S15 Preview: Round Nine, Part One
The Highlanders will have to overcome a Brumbies backlash if they are to register their first win of the season in Dunedin on Friday.
The Highlanders will have to overcome a Brumbies backlash if they are to register their first win of the season in the opening Round Nine fixture in Dunedin on Friday.
The visitors let slip their position at the top of the overall Super Rugby table with a disappointing home draw with the Southern Kings last weekend and will want to bounce back against the last remaining winless team in the tournament in Friday’s lone fixture.
The Australian Conference leaders are one of four teams who could find themselves atop the standings after the weekend’s action.
Two of the other sides in the equation will go head-to-head when the Chiefs and the Reds collide in Hamilton in the first of six matches on Saturday, where a win for the hosts will see them hold on to pole position for at least another week.
The action moves to Auckland next for the New Zealand derby between the Blues and the Hurricanes before the Kings will aim to clinch their first win on Australasian soil when they face the Melbourne Rebels.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the weekend’s first four fixtures.
Friday, April 12
Highlanders v Brumbies
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - kick-off: 17.35; 17.35 AEST; 07.35 GMT)
A test of character awaits the Brumbies in Dunedin following their costly slip up against the Kings last weekend.
Although not all was lost in the 28-all draw with the tournament newcomers, it would have felt worse than their solitary defeat of the season against the Stormers.
A full house of log points crucially went a begging, with the Brumbies having to be content with just two log points after their most rudderless performance of the season.
Not only did the stalemate cost the Brumbies top spot on the overall log, it also compromised their status as Australian Conference leaders as it reduced the margin between them and the second-placed Reds to just three points.
An away win suddenly becomes crucial for the Brumbies to keep the chasing Reds at bay, while a loss would open the door for the 2011 champions to leapfrog the Canberra side with a victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Highlanders are in the midst of their worst start to a campaign since 2008. Having lost six on the trot and with only four home games remaining this season, including Friday’s clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium, it goes without saying that it’s a must-win situation for Jamie Joseph’s side.
Their performance against the Blues last weekend spoke volumes of their season to date - playing well in patches before seemingly inevitably imploding.
Joseph’s star recruits have had and adverse affect on the squad with poor discipline and misfiring offence being the Highlanders’ greatest shortcomings this season.
Against a team like the Brumbies, who attack through multiple phases, their discipline and defensive systems will come under intense scrutiny.
Prediction: The Brumbies’ draw against the Kings would have done the Highlanders no favours, as they can now expect to face a team with a point to prove. The hosts will be desperate for the win, but we expect the Brumbies will rebound and come away with a narrow victory. Brumbies by six.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Chris King, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Jason Emery.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Pat McCabe, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
TMO: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Saturday, April 13
Chiefs v Reds
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton - kick-off: 16.35; 18.35 AEST; 04.35 GMT)
The Chiefs will be keen to end a three-match losing streak against the Reds when they welcome the Brisbane outfit to Waikato Stadium on Saturday.
The Reds have been somewhat of a bogey team for the Chiefs in recent years and with both sides coming off a bye, one can expect fireworks in Hamilton.
The defending champions head into Saturday’s match on a three-match winning streak but they’ll be facing a Reds team brimming with belief following their first ever win in Dunedin last time out.
Chiefs co-captain Craig Clark, who remains on the sidelines due to concussion, was pleased with the team’s performance over the Blues prior to the bye and said that level of intensity and physicality will be needed against the fourth-placed Reds.
"The lift in intensity around the defence and around the physicality was something that hadn't been there on the tour of South Africa and the Highlanders game after that so it was good to see those improvements,” Clark said.
"It's what you need to do during a campaign and we'll need that physicality to match the Reds - they're probably the most physical Australian team so in that area we'll have to be very good.”
Richard Kahui suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the corresponding fixture last year, a match the Chiefs lost 27-42, and has put his honeymoon on hold for the rematch.
The All Black centre said the match had a profound impact on not only his career but the team’s triumphant campaign as well and believes the weekend’s game will be crucial in their bid to retain the title.
"That game in particular is one that I look back on in the season and say that was the game that ultimately helped us to win the championship last year,” he said.
"So it's an important game for us this weekend, because we're back from the bye and we've got a big block of games - seven weeks I think it is - with some really tough competition in there so it's important to get back and keep winning.”
The match will be equally important to the Reds’ cause ahead of next weekend’s blockbuster derby against the Brumbies.
Prediction: The Chiefs will be up for this match and well prepared knowing full well what a threat the Reds pose across the park. Expect a hugely physical affair and a close win for the home side. Chiefs by seven.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 August Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Michael Kainga, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Fritz Lee, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Rod Davies, 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 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 22 Aidan Toua.
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Nick Briant, Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri
TMO: Ben Skeen
Blues v Hurricanes
(Eden Park, Auckland - kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The heat will be on the Hurricanes to hold on to second place in the New Zealand Conference in this crunch derby.
Their hosts, on 22 log points, are breathing down their necks just a solitary point behind them, followed closely by the Crusaders on 21.
With the Crusaders expected to roll the Western Force in Perth, nothing less than a victory will guarantee the Canes finish Round Nine as they entered it. Lose and they’ll all but certainly drop to fourth place in the conference.
Beating the Blues in their own backyard will take some doing, though, considering John Kirwan’s team took the spoils (34-20) in the season opener in Wellington.
The Blues attacked the flyhalf channel with good effect in that game and Canes coach Mark Hammett has consequently named hard-hitting Samoan international Tusi Pisi in the No.10 jersey.
Hammett has also ensured he retains Beauden Barrett’s exceptional tactical and goal kicking by shifting the versatile All Black to fullback.
It’s a tactical ploy that could prove to be a masterstroke.
Prediction: The Canes have hit their straps in recent weeks and Hammett has seemingly taken key lessons from the previous encounter between the sides. Hurricanes by five.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Albert Nikoro.
Hurricanes: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Ben May, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Ben Franks/Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles/Ash Dixon, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Reynold Lee-Lo 22 Andre Taylor.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jonathon White (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Melbourne Rebels v Southern Kings
(AAMI Stadium, Melbourne - kick-off: 19.40; 11.40 SA time; 09.40 GMT)
After a spirited draw with the Australian Conference-leading Brumbies in Canberra last weekend, the Southern Kings will feel they are on the cusp of a historic win in Australasia ahead of their encounter with the Melbourne Rebels.
The hosts are still relative newcomers in their own right, this only their third season of Super Rugby, and their home record - having won just seven of their 19 home games (37 percent) - serves more as a welcoming mat than a danger sign.
The Kings will thus view Saturday’s game as a golden opportunity to claim their first ever win abroad and end their maiden Super Rugby tour on a perfect note.
While the Brumbies were poor and Jake White tested different combinations, the Kings deserve full credit for their morale-boosting draw. Springbok centre Waylon Murray brought a new dimension to the backline, the back row was outstanding and they outscored the hosts by four tries to two.
The Rebels, too, showed character last weekend to edge out the Western Force in Perth after a disastrous South African tour.
The Kings would have noted how the Rebels squandered a 15-point lead to allow the Force back into the game at 23-all, while the Rebels would have identified the Kings’ discipline as a weakness after they conceded no less than 18 penalties against the Brumbies.
Prediction: With both teams prone to making mistakes under pressure and possessing accurate goal-kickers, territory will be the be-all and end-all in this match.
To this end, Kings coach Matt Sexton has reinstated the first-choice halfback pairing of scrumhalf Shaun Venter and flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis to give his side a sharper tactical edge.
The team who execute the smarter tactical gameplan should prevail in this contest between two evenly matched sides. We think there will be one score in it and while it’s tempting to go with the Kings, we have a suspicion that the Rebels will pull a rabbit out of the hat. Rebels by four.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Richard Kingi, 14 Jason Woodward, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Jordy Reid, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Lachlan Mitchell, 22 Angus Roberts.
Southern Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Ronnie Cooke, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Devin Oosthuizen, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Kevin Buys, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Marcello Sampson, 22 Siviwe Soyzwapi.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Richard, Goswell (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)