S15 Preview: Round 18, Part One
S15 Preview: Round 18, Part OneSHARE
With the June Test break behind us and the Australian teams out of action, Super Rugby gets underway again with two New Zealand derbies.
Although the British and Irish Lions series means that the Aussies will not be involved this weekend, there will still be some interesting match-ups across the Tasman.
The only match on Friday will see defending champions the Chiefs host the Hurricanes as they look to extend their lead at the top of the conference.
On Saturday it is off to Dunedin where the embattled Highlanders take on the play-off hunting Crusaders in a tough southern derby.
We take a closer look at the matches:
Friday, June 28
Chiefs v Hurricanes
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Chiefs have got a healthy lead at the top of the New Zealand conference, and a win against the Hurricanes will see them overhaul the Brumbies at the top of the combined log, so they have everything to play for in what will be their last home game before the play-offs.
The match will serve as a farewell for a host of influential players who will leave the franchise at the end of the season, so they will be keen on giving Craig Clarke, Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Brendon Leonard and Toby Smith a good send-off.
They face a Hurricanes side who sit on ninth position on the standings with a slim mathematical chance of sneaking into the play-offs, so the visitors are likely to give it absolutely everything.
The Wellington side recorded an encouraging victory over the Crusaders in a friendly match last week, and they will be intent on carrying that momentum into this clash against a Chiefs side that beat them 17-12 on their home turf earlier in the season.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett has called on outside backs Matt Proctor and James Marshall to join All Black steamtrain Julian Savea in the back three, and with Andre Taylor and Tim Bateman still sidelined the pressure will fall on backline stars Conrad Smith, Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara to provide a creative spark.
Both teams play an attacking brand of rugby, and certainly know their way to the tryline, but with wet weather expected this match could be determined by the strength of the respective forward packs.
The Chiefs certainly seem to have an edge in this area, and will want to put the Hurricanes under pressure up front in order to neutralise the attacking threats in the visitors' backline.
The Chiefs are a settled team, and their aim will be to build some good momentum ahead of the crucial knock-out phase of the tournament, so the Hurricanes will have to play out of their boots if they want to keep their hopes alive.
Prediction: The Hurricanes are always a dangerous prospect, but they do not have the firepower to match the Chiefs who should take this one in front of their home crowd by about ten points.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Charlie Ngatai.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Matt Proctor, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Reynold Lee-Lo, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Reggie Goodes, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Faifili Levave/Blade Thomson, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Alapati Leiua.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Saturday, June 29
Highlanders v Crusaders
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Highlanders will be aiming to lift themselves off the bottom of the standings when they take on the Crusaders in what is always a fiercely contested encounter between the two southernmost teams in the competition.
The Crusaders are currently lying in sixth position, and the seven-time champions have a record of raising their game at the business end of the competition, so expect them to come out firing in Dunedin.
They face a Highlanders team with nothing to lose, so the home side could be quite a tricky prospect, especially if their big names finally start to click.
Although it has been a season to forget for Jamie Joseph's team they need little motivation to get up for a game against the Crusaders and they will be looking for a big performance in front of their loyal fans in their last home game of the season.
The Crusaders will be aiming to be as clinical as possible, with their efficient set-pieces an obvious focus. Whilst the Highlanders may have a license to play with more flair the visitors will be viewing this as an opportunity to get their 'play-off rugby'into gear.
With two home games coming up to finish the season, the Crusaders will want to use this game to build some valuable momentum.
The Christchurch side were highly impressive in their 24-8 victory over the Highlanders earlier in the season, but they will know that they will be in for a far tougher test down in Dunedin this weekend.
Prediction: The Highlanders appear to be the ultimated banana skin, but the Crusaders are not a team that stumbles at hurdles like this late in the season so they should do enough to win by about eight points.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Ma'a Nonu.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Robbie Fruean, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand). Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
By Michael de Vries