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S15 Preview: Round Seven, Part One

Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:07
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Friday sees another big derby day for the Australasians. Starting in Christchurch with an all-New Zealand clash before crossing the Tasman sea to Melbourne for a big city show-down.
 
Three out of the four teams taking to the field on Friday will be desperate to improve their log standings. The Crusaders are far below their usual par, the Hurricanes are languishing near the bottom, the Rebels are accustomed to the foot of the table while only the Brumbies are performing to their potential.
 
In the first encounter the Crusaders host the Hurricanes at AMI Park, Christchurch. The home team will be desperate to shake off their characteristic rusty start after grinding out two wins before the bye; beating the Stormers (14-13) and Rebels (19-25).
 
The Hurricanes have decided to stick with unpredictability after putting 60 points on the Cheetahs a fortnight ago (60-27) before losing to the Highlanders (35-31).
 
Later, we cross over to Australia where the Rebels host the high-flying Brumbies. The Brumbies have lost only once in the competition and sit atop the Australian conference after a well executed win over the conference favorites the Waratahs, two weeks ago (28-23) as well as defeating the Stormers by 10 points last time out (25-15).
 
The Rebels have had one showing of what they are capable of in this tournament when they outclassed the Cheetahs in round three but since then they have been poor going down to the Crusaders (19 - 25) and Waratahs (32 - 8) most recently.
 
Darryn Pollock looks at Friday's Matches!
 
Friday, March 21:
 
Crusaders v Hurricanes
(AMI Park, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
 
Both teams currently sit within the bottom half of the overall points table.
 
Prior to their bye, the Crusaders lost their first two matches against the Chiefs and the Blues. They then won their next two fixtures, against the Stormers and the Rebels.
 
Both of these wins weren't convincing, therefore, the Crusaders will be looking to hit top gear against the Hurricanes immediately ahead of their trip to South Africa where they will play the Lions and Cheetahs.
 
The Hurricanes are coming off a loss to the Highlanders - a match that was dominated by penalties in the first half. Jumping out to a big lead, the home team held on despite an electric finish by the Hurricanes that ended in two tries to first five-eighth Beauden Barrett.
 
With 11 matches remaining and a maximum of 55 points still up for grabs, the Hurricanes are looking to continue where they left off at the end of the Highlanders fixture, and ignite their season with a convincing performance against the Crusaders.
 
Both sides will be looking for greater accuracy on attack. The Crusaders have scored just six tries in four matches and their outside backs have yet to click into gear, while the Hurricanes have run in 16 so far, but have also missed several opportunities.
 
In the battle out wide, 24 of the 49 tries that the Hurricanes have scored against the Crusaders in all their Super Rugby meetings have been run from either the wing or fullback position.
 
As always in these clashes, a key area will be the battle between the players in low numbers, in particular, at scrum time, where some big contests have taken place between the two franchises.
 
Statistically, the Crusaders are consistently amongst the best scrummaging teams in the competition, and their starting props Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks will be at the forefront in this area.
 
Other possible key match-ups in the forwards could be between returning Hurricanes, lock Jeremy Thrush and Jack Lam, against Sam Whitelock and Matt Todd.
 
TJ Perenera versus Andy Ellis at scrumhalf, and Barrett versus Colin Slade at flyhalf, could also be important areas of this match as each searches for organisation and spark in their phase play.
 
Kieran Read will be playing his 100th game for the Crusaders and spoke of how proud he is to be a part of such a great team.
 
“This is my team.  I have been playing for the Crusaders virtually since my professional rugby career began and I feel very proud to have represented this team for 100 games,” Read said.
 
“When you look at the other players who have achieved 100 games for the Crusaders, you realise what an honour it is. 
 
"Being selected for an award is one thing, but being selected for the Crusaders team 100 times is a real reflection of the hard work I’ve put in over the years and something I can feel truly proud of.”
 
Their previous encounter in Wellington last year, saw Hurricanes’ wing Alapati Leiua score the match-winning intercept try to give the Hurricanes a 29-28 victory. This followed their 23-22 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch in 2012, when captain Conrad Smith scored two tries.
 
Recent Results:
2013: Crusaders won 25-17, Christchurch
2013: Hurricanes won 28-29, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 22-23, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 42-14, Wellington
2011: Crusaders won 16-9, Wellington
2010: Crusaders and Hurricanes drew 26-26, Wellington
 
Prediction: The Crusader are notorious for their slow starts and it couldn't get any slower, but two hard fought wins on top of captain Kieran Read's 100th match for the Crusaders should inspire them to shake of the rust and get the victory. The Hurricanes have been up and down all season, although they have been good on attack it has mostly been against the weaker teams. Expect them to struggle against the ever present class of the Crusaders. Crusaders by 7 points.
 
Teams:
 
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nemani Nadolo.
 
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Marty Banks.
 
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)
 
Brumbies v Rebels
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kickoff: 19.40; 08.40 GMT)
 
The Brumbies, who arrive in Melbourne having beaten Western Force and Hurricanes at home and Waratahs and Stormers in Canberra are on top the Australian conference after six rounds. They were particularly impressive in defeating the Waratahs and the only blot against their name so far is their 17-27 defeat to the Reds in their first match.
 
For fans of the Wallabies, the Brumbies side is full of familiar faces, including the dangerous and dependable half-back pair of Nic White and Matt Toomua, as well as winger Joe Tomane, who recently returned from injury.
 
After a chastening trip to Sydney that saw them undone by a second-half masterclass from  Waratahs, the Rebels return to Melbourne with a point to prove. Sat at the foot of the Australian conference, Tony McGahan's men are looking to reverse a run of form that has seen them go winless since their season opener, when they romped to a record 35-14 win over the Cheetahs.
 
Since that win over the Cheetahs, the Rebels were poor and punished appropriately by Western Force in Perth but showed great improvement and impressive fight to go down against the star-studded Crusaders in Melbourne ten days ago. In Sydney they competed manfully for 40 minutes, before three moments of magic from former charge Kurtley Beale saw the 'Waratahs run away with it.
 
That said, the Rebels will need to tighten up their defense - a long-standing weakness that McGahan is working over-time to remedy. For all Beale's brilliance, the ease with which he scythed through the midfield will have given the Rebels' coach unwanted weekend headaches aplenty as he picked over the defeat.
 
Tony McGahn is well aware that his team have been uder-performing of late and his focus naturally is that of improving their results - starting with the Brumbies clash.
 
"To be fair, we have been too engrossed on what we are trying to deliver this weekend to worry about who they are going to name," he said. 
 
"They've got plenty of internationals, a couple of really strong players missing with injury but a couple of internationals likely to come back in as well.
 
"What we are about is looking after ourselves; obviously we look at the opposition, but the breadth of what we are trying to do is about what we can control ourselves.
 
"It's an absolute positive that we get to test ourselves against the best sides in the competition. The next four weeks will give us a really good indication of where we are at individually, and collectively as a group.
 
"We have a great opportunity for the group to show off their belief in each other and their spirit, and we're looking forward to seeing that on show starting this Friday night against a very well coached and player-led group from Canberra," he added.
 
Jason Woodward has returned from his knee injury and prop Laurie Weeks is over his concussion after both missed the clash with the Waratahs.
 
In a battle that is expected to go the way of the Brumbies, one thing is for certain - expect points. These two teams have never played out a match containing less than 40 points.
 
Recent Results:
2013: Brumbies won 17-39, Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 13-30, Melbourne
2012: Brumbies won 19-27, Melbourne
2012: Brumbies won 6-37, Canberra
2011: Brumbies won 17-32, Canberra
2011: Rebels won 25-24, Melbourne
 
Prediction: The Brumbies have had only the one blip so far against the Reds in round one, since then they have looked a class act and are surely favourites to take the Aussie conference. The Rebels season is following a pattern that has emerged over the few years they have been active - losing most of their games with a few scintillating performance. Do not expect this weekend to be one of those performances as the Brumbies will most likely out muscle the Rebels by more than 14 points
 
Teams:
 
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White,8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva,17 Ruan Smith,18 Ruaidhri Murphy, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Christian Lealiifano.
 
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Cruze Ah-Nau, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Male Sa'u, 23 Angus Roberts.
 
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
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