Planet Rugby



Super Rugby Preview: Friday

02nd June 2011 11:51


Kendrick Lynn Highlanders

Last chance saloon: The Highlanders can't afford to lose

After fifteen weeks and 8000 viewing minutes, it's still anyone's guess which teams will occupy the top six spots on the Super Rugby standings.

With another six weeks and 2000 minutes to go before the winner is found, only the Reds can rest easy knowing that a home play-off is in the bag.

The battle for that vital number one position in the New Zealand and South African Conferences still rages on, with the Blues and Stormers currently leading a close race to the finish.

The Crusaders have this weekend off so the Blues can stretch their lead over their Kiwi rivals in the New Zealand Conference, while the Stormers can't afford to slip up against the Rebels with the Sharks and Bulls breathing down their neck.

The Bulls lie just one point outside the top six behind the Waratahs and can leapfrog the Sydneysiders into a play-off position with victory at their Loftus Versfeld fortress.

Highlanders v Western Force

The Highlanders need to return to winning ways against the Western Force to have any chance of making the top six.

Victory is non-negotiable for the southerners, whose play-off ambitions took a turn for the worst after losing to the previously bottom-placed Lions in Dunedin last weekend.

This was a fixture the Highlanders would have circled as one of the easier fixtures on their 2011 calender. But were quickly reminded that there are no easy games in Super Rugby.

Now in eighth spot on the overall standings and with away games against the Waratahs and Blues to follow, Jamie Joseph's men will know another loss will spell the end of their campaign.

The Force may only be 12th with 28 points, however the Highlanders' trans-Tasman rivals will be a force to be reckoned with as shown in last week's heartbreaking defeat to the Hurricanes. The Force led for most of the match, only to be denied by two late tries at the death.

While the Force have long been out of finals contention, coach Richard Graham warned the Highlanders that his team won't be doing their hosts any favours come kick-off.

"In every game our intent is to perform to the best of our ability and win," he said.

"We still have the same ambitions as a group to achieve that.

"We are looking forward to taking on what has been a very competitive Otago side."

The Australian tourists also know how to beat the Highlanders in their own back yard, having won the last three clashes and the last two in Queenstown, New Zealand. However, the Force have never won at Carisbrook in Dunedin.

Speaking of which, Friday's match will also be the last played at the 'House of Pain', with the Highlanders moving house to the new Forsyth Barr Stadium.

They'll also be ditching their famous blue, gold and maroon colours that represent the three unions - Otago, North Otago and Southland - that back the Highlanders. Instead they'll be in ... green, along with touches of dark blue and white. A colour change that has reportedly not gone down well with their fans.

Whether it's a pink, orange or violet kit they run out in - the Highlanders will want to bow out of New Zealand's oldest ground with a win.

"There's a lot of history at that ground and we want to put in a good performance to send it off well," said Highlanders centre Shaun Treeby.

Prediction: The Highlanders blew it against the Lions, and the Force did the same against the Hurricanes. Tough to call - ultimately it will go down to the team who wants it more... Highlanders by six.

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 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Mo Schwwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Alando Soakai.

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 David Smith, 10 James Stannard, 9 Mark Swanepoel, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Kieran Longbottom.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Chris Cottee, 21 Mitch Inman, 22 Nick Cummins.

Referee: Jonathon White

Melbourne Rebels v Stormers

Melbourne is the last stop for the Stormers on what has so far been a rather successful four-week Australasian tour.

Last year's finalists started on the wrong foot, losing to the Chiefs in Hamilton before bouncing back to beat the Blues in Auckland and then the Brumbies in Canberra.

The two wins thus far on the road kept the South African Conference-leading Stormers (on 52 points) hanging in third place on the overall log, with the Sharks (47) and Bulls (45) in hot pursuit.

With three matches of the regular season remaining and a play-offs spot not entirely assured, it means the Stormers can't afford to slack off against the tournament's new bottom-placed team (the Lions are now 14th).

It's the first meeting between the two sides, and whilst the Stormers will be favourites, the Rebels could prove to be a potential banana skin for Schalk Burger and his troops.

Though the Rebels are facing a seventh defeat on the trot, the tournament newbies have knocked over a few teams on their home turf. And with a vocal crowd behind them at AAMI Stadium, an upset can't be ruled out over the travel-weary Stormers.

The refreshed Rebels return from a bye as well as a two-match tour of the Republic, where crushing defeats to the Bulls and Cheetahs would have done little for their morale. Be that as it may, a return to familiar surrounds may just be the tonic needed to get the struggling Melbourne outfit back on the saddle.

They still boast an impressive side on paper, and are up against a team experiencing a real shortage of experience at fly-half with their first, second and third-choice pivots all nursing injuries back home in Cape Town.

It's through this channel that the Rebels will need to attack if they are to have any chance of raining on the Stormers' parade and give their loyal supporters this year something to cheer about.

For a Rebels fan, it could be wishful thinking. Especially with eight Springboks lining up for the Stormers - six of them in the back-line alone, and with another two on the bench. But stranger things have happened...

Prediction: We'll be the first to admit that we've got it wrong a few times when it comes to predicting Stormers' results. And yes, we may get it wrong again. But am I the only one that can smell an upset in the air? Rebels by three!

The teams:

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

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

Referee: Chris Pollock

Bulls v Waratahs

This match at Loftus Versfeld could be a thrilling encounter as neither side can afford to lose if they want to make the play-offs.

Both sides have played 13 matches and are separated by a single point in the standings. The Waratahs are in sixth position on the table with 46 points while the Bulls are one spot below them on 45 points.

The Bulls have shown in recent weeks that they are not prepared to bow out of the tournament without a fight. After losing five out of their first nine matches, the defending champions have won four successive matches.

They are without their talismanic scrum-half Fourie du Preez, who sustained a knee injury in their 32-23 win over the Sharks two weeks ago, but in Francois Hougaard they certainly have an accomplished replacement.

The young number nine showed how valuable he is to his side when he secured a last-gasp bonus-point try in the Bulls' 31-21 win over the Cheetahs last week.

Danie Rossouw is another player who came to the fore with a brilliant cameo performance off the bench in that win. Rossouw scored two tries and his fine form was rewarded with a place in the starting line-up for this weekend's match.

The Waratahs are a side that have been inconsistent for most of the tournament and they have come in for heavy criticism from their supporters for their unimaginative style of play.

In last season's encounter between the two sides the Bulls got ambushed at Loftus and after 10 minutes the visitors were leading 17-0. However, the home side did not panic and in the end they registered a remarkable come-from-behind 48-38 victory.

This year it could be a different affair as the current Bulls side seem to be striking form at the right time.

Prediction: The hosts should dominate this clash especially among the forwards. The Waratahs are a decent side but against an outfit that are as clinical as the Bulls, it could to be a long day at the office for the men from Sydney. Bulls to win by 10.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kitchener, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaco Pretoruis, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 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 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Gerhard van den Heever/Stephan Dippenaar.

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

Referee: Craig Joubert

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