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S15 Preview: Round 18, Part One

Thu, 12 Jul 2012 07:16
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As they say in the boxing fraternity - it's time to put up or shut up
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The final round of the regular Super Rugby season is upon us and there is everything to play for with so many teams still in the race for the playoffs.

There are eight sides in the hunt to stay alive in the competition and every match will have a bearing on which teams survive for which teams the journey is over.

On Friday the 13th there is just one match, but who will come out as the lucky winners when the Hurricanes tackle the Chiefs?

On Saturday we take a look at all three matches happening in Australasia, with all the chips in the pot and time to show your hand.

First up the Brumbies host a resurgent Blues side, with Jake White's men one victory away from clinching the Australian conference and guaranteeing a spot in the playoffs.

The Force finish their season on the road in Christchurch, where the Crusaders will be waiting to pounce and claim a top six finish.

Finally there is a massive Australian derby with the defending champion Reds taking on fierce rivals the Waratahs in Brisbane.

As they say in the boxing fraternity - it's time to put up or shut up...

Friday,  July 13

Hurricanes v Chiefs

(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)

It is going to be all or nothing time for these two attacking sides, who are both alive and well in the title hunt.

The Chiefs have secured the New Zealand conference and will have a home semifinal, but what they really want is to end on top of the joint log and be guaranteed a home final should they make it that far.

The Hurricanes are the team with the longest odds of reaching the playoffs, but another one of their whirlwind victories could be just enough to do the trick.

The 'Canes will need to go for maximum points and four tries, so they'll be looking to throw caution to the wind. How is that different from any other match they've played this season I hear you ask - well it isn't which is why they are such an exciting team to watch.

The Chiefs will be angry about losing last weekend to the Crusaders and with a bye coming up before their semifinal that last thing they want is to end the regular season with consecutive losses. Should the 'Canes win - when the Chiefs play their semifinal it will have been almost a month since they last tasted sweet victory!

The odds are stacked heavily against the 'Canes, but that can often bring out the best in a team and the men from Wellington are very dangerous. We've seen all season how their backline can create something from nothing and Chiefs playmaker Aaron Cruden can't afford any aimless kicking onto Andre Taylor, Julian Savea and Cory Jane.

Having Victor Vito back also significantly strengthens the Hurricanes pack, who look to the big No.8 to put them on the front foot, but the Chiefs scrum should still dominate proceedings.

The Chiefs will look to starve the 'Canes of possession and with their strong front row, giant Brodie Retallick in the line-outs and Liam Messam and Tanerau Latimer bossing the breakdown there is no reason why they shouldn't see the most of the ball. The key will be the kicking games of Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who simply can't afford to give possession away cheaply as the 'Canes will run at them from every angle all day.

Recent results:
2012:
Chiefs won 33-14, Hamilton
2011: Match drawn 18-18, Hamilton
2011: Hurricanes won 29-26, Wellington
2010: Hurricanes won 33-27, Wellington
2009: Chiefs won 14-10, Hamilton

rugby365.com Prediction: The Hurricanes in full flight is thrilling and they are likely to score at least one exciting try, but if we're honest the Chiefs are simply a better, more complete team. Chiefs by eight.

Teams:

Hurricanes:
15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane/Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Eaton/Frae Wilson, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reg Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Frae Wilson/Jamie Nutbrown, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Jayden Hayward.

Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Robbie Robinson, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Keith Brown (New Zealand)
TMO: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)

Saturday,  July 14

Brumbies v Blues

(Canberra Stadium, Canberra - kick-off: 15.30; 05.30 GMT)

You can pinch yourself as often as you like, but the truth remains that the Brumbies are still on top of the Aussie conference and have an outside shot of a home semifinal.

If the Canberra franchise can defeat the Blues with five points and the Stormers pick up no points in their match with the Rebels then it's a home semi for the Brumbies. Unlikely but still true.

Coach Jake White has done brilliantly with his band of relatively unknown players, and perhaps in the absence of too many big egos (other than his own) he has formed a team rather than a side reliant on a handful of big name stars.

The Brumbies have it all still to play for as they could yet finish outside of the top six should they fall to the Blues and the Reds win their match against the Waratahs and usurp them at the top of the Aussie conference.

The Blues have little more than pride to play for, but pride can be a powerful thing and the Auckland side are still embarrassed about their awful season and looking for one final win to soften the blow.

The biggest test for the Brumbies will be at scrum time, with a full strength Blues front row fit and ready to hammer them at the set-pieces. Brumbies prop Ben Alexander is known for his ability to score tries rather than scrum, which is odd for the CV of a front row. In the Blues scrum big Charlie Faumuina is a monster of man who could, with the help of All Blacks Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu are likely to shove the men from Canberra off the ball.

The line-outs for the blues on the other hand have been appalling all season and unless Mealamu gets his throwing right the Brumbies will dominate the aerial battle.

In the back it should be quite even, but the Blues will need to avoid the high number of handling errors that has cost them dearly all season.

Recent results:
2010:
Blues won 39-34, Auckland
2009: Brumbies won 37-15, Canberra
2008: Brumbies won 16-11, Auckland
2007: Blues won 17-15, Canberra
2006: Blues won 26-15, Auckland

rugby365.com Prediction: The Brumbies are calculated and organised and know just how to get the job done, which is what they will do. The Blues will offer a few moments of magic, but when push comes to shove they have little to gain and that will count at the end. Brumbies by five or less.

Teams:

Brumbies:
15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Robbie Coleman.

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Steven Luatua, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Kevin Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Andrew Van der Heijden, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai'i, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)

Crusaders v Force
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - kick-off 19.35; 07.35 GMT)

The Crusaders picked up a vital triumph over the Chiefs last weekend and barring a massive upset they should be home and dry to reach the playoffs.

The Chiefs have won the New Zealand conference, but the 'Saders were able to land a psychological blow last weekend moving forward.

Captain Richie McCaw and his team should be in action again next week unless the Western Force are somehow able to claim an incredible win in Christchurch. While that sounds too unlikely even for a free-good Hollywood spot movie starring Keanu Reeves - let us not forget that the Rebels beat the Crusaders this season, so anything really is possible.

The Force go into the match without their skipper and chief destroyer David Pocock, but it is veteran Nathan Sharpe's last Super Rugby match and that will lift the team. There are also two dangerous men out wide in the form of Napolioni Nalaga and Nick Cummins, who will throw everything at the 'Saders on attack.

The Crusaders simply need to take the Force seriously and use their powerful pack to gain the ascendency before Dan Carter pulls the strings in the backline.

Recent results:
2011:
Crusaders won 42-30, Perth
2010: Force won 24-16, Perth
2009: Match drawn 23-23, Christchurch
2008: Crusaders won 29-24, Perth
2007: Crusaders won 53-0, Christchurch

rugby365.com Prediction: The Force will go down fighting, but they will go down... way, way down. Crusaders by at least 20.

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Adam Whitelock, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Robbie Fruean.

Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffery, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Will Tupou.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Keith Brown (New Zealand), in Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

Reds v Waratahs
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - kick-off 19.40; 09.40 GMT)

It's the last chance saloon for the Reds on Saturday and bitter rivals the Waratahs stand in their way of reaching the playoffs.

The defending champions are in the difficult position of needing somebody ahead of them to slip up to keep their hopes alive, but a full house of points against the 'Tahs might just be enough to sneak into the playoffs.

This is another match where one team have everything to lose and the other has nothing to lose, but the 'Tahs would love to spoil the party for the Reds and get a win under their belts.

The Waratahs have lost their last seven Super Rugby matches in a row and will desperately want to put an end to that so they can star fresh without a losing streak hanging over their head next season.

The 'Tahs have some big names back, but they still seem to lack cohesion as a team and have been making countless schoolboy errors that ruins anything good that has been produced.

The Reds have started to look better and better as the season has gone on, and they are a dangerous side once again with the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane all together again in the backline.

However, their biggest problem is the loss of skipper James Horwill who has left a gaping hope in their pack. One thing the Waratahs can do is scrum and Reds forwards will need to stand up to deliver quality ball for backs to play with.

The 'Tahs are likely to offer something to this match and the Reds need to go out guns blazing in this one, so we might just see an exciting Aussie derby for a change.

Recent results:
2012:
Reds won 25-21, Sydney
2011: Reds won 19-15, Brisbane
2011: Waratahs won 30-6, Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 30-28, Brisbane
2009: Waratahs won 15-11, Sydney

rugby365.com Prediction: The Waratahs will have a go, but the Reds have the firepower and is Ioane comes into play expect some dance moves from the flying wing. Reds by about 15.

Teams:

Reds:
15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Ben Tapuai.

Waratahs: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Dave Dennis, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Lopeti Timani, 19 Jono Jenkins, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Tom Carter, 22 Tom Kingston.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Steve Lesczcynski (Australia)

By Timmy Hancox

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