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Super Rugby preview: Final round

13th July 2012 07:49

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mike harris reds v waratahs preview

Reds: Need to win big and hope lady luck is on their side

It's the final round of regular-season action in Super Rugby with just two sides - the Stormers and Chiefs - guaranteed a play-off berth.

That leaves eight teams battling it out for a place in the top six, which means there will be two very disappointed sides when Round 18 comes to an end after the final whistle is blown in Pretoria.

Six matches, all of them crucial in determining which teams will clinch the remaining wildcard spots, so lets get to it!


Brumbies v Blues
Canberra Stadium

One point on Saturday will be enough to ensure the Brumbies win the Australian Conference and secure a spot in the play-offs - and thus end an eight-year drought - but it's far from a done deal against a resurgent Blues team.

This weekend will be a true test of not only the Brumbies' nerves but their play-off credentials as they face a team that have finally started to gel.

Indeed the Blues have averaged nearly 30 points per game in their last three starts. Their revival is thanks in no small part to the return of some injured players meaning others have been able to play in their preferred positions. That trends is set to continue as Charlie Faumuina's return means the Blues have been able to field their full-strength front row for just the third time this season.

A win for the Blues should see them rise above the Rebels into 11th position - not exactly what they were hoping for at the start of the year, but significantly better than what was feared a few weeks ago.

But the visitors' preparations have been disrupted by the interview process for the Blues head coach job for next year as Pat Lam fights to keep his job. Lam will stay behind to interview for his position on Friday along with the other candidates, then catch a later flight to rejoin the team in Canberra.

"It can't be advantageous to have your coach staying behind and not flying over with the team, and obviously the uncertainty," said Brumbies coach Jake White on Thursday.

The hosts won't have to worry about other team's result as they take the field before the Reds, who need the Brumbies to lose and then must hammer the Waratahs to claim top spot in the Aussie conference.

"The thing we've got in our favour this week is we play first," added White.

"Literally by the time the final whistle goes, we'll have an understanding of where we are."

Keep an eye on the battle between Ma'a Nonu and Pat McCabe, who could very well face off again a month from now in the first Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship clash of the year.

The last time these teams met, back in 2010, the Blues won 39-34 at Eden Park

Prediction: The hosts have managed to pick up at least one tournament point in every game of the season so far and that's all they need. We reckon they'll do a bit better though. Brumbies by six points.

The teams:

Stormers:

Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Robbie Coleman.

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Steven Luatua, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Andrew Van der Heijden, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai'i, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)


Crusaders v Western Force

It is a strange situation for the Crusaders this week as they cannot finish any better in the standings but could end up missing the knockout stages.

Standing in their path is not the toughest proposition as the Force are currently sitting in fourteenth spot.

Therefore the majority are expecting nothing but a home victory and we can see no reason to go against the grain if the weather is kind.

Coach Todd Blackadder will be looking for more of the same from his men who - judging from last week's success in Hamilton - seem to be hitting form. That win over the Chiefs left their fate in their own hands and if they can seal home advantage for next week, the top two will be keen to miss them.

If the hosts can repeat their clinical and knockout-like performance of Round 17 then surely the Force will have no answer to what is coming at them.

The Crusaders' opponents will carry plenty of emotion into this match as they bid farewell to Super Rugby's most-capped player, Nathan Sharpe. While it will be his 162nd and last in this competition, injury to James Horwill means he will carry on for Australia in the Rugby Championship. He should receive a warm welcome and goodbye in Christchurch.

Therefore the Force must have already been thinking about next term when they're without their stalwart and possibly David Pocock, as the rumour mill continues to turn in Australia's press. Whether he will go over to Canberra to take the jersey of soon-to-be Waratah Michael Hooper remains a mystery.

But there is no mystery about where this result at AMI Stadium is heading as we see the likes of Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford thriving behind a pack that is set to go forward and a half-back duo that have been there, seen it and done it. It could be a long evening for the struggling Western Force.

Prediction: No upsets here. Crusaders by 25!

The teams:

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

Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Will Tupou.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)


Reds v Waratahs
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

The Reds will attempt mission improbable when they take on the Waratahs in Saturday's interstate grudge match in Brisbane.

The defending champions must score their first bonus-point victory over their arch-rivals in nine years to stand a chance of gaining last-gasp entry into the Super Rugby play-offs.

The Queenslanders haven't managed to knock over the New South Welshmen with a four-try win since 2003 (35-23), and face a massive assignment repeating that feat with wet conditions forecast at their Suncorp fortress.

Hit by injuries and an early-season slump, the Reds have kept themselves alive with plenty of grit and have done their best work with their backs to the wall - highlighted by five straight wins.

They sit on 53 points following last week's dramatic 19-13 win over the fast-finishing Highlanders but are seventh on the overall standings behind the Sharks and Bulls.

However a sixth consecutive victory for the Reds (53 points) would apply pressure to a number of teams still in wildcard play-off contention and force the Crusaders (56), Bulls and Sharks (both 54) to win their final regular-season encounters to hold off the fast-finishing Queenslanders.

A maximum-point haul against the Waratahs would further enhance the Reds claims and force the Bulls and Sharks to score bonus-point wins against the Lions and Cheetahs respectively, while it would also open to door to winning the Australian Conference should the Brumbies (54) slip-up against the Blues in Canberra.

"You have to win the game first," McKenzie said.

"What people don't understand is the scoreboard creates a lot of pressure.

"We have to play well over 80 minutes and you get the reward over 80 minutes so that's the challenge there."

Prediction: The Reds to pull off a win, but miss out on the all-important bonus. Reds by seven!

The teams:

Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Ben Tapuai.

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

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)


Stormers v Rebels
Newlands, Cape Town

The debate still rages on - not least of all at Planet Rugby HQ - as to how we should regard the Stormers' season.

The Capetonians only need one point to secure a home semi-final but they could set a record if they fail to get four-try bonus point. They would then become the first team ever to reach the play-offs without once scoring four tries in a regular season match.

Only seven teams have completed a season without scoring any bonus points and none of those teams managed to finish better than ninth in the standings.

It's also interesting to note that the two teams that the Stormers didn't play in the 2012 regular season - the Chiefs and Brumbies - just happen to be top of their respective conferences. They also lost to the only other side in the top four, the Crusaders.

All that said, it's hard to argue against the Stormers' knack for getting positive results and if they get one point more than the Chiefs claim on Friday they'll finish at the top of the overall standings. If you had offered Allister Coetzee 13 wins (already a South African record) at the start of the season, he would have happily taken it.

If ever there was an opportunity to bag a full house of points, it's this weekend against a Rebels side with the worst defensive record in the tournament. The visitors to Newlands are only side to concede in excess of 50 tries (57!) after 15 rounds.

Saturday's clash is only the second clash between these teams and also the Rebels first visit to Cape Town. They are still looking for their first victory over South African opposition, but it looks unlikely this weekend. Last year the Stormers scored five tries in their 40-3 victory.

Stormers coach Coetzee insists his team will be hunting the extra point.

"The game plan was always to go and score as many tries as possible and I would like to see an improvement this week when it comes to our finishing," he said.

"On attack, we created even more scoring opportunities, but in the end some bad decision-making that let us down. Creating try-scoring opportunities is one thing, but finishing them is another. We know that is something we have to get right going into the play-offs where you might only get one opportunity to score and you have to take it."

The Rebels will have a dual motivation to cause an upset that would surpass the shock created by their win over the Crusaders earlier this year. Beyond wanting to climb above the Waratahs, they'll want to give a winning sendoff to Stirling Mortlock, who will bring down the curtain on an outstanding career at a ground that holds fond memories for the former Wallaby skipper.

Prediction: If they struggle to put the Rebels away, all the naysayers' doubts about the Stormers season will be confirmed. We don't see it happening. The Stormers to prove a point (five of them!) and win by 20.

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Brok Harris, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Rebels:15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Cooper Vuna/Lachlan Mitchell, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Hugh Perrett, 6 Tim Davidson, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Rodney Blake
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Ryan Hodson, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Cooper Vuna/Lachlan Mitchell, 22 Richard Kingi.

Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)


Sharks v Cheetahs
Kings Park Stadium, Durban

With a play-off place at stake, the Sharks will be focussed on putting in a top-class performance against the Cheetahs who, despite being out of the running for the qualifiers, are chasing their sixth win which will make 2012 their best ever Super Rugby campaign.

John Plumtree's men seem to be hitting top-form at the right time and will be keen to build on last weekend's emphatic 32-10 victory over the Bulls.

That win against the three-time champions was primarily down to the Durban outfit's dominance in the forward exchanges, something which Plumtree is keen to replicate this weekend.

"The battle is always won upfront in these big games: the scrummaging, the driving lineouts, the intensity of the breakdown," he said.

"The Cheetahs have a guy like Heinrich Brüssow who we have to look after, he's a big threat.

"Our setpiece has been going really well, we took some real confidence from our lineout last week, we'll just have to make sure that as a group, that wasn't a one-off performance.

"We have competition coming back into the pack, and if we can get our loosies and locks fit, it will be good for us," added Plumtree.

The Sharks are currently in sixth spot on the table and a win with a try-scoring bonus point will secure them a spot in the play-offs.

The Cheetahs have been blowing hot and cold for most of the season but will be aiming to rain on their opponents' parade.

Coach Naka Drotske's charges face a tough assignment but one thing is certain, his side will not come to Durban to make up the numbers.

Most of their attacking momentum will come from strong ball carriers like their captain Adriaan Strauss - who has been immense throughout their campaign - as well as the exciting back-line duo of Robert Ebersohn and Willie le Roux who have the ability to break down any defence with moments of brilliance.

The Bloemfontein outfit have traditionally proved difficult opponents to the Sharks who have won five and lost three of the previous eight encounters between these sides.

Crucially, however, the Sharks have won their last three matches against the Cheetahs, whose last victory in Durban in 2010 was also the last time they managed to beat Keegan Daniel's men in the competition.

Prediction: Although the Cheetahs will be competitive, the Sharks have too much class across the park. The Sharks to win by 12 points and succeed in their goal of making the play-offs.

The teams:

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

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Philip Snyman, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Andries Strauss.


Bulls v Lions
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria

Despite hosting the team that are the bottom-placed team on the table, the Bulls know there will be no room for complacency and anything less than a comprehensive win will not satisfy their partisan supporters.

Last week's loss to the Sharks was a shock to the system for the home side who will be keen to strike back with a clinical display against their neighbours who have not beaten them in eight previous encounters.

The Bulls are chasing one of the play-off positions and their coach Frans Ludeke revealed that his charges need little motivation for this clash.

"We don't need to tell the players at this stage of the competition what is at stake," he said.

"Everyone knows that the rewards for the hard work that we have put in can be justified with a good win. We had the play-offs as our first objective for the season, but definitely not our only one.

"We respect the Lions and are expecting them to come at us with everything they have. They have nothing to lose, so will be a very dangerous side. We need to focus on what we want to achieve, go out and execute that. The pressure will be on us to improve from last weekend.

"We will be going for the win first and foremost. We are not going to try and dictate any permutations. If you try to do that, you can lose focus on the task at hand. If we lose we are out, so the win will be the only focus for us," added Ludeke.

The Lions managed to see off a late Rebels fightback before claiming a 37-32 win over the Rebels last week and will be keen to finish their dismal campaign on a high.

Things have gone pear-shaped for Johannesburg-based franchise during the 2012 season. Their was plenty of excitement at the start of their campaign after they won the Currie Cup in 2011.

After beating the Cheetahs narrowly in their opening fixture, the Lions have stumbled from one defeat to another before beating the Sharks 38-28 in what must rank as one of the the biggest shocks of this season's competition in Round 15.

Captain Josh Strauss expects a massive onslaught from the Bulls but said the Lions are prepared for a war of attrition.

"Coming off a loss they will want to prove their worth especially this weekend and they would want to get some momentum going into the play-offs if they make it," he said.

"They are a bit of a desperate team at the moment and it is very dangerous playing against a team like that."

"They are going to be switched on and they will be very physical," he said.

"We will have to man up and hopefully we can counter that."

Prediction: Despite the brave talk coming out of the Lions camp they will be like lambs to the slaughter against this Bulls side who will start this clash with 13 Springboks in their run-on side. The Bulls will win by between 20 points and 30 points and secure their spot in the play-offs!

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouchè, 22 Francois Venter.

Lions: 15 James Kamana, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (capt), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 JR Esterhuizen, 22 Ruan Combrinck.

  • Stormers Fixtures
  • Table
South African Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624