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Super Rugby preview: Saturday

13th April 2012 07:47

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de villiers  Fruean crusaders v stormers

'Saders v Stormers: Epic expected

The Super Rugby juggernaut rolls on this Saturday as Round Eight continues with four intriguing encounters expected... ok, three intriguing encounters.

The pick of the bunch has to be the clash in Christchurch between the table-topping Stormers and Crusaders, who face their fourth straight match against South African opposition.

We then cross the Tasman to Canberra where the Brumbies will look to avoid a third straight defeat when they take on the Rebels.

Bloemfontein is the place to be when the high-flying Cheetahs go hunting for Chiefs, with the Kiwi outfit looking for their sixth consecutive win.

The lowly Lions then have a big task containing the Bulls in their South African derby encounter in Jo'burg for what could be the easiest result to pick this weekend.

Crusaders v Stormers
Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch

This is the one everyone's been waiting for! The Stormers will be out to make it seven wins on the trot and maintain their unbeaten run this season when they face the Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Stormers have been in super form this season and absolutely dominated the Highlanders last weekend, despite the travel factor and the tough match against the Bulls the previous week.

Their defence has once again been incredible, and while they don't pick up too many four-try bonus points, they tend to take most of their try-scoring opportunities and bagged a couple in Dunedin.

However, even if coach Allister Coetzee won't admit it, their eighth round clash will be their most daunting test yet.

If the table-topping Stormers thought last week's fixture against the high-flying Highlanders would be tough, Saturday's match against the seven-time Super Rugby champions will be even tougher.

No team in the history of Super Rugby is as formidable at home as the Crusaders. In their 40 home games against South African opposition, the Crusaders have won 36, lost two and drawn two.

The Stormers' record against the Crusaders home and away doesn't make for pretty reading either - they've lost 10 of the last 12 games against the men in red and black, including five of the last six and have never won in Christchurch.

Last year, the Crusaders managed to outmuscle the Stormers on two occasions - in the regular season and again in the semi-finals - but are under pressure to improve their moderate form this season which has fallen well below their usual standard.

They edged past the Cheetahs in their first match at their new home stadium and narrowly beat the Lions in Johannesburg, before losing last weekend to the Bulls in Pretoria where they became the target of eye-gouging allegations.

Fallout from the incident may be felt on Saturday come kick-off on Saturday. While the Stormers are in no way involved with the gouging claims, last week's incident may inflame often testy relationships between New Zealand and South Africa teams.

The Crusaders may have home ground advantage, but the big question is how well Todd Blackadders's troops will handle the travel back from South Africa.

Prediction: History favours the hosts, but form favours the visitors. This will be too close to call, and for that reason we're going for the most votes in our recent poll. Crusaders to edge it!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Tom Marshall.

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gio Aplon/ JP du Plessis.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)


Brumbies v Rebels
Canberra Stadium

The Brumbies could open up a seven-point conference advantage over their Australian rivals if things go perfectly for them and elsewhere this weekend.

By the time they kick-off in Canberra, the surprise package of the tournament will have seen whether Western Force have got the number on the Waratahs while the Reds sit out on a desperately-needed bye week, something they hope will help repair the damage of the dismal defence of their title so far.

Granted the Queenslanders overcame the Brumbies 20-13 last weekend but with the absence of Quade Cooper and struggling form of Will Genia, the holders need to improve dramatically if they are to make the play-offs as top dogs in Australia. Their struggle means there is real hope for Jake White's side.

This week they meet the Rebels in what is a must-win in order to recover from that aforementioned defeat. One strong performer last week, Peter Kimlin, is dropped from the XV as Fotu Auelua and Michael Hooper join captain and now blinside flanker Ben Mowen in the back-row. The return of Scott Fardy is good for the side while they will hope that Jesse Mogg can continue his impressive recent form. Andrew Smith is dropped for Tevita Kuridrani at centre.

What has been interesting is White's lack of favourtism towards the so-called big names as this week Ben Alexander is given a week riding the pine. He has not been the only international to have to spend time on the bench as Stephen Moore has regularly been replaced for Anthony Hegarty. Great to see from the South African as it has instilled a sense of hunger for the jersey, something which has seen players like Sam Carter and Joe Tomane flourish.

Their opponents on Saturday are a side very much struggling to find top gear. While they have the star names they have yet to click and find themselves in twelfth position in the overall table after losing their three opening games before beating the Force, losing to the Highlanders and edging the Blues.

However that most recent positive result means they come into this one full of confidence and also consistency as an unchanged back-line is given the green light to cause the Brumbies problems. Let's face it, a fully firing Danny Cipriani, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale can do damage to any defence.

Prediction: We fancy the visitors to pounce for a win here. Rebels by four!

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen (capt), 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ruaidri Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Andrew Smith.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 James O'Connor, 11 Mark Gerrard, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Jarrod Saffy, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Al Campbell, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Eddie Aholelei, 18 Michael Lipman, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Julian Huxley, 22 Lloyd Johansson.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)


Cheetahs v Chiefs
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

The Cheetahs and the Chiefs are among the in-form teams in the competition at the moment, with both sides enjoying reasonably successful campaigns so far this season.

After returning from their most successful ever tour to New Zealand and Australia, the Cheetahs continued their winning ways by beating the struggling Lions 26-5 last weekend.

Coach Naka Drotske deserves plenty of credit for turning his side into a competitive unit. With the Southern Kings set to make their debut in next year's tournament, the threat of relegation at the end of this season's competition is a real possibility for one of the South African franchises.

And after showing signs of improvement last season, the Bloemfontein-based franchise have steadily worked their way up the table.

The Cheetahs will certainly be motivated. In five previous encounters against the Chiefs they have been on the losing side three times and drawn the other two fixtures.

Drotske expects a fast-paced game and wants his team to repeat the performance which helped them claim a 47-38 win over the Hurricanes in Wellington two weeks ago.

"We have to learn from the Hurricanes game," he said.

"You can't play 70% of the rugby and still trial by 11-32 on the score board simply because you gave away the ball three times on your opponents' tryline.

"Our plan is to play low risk rugby, not make 50-50 passes and not to concede possession unnecessarily. The Chiefs, with the backs that they have, will punish you if you turn over possession against them."

After losing their season opener to the Highlanders, the Chiefs have gone on a five-match winning streak and they will be keen to return home unbeaten on their two-match tour of South Africa.

In their most recent match, they grinded out a deserved 20-12 victory over the Western Force in Perth last weekend.

The 2010 runners-up know that beating the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein is no mean feat but they will be fancying their chances, particularly due to the fact that they are yet to lose against their opponents.

The Chiefs' back-line possess some of the most potent attacking weapons in the competition and with players like Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams, Richard Kahui and Lelia Masaga in their ranks they could score numerous tries if their opponents don't work out a solid defensive plan to stop them.

Prediction: Expect a fast-paced match with plenty of end-to-end action. This match is another hard one to call but home ground advantage could just swing it in the Cheetahs' favour ... but don't be surprised if the Chiefs come away with the spoils at the death. Chiefs by three points!

The teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 George Earle, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Andries Ferreira, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Philip Snyman.

Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 22 Robbie Robinson.


Lions v Bulls
Coca-Cola Park Stadium, Johannesburg

The struggling Lions must be wondering what more they must do to get another win under their belt this season.

After beating the Cheetahs in the opening round, the Johannesburg-based franchise have lost five successive matches and are languishing at the bottom of the table with 10 points from six matches.

After that victory in the season opener, the Lions were competitive in their defeats to the Sharks, Hurricanes and Stormers but they were blown away by a superb first-half effort by the Cheetahs who beat them 26-5 last weekend.

They fought back bravely in the second half of that clash but after the Cheetahs raced to a 23-0 lead at half-time they were always struggling to get back in that game.

Coach John Mitchell believes the lack of experience amongst his troops is one of the major reasons for their poor start to the season.

"Unfortunately we have a group that has an average of 1.36 Super Rugby seasons per person," said Mitchell.

"We have 11 guys playing their first campaign, six playing their second and three guys playing their third. So, whether people like it or not, you have to be patient with this group because they are inexperienced."

These two teams have played each other on seven occasions and the Lions are yet to register a victory against the three-time champions who bounced back from their defeat to the Stormers two weeks ago with 32-30 win over the Crusaders last weekend.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke knows his team will have to be at their best against the Lions and said his team would not underestimate their neighbours.

"The Lions never stop playing and the Cheetahs had to make more than 200 tackles against them last week as they kept on attacking until the final minute," said Ludeke.

"We will have to improve on the basics of the game, especially early on. We don't want to play catch up like we did against the Blues, Stormers and Crusaders, because of a bad start."

Prediction: John Mitchell hit the nail on the head when he said his team's lack of experience is costing them dearly this year. Although the Bulls have also lost several veterans during the off-season, they can still rely on experienced heads in key positions.Bulls by 12 points!

The teams:

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 James Kamana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Josh Strauss (c), 7 Derrick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 CJ van der Linde / Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Doppies le Roux, 20 Ross Cronjé, 21 Butch James, 22 Lionel Mapoe.


Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Johann Sadie.

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  • Table
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks831
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs825
4Waratahs824
5Western Force823
6Crusaders822
7Hurricanes821
8Highlanders719
9Bulls919
10Lions916
11Blues816
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels816
14Stormers810
15Cheetahs99