S15 Preview: Round Four, Part One
It may still be early days in the Super Rugby season, but the pressure is already on as no team wants to get left behind.
Although we are still at the start of a long season, there are still a host of teams looking for their first win, so they will all be keen to hit their stride as soon as they can.
Friday will see the round kick off with two derbies either side of the Tasman, with the Hurricanes taking on the Crusaders in Wellington before the Rebels face the Reds in Melbourne.
On Saturday the Cheetahs and the Highlanders will both be looking to open their accounts for the season when they meet in Invercargill, and the Waratahs will try to knock the unbeaten Brumbies off their pedestal in Canberra.
We take a closer look at the first four matches this weekend:
Friday, March 8
Hurricanes v Crusaders
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
Both the Hurricanes and the Crusaders will be looking for their first victory of the season in Wellington on Friday.
Another thing they both have in common is that they have been beaten by the Blues, who have established themselves as early front-runners in the competitive New Zealand conference.
The hosts will be desperate to get some momentum going after a frustrating outing against the Reds in Brisbane last week, which saw them fail to score a try.
The Hurricanes have one of the most potent attacking backlines in the competition, but there will have to be some hard work done up front by the forwards if they are going to put the Crusaders under enough pressure.
Ben Franks will be up against his brother and the rest of his old teammates who form a fearsome and consistent tight five.
If the Hurricanes can match the Crusaders'physicality and get some decent ball away from the set-pieces, then they could cause some serious havoc out wide.
The seven-time champions will certainly tighten things up after their disappointing opening performance last week, and with Israel Dagg back at fullback where he is more dangerous, they will be looking to expose any weakness in the Hurricanes' defence.
Prediction: The Hurricanes should not be written off at home, and certainly have the tools to win, but the Crusaders are a powerful unit that should take this by about five points.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u/Ash Dixon, 17 Ben May, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 James Marshall, 22 Reynold Lee-Lo.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Reds
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT)
After two wins at Suncorp Stadium the Reds head to Melbourne to take on the Rebels who have lost their last two games.
Having lost the influential Kurtley Beale to injury, it will fall to stand-in skipper James O'Connor to control things from flyhalf and try to unlock the well-organised Reds defence.
The Rebels forward pack has been quite competitive this season and have benefited from the addition of Wallaby loose forward Scott Higginbotham, but they are in for a tough time from his old team.
The Australian conference champions have shown already this season that they are more than prepared to grind it out, and they will be keen to confront the Rebels physically.
The flyhalf battle between O'Connor and Quade Cooper will be a major focus, although the Reds playmaker probably has more ammunition outside him.
Prediction: The Rebels will fight hard and have their moments, but the Reds should have too much class for them and will win by about ten points.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Angus Roberts, 14 Richard Kingi, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Alex Rokobaro, 10 James O'Connor (captain), 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Jordy Reid, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Rory Sidey, 22 Tom English.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ed O'Donoghue, 3 James Slipper (captain), 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Chris Feauai-Sautia.
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Saturday, March 9
Highlanders v Cheetahs
(Rugby Park, Invercargill – Kick-Off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The Cheetahs head to the deep south of Invercargill this weekend as they try and pull themselves off the bottom of the standings after a demoralising tour-opener against the Chiefs last week.
The Free State side may have won some admirers for their willingness to run the ball, but the fact remains that despite dominating territory and possession in the first half in Hamilton they only scored three points, and then proceeded to concede five tries after half-time.
Coach Naka Drotske has picked the same team for this game, and they will want to show that they can make better use of their opportunities and play for a full 80 minutes against the Highlanders who are coming off a bye.
The Highlanders also suffered at the hands of the defending champions in their only game so far this season, and they certainly cannot afford consecutive defeats at home so they will want to bounce back quickly.
Both backlines boast a number of exciting runners, so we should see the ball go wide, but the key will be which team is able to straighten up and cross the advantage line which is where players like Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear and Ben Smith will be crucial for the home side.
For the Cheetahs all eyes will be on flyhalf Johan Goosen whose return from injury has been spoiled by some indifferent goal-kicking, and if he is able to find some confidence it may be the spur that the team needs to cause an upset.
The inexperienced Cheetahs forwards will have to be be committed at ruck time against a Highlanders side renowned for their strength at the breakdown, which is where supersub Heinrich Brussow may have an impact in the second half.
Prediction: The Cheetahs will not lack enthusiasm, but may not be able to sustain the intensity required to get the better of the Highlanders who we think will win at home by 10 points.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Jake Paringatai, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Chris King, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Shaun Treeby.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Heinrich Brüssow, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Riaan Smith, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Waratahs
(Canberra Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT)
The Brumbies will be out to defend their spot at the top of the standings in front of their home fans when they take on the Waratahs on Saturday.
The abrasive Canberra outfit looked very convincing in their first two matches and will start as favourites at home against the more erratic Waratahs.
Jake White's well-drilled side will look to pressurise the visitors by shutting them out defensively and forcing them to play from their own half, a formula which saw them cruise to victories over the Reds and the Rebels before their bye last week.
The Waratahs needed to come from behind to beat the Rebels last week, and they will need a far more fluent performance if they want to get past the Brumbies on their home turf.
Coach Michael Cheika's side may have got off the mark last week, but they have not clicked yet, and will be looking for more of a cutting edge this weekend.
Both teams have some talented backs that can pose a threat, but the forward battle will be central as both rely on getting front-foot ball in order to impose themselves.
The return of openside flank Michael Hooper to Canberra will be interesting to watch, with his duel with David Pocock sure to be a highlight whilst the return of George Smith will also be monitored with interest.
Prediction: The Waratahs will be looking to step it up after their underwhelming start to the season, but the Brumbies should have their number in Canberra so we are backing the home side to win by about eight points.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 David Pocock, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 George Smith, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Joe Tomane.
Waratahs: 15 Ben Volavola, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Dave Dennis (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Greg Peterson, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Lachie Turner.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
By Michael de Vries