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Super Rugby preview: Saturday

18th May 2012 08:50

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Ryan Crotty Crusaders v Blues 2012

Crusaders: Face crunch clash with the Blues in Christchurch

Round 13 continues on Super Saturday with five crunch clashes set to make or break the season of several play-off hopefuls.

Indeed, the race for a finals spot heats up with just three rounds to go before the three-week June Test window.

Five matches, five previews... lets get to it then!

Highlanders v Bulls
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

The table-topping Bulls head into this encounter full of confidence after they started the Australian leg of their tour with two successive wins over the Rebels and the Waratahs.

Although both those matches were too close for comfort and the men from Pretoria will be keen to put in a more clinical performance against the Highlanders.

The three-time champions can, however, expect an even tougher assignment against their hosts who have held the upper hand in matches between these two sides.

The Bulls have only managed to beat New Zealand's south islanders on four occasions in 14 matches between the two teams since 1998, and last year the Highlanders were victorious in Pretoria to end the Bulls' 20-match winning streak at home in matches which go back to April 2008.

Despite being the leading side in the standings, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is not underestimating the Highlanders.

"We worked hard to be on top of the log, but the reality is that teams will be coming harder at us than before," he said.

"The Highlanders had two disappointing results in their last outings and will come out to knock us over, no doubt.

"We have picked up good momentum from our Australian leg of our tour and can welcome back three experienced campaigners, so if we focus on our own game and play to our strengths, we will be competitive."

The Highlanders are still in the race for the play-offs, despite suffering a somewhat surprising 26-20 home defeat to the Hurricanes last week.

They are currently in seventh spot on the table - just a place below the Sharks who are ahead of them in the standings by a single point - and will be targeting this weekend's clash as the perfect opportunity to improve their position.

Andrew Hore, Adam Thomson, Aaron Smith, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith will be buoyed by their call-ups to new All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's 35-man training squad but the Bulls will have to keep a watchful eye on star wing Hosea Gear who was amongst the unlucky ones - along with fellow Highlander,lock Jarrad Hoeata - who missed out on selection.

Prediction: Expect a close encounter as both these teams have plenty to play for in this clash. The Bulls, however, have their tails up whereas the Highlanders could be a little deflated after their recent loss at home. Bulls by five!

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Siale Piutau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Hoani MacDonald/Josh Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kenny Lynn.

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 CJ Stander, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.

Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)


Crusaders v Blues
AMI Stadium, Christchurch

The Crusaders will be out to make amends for last week's shock defeat to the Rebels when they take on the Blues.

The seven-time Super Rugby champions will want to quickly forget their first Super Rugby outing in Melbourne, which ended in an unexpected 28-19 win for the home side.

The Crusaders were held scoreless in the second half for the first time in three years as the spirited Rebels roared home. Another worry for the Crusaders is that they have scored just one try in the last two matches.

Even though the red and black machine have not been firing on all cyllinders, coach Todd Blackadder is positive about the Crusaders chances for the play offs.

"It's not over yet. There are still plenty of points on offer and there will be a few twists and turns to come," Blackadder told the NZ Herald.

"You look at a team like Manchester City and what they've managed to do (win the title in the final minutes of the last match of the season)."

Blackadder must now pick his team up for Saturday's return derby clash with the Blues, whose torrid run of defeats finally came to an end as they tamed the Lions 25-3 at Eden Park.

It was by no means pretty or clinical, nor was it overly convincing against the Super Rugby cellar dwellers, but it was a crucial win nonetheless after seven long weeks of agony.

But with yet another player now added to the Blues' injury toll in the form of inmpressive prop Charlie Faumuina, the injury-savaged visitors will have a hard time repeating last week's success.

Ten players in the Blues' 22 for Saturday's clash were not in the side when the two teams played each other in the opening round of the season, with nine out injured - Jerome Kaino, Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Chris Lowrey, Anthony Boric, Brad Mika, Isaia Toeava, Rene Ranger and Rudi Wulf.

Only three players in the starting XV are in the same position in the second match that they were for the first - Ali Williams, Daniel Braid and David Raikuna.

However there are two All Blacks who did not face the Crusaders in round one who line up for the New Zealand derby in Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu who will add some much needed experience and direction to a relatively young side.

Blues coach Lam said he was expecting a fierce challenge from the fired-up Crusaders.

"It's certainly going to be a dogfight down there," he said.

"There's going to be a full crowd I hear and they're hurting, we're hurting but at the end of the day it's a Blues v Crusaders game and there will be plenty of feeling like there always is. It's a great opportunity for us to try and back up from last week."

Prediction: Crusaders to hit the ground running and bounce back with a bang... Crusaders by 14!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (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 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Tom Marshall.

Blues: 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 Benson Stanley, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid (c), 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)


Reds v Lions
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

The defending champions will be eager to build on last weekend's morale-boosting win over the Chiefs when they host the competition's bottom-placed team this weekend.

The Reds showed against the Chiefs that they are still capable of beating any side in the competition and that they are still in with a fair shot at securing a spot in the play-offs.

That win means that they are now in ninth position on the table but their 31 point tally means they are within a bonus-point victory of drawing level with the Sharks who occupy sixth spot in the standings.

And they will surely be fancying their chances of securing the win and the four-try bonus point against the hapless Lions who have managed just one victory during their entire campaign.

The Reds were given a timely boost when Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper was included in their run-on side for this match and his partnership with scrum-half Will Genia will be expected to unlock the Lions' defence.

However, Reds captain and lock James Horwill's battle with Lions counterpart Franco van der Merwe for line-out possession could also be crucial to victory.

Although they've been struggling without Cooper, the Reds have still been a force on attack and have scored tries inside the first three minutes in each of their last three fixtures.

But despite beating the Chiefs, they were trailing 22-8 at half-time against the Hamilton-based franchise and will be looking to put an 80 minute performance against the South African strugglers.

The Lions are on a nine match winless streak with their sole triumph being a 30-27 win over the Cheetahs in their season opener. The Johannesburg-based franchise's captain, number eight Josh Strauss have been their standout performer throughout their campaign.

Strauss leads from the front, is not afraid to put his body on the line and has given his all in every match that he plays. Expect more of the same in this clash.

Another player who has impressed is back-line stalwart Jaco Taute. Usually a full-back, Taute has been playing in the midfield in recent weeks where he has done an adequate job. He has a keen eye for the gap and could prove a handful if he is given too much space.

Prediction: The Reds will be keen to build on their recent success and will prove too strong for the struggling Lions, especially on their own turf. Reds by 15!

Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)

The teams

Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia; 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: James Hanson, Ben Daley, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Eddie Quirk, Nick Frisby, Chris F'sautia, Luke Morahan.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 CJ Van der Linde, 18 Cobus Grobbelaar, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Ruan Combrinck, 22 James Kamana.

Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)


Cheetahs v Sharks
Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein

The Sharks head into Saturday's encounter looking to achieve what will be a first for the season - securing three wins on the trot. The men from Durban find themselves sitting in mid-table largely because they have been unable to string results together, playing fits and spurts.

However, having secured wins over first the Highlanders and then the Force last weekend, John Plumtree's men have perhaps their best chance of ending this trend when they face the Cheetahs on Saturday.

With five games to go, the Sharks are sitting pretty in that three of those games are against opposition struggling in the lower echelons of the table and three of them are also on home soil. Aided by the highly competitive New Zealand conference which has seen many of the Kiwi teams stumble in recent weeks, the Sharks are very well placed to secure a wildcard berth that seemed highly unlikely in a season that began with two defeats.

While hope still remains for the Sharks, it's been very much a season of what might have been for the Cheetahs. The six bonus points that the Cheetahs have picked up for losing by seven or less are a clear indication that they've been there or there about throughout. Unfortunately for the Bloemfontein-based outfit, the close games just haven't gone their way.

The loss of Johan Goosen certainly hasn't helped the Cheetahs in recent weeks, especially when one considers Sias Ebersohn's failure to step up in his absence. Having performed admirably as a replacement against the Stormers last week, Riaan Smith will wear the number ten jersey this time around and he will have a tough task on his hands to get the game moving forward.

Naka Drotske's men are a team that often show signs of skill but are let down in their execution. However, they showed against the Stormers that they are capable of working the ball up for numerous phases and against the slightly more porous Sharks defence they may find themselves getting over the try line.

Prediction: The Cheetahs have proved a bogey team for the Sharks, particularly in Bloemfontein, but with a play-off berth in the offering the Sharks should take this one by ten but it won't be easy.

The teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 George Earle, 4 Izak van der Westhuizen, 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.

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

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)


Stormers v Waratahs
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town

All the talk regarding the Stormers revolves around their seeming inability to score tries. Along with basement dwellers the Blues and Lions, the Stormers are the only side that haven't picked up a four-try bonus point and only the Lions have scored fewer five-pointers. However, the men from the Cape are also the only team to have been beaten just once.

It's not hard to see why the Stormers have been criticised for their lack of tries, but as the successful Bulls teams of years gone by will attest, a win is a win and if it gets you the title that is all that matters.

Allister Coetzee's men have found a winning formula; their combination of staunch defence and the boot of Peter Grant. With nine wins from ten, Coetzee will see no reason to change this pattern and rightly so.

In the Waratahs the Stormers face a team who have often threatened to upset the record book, losing to the Bulls by three points last time out and to the Crusaders by four two weeks prior.

However, the class of 2012 appear to just lack the required class to make a sizeable impact on the tournament. Despite being littered with Wallabies, the 'Tahs just don't seem to have been able to find the cohesion that leads to consistent wins.

Without injured speedster Lachie Turner and Drew Mitchell, the Waratahs have been stymied slightly in terms of finding the cutting edge in the 22 and up against such a strong defensive outfit as the Stormers this could prove problematic.

Prediction: It's unlikely to be a classic contest but wins are what matter and the Stormers will pick another one up by ten points - they may even score a few tries.

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 Jebb Sinclair, 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 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

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

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

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Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs724
4Western Force722
5Waratahs720
6Highlanders719
7Crusaders718
8Bulls818
9Lions816
10Hurricanes716
11Blues716
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels712
14Cheetahs89
15Stormers76