Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

10th Jun 2011, 13:04

Share:

The Crusaders and Blues play for top spot in the NZ Conference

The Crusaders and Blues play for top spot in the NZ Conference

All five matches on Super Saturday will have a big bearing on the make-up of what the top six teams will look like at the end of Round 17.

All five matches on Super Saturday will have a big bearing on the make-up of what the top six teams will look like at the end of Round 17.

Following last weekend's upsets and five away victories, the log table is getting even more congested - especially at the top which means the final two weeks, and indeed, the final couple of matches, are going to have a major bearing on log positions ahead of the knock-out stages.

The top two will go straight through to the semi-finals with home advantage while the third-ranked team goes into the opening round of playoffs with the teams who finish fourth to sixth, currently the Crusaders, Sharks and Bulls.

Crusaders v Blues
Alpine Energy Stadium, Timaru

Fresh from a bye, the Crusaders are back in action in Timaru this week against the Blues in what is a must-win fixture for both franchises.

Sitting fourth and third respectively on the table, New Zealand's title hopefuls will be interested spectators of how the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls do on Saturday.
If the Bulls lose, both the Blues and Crusaders will have one foot in the play-offs, with a losing bonus point for either side further backing their case.

On form this one should go to the Crusaders but the unpredictability of the Blues adds a certain edge to matters.

Team news sees the wise move of Jared Payne back to full-back. The soon-to-be Ulster player has struggled in recent weeks at 13 so a shift to his more familiar slot adds solidity to the line-up. Lachie Munro is the unlucky man to miss out while Stephen Brett comes back in to lead the line. Luke McAlister and Benson Stanley are at 12 and 13.

Richie McCaw's absence this week would have usually been a hammer blow for the Crusaders but that is not the case this season as up-and-coming openside Matt Todd has proved he could well be the future All Black seven. Also boosting Todd Blackadder's arsenal is the return of Andy Ellis and Sam Whitelock.

The bookies have this one as a 'home' victory or in handicap terms, an eight-point start for the Blues, which is about right we feel in the circumstances.
No question that there will be a knock-out feel to this one - fitting following Sonny Bill Williams' most recent fight against a 43-year-old - and there's battles all over the field that will keep those ringside intrigued.

Williams against McAlister is one while Joe Rokocoko up against Zac Guildford could be a play-off in itself for a spot in the All Blacks' 30-man RWC squad. Rokocoko has a lot to prove at the moment and when better to do it than with Graham Henry in the crowd.

Prediction: Although it is difficult to see how this talented Blues group can suffer four straight losses in Super Rugby, that may well be the case on Saturday. Having their starting half-back and second-row combinations back together will bring a great deal of solidity to the Crusaders' game. Crusaders by 8!

Super Rugby betting odds: Crusaders 2/7

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Brent Ward, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Ryan Crotty.

Blues: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 John Afoa.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Referee: Craig Joubert




Waratahs v Highlanders
Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney

The Waratahs will be in finals mode when they tackle the Highlanders in Sydney, knowing that defeat will spell the end of their campaign.

The hosts returned from South Africa, where they picked up just two bonus points from narrow losses to the Sharks and Bulls and slipped to seventh, one spot outside semi-final contention.

Despite back-to-back losses, the Waratahs can still gain a wild card entry into the play-offs if they win their next two home games against the Highlanders and the out-of-contention Brumbies.

Of course other vital results from teams ahead of them on the ladder could fall in their favour if the Stormers beat the Bulls and the Lions beat the Sharks on Saturday. If that doesn't work, the Bulls and the Sharks play each other next weekend in Pretoria, where one of those two teams will lose out on crucial points.

But it's really all in the Waratahs' hands - if they drop a game in the next fortnight, they can kiss their play-off hopes goodbye.

"If we can win our next two games, we're still controlling our destiny," Waratahs coach Chris Hickey said.

The eighth-placed Highlanders won't be doing their trans-Tasman rivals any favours either.

After back-to-back home losses to the Lions and the Force, coach Jamie Joseph's troops must beat the Waratahs and win their final match - away to the Blues next week - to have any chance of making it into the top six.

Despite the Kiwi outfit's late season fade, Hickey still rated the Highlanders highly.

"They're the team that's made the most progress out of all the Super Rugby sides," he said.

"We know their defence is very good and they're also very competitive at the breakdown. That's an area we're going to have to compete very well at."

Prediction: The Highlanders haven't got their act together for a few games now, and whilst the 'Tahs are coming off two defeats of their own, we'll back the hosts to come good. Waratahs by nine.

Super Rugby betting odds: Waratahs 2/7

The teams:

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

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Tony Brown, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Bronson Murray, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh. (c).
Replacements: 16 Mo Schwalger, 17 Chris King, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 John