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Super Rugby preview: Saturday

23rd February 2012 23:25

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Aussie showdown: The 'Tahs host the Reds

Day Two of the opening round of Super Rugby kicks off with an unpredictable derby in Hamilton and ends with high-octane affair on the Highveld.

In between, the Reds will start their title defence in arguably the toughest game they will face in the Australian conference in Sydney before the Stormers begin their bid to top the South African pool at home to the new-look Hurricanes.


Chiefs v Highlanders
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

You would have to be very brave to place a bet on the outcome of this game as two of the most unpredictable teams in the world's most unpredictable competition go head to head in a Kiwi derby.

The Highlanders provided the highlight of the first few rounds last year as they made a mockery of the history books to be amongst the early-season pacesetters. They'll no doubt be out for a repeat, although this time around they'll hope to maintain that momentum all the way through to August.

The Chiefs by contrast did what they did best and blew hot and cold last season. The new-look backline in Hamilton has many fans excited as Richard Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams are set to launch their campaign to unseat the incumbent All Blacks midfield. Complimented by newcomers Aaron Cruden and Robbie Robinson, the Chiefs have one the strongest attacks - on paper at least - in the tournament.

The question remains whether their pack can produce the quality ball needed to unleash all that firepower.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph was forced to delay the announcement of his team because of a lengthy injury list which includes Ma'afu Fia (hamstring), Jarrad Hoeata (shoulder), Siale Piutau (ankle), Kade Poki (knee), Kenny Lynn (neck) and Shaun Treeby (knee).

He has nevertheless named a strong side with starting centre outside Tamati Ellison and replacement loose forward James Haskell fresh off the plane from Japan.

Keep an eye on former Hurricanes Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear, who will be out to make an impression for their new team

Prediction: While the Chiefs have won eight of the last ten matches between these sides, they are separated by an average score of just two points! It's hard to argue against the Chiefs' home record against the Highlanders, who could lack a bit of cohesion considering their late arrivals and injury issues. The Chiefs by seven points in a high-scoring clash.

Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (capt), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Tawera Kerr- Barlow, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali'i, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 James Haskell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Kurt Baker.

Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)


Waratahs v Reds
ANZ Stadium, Sydney

In the second of the all-Australian derbies, last year's top Aussie finishes, the Waratahs and the Reds, face-off in Sydney.

Both sides are hampered by injury heading into the game, with playmaker Quade Cooper (knee), hooker Saia Fainga'a (ankle) and winger Rod Davies (hamstring) missing out for the Reds. The 'Tahs have an even lengthier injury list with Berrick Barnes (groin) Drew Mitchell (ankle), Lachie Turner (hamstring), Rocky Elsom (hamstring) and Dan Vickerman (leg) on the sidelines.

Of the two teams, the defending champions the Reds certainly have the momentum heading into the clash after their successful 2011 campaign, but this Week One tie could come down to who responds best in the face of notably absentees.

Mike Harris is the man charged with replacing Cooper and the 23-year-old will be desperate to get off to a strong start, especially as he has Ben Lucas breathing down his neck, with the fly-half berth not yet confirmed.

New Waratahs recruit, scrum-half Sarel Pretorius will be eager to put as much pressure as possible on Harris, with the nuggety South African a real livewire.

Despite the absence of quality finishers Turner, Mitchell and Davies, there are plenty of players capable of creating and scoring five-pointers there should be a few tries despite the fact that it should be a close encounter.

Prediction: The Waratahs enjoyed a good pre-season and under new coach Michael Foley they'll be eager to get off to a strong start. If the Waratahs can dominate up front - and with a front row of Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson - it's certainly a possibility, the hosts could sneak a win. It's going to be tight but the Waratahs may cause in upset by taking it by three even without Barnes.

The teams

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

Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (capt), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Van Humphries, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Jono Lance.

Kick-off: 19:40 (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)


Stormers v Hurricanes
Newlands, Cape Town

Last season's South African conference winners have the luxury of starting their campaign at home against a side tipped by most to struggle this year.

It's been nearly six years since the Hurricanes last won in Cape Town and few would bet on the visitors' young side causing an upset at Newlands. The Stormers have beaten the Hurricanes in three of their previous four clashes, including the last two times they have met in Cape Town

The home side will look to hit the running and know that a strong start will be vital in their bid to make the semi-finals for the third successive year. The Capetonians are playing four of their opening five matches at home, and it's not until round seven when they meet the Highlanders in Dunedin that they step out on overseas soil.

By contrast, the Cape Town clash is the first of three away games for the Hurricanes, who must face the Lions in Johannesburg and the Force in Perth before their first game back in Wellington.

As many as eight players could make their Hurricanes debuts should they take the field.

But Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is well aware that despite their lack of experience, the Hurricanes side will pose a serious threat.

"The Hurricanes have always been a team with good open field runners and counter-attacking capabilities," said Coetzee.

"They live of turn-overs, but I also think (Hurricanes coach) Mark Hammett has brought more structure to their play since taking over last year, so we're expecting much-improved set piece from them," said Coetzee.

"This game will be a huge challenge in all aspects. It's the start of the season and our aims are to get a fair share of the possession, play in the right areas on the field and take our scoring opportunities. It's exciting that the competition is finally starting. It will be highly competitive in all departments."

Keep an eye on the match-up between 'Canes captain Conrad Smith - one of the world's best players in his position - and opposite number Bryan Habana, who have to adapt quickly to his new role at outside centre.

The history between these two sides is very even, with the Stormers ahead by seven wins to the Hurricanes' six. The figure is very similar for encounters played at Newlands, where the home team has won four of the previous seven matches in Cape Town.

Prediction: Don't expect a high-scoring game. The Stormers have based their game on miserly defence more than anything else over the past two seasons. Last year they conceded just 257 points in 15 games, compared the Hurricanes' who conceded 398. The Stormers by 12 points

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Bryan Habana, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Schalk Burger (C), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Marcel Brache.

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

Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)


Lions v Cheetahs
Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg

It's fair to say that the Lions team that will run out on Saturday is very different prospect to the one that did duty in the Lions' final Super Rugby game last season. That the statement is true despite the fact that seventeen of the twenty-two who turned out against the Sharks once again do duty this week speaks volumes for the work that coach John Mitchell has done.

Last year's Currie Cup champions, the Lions surprised many in the domestic competition and while they're facing local opposition first up, they'll be well aware that Super Rugby is a whole different ball game.

Mitchell has retained faith in young fly-half Elton Jantjies ahead of Springbok Butch James, and Jantjies' battle with opposite number Johan Goosen - also a Baby Bok - will be pivotal in the clash.

The Lions back row of skipper Josh Strauss, Derick Minnie and Cobus Grobbelaar appears a dangerous combination, and it is here - and in many other areas - that the Cheetahs will feel the absence of Juan Smith. Out with a long-term injury, much responsibility in the loose will fall to the dynamic Heinrich Brüssow but it may all be a bridge too far for one man to handle.

Perhaps most worryingly for the Cheetahs is the loss of scrum-half Sarel Pretorious and full-back Riaan Viljeon. So often the spark for the men from Bloemfontein, one feels their presence will be sorely missed this week and beyond.

Prediction: The Lions look the better all-round outfit and will enter the competition buzzing but one can never discount the Cheetahs, they certainly have plenty of heart. That won't be enough though as the Lions will win by ten.

Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Doppies le Grange, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 James Kamana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden/ Hendrik Roodt, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse/ CJ van der Linde, 18 Hendrik Roodt / Stephan Greeff, 19 Warren Whiteley, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Butch James, 22 Michael Killian.

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Dusty Noble, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Lappies Labuschagné/Philip van der Walt, 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 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Pieter van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Willie le Roux.

Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

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