Planet Rugby



Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

17th June 2011 12:09


Sharks v Bulls at Kings Park 2011

Bulls v Sharks: Winner takes all!

If you had any plans on Saturday - besides staying glued to the TV - cancel them right now because Round 18 of Super Rugby is not to be missed.

It's a potential winner-takes-all for the Bulls and Sharks in a compelling South African derby at Loftus Versfeld on Super Saturday, especially so if the Waratahs win their all-Aussie clash against the Brumbies at ANZ Stadium.

The defending champion Bulls and the Sharks are just one point ahead of the Waratahs, who can clinch a play-off place if they can get past the improving Brumbies.

It's a promoter's dream as the fifth-placed Bulls, winners of their past six games, face a showdown with the sixth-placed Sharks. Both teams likely need to win to stay alive for a shot at the title.

The tenth-placed Chiefs will want to end their forgettable campaign off with a win against the high-riding Reds when the two teams kick-off proceedings in Hamilton.

The action then heads south to the New Zealand capital where the Crusaders can book a home play-off and potential home semi-final with a win over the Hurricanes before the attention then turns to Sydney and Pretoria.

The Cheetahs and Stormers bring the curtain down on an intriguing round of fixtures as the two South African sides battle it out in Bloemfontein, with the visitors keen to cement a place in the top two.

Chiefs v Reds
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

The Reds are guaranteed either first or second place on the Super Rugby ladder and have the opportunity to secure top spot with a victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton.

The Queenslanders currently own first position with 62 competition points and 12 wins, ahead of the Stormers (58 points - 11 wins) and Crusaders (57 points - 10 wins).

With the Crusaders only capable of gaining a maximum five competition points in their final match - and the first tiebreaker for ladder position being total wins - they are unable to overtake the Reds.

The Reds shouldn't take their foot off the gas either knowing that a semi-final is in the bank, as a win at Suncorp Stadium two weeks from now will also book them a home final.

Form puts the visitors as favourites but history favours the Chiefs, with the Reds having only won once in their last five meetings with their trans-tasman rivals. However, they broke a four-game losing streak at Saturday's same venue when they beat the Chiefs 23-18 last year.

The Reds also know how to win on the road with Ewen Mckenzie's troops bagging five of their six away games in 2011.

If the Chiefs did manage to pull off a major upset and down the table-topping Reds, the main beneficiaries would be the Stormers, who would then get the chance to climb to the top with a win against the Cheetahs.

But even a victory might not save the 10th-placed Chiefs from finishing at the bottom of New Zealand's Conference. They are a point adrift of the Hurricanes, who would stay above the Chiefs if they did the business against the Crusaders.

The hosts may be out of the semi-final race, but they will be determined to give departing stars Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dwayne Sweeney, Aled de Malmanche as well as coach Ian Foster the perfect send off in their final game in Hamilton.

Prediction: Both sides are missing some key players to injury - the Reds especially. The Chiefs have nothing to lose, and the Reds could lose top spot as well as a few more players to the casualty ward. We're going for an upset! Chiefs by six.

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Save Tokula, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Matt Vant Leven, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison.

Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Dallan Murphy, 22 Caleb Ralph.

Referee: Keith Brown

Crusaders v Hurricanes
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

It's crunch time for the Crusaders when the seven-time Super Rugby champs attempt to wrap up a home play-off by beating the Hurricanes and finish top of the New Zealand Conference.

The Hurricanes head into this match in fourth place on the NZ Conference table and ninth on the overall standings. If they beat the Crusaders, the Hurricanes will hand the Blues bragging rights for first place (in the NZ Conference).

The Crusaders, coming off a 22-16 win over the Blues in Timaru, are also playing for a top two finish on the overall log which will give them a home semi-final and will be cheering on the Cheetahs to keep the Stormers' pointless in Bloemfontein.

It's effectively a home match for the Crusaders, after their Round Two fixture against the 'Canes at the same venue was called off because of the Christchurch earthquake that struck the city in February (the match was deemed a draw),

Todd Blackadders's team head into this final round encounter with 10 wins and one draw from their 15 games played, whilst the Hurricanes have managed half the amount of wins in 2011 and two draws.

History also pits the Crusaders as favourites - they've won seven of the last nine encounters against the Hurricanes, but last year's fixture in Wellington was a 26-all draw.

Although Crusaders midfielder Sonny Bill Williams has been ruled out of this match with a hip injury, key head-to-head match-ups abound in this clash.

In the forwards these are likely to include Andrew Hore versus Corey Flynn at hooker, John Schwalger and Neemia Tialata versus the Franks brothers at prop, Victor Vito versus Kieran Read at eight and James Broadhurst versus Brad Thorn at lock.

It will be an all-All Black affair in the halves, where Piri Weepu squares off against Andy Ellis at halfback and Aaron Cruden faces Dan Carter at 10.

Prediction: Based on form, the Crusaders should take this. However, the Hurricanes will do everything they can to spoil the party for their "hosts". Crusaders by seven.

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Brent Ward, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 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 Tu Umaga-Marshall.

Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Laurence Corlett, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Jason Eaton, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Jayden Hayward, 22 Richard Buckman.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

Waratahs v Brumbies
ANZ Stadium, Sydney

As usual, the make-up of Super Rugby play-offs is no clearer going into the final round of the competition however one thing is certain - a Waratahs victory at ANZ Stadium will keep their 2011 season alive.

Last week's 33-7 victory over the Highlanders temporarily put the Waratahs into fifth position on the Super Rugby ladder.

Overnight results changed the landscape again with the Sharks' bonus point draw with the Lions and the Bulls victory over the Stormers moving both teams ahead and pushing the Waratahs back to seventh.

However the draw for Round 18 pits the Bulls against the Sharks in Durban meaning a win for the Waratahs will guarantee a place in the top six and a play-offs berth.

Dependent on other results, a Waratahs victory will put them on a plane in the first week of the finals to either South Africa or New Zealand where they will play either one of the Stormers, Blues or Crusaders.

However head coach Chris Hickey maintained that the team will be focusing on the only thing they can control - their performance on Saturday against the Brumbies.

"I can't remember the last season that the competition didn't go down to the final round," said Hickey.

"We were in exactly the same position last year and we put in a great performance against the Hurricanes with a huge home crowd behind us.

"This week it's sudden death again and we'll need every bit of that home town support behind us at ANZ Stadium. It made a huge difference last year and I know it will make a huge difference again on Saturday."

The clash with the Brumbies could mark the final time a number of experienced squad members wear the sky blue in front of the Sydney crowd, with Al Baxter, Kurtley Beale and Luke Burgess all leaving the Waratahs at the end of the season.

"Al, KB and Burgo have more than 250 state caps between them and we want to give them the send off they deserve in front of a big home crowd at Homebush," said Hickey.

Prediction: Bulls and Sharks fans will like this: Brumbies to break Waratahs hearts and win... by how many points is irrelevant!

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

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

Referee: Craig Joubert

Bulls v Sharks
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

The Bulls host the Sharks in what could be a straight shoot-out for the final play-off place in this year's competition.

Both sides will be watching the clash between the Waratahs and the Brumbies earlier in the morning with keen interest, as a Waratahs victory will mean that one of these powerhouses of South African rugby will not be in action during the knock-out stages of the tournament.

The Bulls will start this match as favourites, as they are currently the form team of the competition. The defending champions have won their last six matches in succession, the most recent being a 19-16 away victory against the Stormers.

In that clash, the Bulls put in a solid effort on defence as well as attack and despite the narrow scoreline, dominated most facets of play.

Captain Victor Matfield showed his class at the line-outs and if he puts in a similar performance against the Sharks, the men from Durban will face an uphill task.

Bulls scrum-half Francois Hougaard has blossomed since replacing the injured Fourie du Preez and put in a man-of-the-match performance against the Stormers. Hougaard's ability to take a gap and his fine service to fly-half Morne Steyn must be neutralised by the Sharks if they want to be competitive.

The Sharks have been inconsistent throughout their campaign, and will be keen to register a win after being held to a 30-all draw by the lowly Lions in Johannesburg last week.

Springboks Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira will prove a handful in the tight-loose while fly-half Frederic Michalak could provide the spark to ignite the visitors' back-line.

Regular pivot Patrick Lambie will be at full-back and if given space he could be a potent attacking weapon for the visitors.

In the previous match between these sides in Durban in round 14, the Bulls won 32-23. Their forwards provided a solid platform for their backs that day, and if they can repeat that performance they should be victorious.

Prediction: The Sharks' erratic away form mean that they will be up against it. The defending champions are peaking at the right time and will have too much ammunition for their opponents. Bulls by seven!

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 MornÚ 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 Fourie du Preez, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Akona Ndungane.

Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Stefan Terblanche (c), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Gerhard Mostert, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Louis Ludik.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Cheetahs v Stormers
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Matches between the Cheetahs and Stormers are always entertaining, and Saturday's clash in Bloemfontein should be no different.

If the Cape Town-based franchise deliver a similar performance to the poor display they gave in their 19-16 defeat to the Bulls at Newlands last week, they will be in danger of not qualifying among the top two positions on the table - and will thus not be able to host a semi-final in a fortnight.

However, this will be the final match of the round-robin stage of the competition, so the Stormers will know what's expected for them to secure a home semi when the match kicks off.

The Capetonians boast the best defensive record in the competition but also possess potent attacking weapons.

Springboks Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Gio Aplon have proven on several occassions how devestating they can be with ball in hand and the Cheetahs will have to put in a huge defensive effort if they want to keep this dangerous trio in check.

The hosts are fresh off a bye and will be relishing the opportunity to wreck the visitors' play-off hopes.

Two weeks ago, the boys from Bloem went down 23-18 to the Sharks in their own backyard, and they will be keen to rectify the mistakes from that clash.

The Cheetahs, who are in 11th position on the table with 39 points, have won over many neutral supporters with their enterprising style of play.

Among the forwards, captain Adriaan Strauss and Ashley Johnson are sure to prove a handful for the Stormers' defence.

The pair have played consistently well and their fine performances were rewarded with call-ups to Peter De Villiers' 37-man Springbok training squad recently.

In their back-line, scrum-half Sarel Pretorius and the Ebersohn twins - Sias and Robert - will be at the heart of all their attacking moves.

The visitors will be wary not to concede any penalties within kicking range as the Cheetahs pivot Sias Ebersohn seldom misses when taking a shot at goal.

Prediction: Despite coming off a defeat, the Stormers should get the better of the Cheetahs in this encounter, but the home side will not go down without a fight. Stormers by five.

The teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Viljoen, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Ryno Benjamin, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Izak Van Der Westhuizen, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Tewis De Bruyn, 21 Corne Uys, 22 Riaan Smit.

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

Referee: Marius Jonker

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