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Super Rugby preview: Friday

05th April 2012 10:13

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The Sharks: On the hunt for back-to-back victories on tour

It's Round Seven, which means we're roughly halfway through the regular Super Rugby season with only one unbeaten team remaining.

It shouldn't surprise anyone to see that after six rounds in 2012, the top six teams are those that have conceded the fewest tries. From one to six, the Stormers have conceded seven, the Highlanders eight, the Brumbies 11, the Chiefs six, the Bulls six and the Crusaders 11.

But how will those stats look after the weekend's action?

We have some great match-ups over Easter, so let's get to it!

Hurricanes v Sharks
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth

Turmoil was the buzz word surrounding the Hurricanes at the back end of last season and heading into the new Super Rugby campaign as a number of stars were either sent on their way or chose to pack their backs and leave the capital.

It didn't paint a pretty picture for 'Canes fans, but all things considered, the season has started fairly well for Mark Hammett's men.

Three wins from six sees the Hurricanes nestled firmly in mid-table, although a tad off the pace in the highly-competitive New Zealand conference. Following a 39-26 loss to the Stormers in the first week of the competition, the 'Canes have either won or claimed a losing bonus point in all of their games.

One such bonus point was claimed in last week's loss to the Cheetahs and it is that defeat and games like Friday's clash with the Sharks that will end up defining the Hurricanes season.

Looking at the fixture list they certainly would have banked on a win against the men from Bloemfontein but having come unstuck in an enthralling battle they now need to bounce back against a Sharks side on the rise.

Victory this week and in similar such games will determine whether the 'Canes remain in a favourable league position or slowly slip down the ladder.

It would appear they face the Sharks at just the wrong time, with John Plumtree's men starting to build up a head of steam after stuttering through the opening stages.

Wins over the Lions and Reds was followed by a disappointing loss to the Waratahs, but the Sharks bounced back well to beat the Brumbies last time out.

For periods in the second half against the Brumbies, the Durban outfit appeared to have found the buzz and forward momentum that has at times been missing. Much of this should be put down to the return to form of scrum-half Charl MacLeod and Willem Alberts' entering the fray after injury; the duo have had an incredible impact on the Sharks and their strong showings appear to be rubbing off on some of their team-mates.

Prediction: It should be an open game and the Hurricanes will be eager to exert revenge on the Sharks for their loss to a South African outfit last week. However, the men from Durban are hitting their straps and will take it by five!

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 James Broadhurst, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Charlie Ngatai.

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Jandre Marais, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Marius Joubert/Paul Jordaan.

Referee: Glen Jackson


Reds v Brumbies
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

The Australian conference - the table despised by all except those who actually benefit from a mind-boggling play-off structure.

Indeed, this showdown between the top two teams in the conference is actually a clash between two outfits who would fit into sixth and ninth spot on a table of a regular nature.

But there is nothing 'regular' about the Super Rugby structure and there certainly isn't anything standard about the Reds' plight and their injury woe.

Ewen McKenzie has been forced to deploy fourth-choice fly-half Dallan Murphy for the defending champions' past two games and despite a valiant it can come as no real surprise that Murphy has struggled to get the Reds' back-line going. Perhaps more culpable in this area is Wallaby number nine Will Genia.

Genia's struggles this season have lead to questions regarding his ability to shine without the mercurial Quade Cooper outside him, with the scrum-half who has set the world ablaze for the past two years struggling at a very basic level.

To arrest the slide that has seen them lose their last three games, experienced campaigners the likes of Genia, James Horwill, Radike Samo and Scott Higginbotham need to come to the fore.

Conversely, it's a team lacking in experience that has seen the Brumbies surprise many observers by winning three of their opening four matches. It hasn't always been the highest of quality, but the fighting displays shown by Jake White's charges have resulted in three closely fought victories and two narrow defeats, with one of those victories over the impressive Highlanders.

All the right men have been doing the business for the Brumbies, with Ben Mowen, Pat McCabe and Michael Hooper leading the way with Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore becoming more and more of a force.

One area where the Brumbies are lacking is depth and that will start to become a problem once injuries take their toll. Fly-half Matt Toomua did his knee in against the Sharks last time out and will take no further part in the season and this could prove a big loss for the Brumbies.

In last year's competition these two beat each other away from home and that victory in Canberra was the first time since 1999 that the Reds have beaten the Brumbies.

Prediction: With the current despair enveloping the Reds, the Brumbies are unlikely to let that record slip. Back on home soil the Reds will improve and derbies are always tough to call, but current form suggests the Brumbies will win by six!

The teams:

Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Aidan Toua, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Sam Lane, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Beau Robinson, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Van Humphries, 20 Ed Quirk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Dallan Murphy.

Brumbies15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Ita Vaea, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Leon Power, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Michael Hooper, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Zack Holmes, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.

Referee: Steve Walsh


Western Force v Chiefs
nib Stadium, Perth

The Western Force face their sternest test yet this season against an in-form Chiefs side at nib Stadium on Friday.

The home side have already shown with their thumping of defending champions the Reds last week that they are much stronger at home than on the road, even though they did beat the Waratahs previously in Sydney.

However, the Chiefs have been the tournament's most complete side to date and cross the Tasman in search of their fifth consecutive win.

The men from the Waikato over ran the Waratahs in the second half last week, taking their opportunities and putting on some good team tries. As a result, the Chiefs and the Highlanders are both on 22 points - equal top in the New Zealand conference - and just two points behind overall leaders, the Stormers.

Whilst the in-form Chiefs are pushing for a place in the play-offs, no team will win the title if they can't win away from home throughout the season and Dave Rennie's troops will want to keep the momentum going with a vital win in Perth, before flying to South Africa for matches against the Cheetahs and Sharks.

They've had the upper hand over the Force winning four of the five games so far including an 18-point victory at nib Stadium last year.

However, Rennie refuses to take the Force lightly.

"They'll be a bit of a handful. They were certainly impressive against the Reds last week and against the Waratahs a couple of weeks earlier," he said.

"They're certainly playing a more fluid brand of rugby than you might have seen from them previously and they've got a very strong pack that certainly provides us with challenges."

Prediction: The Force losing in-form playmaker James Stannard is a massive blow. Consistency has always been a problem for the men from the West and whilst we don't predict a hiding from the Chiefs, we do think the visitors will leave Perth with a handy bonus point. Chiefs by 12!

The teams:

Western Force: 15 David Harvey, 14 Samu Wara, 13 Nick Cummins, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Josh Homes, 21 Rory Sidey, 22 Patrick Dellit.

Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga , 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick , 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Jackson Willison.

Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)

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Waratahs vs Crusaders19:40
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Waratahs 26 - 8 BrumbiesWaratahs vs Brumbies Report
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PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Crusaders1651
3Sharks1650
4Brumbies1645
5Chiefs1644
6Highlanders1642
7Hurricanes1641
8Western Force1640
9Bulls1638
10Blues1637
11Stormers1632
12Lions1631
13Reds1628
14Cheetahs1624
15Melbourne Rebels1621
Australian Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Brumbies1645
3Western Force1640
4Reds1628
5Melbourne Rebels1621
New Zealand Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Crusaders1651
2Chiefs1644
3Highlanders1642
4Hurricanes1641
5Blues1637
South African Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624