||We head straight to Sydney for the next massive match between the Waratahs and the Crusaders!|
||It's taken quickly and the Blues rumble their way 7 metres from the line. The ball flies loose but the Blues manage to retain possession and Visinia finds a gap. His attempted pass is intercepted by Milner-Skudder and the ball is kicked into touch! FULL-TIME!|
||The Blues are in possession on the Canes' 22. They swing the ball to the backline, who gets them inside the 22. PENALTY! The Blues get a penalty after the Canes were caught offside|
||They once again lose possession in contact and the Canes will have the scrum feed|
||The Canes swing the ball left and comes within 5 metres of the try-line.They spill the ball though and the Blues hacks the ball up-field but Savea is quick enough to handle the potential threat. Play resumes with the Blues in possession on the Canes 22|
||The Canes steal back possession at the breakdown and fling the ball to the backlin who gets them inside the 22. PENALTY! The Blues are caught offside and Black opts to kick the ball into touch for a 7 metre line-out|
||The throw-in is not straight and the Blues will have the scrum feed on their 22.|
||Smylie takes a quick tap-penalty after the Blues engaged early. He gets the penalty as the Blues failed to retreat 10 metres. The ball is kicked into touch on the Blues' 22 for a Canes line-out|
||Great patience being shown by the Blues as they inch their way up-field and are now on the Canes' 10 metre line. Their efforts comes to nothing as they knock the ball on and hand the Canes the scrum feed|
||Blues in possession on their 10 metre line as they look to find a gap in the Canes defence. It's lateral at the moment as the Canes defend well|
||The Canes are keeping the Blues at bay and are forcing them into mistakes. Play resumes with a Canes scrum feed on their 10 metre line after the Blues knock the ball on|
||Black attempts to curl the conversion in from the right but it hooks too much and slides across the face of the uprights|
||Canes in possession on the Blues 22 after J Savea does well to claim a high ball under pressure. The ball is kept among the forwards who takes it into the 22 before the ball is sent to the backline. Nonu finds Milner-Skudder who dots down in the right corner!|
||Simon Hickey fails to add the extra points|
||Moala breaks through a half gap before poppin the ball to Matt Vaega who scores in the left corner|
||Thrush attempts an interception 5 metres from his try line but he spills possession to hand the Blues the scrum feed|
||The Blues are continuing to run the ball at the Canes and find themselves 10 metres from the try line|
||The Blues look to run the ball at the Canes and have made a few metres before winning a penalty as Vito failed to roll away at the breakdown. The ball is kicked into touch for a line-out on the Canes' 22|
||Perenara's box kick is charged down and flies into touch. Canes maintain possession with a 5 metre line-out. Canes win the ball and this time Perenara places a better kick that finds touch on the halfway line|
||They maintain the continuity and make their way into the 22 before losing possession. The Canes attempt to run it out but make no real in-roads. The Blues regather possession but Triggs knocks it on to hand the Canes a scrum feed on their 5 metre line|
||Blues in possession on the halfway line. Moala straightens the attack and takes the Blues to the Canes' 10 metre line|
||Scrappy play has crept into the game from the restart with neither side able to hold onto possession|
||Black slots another conversion to maintain his 100 percent record|
||The maul is set once again and the Blues are once again up to it. Perenara switches the play to the right before the Canes move it back to the left. It finds Dane Coles and he bashes his way over the line!|
||Canes set the maul but it is quickly dealt with. Perenara flings the ball right to release the backline but nothing comes of it. Play is brought back for an infringement at the maul. Black pops it into touch for another line-out, this time 5 metres from the try line|
||A double exchange of possession in quick succession results int he Canes having a line-out after Visinia kicked the ball into touch. PENALTY! Blues fail to roll away at the breakdown. Black opts to kick the ball into touch for a Canes line-out 10 metres from the Blues' try-line|
||A Savea rips the ball in the tackle and J Savea goes on a run. He puts the ball on the boot and it's collected by Visinia who goes on a run of his own. He too, kicks it up-field and teh Canes opt to run it back. Perenara fails to hold onto the ball and play will resume with a Blues scrum feed on the halfway line|
||Perenara puts the ball into touch just outside his 22 for a Blues line-out|
||The Blues are keeping it among the forwards and have made their way into the Canes' 22. Its shifted to the backline who comes to within 10 metres. The blindside is probed but the Canes' defence stands firm and bundles them into touch|
||Perenara links with Savea down the blindside and the Blues snuffle the attack and are awarded a penalty at the breakdown. West finds touch just outside the Canes' 22|
||The ball is unplayable at the bottom of the breakdown and the Canes maintain possession through a scrum feed|
||West puts in a clearance kick but Sav3ea collects and runs it straight back at the Blues. Canes on the attack just outside the Blues' 22|
||The Canes steal the line-out ball. It's shuffled to the backline and finds Nonu who attempts a grubber but it rolls into touch just inside the Blues 22|
||KICK-OFF! West gets the second half underway. Canes claim the catch and after two phases, Black kicks the ball up-field and it rolls into touch just outside the Blues' 22|
||Black slots the comversion as the HALF-TIME hooter sounds|
||The Canes are on the attack once again and have made their way to the 5 metre line. It's kept among the forwards to make the in-roads. Its switched left to the backline and Milner-Skudder is stopped inches short. TRY! Perenara eyes a huge gap and gets an easy score!|
||The Canes claim the restart and kicks the ball up-field. Visinia puts in a high ball that is claimed by Black, who steps his way through a few defenders. The ball is recycled to the left and a grubber kick puts Visinia under pressure. He goes into touch to hand the Canes a line-out on the Blues' 22|
||Black makes no mistake in adding the extra points|
||The maul is set but the Blues stops it before any momentum is gained. Canes keep it among the forwards! TRY! Chris Eves bulldozes his way over from 2 metres for the first try of the match|
||Milner-Skudder dances his way thorugh a few tackles and gets the Canes inside the Blues' 22. PENALTY! The Blues are caught offside. Black opts to kicks the ball into touch and the Canes will have a line-out, 5 metres from the try-line|
||A kick into Blues territory is returned by Visinia and he finds touch on his 10 metre line. Throw-in to the Canes|
||A solid scrum from the Blues allows West to put in a kick and finds touch just inside the Canes' 10 metre line. Throw-in to the Canes|
||The ball is recycled and finds Nonu who takes contact but loses the ball as he falls. Scrum feed to the Blues on their 22|
||A neat set-piece move is well read by the Blues defence as Milner-Skudder looked to break through a half-gap|
||The Canes attempt a grubber kick and once again the Blues fail to hold onto the ball. Scrum feed to the Canes on the Blues' 10 metre line|
||It's another territorial battle as the teams trade kicks. A high ball is held up and a maul is forced. Play will resume with a Canes scrum feed on the half-way line|
||Black pops the ball into touch 10 metres from the Blues' try-line. Thrush claims the catch but the Blues get the scrum as they did not commit to the attempted maul|
||From the resulting scrum, Nonu puts in a huge kick into the Blues half and Visinia, under no pressure, lets the ball slip through his hands and hands the Canes a scrum just outside the Blues 22|
||As soon as an attack looks promising, handle errors stops the momentum - which is expected in these wet conditions|
||A Savea rips the ball in the tackle and it flies free on the Canes' side but Marshall fails to claim it cleanly and the Blues get a lifeline with a scrum feed on the half-way line|
||The Hurricanes spread the ball and finds Savea, who can't free his hands in the tackle and the Blues hold him up and force a maul. The ball fails to emerge and the Blues will have the feed to the scrum just outside their 22|
||Perenara's box kick flies straight into touch and the Blues will have the line-out throw from the same spot. Canes steal the ball and Black puts up a high ball. Gibson-Park claims it and it fails to emerge. Scrum to the Canes just inside the Blues' 10 metre line|
||The Blues work the ball through the phases but they too are penalised for not releasing the ball. Canes pop the ball into touch for a line-out on the halfway line|
||The ball is claimed by the Canes but they are penalised for holding on and the Blues have a chance to make their way back up-field|
||The Blues concede a penalty from the restart and seems like they are having issues at the breakdown. Line-out to the Canes on the Blues' 10 metre line|
||Black lands the first kick of the match|
||PENALTY! The Blues are caught offside in front of the uprights and Black will have a shot at goal.|
||A kicking battle ensues after the Canes retain the ball from the scrum. James Marshall's kick is knocked on just outside the Blues' 22|
||A promising Blues attack comes to a nothing as West spills a pass. Scrum feed to the Canes just inside their 10 metre line|
||The Canes stand firm in defence and Black kicks the ball up-field. The Blues returns the favour and a mark is called. The ball is jkicked into touch on the half-way line for a Blues line-out|
||Reynold Lee-Lo breaks through a gap and makes his way to the 5 metre line before throwing the ball in-field. It is picked up by the Blues, who launch a counter-attack and make their way to the Hurricanes' 10 metre line. PENALTY! West pops the ball into touch for a line-out on the 22|
||Hurricanes are on the attack and look to run the ball early, edging their way closer to the Blues' 22|
||KICK-OFF! James Marshall gets the game underway|
||Wet weather will be greeting the players when they run out|
||The Hurricanes have lost just once this season and have won their last five away games, a record run on the road for the Wellington-based side.|
||The Blues are on a run of seven defeats against fellow New Zealand sides in Super Rugby. However, five of these have come on the road.|
||Welcome to Match 3 of Round 15! The Blues host the Hurricanes in Auckland!|
HOME STRETCH: It seems unlikely anybody will catch Super Rugby's runaway leaders, the Hurricanes. Jan de Koning looks at Saturday's matches.
It seems unlikely anybody will catch Super Rugby's runaway leaders, the Hurricanes. But that won't stop teams from trying to knock them over and claim bragging rights in the home stretch of the tournament's league stages.
The first team that will have a crack at them is the Blues, who host the Hurricanes in Auckland on Saturday.
The Hurricanes will be looking to extend their already burgeoning 14-point overall lead, but opted to rest captain Conrad Smith. All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu will make a milestone 122nd appearance, equalling the team's record as their most capped player shared with Tana Umaga.
From Auckland it is a quick hop across the Tasman Sea for a replay of last year's contentious Final - the defending champion Waratahs hosting the seven-time champion Crusaders in Sydney. The Waratahs can leapfrog the inactive Brumbies at the top of the Australia conference in they win, while the Crusaders must win to stay in touch with the top six in the run-in to the play-offs.
There is then a trek across Australia, from east to west, where the Western Force will host an ambitious Highlanders outfit in Perth. The Highlanders, like the Chiefs (both on 39), have more points that the Brumbies (in second place) and the Bulls (third), but because of the convoluted conference system are outside the top three.
Our next stop is an 8,000-kilometre trek across the Indian Ocean to central South Africa - where the Cheetahs host the Lions in an all-South African derby. It is a fixture that less than a month ago produced eight tries and promises to be another exciting, all-action affair.
We conclude the weekend's action when the Stormers will hope to reclaim the South African conference lead - depending obviously what happened the day before between the Chiefs and Bulls. The Stormers host the Rebels in a game that will be heavily influence by prediction of rain and both teams' well-known dependence on defence to squeeze out a win.
We look at Saturday's matches!
Saturday, May 23
Blues v Hurricanes
(Eden Park, Auckland - Kick-Off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Blues will be hard-pressed to repeat last week's heroic win over the Bulls, a rare feat in a season of turmoil.
Not only did they pay a heavy price for the brutal approach in the encounter with the Bulls, the already injury-riddled team losing a few more All Blacks, but the Mexican stand-off over coach John Kirwan's position has become near farcical.
Kirwan has been forced to name his third captain of the season - hooker James Parsons - after injury ruled out Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua.
Kirwan feels they have it in them to claim another big scalp, in the Hurricanes.
"They are one of the best counter-attacking sides in the competition," he told the NZ Herald.
"They can attack from all over the place so it's really important that we shut them down."
The public spat over Kirwan's position as head coach continues to cast a pall over the team, with some media reports suggesting an intervention into the dispute by New Zealand Rugby is only days away.
The Blues are on a run of seven defeats against fellow New Zealand sides in Super Rugby.
The Hurricanes have looked a class act all season and even without Conrad Smith still have plenty of class in a backline that features devastating runners like Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea and Cory Jane.
Nonu will make a milestone 122nd appearance for the Hurricanes, equalling the team's record as their most capped player, level with another midfield gem in Tana Umaga.
2015: Hurricanes won 30-23, Palmerston North
2014: Blues won 37-24, Auckland
2014: Hurricanes won 39-20, Wellington
2013: Blues won 28-6, Auckland
2013: Blues won 34-20, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes on 35-19, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 26-25, Auckland
Prediction: The Blues are on a run of seven defeats against fellow New Zealand sides in Super Rugby. However, five of these have come on the road. The Hurricanes have lost just once this season and have won their last five away games, a record run on the road for the Wellington-based side. On average Hurricanes' matches this season have seen an aggregate score of 46 points, with their matches going over 50 points on six occasions. The Canes average more tackles per game than any other team (135) whilst the Blues are the third most tackled team (123). The Hurricanes can boast two of Super Rugby's top three try scorers (TJ Perenara - seven & Julian Savea - six) whilst no Blues player has managed more than three this season. Injuries, infighting and a lack of consistency will conspire against the Blues. The Hurricanes to win by at least 15 points.
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Brendon O'Connor, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18, Nic Mayhew, 19 Will Lloyd/Hayden Triggs, 20 Joe Edwards, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt Vaega.
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 James Marshall, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush (captain), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16. Motu Matu'u, 17 Ben May, 18 Tolu Fahamokioa, 19 Mark Abbott/Callum Gibbins, 20 Brad Shields, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Otere Black, 23 Willis Halaholo.
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Aki Aso
TMO: Aaron Paterson
Waratahs v Crusaders
(ANZ Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 19.40; 21.40 NZ time; 09.40 GMT)
No doubt this will be a cracker, the match of the weekend.
Both teams have attempted to play down the significance, but it is a replay of last year's controversial Final, when South African referee Craig Joubert erroneously awarded the penalty that gifted the Waratahs victory.
No doubt the Crusaders will have revenge on their minds.
This game will also be a true indication of the Waratahs' championship potential.
Veteran centre Adam Ashley-Cooper made no secret of the fact that the outcome of this game could have a significant influence on the Waratahs' prospects of defending their title.
With the current Super Rugby standings - with just four rounds left - a Waratahs win will lift them into top spot on the Australian conference and make the task of the Crusaders reaching the play-offs highly improbable.
"At the end of the day we need to win four from four to really secure our spot and that's the only way you look at it," Ashley-Cooper said.
"Without getting too ahead of ourselves, we've got the Crusaders this week - one of the best teams in the competition and one of the best teams in New Zealand.
"We just have to put all our focus and all of our concentration into that before we can start thinking about points and ladders and finals."
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder admitted they are playing "a final every week" during the run-in to the play-offs.
The Crusaders face an uphill battle to make the Super Rugby play-offs. They are in ninth place overall, but are fourth in the New Zealand conference, eight points behind the Chiefs and the Highlanders.
"We talked about that on Monday [when the squad resumed training after the bye week]," Blackadder said.
"Every game for us is a final now.
"It's probably a good week, playing the Waratahs who were in last year's Final.
"We'll be well and truly motivated and it's going to be a good challenge."
2014: Waratahs won 33-32, Sydney (Final)
2013: Crusaders won 23-22, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 37-33, Sydney
2011: Crusaders won 33-18, Nelson
2010: Crusaders won 20-13, Christchurch
2009: Crusaders won 17-13, Sydney
Prediction: The last time these sides met was the 2014 final when the Tahs won by a single point and in doing so ended a run of 11 defeats against the Crusaders (including two play-off defeats). Five of the last six games between these sides have been settled by seven points or fewer. The Crusaders won their last game against the Reds but have only won back to back games once this season, back in mid-March. The Crusaders have passed the ball more than any other team this season, averaging 172 per game, whilst the Waratahs rank second in that regard (158). Three of the tournament's top four carriers play for the NSW outfit - Kurtley Beale (174), Israel Folau (172) and Bernard Foley (140). The Crusaders may not have been the most consistent team this year, but they have shown glimpses of their potential. A desperate Crusaders team is always dangerous and could pull off an upset - by about eight points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Silatolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Patrick McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Israel Dagg, 23 Jone Macilai.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Western Force v Highlanders
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 19.45; 23.45 NZ time; 11.45 GMT)
The Western Force may be playing for no more than pride, but it is a key game for the Highlanders.
They are fifth on the ladder on 39 points, equal with the Chiefs (fourth).
Victory could go a long way to cement their place in the play-off zone.
They are up against a Force side coming off a bye and sitting at bottom of the table.
The Force will be high on confidence after their win over the Waratahs, in their last game before the bye. That (18-11) victory in Perth was one of only two triumphs - both over the Tahs.
Force coach Michael Foley said his side will be looking to continue on from their last performance against the Waratahs.
"Our last performance was built on outstanding attitude and discipline in defence and at the breakdown," Foley said.
"In some ways it was a response to the disappointment of the Blues match, but more importantly, it was a reflection of how we play when we focus on our strengths.
"In our remaining four games, we want to deliver more of the same.
"The Highlanders are a team that plays with a lot of spirit, and it's important that we're able to bring that same determined attitude again this weekend."
2014: Force won 31-29, Dunedin
2013: Force won 19-18, Perth
2011: Force won 21-14, Dunedin
2010: Force won 41-27, Queenstown
2009: Force won 33-28, Perth
2008: Force won 36-28, Queenstown
Prediction: The Force ended their worst ever Super Rugby run of 10 consecutive defeats by beating the Tahs last week. Force have won their last six games against the Highlanders, with their last defeat coming back in 2007. The Highlanders have lost 14 of their last 15 away games against Australian opposition. The Force have spent more time in possession than any other team this season on average (17 minutes and 23 seconds), whilst only the Cheetahs have spent less time on the ball than the Dunedin-based side (13 minutes and 50 seconds). Waisake Naholo has made 20 breaks this season, the joint most in the competition. No Force player has managed more than 10 (Luke Morahan - 10). No doubt the Western Force have a realistic chance of victory. However, the Highlanders have too much riding on the result not to be focused and should win by at least 10 points.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Brad Lacey.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (captain), 7 John Hardie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Richard Buckman, 23 Marty Banks.
Referee: Andrew Lees
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann, Graham Cooper
TMO: Ian Smith
Cheetahs v Lions
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The last time these two teams met, just under a month ago, it was an eight-try thriller in which attack was at a premium and defence took a backseat.
It is likely to be another entertaining affair.
However, there is a bit more riding on the game - especially for the Cheetahs.
It will be the last home game for coach Naka Drotské and forwards mentor Os du Randt, before the veteran duo walk off into the sunset.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann admitted it will add to the motivation for the Cheetahs.
The Lions have their own motivation. They are just one victory away from making this their best season in Super Rugby yet.
However, Ackermann said it is about focusing on improving their own game - in the wake of a disappointing loss to the Brumbies last week - rather than trying to set records.
"We are not chasing a number, wanting to win eight or nine games," he said, adding: "We [also] don't chase play-offs.
"We weren't happy with our performance last weekend and we need to rectify that, if we can do that and walk away with the win that would be our ultimate goal.
"Breaking records and extra achievements will be a bonus, but that is not part of the motivation or the focus."
With only three league matches left for Ackermann's charges, a maximum haul of 15 log points will be foremost in their minds if they are to have any chance of reaching the play-offs in the conference era.
The team from Johannesburg will be encouraged by the notion that the Cheetahs have been their favourite locally based team in the competition, winning seven of their 12 encounters since the two franchises parted ways as the Cats.
"We know we will have to meet fire with fire against the Lions on Saturday," Cheetahs captain Francois Uys said.
"If you allow them to do what they want and not disrupt them at all, it will be easy for them, as they are a good unit and play well together.
"So we will have to play well to beat them, like we did in Johannesburg earlier in the season - when one or two errors in the end probably cost us the game.
"If we stick together as a team, we know we're in with a chance."
Lions captain Warren Whiteley, like his coach, cautioned his teammates against expecting an easy ride in Bloemfontein.
"They are an unpredictable side and we know when they click they are a dangerous side," Whiteley said, adding: "We saw that when we played against them [in Johannesburg last month] and they played great rugby.
"It is really important for us first and foremost to focus for 80 minutes and that is one of our games the last couple of weeks.
"It is important to play the right type of rugby they are a dangerous side on turnover ball and they've got some explosive runners at the back."
2015: Lions won 34-29, Johannesburg
2014: Lions won 60-25, Johannesburg
2014: Lions won 21-20, Bloemfontein
2012: Cheetahs won 26-5, Welkom
2012: Lions won 27-25, Johannesburg
2011: Cheetahs won 53-19, Johannesburg
2011: Lions won 25-20, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Cheetahs have held a half-time lead in four of their last five games against the Lions, but won just one of these matches. Having previously lost 17 out of 18 away games, the Lions have won three of their last five on the road. Seven of the Lions' last eight games have been settled by five points or fewer. The Lions have the best tackle success rate this season (88 percent) whilst the Cheetahs have broken fewer tackles per game than any other team (12.7). The Cheetahs can boast the hooker with the most successful line-out throws (Torsten van Jaarsveld - 117 from 135), whilst replacement Stephan Coetzee's throw success rate of 94 percent is the best of any hooker (minimum 10+ throws). The Cheetahs have been erratic at best this season - a combination of injuries and internal issues. The home side does have the added motivation of it being the last home game of Naka Drotské and Os du Randt. The Lions were just as poor in their last outing. However, the Lions have showed a lot more promise this season and should have just too much class for the Cheetahs - winning by 12 to 15 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Johannes Prinsloo, 6 Carel Greeff, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Minnie.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Burrie Uys, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Coenie van Wyk, 23 Rayno Benjamin.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Harold Vorster.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Stormers v Rebels
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 19.10; 03.10, Sunday, May 24 AEST; 17.10 GMT)
Don't expect a free-flowing try feast. It looks set to be a dour arm-wrestle.
Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham made it clear earlier this week that both teams will rely on their defence to strangle to opposition and secure victory.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee also said they will look to secure the win first, and worry about the "bonuses" afterwards.
"The Rebels have beaten the Crusaders and the Brumbies away this year, so it shows their capacity as a team," Coetzee said.
"We need to pitch up for this weekend's match - we need to bring attitude and ensure our physicality is spot-on.
"This is much-improved Rebels team. They're a good team, they're well-coached and we know we're in for a tough time of it on Saturday."
The Stormers can claim top spot in the South African conference - depending on what happens in the encounter between the Chiefs and Bulls on Friday.
The Bulls are on tour for the next three weeks, while the Stormers are at home for that same period.
For Coetzee it is about their own game, doing the basics and securing the win.
"We want to be stronger and better against the Rebels this week," he said, adding: "I think we all agree that our line-outs aren't there yet and we're working on that plan.
"The bonus points scenario, if you look at all the teams that have six, seven bonus points, they are teams that have lost narrowly six, seven times.
"We don't want to go and say we must just lose [by less than seven], we want to fight until we win the game and that's the philosophy."
With a bit of rain expected in Cape Town on Saturday, four tries might move even further down the list of priorities.
"It's not going to change our playing style. It's not going to force us to do something that we haven't done," said Coetzee.
2013: Rebels won 30-21, Melbourne
2012: Stormers won 26-21, Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 40-3, Melbourne
Prediction: The Stormers have won their last four against Aussie opposition, despite trailing at half-time in two of these matches. The Rebels are yet to win in South Africa, losing all eight games so far, picking up just two losing points in the process and conceding an average of 40 points per game. The three previous games between these sides have seen an average aggregate score of 47 points. Only the Hurricanes and the Crusaders have a better scrum success than these two sides (92 percent). Damian de Allende has beaten the most defenders this season (49), 23 more than the
top Rebels player (Sean McMahon - 26). Expect lots of scrums, line-outs and mauls - with the Stormers winning by less than 10 points.
Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Tom English, 13 Dom Shipperley, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 ,Scott Fuglistaller 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Colby Fainga'a, 22 Luke Burgess, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
Statistical information provided by Opta Sports
REPORT: The Hurricanes all but secured top spot on the Super Rugby standings with an impressive 29-5 win over a hapless Blues team.
The Hurricanes all but secured top spot on the Super Rugby standings with an impressive 29-5 win over a hapless Blues team in a very wet Auckland on Saturday.
Forced into a number of late changes - with Cory Jane and James Broadhurst ruled out in the 24 hours before kick-off, resulting in a complete reshuffle of the backline - the Hurricanes also overcame the monsoon-like conditions during the match to score four tries.
The bonus point means only two teams can still catch them - the Chiefs and Highlanders.
They are already on 57 points, with the Chiefs and Highlanders able to move of to 59 points. It means the Hurricanes officially became the first side to confirm a Super Rugby play-off spot.
Points were difficult to come by amid limited opportunities for much of the first half, but once the Hurricanes found the way to the line there was no holding them back.
They scored twice in the countdown to half-time to turn in with a 17-0 lead and added two further tries in the second half.
It gave the runaway competition leaders their 12th win from 13 games and the four tries ensured their ninth bonus point.
The Blues, having a disastrous season and playing through continued uncertainty over the future of coach John Kirwan, have now played 14 games and won just three of them.
The heavy rain in Auckland ahead of the game dictated a lot of kicking and subsequent handling errors, with Blues fullback Lolagi Visinia suffering more than most.
But despite the Hurricanes producing the more intelligent kicking game and enjoying a dominance of possession and territory they initially found points hard to come by.
"It was one of those games where the forward pack that stood up the most was going to win and I thought we did a pretty good job in testing conditions," Hurricanes skipper Jeremy Thrush said.
"For the first 20 to 25 minutes we were watching the game a bit. I don't know what happened we just flicked the switch and turned up the dial and the boys started getting into their work and it felt a bit more comfortable with a bit of flow."
The Hurricanes blew an early try scoring opportunity when they conceded a penalty in a close-range line-out drive, and had to wait 35 minutes to touch down for the first time when prop Chris Eves barged his way over.
Just on half-time scrumhalf TJ Perenara scored and with Otere Black landing both conversions and a penalty, the visitors held a 17-0 lead at the break.
The 20-year-old Black, a novice flyhalf at Super Rugby level was a late addition to the 'Canes line up when Cory Jane was ruled out. Original pivot James Marshall was then moved to fullback to replace Nehe Milner-Skudder who took Jane's spot on the wing.
But he produced a sound game and added to his seven first half points with a further conversion when a Dan Coles try extended the Hurricanes lead to 24-0 before the Blues finally put points on the board.
George Moala set up their sole try when he sucked in the Hurricanes defence and delivered a slick off-load to replacement Matt Vaega for the try.
The Hurricanes then closed out the match when Rey Lee-Lo, slotting in at centre in place of All Black Conrad Smith, put Milner-Skudder over in the corner.
Man of the match: Brendon O'Connor did great work at the breakdown, including a few of crucial turn overs, while Akira Ioane was again the Blues' most valuable player. Jamison Gibson-Park also did some great work on cover defence. Otere Black enhanced his reputation, given that he was only confirmed as a starter in the hours leading up to the match, while he received quality service from scrumhalf TJ Perenara - who produced another world class display of scrumhalf play. Julian Savea showed he has plenty of pace to go with his renowned power. You can always look at Jeremy Thrush to provide the muscle up front, while his workrate is at the heart of the success of the Hurricanes pack. Now add in Thrush's monumental work in the line-outs and you have the reason why we awarded this to the second row stalwart.
For the Blues:
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Eves, Perenara, Coles, Milner-Skudder
Cons: Black 3
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Brendon O'Connor, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18, Nic Mayhew, 19 Will Lloyd, 20 Joe Edwards, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt Vaega.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Jeremy Thrush (captain), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16. Motu Matu'u, 17 Ben May, 18 Tolu Fahamokioa, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Brad Shields, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Cory Jane, 23 Willis Halaholo.
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Aki Aso
TMO: Aaron Paterson