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Super Rugby Preview: Round Eight

08th April 2011 08:44

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bulls v crusaders

Timaru test: Crusaders vs Bulls

Cancel everything! It's Round Eight of Super Rugby with five intriguing clashes set to keep us entertained on Super Saturday.

Although the competition hasn't quite yet reached the half-way point, there is plenty still to play for as no team wants to drop off the pace set by the leaders.

One slip up will put the chasers right back in with a chance of winning their respective Conferences.

So lets get straight to it shall we?

Crusaders vs Bulls

The Bulls will be aiming for their second win on tour and a fourth consecutive victory over the Crusaders when the two Super Rugby heavyweights clash in Timaru.

The two teams have shared the last six Super Rugby titles between them, but it is the defending champion Bulls who have come out on top in their last three meetings.

The Bulls' last three victories - the most recent being the 2010 Super 14 semi-final - over their New Zealand rivals have all been in the Republic though, and the Crusaders hold a distinct advantage over the men from Pretoria on home soil.

It's been 10 long years since any South African team managed to beat the Crusaders in New Zealand and 15 seasons since the Bulls (known as Northern Transvaal back then) last secured an away victory against the seven-time champions (in 1996).

So history is certainly with the men in red and black in their own back yard. But the Bulls will be bouyed by the fact that they at least avoid the quake-hit AMI Stadium, that has proven to be a daunting ground for any visiting teams in the past. Instead they will head 160 kilometres south of Christchurch to the small port town of Timaru and play at the Alpine Energy Stadium in front of 12,000 Crusaders' supporters - as apposed to 39,000 up the road.

The Bulls would also have breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that Dan Carter will be sitting this one out due to a hamstring complaint. Carter as well as All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock will watch from the sidelines, which will suit the Bulls just fine.

It does take away a tantalising match-up between Carter and Morne Steyn - two world class pivots that are tipped to go head to head in the World Cup semi-final later this year, but there are still other face-offs to look forward to in this superpower match.

Bakkies Botha will clash with Brad Thorn, the world's two leading number eight forwards in Pierre Spies and Kieran Read will battle it out while Sonny Bill Williams will come up against his biggest test to date in the strong tackling Wynand Olivier.

It's set to be a Test-like encounter, and the lucky 12,000 crowd are in for a treat - Carter or no Carter.

Prediction: This has the potential to go down to the wire. Steyn's boot will keep the Bulls in with a shout, but we feel the Crusaders pose a much bigger threat in other areas - namely out wide. Crusaders by five.

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Matt Berquist, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (capt), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Jonathan Poff/Joe Wheeler, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Tom Marshall, 22 Adam Whitelock.

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

Date: Saturday, April 9
Venue: Alpine Energy Stadium, Timaru
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)


Brumbies vs Hurricanes

The Brumbies and Hurricanes can ill-afford another loss in Super Rugby having made less than satisfying starts to their 2011 seasons.

Both sides enter this match in Canberra with one win apiece from six matches and need a win to keep a glimmer of hope for a spot in the finals. And with still 10 games to play in the season, anything is possible.

The Brumbies have lost five on the trot - they haven't tasted victory since February 19 - making their home clash against the Hurricanes one of the most important of the season.

Brumbies coach Tony Rea has persevered with the same starting 15, with the only change being utility back Pat McCabe returning from injury on the bench. The side remains optimistic despite not winning a match since round one against the Chiefs.

"As long as you work hard you will be confident," said Rea.

"If you feel like you are improving when you are working hard, that's the way to build that."

The Hurricanes are smarting from the same win record as the Brumbies, and will be desperate to show their fans there is more to them than what has been on display to date.

They have now lost three in a row following last week's defeat to the Bulls, however their loss two weeks ago to the Rebels was one they will want to forget. Up 17-0 after 17 minutes, the 'Canes capitulated, going down 42-25.

Centre Ma'a Nonu has gone on record saying it's the most distressed he has ever felt during a Super Rugby season and he and his team-mates will be working on turning everything around in the Australian capital.

"Our read on them is that they'll be hungry, they'll be desperate, they'll be keen and they're talented," said Rea.

The Hurricanes and the Brumbies faced off earlier in the year during a trial match which resulted in a draw.

Prediction: Hmmm.. always tough to make a call when two struggling teams go head to head. Both teams will dig deep into their pockets full of holes for this one, but Canberra remains a tough place to visit and we think the Brumbies will finally come good. Brumbies by seven.

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Matt Toomua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Matt Giteau (c), 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements (from): Anthony Hegarty, Dan Palmer, Colby Faingaa, Michael Hooper, Pat Phibbs, Tyrone Smith, Franky Fainifo, Pat McCabe.

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor , 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Jack Lam, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Michael Bent, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Charlie Ngatai.

Date: Saturday, April 9
Venue: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:40 (09:40 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Andrew Lees (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)


Western Force vs Waratahs

The struggling Force tackle the Waratahs in their second Aussie derby clash in as many weeks, where victory for the home side is non-negotiable.

With only one victory and a draw to their name so far this season, the Western Force continued their slide in 2011 following last week's loss to the Rebels and sit bottom of the Australian Conference and 13th overall.

The Waratahs escaped with a seven-point win over the Chiefs in Round Seven, thanks to a penalty try that proved to be the difference between the two sides in the end. But a win is a win and last year's semi-finalists will head west with valuable points in tow.

The 'Tahs will make the trip under the captaincy of Dean Mumm who, after a win and a loss against the Cheetahs in his two previous outings as skipper, will be desperately seeking to end the first round of derbies with a clean sweep of the Australian teams.

The Western Force have been extremely competitive against fellow Australian sides but have been on the wrong side of two one-point losses to the Reds and Rebels this season. It's a stat that the West Aussies will be determined to rectify in the next fortnight - starting with the 'Tahs and then the Brumbies.

History suggests encounters between the Force and Waratahs go down to the wire. In their past four meetings one game has ended in a draw, another decided by a solitary point, while the biggest winning margin has been just five points.

Prediction: The Force are due for a win. But sadly for them, we can't see it happening this weekend. Waratahs by a whisker!

The teams:

Western Force: 15 James O'Connor, 14 David Smith, 13 Nick Cummins, 12 Gene Fairbanks, 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Jono Jenkins, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (capt), 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 Rory Sidey, 22 Pat Dellit.

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

Date: Saturday, April 9
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 20:05 (12:05 GMT)
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referee: Steve Walsh (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)
TMO: Steve Lesczcynski (Australia)


Stormers vs Reds

Super Saturday's top-of-the-table clash between the Stormers and the Reds in Cape Town is without a doubt the pick of the Round Eight matches.

It took a few games for both sides to get going this year, but now find themselves in arguably championship-winning form. Aside from the Crusaders, the Stormers and the Queenslanders have looked the most impressive of the bunch and neither will want to end the weekend with a loss.

After seven rounds of Super Rugby the Reds currently lead the Australian conference and are second in the overall standings but this week will show if they are the real deal as they face the unbeaten Stormers at Newlands.

The Reds have won five of their six matches so far but all of their wins have come at the expense of teams that are at the bottom half of the table. The Queenslanders have beaten the Force, Cheetahs, Lions, Rebels and Brumbies while their only loss came against the Waratahs - who are now second in the Australian conference and are four points behind them.

The table-topping Stormers, meanwhile, have faced sterner tests against the likes of the Bulls, Sharks (both away from home) and an impressive-looking Highlanders outfit while also getting the better of the Lions, Cheetahs and Force.

The home side's brick-wall defensive line, which has conceded just four tries in six matches, will face its biggest test yet however against the hot-stepping Reds.

The Reds got the better of the Stormers last year 16-13 at a slippery Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, but the log-leaders will be quietly confident that they can roll over the Reds and clinch a seven-game winning streak for the first time in the team's history.

"What we remember is that the Reds beat us in Brisbane last year so we know what a challenge they could pose for us," said Stormers skipper Schalk Burger.

"It is a home game for us and if you want to win this competition you need to win your home games. We want to do well in front of our fans."

Prediction: Toughest call of the round. The Stormers forwards will want to starve the Reds' dangerous backs of possession, and keep it tight - but Queensland coach Ewen Mckenzie has chosen a revamped pack to fight fire with fire. Whilst we don't foresee an open game as everyone is hoping -we still think it will be a cracker. Stormers by eight.

The teams:

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

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

Date: Saturday, April 9
Kick-off: 17:05 (15:05 GMT)
Venue: Newlands
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referee: Pro Legoete (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)


Sharks vs Lions

The Sharks will want to end a three-match losing streak before a much-needed bye when they host the Lions in Durban.

Whilst the Lions are already all but out of play-offs contentions with only one win so far in 2011, a win is vital for the Sharks who are pushing for a strong position that the log points would deliver.

Four or five points against the Lions, plus four points for the bye the following weekend would boost their log position rather conveniently. Presently in eighth position, eight or nine points could propel them into the top four or five. For the Lions in 14th position, a win is integral to their team morale after six defeats.

The Lions have found it tough against the Sharks, winning just twice in 12 matches. In 2000, the Lions won in Durban and again the following year. But wins against coastal team have been elusive since then with a run of nine wins with a draw in 2005 the closest they came to winning.

Despite the Lions' record so far in 2011, what will rankle most is the fact that nearly all of their losses have been narrow ones, kicking often the difference between winning and losing to the extent that a kicking coach is being appointed to bring about change.

Their five bonus points is the most, shared with the Brumbies who have also just one win to their name, and testament to their fighting spirit. Any suggestion that their log position means the Sharks will be taking them lightly should be dispelled immediately.

"The tournament is still a long way from over, but it is important that we win this weekend," said Sharks vice-captain Stefan Terblanche.

"It's been spoken about, that this week we're playing for eight or nine points, next week we have the bye with the automatic four points. But we have to win this one to stay in it."

Prediction: The Sharks know a defeat here will ruin their season. The Lions should put up a good fight though, but we backing the hosts to win, and win ugly.Sharks by nine.

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Gerhard Mostert, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Eugene van Staden, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (capt).
Replacements: 16 Tendai Mtawarira, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

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

Date: Saturday, April 9
Kick-off: 19:10 (17:10 GMT)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

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