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S15 Preview: Round Six, Part One

Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:49
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Friday is truly a derby day - one all-New Zealand encounter and another featuring two Australian teams.

Both matches are of great significance to the Super Rugby competition.

In the early encounter the Highlanders host the Hurricanes in Dunedin - two teams who have just one win each and hovering well down in the bottom half of the table.

Any play-off aspirations will disappear out the window with another defeat.

Later, as we head across the Tasman Sea, the Waratahs host the Rebels in Sydney.

This time we have teams with contrasting fortunes - the Tahs having suffered their first defeat last week and still well situation in the play-off zone, the Rebels on a losing streak after opening their campaign with a bonus-point win and now having dropped to near the foot of the table.

Jan de Koning looks at Friday's matches!

Friday, March 21

Highlanders v Hurricanes
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)

These two sides have shown promise, only glimpses, but still did enough to suggest they could be major threats.

However, neither has been consistent enough to stay with the pace set at the top of the standings.

The Hurricanes play their first match of the season against New Zealand opposition, still fresh from their emphatic 60-27 win over the Cheetahs last Saturday.

Hunting their second win of the competition, the Hurricanes will face a Highlanders team in a desperate mood after the latter fell to the Western Force in their previous match.

The Highlanders go into the fourth match of their campaign, and third at home, with just a solitary win to their credit - against the Blues in round one (29-21).

They also lost by two points to the Chiefs in Hamilton (19-21) and have played one fewer game than the Hurricanes, owing to their first bye before the Force match.

Some key players in the Highlanders side will be No.8 Nasi Manu, scrumhalf Aaron Smith, midfielders Shaun Treeby and Malakai Fekitoa, and fullback Ben Smith.

Hard-running Manu will help provide go-forward and physicality for the Highlanders, against the Hurricanes who attacked the contact situations with purpose against the Cheetahs.

In contrast, the Highlanders were lacklustre in this area against the Force and Jamie Joseph's men won't be off the pace two weeks in a row.

All Black scrumhalf Smith will provide energy to the Highlanders' dangerous midfield liaison of Wellington's Shaun Treeby and Auckland's Malakai Fekitoa, while fullback Ben Smith is their talisman at the back.

For the Hurricanes, Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett are two Hurricanes players who could cause problems for the home side based on form and history at this ground.

Hooker Ged Robinson believes the Highlanders have learned from their indecision against the Force and will bring a tougher attitude to Dunedin on Friday.
 
Robinson was one of the few players to enhance his reputation when he replaced Liam Coltman in the second half against the Force last Saturday.

He said hard lessons had been absorbed since their 29-31 loss to the West Australians, when they couldn't capitalise despite the Force being down to 13 players for the last eight minutes.
 
"We discussed it and we realise there was some wasted time," Robinson told NZ Newswire.
 
"We've put in place a plan that there will be one player delegated to make decisions in the future.
 
"Some of us chipped in and we probably shouldn't have. It's about making the decisions, backing them and going for it.

We're a fairly new team this year and we're learning from our mistakes.
 
"Our attitude wasn't as good as it had been."
 
Recent results:
2013: Highlanders won 49-44, Wellington
2013: Hurricanes won 23-19, Dunedin
2012: Hurricanes won 26-20, Dunedin
2012: Highlanders won 19-17, Wellington
2011: Highlanders won 13-6, Invercargill
2011: Highlanders won 14-9, Wellington

Prediction: This all-NZ derby at Dunedin's indoor stadium promises to be a tightly contested affair. Ten of the first 16 Super Rugby games there - since the start of the 2012 season - have been decided by less than a converted try. The home side have won just seven of these, and will be eager to beat the Hurricanes there for the first time in three attempts. The Highlanders class of 2014 may not be the most consistent, but showed plenty of promised and in our book is worth a punt - to win by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Shaun Treeby.

Hurricanes: 15 Marty Banks, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jack Lam, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Mark Reddish, 3  Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson/Adam Hill, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Andre Taylor.

Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)

Waratahs v Rebels
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT)

These all-Aussie derbies can be bore-fests at times, but this season the Waratahs and Rebels have been anything but boring.

Both have produced some spirited performances - albeit the Rebels doing so more in their first match, against the Cheetahs, than the last couple of weeks.

The Waratahs dropped their first match when they were upstaged by the Brumbies last week and know they are up against another team with the potential to derail their campaign.

And the Rebels are in a confident mood, with assistant coach Matt Cockbain making reference to their pre-season win over the Tahs when asked for reasons why the visitors can win.

"It was good to get the win against them in Albury during pre-season," Cockbain said in his coaches blog on the Rebels' website.

"We had a number of players who hadn't suited up against the Waratahs before, and they'll draw confidence from that, but it's a completely different level and scenario now that we are facing off for competition points."

The Rebels mentor pointed out that the Waratahs rested a few players in Albury.

Among those who watched from the stands in the pre-season outing were Israel Folau and Michael Hooper.

"With a full compliment now available to them, it will certainly be a stern test," Cockbain said.

"They have seventeen Wallabies in their squad, which is a testament to their quality, depth and ability to play good rugby.

"We will need to be at our best to beat them this week."

He added that the Rebels have remained upbeat, despite the two recent defeats.

"We speak about consistency a lot," he said, adding: "About being able to turn up every day at work and perform your role for the team."

Waratahs scrumhalf Nick Phipps takes on his old franchise for the first time in Super Rugby, since joining the Waratahs at the start of this season.

"I've got a lot of friends down there [in Melbourne], but it won't be any different to playing any other Australian franchise," he said.

The Rebels have a strong recent record against the Waratahs, having won back the Weary Dunlop Shield last season in a 24-22 thriller in Melbourne.

New coach Tony McGahan has overhauled the squad to produce the beginnings of an abrasive and successful new style characterised by tough back-rowers Scott Higginbotham and Sean McMahon and powerful backs such as Tamati Ellison and Tom English.

"Their backs are running a lot more direct lines, trying to run blind and keep the breakdown on the ball and they're always attacking, playing quick taps and quick line-outs," Phipps told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"They had a good game [first up against the Cheetahs], then lost to the Force pretty convincingly, then last week [against the Crusaders] they were in it until about the 60th or 70th minute, so they'll be looking forward to travelling to Sydney.

"They'll be confident and stinging to have a crack at us."

Recent results:
2013: Rebels won 24-22, Melbourne
2013: Waratahs won 31-26, Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 30-21, Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 35-19, Melbourne
2011: Waratahs won 28-9, Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 43-0, Melbourne

Prediction: Yes, the Rebels can win. However, they will achieve that only if they could replicate the form they showed in their opening match against the Cheetahs - lots of energy in a high-tempo game and determined defence. The Waratahs have a better allround team and last week's loss was against a very good Brumbies team. The smart money will be on the Waratahs to win by 10 to 15 points.

Teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Sekope Kepu.  
Replacements  - from: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Benn Robinson, 19 Wycliff Palu, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Rob Horne, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 Pat McCutcheon, 25 Jonno Lance.  

Rebels: 15 Angus Roberts, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Cruze Ah-Nau, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Male Sa'u, 23 Tom Kingston.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

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