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Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

01st April 2011 09:09

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bulls v canes

Hurricanes v Bulls: Two teams firing blanks so far 2011

We're seven rounds into the 18-week regular season of Super Rugby, with some crucial games lined up which could either make or break teams that have fired blanks thus far in the tournament.

The Crusaders are having the weekend off after downing the Sharks in London, but there's still plenty of action to keep you glued to the couch on Super Saturday.


Blues v Cheetahs

The struggling Cheetahs cross the Tasman over to New Zealand where they face another tough assignment against the Blues at Toll Stadium in Whangarei.

The Free Staters are currently bottom of the table with a solitary win from their opening six matches, with their latest defeat coming at the hands of the Reds in Brisbane last week.

The Blues finally managed to rid themselves of their inconsistent tagline last week as they showed tremendous character to overturn a 10-nil deficit to prevail 16-13 against the Chiefs and secure their first back-to-back victories of the season.

Three wins from three against their New Zealand opposition and seven points from their overseas tour to South Africa and Perth has seen the Blues establish a healthy position on the table as they sit second in their conference and fifth overall.

With three home games and a bye in the next month, the Blues are in a commanding position to kick on and consolidate their position among the top teams in the Super Rugby competition.

Their first assignment is the Cheetahs, and with just one win to their name against an impressive Waratahs outfit, Blues coach Pat Lam is expecting nothing less than a torrid challenge against the South Africans.

"There's no easy game in this competition," Lam said.

"We know that if everyone fronts and does their job our chances of winning will be high. But if we don't, if we have one or two players that drop below their expected performance and if we come up against a motivated Cheetahs team we'll be in serious trouble.

"This game is a potential banana skin and we saw what they did to the Waratahs, they've only won one game but all their losses have been by small margins bar last week's loss to the Reds in Brisbane heat.

"If you look at the type of rugby they're playing, their systems are a lot different from what other South African teams do and they actually like to use the ball which will make for an exciting game so we need to be on our guard defensively and it's important we front with the same attitude and intensity that we have in the last couple of weeks."

Lam knows first-hand the perils of underestimating the Cheetahs, as it was their shock 36-32 loss to the Bloemfontein based side at Free State Stadium last year that effectively ended the Blues' quest for a semi-finals berth.

"It's fair to say that game still grates on me when we lost last year and we were expected to win but it pretty much ended our season so we certainly owe them one this time around."

The Blues have won four of their five encounters against the Cheetahs, with the one loss coming from their most recent encounter which is sure to provide plenty of motivation.

Prediction: The hard part isn't predicting a winner, but by how much... Blues by 20 points.

The teams:

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 Chris Lowrey, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 James King, 19 Mat Luamanu, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Benson Stanley.

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

Date: Saturday, March 19
Venue: Okara Park, Whangarei
Kick-off: 17:30 (04:30 GMT)
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)


Hurricanes v Bulls

The Hurricanes play their Super Rugby match in Napier for the first time in eight years when they host the defending champion Bulls at McLean Park on Saturday.

The hosts will be seeking maximum competition points against the Bulls to reignite their season after back-to-back defeats in recent weeks to the Blues and Rebels.

Sitting fourth in the New Zealand conference on the points table on 12 points, and ninth overall, victory for the Hurricanes over the Bulls would propel them back into the top half of the draw with 10 matches still to play after this.

The Bulls are currently third in the South African standings on 17 points and seventh equal overall, alongside the Highlanders who became the first team to topple them at home at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in 18 matches when they won 35-28 in Round Three.

The Bulls have won three and lost two to date, with four of their five games having been decided by seven points or fewer and their 13-23 defeat to the Stormers at home two weeks ago the widest scoreline of their season so far.

This match against the Hurricanes is the first of three on the trot in New Zealand and Australia.

Since their three from five return in 2007, the Bulls have built a reputation as good tourists. However, three wins are unlikely this time, with the Hurricanes, Crusaders, Reds and Force poised to take advantage of their struggle to hit optimal form.

"The successive losses certainly dented the players' confidence a little and as a result we were not as sharp as we could be," captain Victor Matfield said.

"We need to improve a lot going forward."

The Hurricanes will be playing in Napier for the seventh time, where they currently have a four win - two loss record. Their last match there in 2003 was also against the Bulls, with the South Africans winning 46-34.

Prediction: This is a hard one predict. Both sides are due for a big performance, but with Hosea Gear back for the 'Canes - the All Blacks winger may just be the spark needed to get the home side back on track. Hurricanes to win by seven points.

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Chris Eaton, 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 Jacob Ellison, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Charlie Ngatai.

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 (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Roussouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Derick KuŁn, 20 Francois Brummer, 21 Gerhard van den Heever, 22 Jaco van der Westhuyzen.

Date: Saturday, April 2
Venue: McLean Park, Napier
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)


Western Force v Melbourne Rebels

The Melbourne Rebels head to Perth to tackle the Western Force in this all-Aussie derby battle at nib Stadium.

Saturday's clash against the Rebels is the start of a run of three 'derby' matches for the Western Force which coach Richard Graham believes will go a long way to shaping the club's standing in the Australian Conference.

"We're six games into the season and these next three matches are going to be very important for us. It will set you up as to whether you go on and finish strong in the conference or each week you have to fight for your survival," Graham said.

The Rebels will be looking to cure their travelling blues, with a first away win of the competition in a match that is the first of a budding rivalry against fellow "new boys" the Force.

The visitors are preparing to face a desperate home side who have only managed one victory and a draw in five matches. The Force were thrashed 51-16 by the Stormers last round, after a build-up hampered by illness to a several players.

Skipper Nathan Sharpe said the loss had "hurt".

"We need to make sure our game is good, last weekend we made too many mistakes, that's a lesson for us," Sharpe said.

"The Rebels had a good win against the Hurricanes and they're going to be excited about coming over here.

"I think they see us as an opportunity, which is good for us, we enjoy that."

Prediction: Will be close. If the Rebels have targeted any win away from home, it's in Perth. Rebels by three!

The teams:

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 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Tevita Metuisela, 20 James Stannard, 21 Matt Brandon, 22 Pat Dellit.

Rebels: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Richard Kingi, 13 Lachlan Mitchell, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Luke Rooney, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Hugh Pyle, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Sam Cordingley, 21 Peter Betham, 22 Afusipa Taumoepeau.

Date: Saturday, April 2
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19.05 (11.05 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)


Lions v Reds

The Lions will have home and team pride at stake when they host the impressive-looking Reds in Johannesburg this weekend.

Third-placed Queensland continue to build important momentum heading into upcoming matches against the pace-setting Stormers, defending champion Bulls and arch-rivals, the Waratahs.

Another bonus-point win would propel the Reds ahead of the Crusaders, who have a bye, and could also see them leading the overall standings if the pace-setting Stormers lose to the Sharks in Durban.

Ewen McKenzie's troops have grabbed plenty of attention with 13 tries in two weeks, but the men from Brisbane will be just as proud of having conceded just one try. They also have a near perfect record at Ellis Park (Coca Cola Park) - their best away venue in the competition - having won five and drawn once in six visits.

The Lions may have beaten the Reds three times, but they have never defeated the Queenslanders at home in Johannesburg. The tournament under-achievers that promised so much in the early rounds have regressed into something resembling the woeful side that lost 13 Super Rugby matches in succession in 2010.

The Lions have triumphed in just one of their six matches but have been in the hunt at the death in four tight defeats to South African rivals, while their worst loss was to the Western Force (27-15).

After losing their first three home games in 2011, against the Bulls (24-20), Blues (41-32) and Western Force, the Lions should have more than enough motivation to break their duck and beat the Reds for the very first time in seven games at Coca-Cola Park.

Prediction: This could be closer than one thinks. The Lions to take the Reds all the way but... Reds to win by five.

The teams:

Lions: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies La Grange (c), 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Andre Pretorius, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Warren Whitely, 7 Joshua Strauss, 6 Cobus Grobelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe , 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 Derick Minnie, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Jaco Taute.

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

Date: Saturday, April 2
Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 15:00 (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)


Sharks v Stormers

The Sharks will be desperate to return to winning ways after consecutive defeats on tour when they host the tournament leading Stormers in Durban for what should be a cracker of a match.

After winning their first two tour matches against the Force and the Rebels, the Sharks have lost their last two games, against the Crusaders in London (44-28) and the Chiefs in Hamilton (15-9). Their opponents, meanwhile, are undefeated thus far in 2011.

The teams are first and second on the South African Conference and a Sharks win would rein in the log leaders while a Stormers victory would place more breathing space between themselves and the chasing pack.

These two sides battled it out at the same venue in the Currie Cup final last year under the guise of Western Province (Stormers) and, well, the Sharks - with the home side embarrasing their coastal rivals with a convincing victory.

The Stormers will want to avoid the same treatment, and face a Sharks side carrying a wee bit of jet-lag from all the travelling they've had to undergo in the last month. But the Sharks are a different kettle of fish (pardon the pun) at Kings Park, and will be delighted - and relieved - to be at home for this grudge match.

The Sharks also have been a bogey side for the Stormers of late, winning the last five games.

But the Stormers will be confident after beating the Bulls in their only other game on the road, so being away from Newlands shouldn't be a problem.

The Stormers have named Schalk Burger for the first time this season, their talisman flank brings an added dimension to the physicality of the side and certainly lifts his team. Sharks coach John Plumtree agreed that Burger was an important component in the Stormers' side.

"He brings experience and leadership, he's a world class player," he said.

"He hasn't played for a while so he'll be fresh and it is also nice for him to join a team when they're top of log and things are going well. But he'll also feel a sense of responsibility to have a big game."

Prediction: We can't wait for this one. Too hard to call though... hmmm... Sharks, no Stormers... wait... ok, Stormers by six!

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, (c), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 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 John Smit, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean De Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermuelen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 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, April 2
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17:05 (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Bulls717
3Lions816
4Cheetahs89
5Stormers66