Saturday, March 10, 2007

Super 14. Day 6. preview

Dunedin, *5.35pm

Eddie Jones has gone to Japan looking for sumo wrestlers to replace his injured front rowers, while the Highlanders put out their strongest line-up of the season as Nick Evans and Vili Waqaseduadua join forces at last. The Highlanders tested the Blues last week and were a stronger opponent than expected, while the Reds continue to struggle as prop after prop goes down. Having never won in Dunedin, the Reds are no chance of breaking the hoodoo with a lack of up front staff and goal-kicking fullback Clinton Schifcofske. This will blow out - Highlanders to take five points.

Highlanders: G Horton, L Mulipola, M Saunders, A Bancroft, V Waqaseduadua, N Evans, J Cowan, E Taylor, J Blackie (c), C Newby, J Ryan, H MacDonald, C King, J Macdonald, C Dermody. Reserves: D Hall, J McIntosh, K Thompson, A Soaki, T Morland, C Bruce, J. Wilson.

Reds: A Walker, B Va'alu, B Tune, B Barnes, P Hynes, Q Cooper, N Berry, J Roe (c), D Croft, M Chapman, J Horwill, E O'Donoghue, R Blake, S Hardman, H Hunt. Reserves: O Avei, E Skelton, C Treloar, T McVerry, W Genia, L Johansson, C Fetoai.
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Ref: Marius Jonker (SA)

Canberra, *7.40pm

The Brumbies were shut out of last week's game by the Bulls. They were never allowed to gain rhythm and got the blues. The Stormers produced a jaw-dropping 80 minutes against the Hurricanes, finally playing to the potential of their talented roster. With Stephen Larkham and Stirling Mortlock still injured, and a general lack of confidence in attack, the Brumbies will suffer another home defeat to the resurgent South Africans, who showed last week they can ruthlessly punish mistakes. This will be a very close contest and I expect the Stormers to develop a lead and just hold off a fast-finishing Brumbies side.

Brumbies: A Ashley-Cooper, C Rathbone, S Mortlock (c), G Fairbanks, M Gerrard, J Huxley, G Gregan, S Hoiles, G Smith, J Salvi, M Chisholm, A Wallace-Harrison, G Shepherdson, J Paul, J Ulugia. Reserves: S Faingaa, N Henderson, P Kimlin, J Tawake, P Phibbs, A Faingaa, F Fainifo.

Stormers: G Aplon, B Paulse, J de Villiers, D Barry, C Uys, P Grant, B Conradie, J Melck, S Burger, L Watson (c), G Britz, A Bekker, E Andrews, S Britz, JD Moller. Reserves: H Edmonds, S Ferreria, R Skeate, F van der Merwe, P.J Joubert, N Oliver, E Seconds.

Ref: Steve Walsh (NZ)

Perth, *9.45pm

Too close to call according to the bookies. Another draw perhaps? No, the Canes either play brilliantly or horribly so there will be a result in Perth. Finally, the over-rated Ma'a Nonu has been dropped to the bench in retaliation for dropping so much ball. He may miss the match altogether if he doesn't recover from injury which is not entirely bad for Wellington, who welcome back the mercurial Conrad Smith to the starting line-up alongside Tana Umaga, who returns from a heel injury. The Force were solid at the ball contest last round and Junior Pelesasa displayed the merits of running straight and hard between the midfield - he won't find Umaga as embracing as Kurtley Beale though. There is a big question mark over young flyhalf Blair Stewart, who replaces Jimmy Gopperth. The Force play passionate rugby and while they lack the flair of the Canes background, they will win this through attrition-style football against a side that struggled to hold the ball last week. A first home win in front of a relieved home crowd, but not until the final bell will they be able to breathe out.

Force: D Mitchell, S Staniforth, R Cross, J Pelesasa, C Shepherd, M Giteau, M Henjak, S Fava, D Pocock, R Brown, N Sharpe (c), D Pusey, T Takiari, T McIsaac, G Hardy. Reserves: B Cannon, A Scott, R Vedelago, M Hodgson, C O'Young, J Hilgendorf, D Ioane.

Hurricanes: C Jane, H Gear, C Smith, T Umaga (c), D Smith, B Stewart, A Mathewson, T Waldrom, S Lilo, L Andrews, B Upton, P Tito, N Tialata, T Kopelani, J Schwalger. Reserves: M Schwalger, A Perenise, B Mika, H Hopgood, C Smylie, J Gopperth, M Nonu/T Ellison S Paku.
Ref: Mark Lawrence (SA)

Auckland, *5.35pm

Blues coach David Nucifora has shown a high regard for the Lions by leaving Luke McAlister and Isa Nacewa for this one - who can blame him when Auckland are steamrolling all and sundry. Last week's win against Otago took some time but when they put it together the Blues are unstoppable. The Lions have played outstandingly well to record surprise wins over the Highlanders, Crusaders, Force and Reds. People keep writing them off and they keep proving them wrong. Well people, it's safe to write them off here. The Blues at home, even with David Holwell and Sam Tuitupou in the midfield, have far too much power across the field. No.8 Jerome Kaino is living up to the hype of two years ago. It won't be a walkover, but the home side will win by a comfortable margin.

Blues: B Atiga, D Howlett, I Toeava, S Tuitupou, R Wulf, D Holwell, D Gibson, N Williams, D Braid, J Kaino, T Flavell (c), G Rawlinson, J Afoa, D Witcombe, S Taumoepeau. Reserves: C Heard, N White, A Boric, A Macdonald, S Devine, I Nacewa, L McAlister.

Lions: E Rose, L Ludik, J Fourie, D la Grange, J Pretorius, A Pretorius, E Januarie, J Cronje, E Joubert (c), B Grobbelaar, A van Zyl, C Grobler, B Mujati, W Wepener, H Van der Merwe. Reserves: E Reynecke, B Smit, F van der Merwe, W Alberts, J Vermaak, L Strydom, J van Schalwayk.
Ref: Paul Marks (Aus)

Sydney, *7.40pm

Boo hoo. Tahs fans can get used to that term because it won't get much better for their side. They are playing poor, defensive rugby that holds back the natural instinctive talents of some of their players. It will be difficult for Ewen McKenzie to change the tune this week and give his playmakers the go-ahead for fun and flair because the Bulls are dangerous on counter-attacks, especially on the left with Bryan Habana. This makes for another frustrating game for home fans, but at last the Tahs will get back to winning. They have too much riding on this game and will scrape through. Just don't expect a winning streak, this will be a band-aid victory.

Waratahs: P Hewat, M Turinui, B Jacobs, D Halangahu, L Tuqiri, K Beale, B Sheehan, W Palu, D Lyons, R Elsom, W Caldwell, D Mumm, A Baxter, A Freier (c), B Robinson. Reserves: A Manning, M Dunning, B Hand, B Robinson, J Valentine, S Norton-Knight, S Harris.

Bulls: J Roets, J van der Westhuyzen, JP Nel, W Julies, B Habana, D Hougaard, F du Preez, P Wannenburg, W van Heerden, D Rossouw, V Matfield (c), B Botha, D Thiart, G Botha, G Steenkamp. Reserves: J Engels, R Vermeulen, A Leonard, D Kuun, H Adams, M Steyn, A Ndungane.
Ref: Kelvin Deaker (NZ)

Bloemfontein, *2am

The Sharks managed to spoil my prediction of a Crusaders win by five to 10 points last week by scoring two minutes after the bell and converting from the sideline to snatch the points. Good on them, they showed they are worthy of being spoken of as title contenders. This week, however, the Cheetahs will hand them their first loss. It will be a huge upset but the home side has played some of the best rugby of the tournament in patches so far and have the ability to run the Sharks pack ragged. If conditions remain hot in Bloemfontein there will be plenty of points to be had, although the South Africans' fondness for kicking may restrict that. The Sharks defence was split open for the first time last week and the Cheetahs can take advantage with their speedy backline. Cheetahs will take this by six or less.

Cheetahs (likely): P Burger, E Fredericks, R Cooke, M Bosman, G Passens, H Kruger, M Claasens, R van der Merwe, J Smith (c), H Scholtz, C van Zyle, F van der Merwe, O de Randt, A Strauss, W Du Preez. Reserves: R Strauss, CJ Van Linde/J de Plessis, K Floors, D Nell, F Oelshig, M Joubert, T Mangweni.

Sharks (likely): P Montgomery, O Ndungane, W Murray, B Barritt, JP Pietersen, B James, R Pienaar, R Kankowski, AJ Venter, J Botes, J Muller, K Ackerman, BJ Botha, J Smit (c), D Carstens. Reserves: B du Plessis, B Mtawarira, A van den Berg, W Britz, K Daniel, R Kockott, A Jacobs.
Ref: JC Fortuin (SA)

BYE: Chiefs and Crusaders.

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