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Super Rugby preview: Saturday

25th May 2012 09:22


reds v brumbies

Aussie derby: Crunch clash in Canberra

It's Round 14 and with just five regular season rounds remaining in the competition remaining, it's do or die for most teams!

There's some cracking encounters in store on Super Saturday, but perhaps none more so than the crucial Australian conference summit clash between the Brumbies and defending champion Reds in Canberra.

The Stormers have a feisty South African derby with the sixth-placed Sharks in Durban, while the Hurricanes host the Rebels in Wellington, the Blues play the Highlanders in Auckland, Western Force take on the Lions in Perth and the Cheetahs face the Waratahs in Bloemfontein.

Hurricanes v Rebels
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

The Hurricanes will be desperate to claim five points to keep their play-off hopes alive when they host the ever-improving Rebels in Wellington on Saturday.

With five regular season rounds remaining in the competition, the Hurricanes are currently fourth in the congested New Zealand conference standings while the Rebels occupy third spot in the Australian conference.

On the overall ladder the Hurricanes (35 points) are one place above the Melbourne outfit (29), who are tenth overall.

With two wins from their past two starts - including a shock 28-19 victory over the Crusaders - the Rebels pose a real danger for the hosts, especially after their 37-25 capitulation to the Brumbies last Friday.

Victory is non-negotiable for the men in yellow, as back-to-back defeats will surely spell the end of their hunt for a top-six finish.

Whilst the Rebels have no chance of reaching the finals, they still have plenty to play for. For one, they're chasing a hat-trick of victories for the first time in their franchise history, and are also bidding to win their first game on New Zealand soil.

In their only other meeting, the Rebels upset the Hurricanes 42-25 at AAMI Park last season.

Prediction: The Hurricanes have won just one game at the Cake Tin in 2012, so home advantage won't count for much. However, we'll still back the hosts to bounce back with a win against a game Rebels outfit. 'Canes by seven!

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Reg Goodes, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Jayden Hayward.

Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Tim Davidson, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Tom Chamberlain, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Stirling Mortlock.

Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)

Blues v Highlanders
Eden Park, Auckland

The Blues will be out to play the spoilers role when they host the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday.

With the visitors desperate to stay in the play-offs mix, a slip-up against the rock-bottom Blues - backing up from a 59-12 demolition by the Crusaders - could cost them dearly with only a few rounds remaining.

Last time the two teams met, just over a month ago in Dunedin, the Highlanders edged home 30-27.

Whilst the Highlanders are enjoying better form than their struggling Kiwi rivals, history is against the visitors heading into this match. The southerners have won just once at Eden Park, in 2002, in 17 years of Super Rugby.

But following the Highlanders win against the former table-topping Bulls in Dunedin last weekend, Jamie Joseph's troops will sense a chance to gain a rare win in Auckland.

Prediction: It's the Highlanders to lose. 'Landers by eight!

The teams:

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

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

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)

Brumbies v Reds
Canberra Stadium, Canberra

It was the Will Genia-Quade Cooper alliance that was pivotal in leading the Reds to the Super Rugby title last season. The duo mesmerized many defences and provided the go-forward ball necessary to set their side on fire.

It's this brilliance that the Reds have lacked this season. While Genia have been ever-presented, until recent weeks, he has looked a shadow of the player that impressed in the previous campaign. Knee surgery has meant that Cooper made his bow only in Round 13. Reunited at last, the pair combined to see off the Lions last week but it was not a polished showing from the men from Queensland.

They have lacked sting among the backs and their execution in general has been poor. Yes, they've had some horror injuries, but even the most ardent Reds fan cannot deny that the defending champions have looked half-baked thus far.

The Brumbies mirror their opponents on Saturday in that they too have been dealt heavy blows in the fly-half department. However, that is where the comparison ends.

While the Reds when expected to do well in the comparatively week Australian Conference, Jake White's inexperienced Brumbies were not by any means fancied.

Many a punter must be hanging their heads in shame as the Brumbies top the Australian standings and have largely played entertaining rugby that shows all the groundwork for success in the future.

Key to the Brumbies chances in the current campaign is how number ten Zack Holmes adapts to life in the fast lane, and the rookie made an accomplished start in the win over the Hurricanes. Ben Mowen needs more of the same from his newly anointed playmaker.

The Brumbies will be looking for a healthy dose of revenge after missing out against the Reds in the reverse fixture, a game they'll feel they should have won.

Prediction: Both teams head into the clash with consecutive wins to their names and had this match taken place a few weeks ago, one would have fancied the Brumbies hands down, but the Reds are starting to show some of the class that has eluded them thus far. Despite this, the Brumbies should take it by five!

The teams:

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 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.

Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 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 Beau Robinson, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Nick Frisby, 21 Dallan Murphy, 22 Chris F'Sautia.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)

Western Force v Lions
nib Stadium, Perth

These two teams are their respective countries' worst performing franchises in this year's competition and are both desperate to return to the victory trail.

The Force have only notched two victories in their campaign and are on a six-match winless streak while the Lions have not won a match since their triumph over the Cheetahs in the competition's opening round on February 25.

The match will have extra meaning for Lions boss John Mitchell who was the Force's boss between 2005 and 2010.

Mitchell, born in New Zealand, coached the Force in their first five years of existence before he came to Johannesburg. During that time, the Western Australians won 24 out of 65 matches.

Since he's come to South Africa, Mitchell has taken the Lions to four victories. This season has been especially tough, with injuries causing him some major headaches. However, they will be trying to end their Australasian tour on a high by wracking up that elusive win.

Two of the Lions' four Super Rugby victories under Mitchell came on tour, when they beat the Brumbies and Highlanders last year.

The Johannesburg-based franchise have been adventurous on tour and even though the results have not gone their way, they have looked dangerous when throwing the ball around.

They will back themselves against a Force team that have leaked 36 tries thus far in 2012, the same as the Lions.

The Force's season has imploded since the controversial sacking of their coach Richard Graham.

They went down by a single point in their clash to the Rebels last week and will fancy their chances against Mitchell's pride as they have held the upper-hand in matches between the sides since they made their debut in the competition in 2005.

In six previous matches between the sides the men from Perth have a record of: won four, lost one and drawn one.

This statistic bodes well for the home side but they can expect a difficult assignment against this Lions side who despite their woeful form this season will be highly motivated to secure a victory for their coach against his former side.

Prediction: Both sides are weak on defence so don't be surprised if this turns into a try feast. However, the Force should take the spoils as they are playing on their own turf. Force by six!

The teams:

Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Salesi Manu, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Josh Holmes, 22 David Harvey.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 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 CJ Van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Cobus Grobbelaar, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Ruan Combrinck, 22 James Kamana.

Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)

Cheetahs v Waratahs
Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

This could be the most evenly contested match of the weekend as these two teams are seperated by a single point on the table and both sides are eager to make amends after recent defeats.

The Cheetahs were competitive before going down to the Sharks in Bloemfontein, and the Waratahs had to settle for a bonus point for losing by less than seven in their match against the Stormers in Cape Town.

Things have gone pear-shaped for the Waratahs this season. The team's former forwards coach Michael Foley replaced Chris Hickey at the start of their campaign and despite plenty of enthusiasm at the start of the tournament, they have struggled to find consistency.

Under Hickey's guidance, the Waratahs reached last year's play-offs but they have little chance of matching that feat this year as they are currently languishing in eleventh spot on the table with 28 points from 12 matches.

Wallabies loose forward Wycliff Palu is their kingpin up front and when he puts in a big performance then his side are usually on the winning side. Amongst the backs, Berrick Barnes has impressed at fly-half but if the Waratahs want to win this clash they can't rely on the performances of individuals.

The Cheetahs are yet to put together a complete performance this season and their coach Naka Drotské knows his charges will have to improve considerably if they want to win this clash.

"We need to focus for 80 minutes - that will be the biggest challenge," said Drotské.

"Against the Sharks we also made mistakes on defence, where we gifted them a number of tries. This week we want to defend well and attack as much as possible for the entire game."

One of the main reasons for the Cheetahs slump in form is the loss of first-choice fly-half Johan Goosen, who sustained a serious shoulder injury in their Round 10 defeat to the Highlanders in Bloemfontein.

Since the 19-year-old's tournament-ending injury, Sias Ebersohn and Riaan Smit have both started in the Cheetahs' number 10 jersey but both players have failed deliver a performance to match Goosen's efforts from earlier in the campaign.

Prediction: Both teams have little to play for but the Waratahs have more experience in their ranks in key positions. It won't be easy, but Waratahs to win by three points.

The teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Rocco Jansen, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 Izak van der Westhuizen, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Francois Uys, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.

Waratahs: 15 Bernard Foley, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 David Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (capt).

Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Richard Stanford, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Daniel Halangahu, 22 Tom Carter.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

Sharks v Stormers
Kings Park Stadium, Durban

There's plenty at stake in this clash between two of the tournament's in-form teams and traditional heavyweights of the South African game.

The Stormers are keen to consolidate their position at the top of the standings while the Sharks want to improve their position amongst the play-off contenders.

After an indifferent start to the tournament the Sharks have impressed in recent weeks. They have won their last three matches and scored 12 tries and conceded only three in the process.

Despite his team's fine form in recent weeks, Sharks coach John Plumtree knows a difficult task awaits his charges against the men from the Cape who have the best defence in the tournament.

"At the end of the day, each challenge is different and we have to make sure we remain focused on each week," he said.

"The Stormers are top of the log, an outstanding side and very clinical in what they do.

"They have enjoyed a lot of continuity in selection and they're a very efficient outfit, so we know that we're going to have to play very well to beat them on the weekend," added Plumtree.

While it's been raining tries in Durban, the Stormers are yet to register a bonus-point victory for scoring four or more tries this year.

That's a remarkable statistic considering that they have consistently been amongst the top three positions on the table since the start of the competition.

Earlier this season, the Stormers won a nail-biting affair (15-12) against the Sharks in Cape Town in Round Two and Stormers boss Allister Coetzee admitted that that result could easily have gone to the Sharks.

"We were a bit lucky to beat the Sharks in the second round at Newlands," he revealed.

"No tries were scored and we won by a late penalty from Peter Grant.

"They have great ball carriers and they will be looking to use them this time around. They had opportunities to win here, but it shows how difficult it is to win away from home.

"They have a quality pack with an entire Bok front row and lots of Boks in their back row as well, so we're under no illusions about how difficult it will be. But we have prepared well and we are looking forward to the match," added Coetzee.

Prediction: South African derbies are usually physical affairs and this could be the most brutal clash of the weekend. Although the Stormers have the best defence, the hosts' recent form suggest that they will be victorious. Sharks by five points!

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (capt), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 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 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Odwa Ndungane, 22 Louis Ludik.

Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (capt), 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 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Burton Francis.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

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