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Super Rugby preview: Saturday

30th March 2012 07:02

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stormers v bulls 2010 preview

Stormers: Will their unbeaten run come to an end against the Bulls?

We're in for a jam-packed Super Saturday with no less than six games primed to keep us glued to the couch.

Of the 34 games so far, 25 have been decided by seven or less, and we could be in for more close encounters when the Round Six action resumes this weekend.

Six matches, six previews... lets get to it then!

Hurricanes v Cheetahs
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

The Hurricanes play host to a Cheetahs team who have proven to be no easy-beats as the visitors look to continue their newfound form away from home that's made them a real threat.

The 13th-placed Cheetahs may only have one victory to their name thus far, but don't let their position on the Super Rugby ladder or winning record fool you.

In fact, the men from Bloemfontein are something of a mystery.

They lost by a whisker to the Lions (two points) and Brumbies (one point), were thrashed by the Bulls, beat the Rebels and gave the Crusaders a fright in Christchurch last Saturday before eventually losing 21-28.

The Cheetahs now head to Wellington with their tails up, aiming for their first ever Super Rugby victory in New Zealand (in 2010 they drew 25-25 with the Chiefs in Hamilton). Even if they lose, just one log point bagged against the 'Canes will make this Australasian tour the most successful in their history.

Cheetahs pivot Johan Goosen has also proved he is a player to watch. Goosen runs hard with ball in hand and is also a pinpoint goal kicker having scored well over half of the Cheetahs' points (81) in their five games so far.

This fleet footedness, together with a strong loose forward combination headed by 20-Test Springbok Heinrich Brussow, is a strength that they are sure to continue to utilise in Wellington against a Hurricanes side that earned a compelling victory over the Blues at Eden Park in the previous round.

The fifth-placed Hurricanes will now be hunting their opening home win of the season, after dropping their last match played at Westpac Stadium to the Highlanders two weeks ago. However, coach Mark Hammett is under no illusions of the task facing his team.

"Anyone who knows anything about rugby will know the Cheetahs are a very, very well coached team and they don't bring the traditional African game," said Hammett, whose side have been one of the early success stories this season.

"I'd expect them to look at us and play to our weaknesses.

"You can see from the results, I think they've only had one game where the score has blown out a wee bit. We aren't underestimating them at all."

Prediction: The Cheetahs will want to leave New Zealand shores on a high, however after four weeks on the road, they may not have enough in the tank to go the distance. Hurricanes by eight!

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 James Broadhurst, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tristan Moran.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Jayden Hayward.

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 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 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.

Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)


Chiefs v Waratahs
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

The Chiefs return fresh from their bye to tackle the Waratahs in Hamilton, where the hosts will aim to stay top of the New Zealand conference with a win.

After losing their opening game, the Chiefs bounced back with a hat-trick of wins and an easy four points from last week's bye to sit second on the overall log.

Their last game against Australian opposition nearly ended in a draw, before the Chiefs scraped home after snatching a last-minute victory over the Brumbies. In a match they were expected to run away with, Dave Rennie and his troops would have been working hard during their break to make sure they do a lot better against the Waratahs.

The Chiefs haven't managed to beat the Waratahs in three years, and will be determined to avoid a fourth loss on the bounce to their trans-Tasman rivals who will fancy their chances.

The Waratahs might have lost three of their first four games, but their bonus-point victory over the Sharks in Sydney on Saturday was a major return to form and will have regained some self belief.

However, their record in New Zealand isn't anything to write home about with the Sydneysiders losing their last four and six of their past seven. Coincidently, their last win in the Land of the Long White Cloud was against the Chiefs in 2010.

Prediction: If the Chiefs' forwards can supply their quality backs with plenty of ball, we think the Waratahs will be in for a tough day at the office. Chiefs by seven!

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 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 Andrew Horrell, 22 Lelia Masaga.

Waratahs: 15 Bernard Foley, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (c).
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Jono Jenkins, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Daniel Halangahu.

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)


Brumbies v Sharks
Canberra Stadium

Those who predicted the Brumbies to be topping the pile in Australia at this stage of the competition deserve a round of applause and tip of the cap. Believe it or not the outfit from Canberra has won three of four, with their most recent victory over the Highlanders arguably their most impressive.

Only three recognised Wallabies have been in their line-ups so far but that hasn't stopped the side putting in performances that showed belief in what they are about. Credit where credit is due, new head coach Jake White has obviously got inside the heads of his charges to create a winning mentality.

The only doubt about last weekend's victory was that the Highlanders clearly looked shattered from their early-round exploits and were lacking a vital figure in Adam Thomson while John Hardie was also absent. However, the Brumbies beat what was in front of them as stand-out performances from Michael Hooper, Christian Lealiifano, Stephen Moore and Andrew Smith saw them come out on top. Not bad for the side that seems to be struggling for real depth.

Saturday will see them face one of the toughest forward packs in the competition though so it will be interesting to see how the likes Sam Carter, Leon Power and Ruadhri Murphy fare against such raw power as Bismark du Plessis, Willem Alberts and the rapidly-improving openside flanker Marcell Coetzee.

Now to the big question of where this result is going. Thirteen years and 13 days ago, the Sharks became the first South Africa Super Rugby side to beat the Brumbies away. Since then, it's only happened three more times. Out of all the Australian sides, the Brumbies have the best home record against South African sides. Since 1996, they've won 34 of the 38 games played in Canberra against teams from the Republic, for a winning percentage of 89.5 per cent.

Those statistics - and their most recent defeat to the Waratahs - have left coach John Plumtree hungry to right the wrongs of last week's loss in Sydney.

"Our mindset is to really attack and the Australian media is going nuts over how great the game was to watch compared to what they've seen in Sydney in the past few weeks," said Plumtree, who is without in-form Springbok fly-half Patrick Lambie for their second game in Australia this Super Rugby season.

"So while winning was nice from a Waratahs' perspective and it was a good game of rugby for the crowd, we still want to win.

"We put a big emphasis on winning this match, we did all the right things during the week, but ultimate it wasn't good enough, we conceded two or three soft tries and that was really disappointing. Against the Brumbies you don't want to be doing that."

Prediction: Losing Lambie is a blow to the cause but the back-row power the Sharks have in their 22 should see them take the win. Sharks by five!

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Leon Power, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ruadhri Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Nic White, 21 Zack Holmes, 22 Joe Tomane.

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Jandre Marais, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Louis Ludik.

Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)


Western Force v Reds
nib Stadium, Perth

If ever the Reds wanted to get back onto the field as quickly as possible then this weekend surely must be that moment after losing 61-8 to the Bulls.

That demolition job at Loftus Versfeld surfaced a worrying problem in Australia that is when injuries strike a franchise, the depth simply isn't there. New Zealand has the ITM Cup, South Africa the Currie Cup but in Oz there is only the Shute Shield, which does not have the same quality and intensity. Subsequently the Reds were left down to the bare bones as Radike Samo was filling in at centre when the Bulls put their visitors to the sword late on.

But a lot can change in a rugby week and swiftly Ewen McKenzie's starting XV looks like another 50-point hiding would be very unlikely if they perform. The only real question mark of experience comes at fly-half where Dallan Murphy is retained in the absence of Quade Cooper, Mike Harris and Ben Lucas. But the number ten will have learnt a lot from last week in Pretoria and will be keen to give his Force opponents more of a test than he did the Bulls.

The Force must go into this one as favourites though and line up with an all-Australian back-row behind Toby Lynn and old warhorse Nathan Sharpe, who just keeps on putting in top performances for his side. They will be hoping their experiment of bringing busy wing Nick Cummins into number 13 offers more punch following a narrow defeat at the Rebels that saw them pick up two bonus-points for four tries scored and losing by less than seven points.

Richard Graham will know this is a golden opportunity for his side to move off the bottom of the Australian conference and also away from the foot of things overall. Maybe that's why he has named running threats Richard Brown and Samu Wara to his XV as they look to leave no attacking stone unturned.

In truth, the Force have to be considered hot favourites for the points in Perth as one can only picture the Reds' sombre flight home from the Republic. Never fear fans from Queensland, however, Wallaby pivot Cooper is nearing a comeback after running full pace to go with "stepping freely" in training.

Prediction: They have never had a better chance to pounce on their travel-weary and injury-hit Australian rivals, so we are going for the Force by 15!

The teams:

Western Force: 15 David Harvey, 14 Samu Wara, 13 Nick Cummins, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 James Stannard, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Ben Seymour, 21 Rory Sidey, 22 Kyle Godwin.

Reds: 15 Rod Davies, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Joel Rapana, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Dallan Murphy, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Van Humphries, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Eddie Quirk, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Nathan Eyres-Brown.

Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)


Lions v Crusaders
Coca-Cola Park Stadium, Johannesburg

This could be one of the most entertaining fixtures of the weekend, with plenty of end-to-end action the order of the day as both sides traditionally enjoy playing expansively.

This is a crucial match for the Lions who have suffered three successive defeats after they kicked off their campaign with a victory against the Cheetahs. After that result, they went down to the Hurricanes, Sharks and Stormers despite being competitive in all those matches.

John Mitchell's pride's inabilty to convert try-scoring opportunities have proved to be their biggest problem this season. In their match against the Stormers last weekend, they dominated all the possession and territorial statistics but still finished on the losing side.

Up front, a lot will be expected from inspirational skipper Josh Strauss who has toiled manfully since the start of the campaign, while the emergence of utility back Jaco Taute as a game-breaker could be a trump card in their efforts to breach the Crusaders' try-line.

The visitors have been boosted by the return of fly-half Dan Carter, who makes his first appearance in the starting line-up for 2012 after coming off the bench against the Cheetahs last weekend.

Their season started with a narrow win over the Blues in their opener in Auckland but they lost in successive rounds to the Highlanders and the Chiefs before beating the Cheetahs at their new home in Christchurch.

Although they are still without the services of regular captain Richie McCaw, fellow All Blacks loose forward Kieran Read has done well in the leadership role.

The Crusaders and the Lions did not face each other in last season's tournament but when they last met in Johannesburg in 2009, the Kiwi outfit won 32-20 - outscoring the home side by four tries to three.

Prediction: Don't be surprised if this match is similar to that 2009 clash. The Lions will fancy their chances on their own turf, especially with the high altitude factor which should also be taken into consideration. The Crusaders are not seven-time champions for nothing though and should win this one.Crusaders by ten!

The teams:

Lions: tbc

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

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)


Stormers v Bulls
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town

South Africa's traditional rivals and 2010 Super Rugby finalists clash in what promises to be a thrilling encounter.

Matches between these two sides are usually brutal physical affairs, with neither side prepared to give the other an inch. Expect this match to be no different as there will be plenty to gain for the victors.

The Stormers are the only unbeaten team after five rounds of the competition but they face a highly motivated Bulls side who are brimming with confidence after thrashing the defending champion Reds 61-8 in Pretoria last weekend.

The 2010 champions were in a rampant mood, running in eight tries in that clash and it will be interesting to see how they fare against the Capetonians who have one of the best defensive records in the tournament.

However, despite their fine defensive system, the Stormers are struggling to score tries and are the only team in the tournament who are yet to register a bonus point, despite possessing dangerous attacking weapons like Springbok quartet Jean de Villiers, Gio Aplon, Bryan Habana and Juan de Jongh.

The Bulls have showed that despite losing seasoned campaigners like Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Gurthro Steenkamp and Gary Botha that they will still be a competitive unit this year.

With the abovementioned stalwarts gone, Players like captain Pierre Spies and fellow Springboks Chiliboy Ralepelle, Wynand Olivier, Morne Steyn and Zane Kirchner have thrived with the added responsibilty of being the senior players in the side and expect them to lead from the front this weekend.

Stormers coach Allistair Coetzee is under no illusions what awaits his charges this weekend and expects a full onslaught from his adversaries.

"We are very excited to play against a top quality side. Yes, it will be a big challenge, but we have worked hard and are looking forward to the match," he said.

"We know there will be a lot of pressure - there always is when you play the Bulls at Newlands, but it's something we embrace."

Prediction: This is the biggest clash of the weekend and both teams will not hold back in their quest for victory. It's going to be close but the Bulls will sneak it by two points!

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 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 Nic Koster, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

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

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

  • Waratahs Fixtures
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Australian Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Brumbies825
2Western Force823
3Waratahs720
4Reds816
5Melbourne Rebels816