Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Saturday

29th April 2011 08:56


sharks v stormers

No love lost: Stormers v Sharks

Super Saturday dishes up five matches, including two trans-Tasman clashes and two derbies, that's sure to whet your appetite as Round Eleven continues.

With the Lions taking a breather and bagging their first four points since beating the Cheetahs, ten teams will go head to head in a bid to either continue their surge towards the play-offs or rescue their campaign.

The Reds will be looking to extend their franchise record of consecutive wins to eight when they open up the weekend's proceedings against the Hurricanes. The 'Canes have struggled this year with only two wins from nine outings, they lie 13th in the competition with no chance of making the play-offs.

The Waratahs then entertain the Melbourne Rebels, before the Crusaders will look to recharge their season against the Western Force in Perth.

The defending champion Bulls - who are well off the pace this year - host fellow strugglers the Chiefs in Pretoria. And to end off, the Stormers return after a week's rest to tackle the Sharks at Newlands.

Hurricanes v Reds

The Hurricanes are back in Wellington from their two-match tour of South Africa where they play host to the tournament-leading Reds at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.

The Reds may be top of the standings, but have not yet faced New Zealand opposition in the 2011 Super Rugby season - until now.

With 35 points still up for grabs in the Super Rugby season, the focus has switched to the misfiring 'Canes across the Tasman with the Queenslanders aiming for a record eighth win on the trot.

The Hurricanes host a Reds side in top form having beaten their traditional interstate rivals the Waratahs 19-15 in last week's tenth round to claim equal top spot on the points table.

Big second half defence against the Waratahs was the key to the Reds' seventh straight competition win, after pivot Quade Cooper had scored all their points including a solo try late in the first half.

The Reds (on 39 points) have now opened up an 11-point lead in the Australian conference standings over the next best Waratahs (28) and are level with the Blues at the top of the overall pecking order.

The Hurricanes are coming off a win and a loss in the Republic, and are returning to home territory for the first of three remaining home games in 2011. After this they host the Force in Palmerston North and the Lions in Wellington.

Despite missing some key players, including Ma'a Nonu (eye), Cory Jane (hamstring) and Serge Lilo (ankle) who were all injured in the defeat against the Sharks, all the focus will be on ending the visitors' winning run in Wellington.

Prediction: Despite a series of records behind the Reds already this season - including a clean sweep of South African teams, the Brumbies victory in Canberra and now the 'Tahs - we have a sneaky suspicion the Queenslanders are in for an upset. Hurricanes to win by five!

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Jayden Hayward, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (capt), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Jeremy Thrush, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Julian Savea, 22 Beauden Barrett.

Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Van Humphries, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Anthony Faingaa, 22 Kimami Sitauti.

Date: Saturday, April 30
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), James McPhail (New Zealand)
Television match official: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)

Waratahs v Melbourne Rebels

The Rebels will be out for revenge in this all-Aussie derby rematch against the Waratahs, who handed the Super Rugby newbies an embarrassing 43-0 loss in the opening round.

Both sides will be striving to make amends for away defeats last time out, while the Rebels will have the added motivation of repaying the Waratahs for dampening their opening-day celebrations.

Last weekend's results squeezed the Waratahs out of the race for the finals, with the New South Welshmen now six points adrift of the sixth-placed Sharks and eleven behind the Australian Conference-leading Reds.

The Rebels, twelfth on the overall standings, slipped to the foot of the Australian Conference after their loss to the Blues - who have now become the tournament leaders following their win over the Highlanders earlier today.

The Melbourne side have been inconsistent all season and have often struggled away from home - their only away victory thus far coming against the Force in Perth.

The Rebels defence, in particular, has come in for criticism in recent weeks (they've conceded a staggering 43 tries in nine matches), which has led to the axing of pivot Danny Cipriani.

Rebels coach Rod Macqueen finally ran out of patience with Cipriani's defensive shortcomings, dropping his star import to the bench for the Sydney Football Stadium match.

The former England international paid the price for a particularly poor outing against the Blues last week, with James Hilgendorf regaining the number ten jersey he started the season in.

Hilgendorf survived just 10 minutes of the Rebels' forgettable Super Rugby debut when the Waratahs spanked the tournament newcomers in Melbourne. The 20-year-old succumbed to a shoulder injury and Cipriani has had the playmaker role ever since.

Since that season-opening mismatch, the Waratahs have won four games and the Rebels three.

"They're a very different team now. They've evolved over the last nine or 10 weeks, which is what you would expect from a new team," said 'Tahs coach Chris Hickey

"I've seen them develop various aspects of their game significantly."

Prediction: The Rebels won't get nilled like they were in Round One, and whilst we can't see a similar scoreline... another defeat is likely. 'Tahs by ten.

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Sosene Anesi, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Pat McCutcheon, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Kane Douglas, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Daniel Halangahu, 20 Tom Kingston.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mark Gerrard, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Peter Betham, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Rodney Blake.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Hoani Macdonald, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Cooper Vuna, 22 Danny Cipriani.

Date: Saturday, April 30:
Venue: Sydney Football Stadium
Kick-off: (09.40 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)

Western Force v Crusaders

The Crusaders will be looking to bounce back against the Western Force in Perth on Saturday, after suffering an upset loss to the Highlanders last week.

Defeat is non-negotiable for a depleted Crusaders outfit before they embark on a testing trip which sees them face the Stormers, Cheetahs and Reds over successive weeks.

The Crusaders have been forced to dip into the past to cope with a series of injuries - including missing All Blacks Andy Ellis, Brad Thorn, Dan Carter and Sam Whitelock - by recalling former captain Reuben Thorne for his first Super Rugby match since 2008.

Thorne has spent the last two years playing rugby in Japan and this year has been playing club rugby in Christchurch.

Injuries aside, the seven-time Super Rugby champs face a tricky encounter against a Western Force side that have rediscovered the knack of winning, claiming the scalps of the Brumbies and the Bulls in successive weeks.

They also boast a useful record against the Crusaders... drawing against them twice and buoyed by a 24-16 win against the red and blacks last season.

Add to that the return of one of the best flankers in world rugby, Western Force powerhouse David Pocock, and the Crusaders will no doubt have a fair bit of work to do.

Pocock, who has recovered from the knee injury he suffered in round three against the Sharks, will make a welcome return to the playing fields along with Crusaders star Richie McCaw, whose only action this season was a 29-minute cameo off the bench a fortnight ago.

The All Blacks skipper has been named at number eight after recovering from bruising to his troublesome right foot. Although the two aren't pitted head-to-head, there's no doubt they'll cross paths many times throughout the match at nib Stadium.

Prediction: With James O'Connor firing and David Pocock back in business, this could be another close tussle. An upset on the cards in Perth if the Force can pull it together for 80 minutes? Highly unlikely though. Crusaders by eight.

The teams:

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 James O'Connor, 11 David Smith, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Matt Dunning, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Matt Hodgson, 19 Tevita Metuisela, 20 James Stannard, 21 Rory Sidey, 22 Alfie Mafi.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Matt Berquist, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Richie McCaw (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Joe Wheeler / Reuben Thorne, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Marshall, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Date: Saturday, April 30
Kick-off: 20:05 (12:05 GMT)
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Referee: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nathan Pearce (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)

Bulls v Chiefs

Defending Super Rugby champions the Bulls must beat the Chiefs in Pretoria on Saturday if they want to stay in the hunt for this year's title.

Fresh from their bruising tour of Australasia where they lost three out of four matches, the home side will have to get back to winning ways against a Chiefs team that are on a high after registering a morale-boosting 34-30 win over the Lions at the weekend.

The Bulls who went down 26-21 to the Force in their last fixture have made just one change to their starting line-up, with Gary Botha replacing Chiliboy Ralepelle at hooker. However, the indifferent form of seasoned internationals like Pierre Spies, Morne Steyn and Fourie du Preez must be worrying to Bulls supporters.

The defending champions' highly rated set of forwards have not fired on all cylinders yet in 2011 and if they can dominate up front against the Chiefs the path to victory will be so much easier.

The Bulls are currently in eighth position with 22 points in the overall standings and the Chiefs are in ninth spot on 21 points. Both teams have played nine matches.

Bulls and Chiefs matches are normally high-scoring affairs. Last year the Bulls won 33-19 in Hamilton and who can forget their 61-17 triumph in the Super 14 final of 2009.

The Chiefs will be looking to maintain their winning momentum. They will rely heavily on seasoned campaigners like captain and full-back Mils Muliaina in the back-line and loose forwards Liam Messam and Scott Waldrom among the forwards.

After a slow start to his 2011 campaign Muliaina put in a fine performance against the Lions last week and Messam and man-of-the-match Waldrom impressed in the tight-loose for the men from Waikato.

The Chiefs' loose trio's battle for the pill against the Bulls openside Deon Stegmann could be one of the highlights of the match.

Prediction: Both teams have struggled to hit top gear this season but expect the Bulls to awaken from their slumber on Saturday. Though it won't be pretty! Bulls will win by seven points.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (capt), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Francois Brummer, 21 Gerhard van den Heever, 22 Derick Kuun.

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Save Tokula, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison.

Date: Saturday, April 30
Kick-off: 17:05 (15:05 GMT)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Tiaan Jonker (South Africa), Marc van Zyl (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

Stormers v Sharks

Rugby folk in South Africa will be looking forward to this one, and perhaps it is a case of saving the best for last when the Stormers host the Sharks in Cape Town.

Winter is slowly creeping into the Mother City and whilst a chilly night is expected at Newlands, this derby encounter is set to get the blood boiling for all those watching.

Billed as having all the atmosphere of Test rugby, this match puts the best defence against one of the best attacking teams when the top two sides in the South African conference meet for the second time in this year's competition.

The Stormers won their previous meeting in Durban - a win that ended a five-match losing streak against the Sharks - and will be looking for more of the same to keep their place atop the SA Conference.

A win for the Sharks, who beat the Hurricanes last weekend, could elevate them to the top of the South African conference while a loss would put extra breathing space between the two sides.

With six tries conceded, the Stormers have led the way on defence with the Sharks the next best side of the fifteen teams with 12.

However, the Stormers have scored just 12 tries and one bonus point in their eight games while their coastal rivals have 26 (from nine games) and bagged six bonus points.

The Stormers are coming off their second bye and no doubt will be refreshed. But there is always the fear of rustiness following a week's break while the Sharks returned from their weekend off energised against the Hurricanes when they scored five tries.

Home advantage will play a big part for the Cape team who have secured four victories at Newlands thus far against the Lions (19-16), Highlanders (18-6), Western Force (51-16) and the Cheetahs (21-15), but conceded one loss against the Reds (6-19).

The visitors know how to win in Cape Town though, and with plenty of Sharks supporters in the stands, it could well be a home away from home for John Smit and his troops.

Prediction: Tough to call. Overall the Stormers and Sharks have won 7 matches each. The Stormers are not a team that stands back and while the Sharks fancy their efforts in the physicality stakes, the Stormers can bring that same toughness to the party. Stormers by three.

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant/Lionel Cronje, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Brok Harris, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nick Koster, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Lionel Cronje/Kurt Coleman, 22 Juan de Jongh.

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

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