S15 Preview: Round Thirteen, Part One
Lucky for some they say, but who will fortune favour in Round 13 of Super Rugby this season with the jostling for log positron beginning to heat up with pride and reputation on the line.
There is just one match on Friday and it's a big one to kick start the weekend's action, as the Aussie conference leaders, the Brumbies, make the trip to Wellington into the eye of the storm and Hurricane territory.
There is a feast of rugby on Saturday and the appetisers is the clash between the Highlanders and the table-topping Bulls in Dunedin's fancy indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Next up it's the second leg of one of New Zealand's fiercest rivalries, as the Crusaders and Blues collide in Christchurch with a score to settle and the possibility of All Blacks places up for grabs.
That's how the weekend begins and you'd better strap yourself in for another emotional ride...
Friday, May 18
Hurricanes v Brumbies
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
An interesting battle of the flyhalves awaits in the weekend opener, with Tusi Pisi and Zack Holmes both wearing the No.10 jersey for the first time this season for their respective teams.
Pisi was the first choice pivot for Samoa at last year's World Cup, but has been behind Hurricanes starlet Beauden Barrett since linking up with the 'Canes.
Australian sevens ace, Holmes, is a more interesting story and could be incredibly unpredictable considering the limited knowledge we have on his as a flyhalf.
Season ending injuries to Brumbies playmakers Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua has forced coach Jake White's hand, and with Stephen Larkham no back on the paddock Holmes is the answer to the riddle of who should get the job. Time will tell if Holmes, like his namesake Sherlock, has the gift of reading a situation and making the correct decision.
The 'Canes as a unit enjoyed a tough victory over the Highlanders last weekend, and will be itching for another victory to push them into the all important top six.
The Brumbies had a bye last weekend, giving the team an extra week to consider their flyhalf options and recharge the batteries before another big clash.
The Hurricanes backline in undoubtedly the team's chief weapon, with the back three of Andre Taylor, Cory Jane and big Julian Savea a threat from just about anywhere on the field.
The Brumbies will need to use their forwards to control the proceedings and batter their way forwards with Foto Auelua and Stephen Moore carrying the ball strongly and Michael Hooper making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown.
2011: Brumbies won 17-16, Canberra
2010: Hurricanes won 23-13, Canberra
2009: Hurricanes won 56-7, Wellington
2008: Hurricanes won 33-15, Canberra
2007: Hurricanes won 11-10, Wellington
rugby365.com Prediction: The Brumbies are well drilled and clever tactically, but without a quality flyhalf they will be exposed at this level. Hurricanes by about 10.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen (captain), 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Nic White, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Saturday, May 19
Highlanders v Bulls
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - kick-off: 17.30; 05.30 GMT)
The Highlanders are in free fall at the moment, having previously topped the table this season, but now find themselves outside the top six.
The Bulls have moved in the opposite direction and are sitting pretty at the top of the pile in their shiny pink outfits, but when you're winning you can wear whatever you like. Smashing the daylights out of opposition sides with their ferocious play, while wearing pink appears to be an inside joke in Pretoria.
Both sides are packed with imposing forwards and will look to get a number of bodies into the breakdown and hold an advantage up front, for two of the best passing scrumhalves in the competition Francois Hougaard and Aaron Smith to release the backs quickly should there be any hint of an opening.
The difference between the two sides could come down to goal-kicking, and Morné Steyn has adjusted his radar brilliantly after a couple of uncharacteristic mishaps at the start of the season.
The Bulls should take a leaf out of the Stormers book, as the Cape Town side had arguably their best match of the season against the Highlanders through a titanic effort from the forwards and crunching tackles to drive ball-carriers Adam Thomson and Nasi Manu backwards.
2011: Highlanders won 35-28, Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 50-35, Pretoria
2009: Highlanders won 36-12, Palmerston North
2008: Bulls won 47-17, Pretoria
2007: Bulls won 22-13, Dunedin
rugby365.com Prediction: The Highlanders with be as tough as ever to crack, but the Bulls are playing some excellent rugby at the moment and should ultimately overwhelm them. Bulls by about 8.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Siale Piutau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (captain).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Hoani MacDonald/Jos Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kenny Lynn.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.
Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Matthew Muir (New Zealand)
Crusaders v Blues
(Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch - kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
This is one of the key grudge matches on the New Zealand calendar and only a missed Piri Weepu drop-goal in the dying moments of the match separated the two sides in their first clash this season.
The Blues last won in Christchurch in 2004 and oddly are the side coming into the clash off a positive result.
The Crusaders will still be reeling from the shock of going down to the Melbourne Rebels last weekend and will be taking no prisoners come Saturday in front of their home crowd.
The Blues ended their long losing streak against the Lions last time out, but it was hardly an error free performance and they'll need to be a lot better to match the 'Saders. However, sometimes a little bit of sunshine is all it takes to life a team's spirits and delivering the victor's speech put a smile on Luke Braid's face.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder's knee-jerk reaction to the defeat has been to reinstate a number of big names including Israel Dagg, Matt Todd, Andy Ellis and most importantly Dan Carter is back where he belongs at flyhalf. Carter is still a class act, but his kicking game will come under the microscope following his reluctance to test the hamstring and go to the boot this season.
In the absence of the injured Kieran Read the No.8 jersey goes to skipper Richie McCaw, who has backed down at the back of the scrum before, and with Todd back in the line-up some of the foraging on the ground can be done by the youngster.
The area the Blues have been best at this season has been scrum time, and the Auckland pack will need to be at their best to push the Crusaders off the ball.
The match holds the additional spice of bringing together a few potential All Blacks contenders, who will all be keen on putting in a big performance against Kiwi opposition.
2012: Crusaders won 19-18, Auckland
2011: Crusaders won 23-16, Timaru
2011: Blues won 24-22, Auckland
2010: Crusaders won 33-20, Christchurch
2009: Crusaders won 15-13, Auckland
rugby365.com Prediction: The Blues will lift their game for the big occasion, but the Crusaders will come hard after last week's disappointment. The Crusaders will find their rhythm and deliver a knock-out blow early and win by 15.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 WIlli Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Tom Marshall.
Blues: 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 Benson Stanley, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid (captain), 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Cam Goodhue, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Jonathon White (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
By Timmy Hancox