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S15 Preview: Round 17

Wed, 05 Jun 2013 18:36
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Depth will be vital and probably decisive
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Understrength teams will make the weekend’s all-Australian Round 17 of Super Rugby somewhat of a lottery.

Due to the start of the international season on Saturday, this weekend’s Super Rugby line-up is reduced to just two Australian derbies.

Add the fact that Australia’s leading players won’t be in action due to Wallaby selection and it’s fair to say that it will be Super Rugby in name alone.

While the quality of the teams will hurt the product from an interest and entertainment point of view, the reward of at least four log points remains the same and is all that matters in the grander scheme of things.

The watered down sides will unquestionably add a hint of the unknown to the weekend’s proceedings with several players set to make their Super Rugby debuts across the four franchises.  

More than ever, depth will be vital and probably decisive.

The action will get underway on Friday when the Brumbies play host to the Melbourne Rebels and resume on Sunday with the Western Force welcoming the Waratahs to Perth.   

Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at the matches.

Friday, June 7

Brumbies v Melbourne Rebels
(Canberra Stadium, Canberra - kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)

The Brumbies will be out to cement their place at the top of the Australian Conference and move to the summit of the overall log when they tackle the Melbourne Rebels at Canberra Stadium.

A win - regardless of the margin - will see Jake White’s side eclipse the Chiefs and sit pretty at the top of the table for the duration of the June Test window.

They will have home ground advantage and momentum on their side, but without stars like Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Joe Tomane, place-kicker Christian Lealiifano and captain Ben Mowen, they will lack experience and appear vulnerable.

The Rebels have not escaped Robbie Deans’ ‘talent raid’, although they have not been hit nearly as hard as their hosts, with only Nick Phipps and James O’Connor called up to the preliminary Wallaby squad.

However, with skipper Scott Higginbotham, Hugh Pyle and Jarrod Saffy all sidelined through injury, the backbone of the Rebels’ torso has effectively been ripped out.

In the absence of O’Connor, the role of playmaker will fall onto Bryce Hegarty. The Rugby League convert is as green as they come with just two Super Rugby appearances, but he will have no shortage of self-confidence after helping the Rebels to a historic 30-21 win over the Stormers in his first start last month.

Gareth Delve returns to the starting line-up and regains the captaincy, and the eight-nine-10 axis of the Welshman, Nic Stirzaker and Hegarty will be key to the visitors’ cause.

While they lack strike power in the backline, Damien Hill does have returning Wallaby scrumhalf Luke Burgess to call on as an impact player off the bench.

They also have a solid and experienced front row combination that should at least give them parity at scrum time, but as a whole they might be at risk of racking up a high penalty count if the Brumbies are able to build continuity on attack.    

The key player for the hosts will be impressive scrumhalf Nic White, who will become the 12th man to captain the Canberra franchise.

That the 22-year-old will become the youngest ever Brumbies skipper speaks volumes of his great potential and he will want to boost his chances of a late call-up to the Wallaby squad by guiding his team to victory.

"I wouldn't use the word confident but hopeful that I'm a chance," White told Sportal of his Test hopes.

"If I play well this weekend [hopefully I am] a chance of sneaking into the squad and should things go my way maybe feature at some stage throughout the series.”

White looked set to make his Wallaby bow when he served as back-up for Will Genia in last June’s Test series against Wales but remained on the bench for all three Tests.

"It definitely just made me hungrier, I got a taste,” he said of the experience.

“You get a taste being in the squad but then sitting on the bench and not getting on certainly makes you hungrier to get that first cap. All three games he [Genia] played the full 80 but it was a good learning experience for me though.

"It was a big jump, last year was my first year at starting [for the Brumbies] so it was just good experience and I learnt a lot last year and I'd like to think it's helped me out this year so far."

White added that it would be a bonus to play against Burgess.

"To be honest I haven't given it any thought [possibly playing against Burgess], all week my thoughts have been the Brumbies ... Friday night is all about the Brumbies and our season down there and a win against the Rebels will help us in what we want to do as a group down there this year.

"Hopefully the team will go well, we'll get the result we want and then if further honours come from that then that's a bonus.

"It was always a dream to play Luke, I kind of looked up to him when I was younger and at school. I don't know him and have never spoken to him before so seeing him on the field will be literally the first time I see him in person."

Prediction: Despite missing more Wallaby players, the Brumbies still boast greater depth than the Rebels and are subsequently able to field a superior matchday 22. Armed with the knowledge that a bonus point victory should be enough to clinch top spot in the Australian Conference and a spot in the play-offs for the first time since 2004, the Brumbies will be ruthless and will come away with the win. Brumbies by eight.   

Teams:

Brumbies:
15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White (captain), 8 Peter Kimlin, 7 Colby Faingaa, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Leon Power, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Siliva Siliva, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Zack Holmes.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Lachlan Mitchell, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Gareth Delve (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 James King, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Kimami Sitauti.

Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Matt O'Brien (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Sunday, June 9

Western Force v Waratahs
(nib Stadium, Perth - kick-off: 14.05 AWST; 16.05 AEST; 06.05 GMT)

There will once again be little to choose between the Western Force and the Waratahs at nib Stadium.

Only four points separated the sides in Sydney in March when the Waratahs prevailed 23-19 and we expect another close encounter in the return fixture in Perth on Sunday.

The Waratahs, like the Brumbies, have been left depleted in the wake of the Wallaby call-ups, with 10 of their top players drafted for national duty.

Their problems, however, have been compounded by the absence of six injured played that has left the list of unavailable personnel for the weekend’s match at 16.

Remarkably, the makeshift side that Michael Foley has named ought to be competitive. Their strength will lie in their dangerous back division, which will be directed by the halfback pairing of Brendan McKibbin and Bernard Foley and includes seasoned Wallaby Drew Mitchell in the No.15 jersey.

Pat McCutcheon will captain the side for the first time as part of a new-look loose trio and although the front row will hold their own at scrum time, locks Will Skelton and Ollie Atkins can expect to come under fire in the line-outs.

It’s a good enough starting XV, but the Tahs could run into trouble if they suffer injuries early on as their bench - to be finalised closer to kick-off - is understandably thin.

The Force, too, will be sans their Wallaby stars but they will be aided significantly by home ground advantage, while the heavy midweek loss by their second-stringers to the British and Irish Lions will have no bearing on the squad’s morale and belief whatsoever.

With both teams out of the play-off race, the match will be about pride and the Force, who are languishing at the bottom of the Australian Conference, five points behind the Rebels, will look to claw their way closer to their Melbourne rivals with a win at home.

Prediction: The weakened Waratahs outfit level the playing field and make a strong argument for a Force win, but we feel McKibbin and Foley will dictate play and propel the visitors to a narrow victory. Waratahs by three.   

Teams:

Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Junior Rasolea, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Rory Walton, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan (captain).
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Ed Stubbs, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.

Waratahs: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Tom Kingston, 12 Tom Carter (captain), 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 AJ Gilbert, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Ollie Atkins, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Jeremy Tilse.
Replacements:  16 Luke Holmes, 17 Richard Aho, 18 Adam Coleman, 19 Liam Winton, 20 Matt Lucas, 21 Ben Volavola, 22 Terrence Hepetema.

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ed Martin (Australia), Richard Goswell (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)

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