S15 Preview: Round 14, Part Two
It is derby day in Australasia. Yes, the first two matches on Saturday provide us with two of the biggest derbies in Super Rugby.
It starts with New Zealand's big north-south derby, the seven-time champion Crusaders (from the South Island) host the three-time champion Blues (from the North Island).
While Australia – unlike New Zealand and South Africa – don't have the hype of a north-south derby, encounters between Waratahs and Brumbies carry the same intense emotional state of birse and discord with it.
After that we head across the Indian Ocean, where the South African conference leaders – the Bulls and Cheetahs – host rivals from Australasia, the Highlanders and Reds respectively.
It may be a cliched expression often used by a pay-TV station, but it will indeed be a Super Saturday.
Jan de Koning looks at all the Saturday matches!
Saturday 18 May
Crusaders v Blues
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
Just a glance at the two team lists will explain why Blues coach John Kirwan regards this as a game that will produce Test match intensity.
It has been nine years since the Blues last defeated the Crusaders in Christchurch and Kirwan wasted no time in claiming 'underdog' status for his outfit – suggesting it was time to put an end to that disappointing record.
"They deserve everything they've had," Kirwan said of the Crusaders.
"They've been a fantastic franchise and have led the way for many of us and now it's time for us to get down there and earn some respect back and to do that we need to play for 80 minutes and be in a real battle.
"For me it's a Test match and that's how it should be.
"I can't wait, I'm really excited and the players are excited too. We're underdogs, going down there with everything against us – it doesn't get any better than that."
The return of All Black stalwart Kieran Read, after almost two months on the sidelines with injury, will lend credence to Kirwan's statement.
Not just his leadership, but Read's physical presence will give the Crusaders a raw edge that has been lacking in recent weeks.
Although the Blues kept the Crusaders try-less in their 34-15 win at Eden Park back in Week Three, the Blues can expect a far more hostile on-field reception.
Read's return will ensure the Crusaders have a perfect foil for the hard-running ball-carrier Steven Luatua.
However, Read feels the Crusaders' soft underbelly may well be the set pieces.
"We have to take them on there," Read said about the scrums and line-outs.
"That's the one place you can shut them down and not give them that quick ball they need."
The Blues' veteran All Black hooker Kevin Mealamu is well aware of the threat posed by a Crusaders team with their proverbial backs to the wall.
"It's probably not so much the place [Christchurch], but the way they put things together when they are playing on their home patch," Mealamu said of Saturday's showdown.
"It's just like any side playing at home.
"They're a pretty proud team at home so we just want to make sure we can go down there and be ourselves and play our rugby down there," he added.
Prediction: The two factors that can't be discounter in this game is the return of Kieran Read and the home ground advantage the Crusaders will have. The Blues' free-running game may well be hampered by the pressure of the occasion and the Crusaders should be able to sneak a valuable win – by less than 10 points.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Adam Whitelock, 22 Israel Dagg.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Francis Saili.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Waratahs v Brumbies
(ANZ Stadium, Sydney – Kick-off: 19.40; 0940 GMT)
The Brumbies are in a position of power, sitting pretty at the top of the Super Rugby table.
However, veteran Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore believes the Canberra-based outfit can't afford to look any further than the potential banana peel that awaits them in Sydney on Saturday.
With the Reds snapping at their heels – just one point separates the two Aussie outfits – the will be desperate to return from Sydney with a minimum of four points (a win) after an encounter with the high-flying Waratahs – who have beaten the Chiefs and Stormers in their last two home games.
The Waratahs are coming off an impressive month of rugby which featured a resounding 72-10 thrashing of the Southern Kings and a thrilling 21-15 victory over the Stormers last Saturday.
In fact the Waratahs' only defeat in Sydney this season was a one-point loss to the Cheetahs back in mid-March and a win on Saturday will certainly help them close the 11-point gap the Brumbies have on them in the standings.
In contrast the Brumbies want to focus on their immediate hurdle, rather than look at play-off scenarios.
"I think one thing we have stressed is not too look at the ladder too much and or say we want to be at this stage by this stage," Moore said in an interview on the Brumbies' website.
"I think it's just important to win this weekend and play really well," Moore added.
"There are no easy games in this competition, this season has shown that, so you can't look beyond the current game.
"This is going to be as hard of a game that we have had all year, so it's up to us to prepare really well this week and arrive in Sydney ready to play."
While the Brumbies hold the upper hand over their interstate rivals in recent seasons, having won the last three encounters, Moore expects the Waratahs will be determined to turn this around and continue their good form.
"Their playing really well and the last two weeks they have performed really well, so their a side in really good form and a very dangerous side," Moore told brumbies.com.
"They are a experienced side and they are showing now that they know how to win and they are going to be hungry for a win on Saturday.
"NSW have the same caliber of players across the board as a team like the Crusaders and they will be in a position to punish us if we make mistakes."
It is an opinion shared by Waratahs captain Dave Dennis, who made no secret of the fact that the Sydneysiders see this as a great opportunity to upstage the competition front-runners.
"The Brumbies have been consistent all season and this match will give the group a chance at redemption for the poor showing down in Canberra earlier in the season," Dennis said in his weekly column.
"I am confident that we have developed as a group since that Round Four clash and the match will allow the team to show our supporters the progress that the club has made."
Prediction: The Brumbies have won only twice in 11 visits to Sydney – 2002 and last year. Somehow the Jake White-coached class of 2013 seem to have a lot more composure and a suffocating style that could bring the desired result. The Waratahs will push them all the way, but the Brumbies should edge their inter-state rivals by seven points.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Will Skelton, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Matt Lucas, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Peter Betham.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Pat McCabe.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Bulls v Highlanders
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Bulls, fresh from their bye week, will be hosting their least-favourite New Zealand team, the Highlanders.
The men from Pretoria have won just four times in 15 encounters with the South Island outfit, the last of those having been back in 2010. Even the Loftus factor doesn't seem to hold much fear for the Kiwis – who have won four and drawn one of their eight visits to Pretoria.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph made no secret of the fact that they will look to employ a fast-paced expansive game – which have brought them success in the past – as they look to make Bulls captain Pierre Spies's 100th Super Rugby appearance a forgetful occasion.
"We are going to have to play a game that doesn't suit what they want to do," Joseph told a media briefing in the build-up to Saturday's Loftus encounter.
"If we get any amount of ball then we've got a backline that can do that, but we've got to make sure that we cherish it and look after it," Joseph added.
"We've played that [type of] game against them, a running style, before. You have to play a little bit wider, but you also have to have control.
"The South African mindset, you have to take them on first, earn the right to play wide."
The Bulls, who have showed good variation this season, despite what some critics say, are determined not to be predictable against a team that will look to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Southern Kings last week.
"It is all about the decision-making," Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said, when asked about the variation that has been so evident in the Bulls' game this season and have already netted them 25 tries.
"The tactical decision-makers on the field – the captain, No.9, No.10, No.12 and No.15 from the back to see where the space is – are the key [to success].
"We have to ensure we get that balance right, to attack the space – that ensures you are less predictable."
The Highlanders, a very physical team with bucketloads of All Blacks, are expected to bring a typical abrasive New Zealand approach to the game.
Seasoned international players like Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Brad Thorn, Hosea Gear, Jamie Mackintosh are well complimented by the younger All Blacks – Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Colin Slade.
"They are a lot like us," Ludeke said, adding: "Teams always say physically they have to be up for it [against the Bulls], but we have respect for them – any New Zealand team brings a huge physical edge.
"It is a huge contest on the advantage line, to get momentum and get behind them [their defensive line].
"At the breakdown it is also a physical contest.
"That is important, but there is more than just that [the physical contest] in the game.
"We have worked hard, especially this year, to be about more than just a physical force.
"When fatigue sets in you have to start thinking differently about the contest – to have variation is part of the game and if you don't have that you don't have much of a chance to be successful."
Prediction: There has been a steely edge to the Bulls' game since they returned from their Australasian tour. The Highlanders are also short of confidence, despite the bravado of their coach. It may be that, despite the experience, the old legs of some of those key All Blacks can't last the pace anymore. Obviously you can never write off the Highlanders, but at home you have to back the Bulls to win – by about 10 points.
Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Bjorn Basson.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Tino Nemani, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Jason Emery.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Attie Buitendag (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Cheetahs v Reds
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The weekend's action concludes with two of the most exciting teams going head-to-head in Bloemfontein.
The Cheetahs will be desperate to bounce back from last week's disappointing loss to the Hurricanes when they host a dangerous, but erratic, Reds team – the last Australian outfit to win in the Free State capital, and that was more than three years ago.
Although on an eight-week unbeaten streak, the Reds have two draws – against the Western Force in Perth and Brumbies in Brisbane – in their last four outings.
Those games show they can be vulnerable when teams managed to neutralise their key playmakers, a fact highlighted by Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie.
"We have to put [Will] Genia and [Quade] Cooper under pressure and to achieve that you have to put pressure on their forwards," Fourie said, when asked about the key aspects of the game.
"You have to ensure they get slow ball, you have to keep them on the back foot with our defence and tactically we will have to kick much better than last week.
"Those are our three focus points for this week," the Cheetahs' backline mentor added.
The Reds, two from two against South African opposition this year, this year became the first Australian team in Super Rugby history to sweep their New Zealand opponents in one season.
Now they are looking to add the Cheetahs' scalp to their list of successes as they chase an SA clean sweep.
However, the Reds have enjoyed mixed results in South Africa in recent years – suffering two heavy defeats last year, including an 8-61 hammering at the hands of the Bulls in Pretoria a week after a loss to the Sharks in Durban.
In 2011 they beat both the Stormers and Lions – while 2010 saw them beat the Lions and Cheetahs, but lose to the Sharks. Then you have to go back to 2006 to find the last Reds win in the Republic.
"We weren't happy with how we performed in South Africa last season, but we're in a completely different space this time round and are really looking forward to the challenge of playing in the Republic," Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie said.
"For us, it won't be a case of wanting to make amends for last year, but more about ensuring we leave South Africa having set ourselves up nicely leading into the June Test window.
"With only three games left until we break for the Lions series, now is a time we need to be playing our best Rugby and we'll take plenty of confidence from last night's win over the Sharks."
Prediction: This is probably one of the toughest games to call. If the Cheetahs can regain their pre-bye form, especially the defensive efforts they produced on their Australasian tour, they may well upstage the fancied Reds team. The key is indeed how much time and space will be afforded to Will Genie and Quade Cooper. We feel the Cheetahs have another good win in them this season and they should take this game by about seven points.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rynhardt Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Riaan Smit, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Ben Tapuai.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)