton of possession, while the rest of the forwards took every opportunity to smash their opponents off the ball. Indeed, Reds loose forward Beau Robinson will face his sternest test trying to keep Brüssow in check on what is expected to be a hot and humid Brisbane afternoon.

The Reds have emerged as the strongest Australian team in the early stages of the season - dominating the Brumbies and crushing the Rebels by fifty points last weekend - but captain James Horwill, returning after a two week lay-off, said his team must still improve.

"The performance against the Rebels on the weekend was good but we know it wasn't a perfect or complete performance," Horwill said.

"We need to be better again to beat the Cheetahs - we aren't where we want to be."

The Cheetahs have tasted success against the Queenslanders twice - both in Bloemfontein - but in the five matches between the teams, the Reds have won three with the Aussies getting the better of Naka Drotske's team on the last two occasions.

Prediction: With the weather in Brisbane set to be a scorcher, we think the Cheetahs will follow up last week's shock result with another good performance, only to run out of steam towards the end. Reds by twelve.

The teams:

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

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

Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)

Chiefs vs Blues

With the Crusaders working their magic in London, the big game in New Zealand this weekend will be between these two Kiwi rivals for what should be a highly entertaining match - we hope!

The Blues will be oozing confidence after picking up an impressive win against the Hurricanes at Eden Park - a venue the Aucklanders have never lost at so far this season.

But they're on the road again and the Chiefs will be a stern test, buoyed by their grind down of the Sharks last week, as the two North Island rivals look to keep their seasons on track.

An away win will be welcomed by Pat Lam as his team tend to struggle away from their home comforts - a loss against the Sharks in Durban, a comeback win against the Lions in Jo'burg and a draw against the Force in Perth has interrupted their momentum so far this season.

However, they will be pleased by the fact they have three 'home' games heading their way (Cheetahs in Whangarei, a bye, Waratahs at Eden Park and Rebels in North Harbour) after this weekend's big derby hit-out against the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.

Whilst the Blues got their tumultuous season back on track with a resounding 41-17 victory over the 'Canes, Saturday's match against the Chiefs shapes as a crucial clash as they look to rid themselves of the 'inconsistent' tagline that has haunted them for a number of seasons.

"This is a massive game for us to get rid of the monkey on our back as some people say," Lam said.

"It's a big game in the sense of where we are on the table, a big game in the sense that we're up against our neighbours and it's also a big game in relation to my time in this franchise where we have been up and down."

But they face a stern challenge against a Chiefs outfit who love nothing more than defeating their big brothers and who are also desperate to record consecutive wins for the first time this season after upsetting the Sharks last week.

"You look at the quality in that Chiefs team and they're at home and have their backs against the wall. Motivation brings out the best in players and it'll be the same for them this week,"said Lam.

"Playing against the Blues you know they're going to come out firing and that's why we have to make sure every individual is giving their best otherwise we're going to come off second best."

The Blues have won nine of their 15 encounters against the Chiefs and last year defeated them 30-20 at Eden Park. But the last time they travelled down the line to Hamilton the Blues were thrashed 63-34.

Prediction: Tough one. Home ground advantage should favour the Chiefs, but the Blues have been looking the much better out of the two so far this season. Blues by four.

The teams:

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

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

Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)

Brumbies vs Waratahs

The Brumbies and the Waratahs will be desperate to get their season back on track with a win at Canberra Stadium in this must-win Aussie derby.

Humbled by last week's loss to the Cheetahs and now with only two wins from four games after such a promising start in 2011, the Waratahs have a lot of work to do if they wish to remain serious play-off contenders down the track.

Waratahs coach Chris Hickey said his team would be determined to bounce back from its poor performance against the Cheetahs.

"We understand it will be a big challenge in Canberra and we've got to be up for that," he said. "I know it's only week six of the competition but sometimes these pivotal games occur early."

The Brumbies - now on a three-match losing streak after recent losses to the Crusaders, Reds and Melbourne Rebels - are also looking to shake a worrying form slump in one of the competition's fiercest rivalries.

A win for the Brumbies would likely move the embattled side above the Waratahs, but a loss could demote them to last in the Australian conference, should the Rebels beat the Hurricanes in Melbourne.

The Brumbies lost to the Reds for the first time in Canberra and now hope against the Waratahs to restore a home-ground record, which is the second-best in Super Rugby after the Crusaders. They have won 77 per cent of home matches since the southern hemisphere tournament began in 1996.

So with plenty of pride at stake, the match also contains a compelling inner contest between fly-halves Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes.

"They're an extremely good side at home," Barnes said. "The Reds went down this year and played a solid brand of footy and were able to get away with it.

"There's a bit of a blueprint there but they play a different style to us, too. It's a matter of us fronting up first and foremost then executing our game plan."

Brumbies lock Ben Hand, who switched allegiances in 2009, said this fixture was always one of the most intense on the calendar.

"Playing down here in Canberra is a great experience against the Waratahs and I think with the predicament both teams are in at the moment it's sure to add a little feeling to Saturday night," Hand said.

"I don't think the Cheetahs did us any favours on Saturday.

"If we were coming off three wins and they were coming off three wins I don't think that'll change the nature or the intensity of this clash. It's been ferocious over the past 15, 16 years and I don't expect that to change."

History favours the Brumbies - the Waratahs have only won once in Canberra in seven attempt. Aside from the 2005 victory for the Waratahs (6-10) the Brumbies have won all matches by 10 points or more.

Prediction: Another hard one to call - normally we'd back the Brumbies at home, but we think the Waratahs will vent their frustration of losing last week to the Cheetahs with a win against their Aussie rivals. 'Tahs by three points.

The teams:

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

Waratahs: tbc

Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Stormers vs Western Force

The Stormers, a point clear of the Sharks in the South African conference and three points ahead of the Crusaders on the overall log, are back in Cape Town after breaking an eight-year losing drought against the Bulls in Pretoria.

The 23-13 win over the defending champs at Loftus means the Stormers are the only unbeaten side left in the tournament.

And the Western Force, who picked up their first win of the season against the Lions last week, would be well advised to keep their penalty count to a minimum at Newlands.

The South African unit has the tightest defence in the competition and has maintained an unbeaten record by relying on the boot of fly-half Peter Grant who has contributed 62 of their 81 points.

Whilst the Stormers have only scored two tries from four games so far this season, winning results count more and last year's finalists are far from the finished product.

And if history is anything to go by between these two sides, we might be in for another kickfest. The Western Force and Stormers have a history of close matches with three of their five meetings being decided by a solitary point.

Clashes in the past two years have been titanic battles. In 2010 Western Force fly-half David Hill slotted a drop goal after the buzzer to secure a memorable 16 - 15 victory for the Perth side in front of home town supporters, while in Cape Town a year earlier the Stormers managed to sneak away with a one-point win.

The West Australian's secured a victory on their first visit to Newlands (2007), the match finishing in a 19-point win to the Force, the greatest winning margin of any clash between the sides over the last five years.

Saturday's encounter will see Western Force skipper Nathan Sharpe become the most capped Super Rugby player in history when he plays his 137th cap, surpassing former Australian great George Gregan.

Prediction: The Force could prove to be a stumbling block for the Stormers, who may still be on cloud nine after upsetting the Bulls last week. Though once again, Grant's boot will get his team through. Stormers to win by a whisker!

The teams:

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 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Nick Koster, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Juan de Jongh.

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.

Referee: Pro Legoete (South Africa)

Bulls vs Lions

The Lions will be eager to correct their mistakes of the past when they take a second bite of the cherry in Saturday's Super Rugby derby against the Bulls in Pretoria.

Having witnessed the Cheetahs secure a 23-3 victory over the Waratahs, the men from Johannesburg will enter the match knowing that nothing is impossible.

"Anyone can beat anyone in this competition and they just happen to be our neighbours so we are just going to deal with it one week at a time and get on with it," said Lions coach John Mitchell.

Knowing that the Bulls are yet to play the brand of rugby which ensured they won back-to-back Super 14 titles has not created increased excitement, or fear, in the Lions camp.

"We need to be focusing on ourselves and not worry too much about what they do," added Mitchell.

"I'm sure it will be a pretty willing contest."

The last time these sides met the Lions suffered a 24-20 loss in Johannesburg. With more accuracy in certain departments, like goal kicking, the result could just as well have gone their way.

Mitchell said that his team will take some positives from that match, but added that it would be foolish to think the Bulls will not up their game as well.

"That's all in the past," he said.

"This week is a new week and there are a lot of could have's and should have's and would have's, but at the end of the day if our goal kicking success rate was a lot higher we could have been a lot higher in the competition so its about people doing their job."

However, the Lions should be wary of a Bulls backlash by the defending champions who have now lost their last two home games (to the Highlanders and Stormers).

Prediction: The Bulls will be angry and are due a big result. Bulls by 15!

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Jaco van der Westhuyzen , 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann , 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Derick Kuün, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Francois Brummer.

Lions: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Warren Whitely, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe (c), 4 David Bullbring, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Joshua Strauss, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Andre Pretorius, 22 Jaco Taute.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

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Waratahs 26 - 8 BrumbiesWaratahs vs Brumbies Report
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Brumbies 32 - 30 ChiefsBrumbies vs Chiefs Report
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PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Crusaders1651
3Sharks1650
4Brumbies1645
5Chiefs1644
6Highlanders1642
7Hurricanes1641
8Western Force1640
9Bulls1638
10Blues1637
11Stormers1632
12Lions1631
13Reds1628
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
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624