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Super Rugby preview: Friday

10th May 2012 09:09

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Last-place battle: Blues v Lions

Round 12 of Super Rugby serves up an interesting duel between two desperate sides out to avoid the ignominy of finishing last.

The faded Blues take on the toothless Lions in Auckland, with the winner here set to increase their chances of avoiding this season's wooden spoon.

The Lions have finished last in 1998, 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2010, whilst the Blues have never ended bottom of the standings in their history of Super Rugby.

We then cross the Tasman to Sydney where the Waratahs face a do-or-die clash with the Bulls. Another loss for the home side - who haven't beaten the Bulls since 2005 - will spell the end of their play-off hopes.

Blues v Lions
Eden Park Stadium, Auckland

The tournament's two bottom-placed teams go head to head at Auckland's Eden Park for what may be the battle of the wooden spoon.

Blues coach Pat Lam must be at his wit's end as he tries to get his team back on the victory trail. The Aucklanders are bringing up the rear of the table with a paltry 12 points from 10 matches while the Lions are in 14th position with 14 points from nine games.

Both teams have managed just one victory apiece during the entire competition.

The Lions' sole triumph came in the opening round of the tournament when they edged the Cheetahs 30-27 in Johannesburg, while the Blues' solitary win came in Round Three against the Bulls in Pretoria.

Lam said this weekend's match is 'quite a desperate game' for both sides and despite talk of him losing his job at the end of the season, the former Samoa loose forward is focussed on getting that much-needed win under his belt.

Despite losing several key players to injury for this crucial match, Lam remains upbeat and believes his charges can still claim a second win of their torrid campaign.

"It's obviously a big game for us and what we need to do to get the win is having clarity for all the individuals concerned," he said.

It can be argued that Lions coach John Mitchell is much more desperate than Lam as the struggling felines have much more to lose if they don't start winning matches soon.

If they finish as South Africa's bottom-placed team in the standings, the Lions will not feature in next year's tournament as the South African Rugby Union (SARU) have already promised the Southern Kings that they will be the country's fifth Super Rugby franchise in 2013.

Mitchell's charges showed in their defeat to the table-topping Chiefs in Pukekohe last week that they are no pushovers and were competitive for large portions of that match.

Their captain and number eight Josh Strauss was immense against the Chiefs and if he gets some momentum he could prove a handful for the Blues' defence.

Prediction: A high-scoring affair is expected between two teams who are amongst the tournament's worst defensive side's in this year's competition.It's really difficult to call a winner in this clash but home advantage could swing in it for the Blues. It will be close... Blues by three!

The teams:

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

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

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)


Waratahs v Bulls
Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Both these teams will be highly motivated to be victorious in this match after they gave indifferent performances in last weekend's encounters.

The Waratahs went down 23-6 to the Brumbies in Canberra, while the Bulls were given a scare in their clash with the Rebels before eventually winning 41-35.

For the hosts, this has been a topsy-turvy campaign and their record of four wins and six defeats will not impress their ardent supporters.

Michael Foley's troops struggled to assert themselves against the Brumbies and he showed his dissatisfaction with that performance by making seven personnel and three positional changes to his starting XV.

The Bulls win over the Rebels elevated them to top spot on the South African conference, but coach Frans Ludeke will be far from happy with his side's showing last weekend.

As usual, they will rely on their huge set of forwards to give them momentum up front, before their Springbok half-backs (Steyn and Hougaard) will try to dictate proceedings from the back.

The visitors do possess dangerous outside backs and Bjorn Basson in particular is someone who the Waratahs will have to keep a close eye on if they want to win this clash. The Springbok wing is amongst the tournament's leading try-scorers and one of the best finishers in the game.

Prediction The Waratahs have been unpredictable throughout their campaign and if they can match the Bulls in the tight exchanges they should be successful. This, however, is easier said than done and the boys from Pretoria will be keen to improve on their performance against the Rebels. It will be an intruging battle but the Bulls should take this....by seven points.

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Daniel Halangahu, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11 Atieli Pakalani, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Mann-Rea, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Tom Carter.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 CJ Stander, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

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