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Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

27th May 2011 09:27


sharks v waratahs preview

Fight for survival: The Sharks and Waratahs can't afford any slip-ups

With four games in the league stages remaining, teams in the running for a play-offs spot are now under pressure to get winning results. It's Round 15!

With six positions up for grabs and at least eight teams looking to secure the best possible of those positions come the knock-out rounds, the run-in is hotting-up with each week's action.

Any slip-ups mean breathing space for the others.

Super Rugby betting odds: Highlanders 1/9 - Lions 5/1 ; Brumbies 3/1 - Stormers 1/4; Sharks 1/2 - Waratahs 3/2 ; Bulls 2/9 - Cheetahs 3/1

Highlanders v Lions
Carisbrook, Dunedin

The Highlanders could strengthen their position on the table if they manage to beat the bottom-placed Lions in Dunedin on Saturday.

Both sides play an entertaining brand of rugby and will not deviate from their attacking game-plans but if things go according to the form book, then the Highlanders should be easy winners in this encounter.

They have been the surprise package this year and with the tournament heading towards its business end they will be keen to wrack up another win and in doing so, regain their position among the top six places on the table.

The Highlanders had a bye last week and will be looking to gain maximum points against the struggling Lions who have only won two matches this season.

Before their break, they registered a morale-boosting 13-6 victory over the Hurricanes which put their campaign back on track. Prior to that they suffered successive defeats to the Blues and the Chiefs

With the Crusaders playing away to the table-topping Reds in Brisbane the Highlanders know that if they collect maximum points and the Reds manage to shut out their neighbours, they have a great opportunity of drawing level on the table with the men from Christchurch.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph knows his charges will be highly motivated but will not allow for complacency against the lowly Lions, who went down 29-12 to the Waratahs in Sydney at the weekend.

The Johannesburg-based team came back strongly in that match, winning the second half 7-0 after they were trailing 5-29 at half-time.

That second-half performance coupled with their fine showing in their 29-20 win over the Brumbies in Canberra show that the Lions can make life difficult for their opponents if they manage to click as a unit.

These two sides have played each other on 13 previous occasions and although the men from New Zealand's South Island have been victorious in nine of those encounters, the Lions have always given a good account of themselves in this fixture.

In last year's match between the two sides the Highlanders triumphed 39-29 in Dunedin thanks largely to the efforts of their former full-back Israel Dagg, who contributed 24 points via his kicking boot.

Although both these teams have shown a willingness to run the ball this season the forward battle could determine the outcome of this match.

The Highlanders have a huge pack and pride themselves on winning their first-phase ball. They should have the edge in this department as the Lions' poor season is largely due to their inability to maintain possession for long periods in the tight exchanges.

Prediction: The Highlanders are fresh from their bye and should have too much firepower for the Lions who are in the third week of a tiring tour. However, it will not be a one-sided affair and expect the Lions to give a good account of themselves. Highlanders by eight!

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarred Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Mo Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 John Hardie, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Matt Saunders, 22 Robbie Robinson.

Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Dylon des Fountain, 13 Doppies la Grange (c), 12 Butch James, 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Josh Strauss (vc), 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Warren Whiteley, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Alwyn Hollenbach, 22 Michael Killian.

Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)

Brumbies vs Stormers
Canberra Stadium, Canberra

The Stormers cross the Tasman and into the Australian capital of Canberra, home of the Brumbies, where they will be out to bag their second win on the road.

Schalk Burger and his troops avoided a third defeat on the trot thanks to last week's remarkable come-from-behind win against the Blues, keeping hold of top spot in the SA Conference and third overall.

The Brumbies managed another defeat of their own, albeit through a draw against the Force, but remain winless from their last five outings - a poor run that sees them ten positions down from the Stormers in 13th place, and with half the amount of points (24) as their visitors (48).

Two wins is all the Brumbies have to show in what has been a dismal season for the two-time Super Rugby champs, who were known at the start of last year as the "Real Madrid of Australian rugby". Now? Well, take your pic - I'm not a footy fan but my colleagues have gone for Arsenal and Liverpool... The Real duds of Australian rugby more like it.

It goes without saying that Jake White's reign as the Brumbies' new coach can't come soon enough.

The Brumbies have lost four home games this season. Be that as it may, the bumbling Brumbies cannot be written off against the Stormers who have have never won in Canberra in six attempts. And four of those Brumbies wins have been by over 13 points, with the Aussies ruling the head-to-head with ten wins from 13 matches.

The Stormers biggest ever win was a 34-3 triumph in Cape Town in 1996, but that is only one of two wins for the South Africans.

"The Brumbies are a better team than the log suggests and we will need to be up for it if we want to come away with the victory," said Burger.

"As a team we have never beaten them away from home so we would like to put the record right on Saturday.

"They have some very experience guys like Rocky Elsom and also great game-breaker in Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper so we know it will be a huge challenge."

A full 80-minute performance will be required by the Stormers if they are to end a bogey run of results in Canberra. They blew a 20-3 half-time lead two weeks ago against the Chiefs to lose 30-23, and had to dig deep in the second half against the Blues after trailing 3-19 at the break.

Prediction: The Stormers have some serious injury issues at fly-half but if they can combine last week's second-half show with the first period they produced against the Chiefs, we can't see them losing. Stormers by ten points

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Pat McCabe, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tyrone Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Matt Giteau (c), 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Jono Owen.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Michael Hooper, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Andrew Smith.

Stormers: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Anton Van Zyl, 19 Duane Vermeulen, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Jean de Villiers, 22 Johann Sadie.

Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Sharks vs Waratahs
Kings Park, Durban

The Waratahs hold an imposing recent record over the Sharks but that will count for little when the two finals contenders face off in Durban on Saturday.

The Waratahs are fifth, just two points ahead of the Sharks.

It's the first of the Australian side's two-match tour to the Republic and with four matches left to next month's top-six play-offs, a win here for either side will be crucial to their play-off ambitions.

The visitors have won nine of their last ten matches against the Sharks, including a memorable 16-12 win in their last visit to Kings Park in 2009.

However, the Waratahs - second behind the Reds in the Australian Conference - face a stiff test against a Bok-laden Sharks team who will be desperate to bounce back from last week's loss to the Bulls.

"We'll focus on doing our best to come away with a win that just puts us a little bit further away from the Sharks," said Waratahs' coach Chris Hickey.

"This is one of those games I think that's pivotal to both teams."

The Waratahs go into the match on the back of a three-game winning streak while the Sharks' defeat to the Bulls came off the back of a Round 13 bye.

The Waratahs tasted victory just once in their first six Super Rugby encounters against the Sharks, however the last nine seasons have brought nine wins including a historic semi-final at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2008.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said it was vital for his team to win all four of their remaining fixtures if they are to maintain any hope of reaching the playoffs.

"The players know that we can't afford to drop another one," said Plumtree.

Prediction: Considering the 'Tahs track record it's tough to bet against the visitors. But last week's loss would have come as huge wake-up call to the Sharks - expect them to come out charging. Sharks by a whisker

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Conrad Hoffmann, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Eugene van Staden, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (c)
Replacements: 16 Tendai Mtawarira, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Riaan Swanepoel.

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Sosene Anesi, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Pat O'Connor, 19 Hugh Perrett, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Daniel Halangahu, 22 Atieli Pakalani.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Bulls v Cheetahs
Loftus Verfeld, Pretoria

Arguably the two best-performing South African sides at present, both the Bulls and the Cheetahs will head into Saturday's clash brim-full of confidence.

Traditionally a game in which the home side would start as strong favourites at their fortress in Pretoria, this time around things are a little different; the Cheetahs are in their best-ever Super Rugby form and the Bulls early season troubles are still fresh enough in the memory to keep the Loftus faithful wary.

A major blow for the home side will be the absence of Springbok scrum-half Fourie du Preez who has been ruled out for at least four weeks due to a knee injury. To compound matters his deputy Francois Hougaard was doubtful after a recurrence of an ankle injury in training this week, but he has since been passed fit and will take up his place in the Bulls starting XV on Saturday.

On the bench Dustin Jinka acts as scrum-half cover, and should the debutant be called upon, he will be thrown into the deep-end against opposite number Sarel Pretorius - the tournament's top try-scorer. It'll be an obvious point of attack for the Cheetahs who's exciting running game will provide a stiff challenge to a Bulls backline that has had some frail moments this season.

It is, however, in the pack where the Bulls dominance - complemented by the resurgence of Morne Steyn - could make all the difference by denying the Cheetahs the possession they crave. Victor Matfield's side were immense in their forward battle against the Sharks last weekend, and a repeat performance would go a mighty long way to deciding the outcome at Loftus.

The earlier meeting between the sides in round two of the competition saw the Cheetahs surrender a 16-point lead as they lost 23-25, edged out by a late Fourie du Preez try. That result however will mean nothing given the water under the bridge since then, with the Cheetahs now targeting an unprecedented fifth consecutive Super Rugby victory.

For the Bulls, gaining a win is essential to keeping their play-off hopes alive and if results go their way then the defending champions could find themselves in the top six by the end of the weekend.

Prediction: It'll be a titanic struggle between two teams high on confidence, but by way of proven pedigree and home advantage, it's the Bulls by four points.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 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 Dustin Jinka, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Cheetahs: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Philip Snyman, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corne Uys, 11 Riaan Smit, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Hendrik Roodt, 19 Johan Wessels, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Naas Olivier, 22 Hennie Daniller.

Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

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