S15 Preview: Round Seven, Part One
S15 Preview: Round Seven, Part OneSHARE
The long Easter weekend is something to look forward to, especially with all of the Super Rugby action in Round Seven.
The only match on Friday will be down in Dunedin where the Highlanders will attempt to finally spark their season into life against the Reds.
On Saturday the action starts in Wellington as the Kings search for their first win at the road before the New Zealand leg of the round wraps up in Hamilton with a Kiwi derby between the Chiefs and the Blues.
From there the focus shifts to Canberra where the Bulls will be out to end their tour with a bang against the table-topping Brumbies.
We take a closer look at the match-ups:
Friday, March 29
Highlanders v Reds
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The Highlanders will be desperate to halt their nightmare start to the season and move off the bottom of the standings when they host the Reds down in Dunedin in the only game on Friday.
Coach Jamie Jospeh's team are still looking for their first win of the season, so expect them to go hard at a Reds side that has not quite been firing on all cylinders either.
Joseph has brought a number of ageing stars to Dunedin, and none of them have really delivered for him yet this season, so expect a big reaction from the likes of Brad Thorn, Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock.
The Reds may not have played to their potential yet this season, but they have still manufactured four wins out of their six games to sit in fourth place, so their ability to find a way to win cannot be taken lightly.
Although they are still missing Digby Ioane, the presence of skipper James Horwill up front and halfback maestro Will Genia alongside Quade Cooper gives them leadership and experience in crucial positions.
The Highlanders have a very experienced front row which should give them an edge at scrum-time and with both teams very abrasive at the breakdown there should be an almighty battle for the ball on the ground.
But the key match-ups are likely to be just behind the forwards with both teams boasting Test pairings at halfback. The Wallaby duo of Genia and Cooper are more established than All Blacks Aaron Smith and Colin Slade, and will be keen to make their experience count away from home.
Prediction: The Reds are a wily side that have what it takes to win anywhere, but the Highlanders will be desperate with their season threatening to slip away so we are back them to win by about five points.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoalii, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 TJ Ioane, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Phil Burleigh.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Luke Morahan, 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 Aidan Toua, 22 Rod Davies.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Saturday, March 30
Hurricanes v Kings
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington – Kick-off: 16.35; 03.35 GMT)
After their tough introduction to life on the road in Christchurch last week, the Kings head to Wellington to take on the Hurricanes who will be fresh after their bye last week.
The Eastern Cape side won some respect for their never-say-die attitude after playing to the final whistle against the Crusaders, but the fact remains that they were seriously outgunned and face another major test on Saturday.
The Kings have earned praise for their committed defensive efforts in their debut season, but the Hurricanes are one of the most devastating attacking teams in the competition and will run any side ragged if given enough possession, so the Kings will have to show an ability to control the ball as well as tackle.
The star-studded Hurricanes backline may attract most of the attention, but their forward pack have really stepped up this season and will look to put the Kings under pressure in the set-pieces.
With All Blacks scattered throughout the side the Hurricanes will be lining the Kings up as a walking bonus point, so expect them to play with plenty of width and try to run the visitors off their feet.
This means that there may be counter-attacking opportunities for the Kings to exploit, but they will have to create their own opportunities as well if they are to compete away from home.
Another challenge for the Kings is that Andries Strauss will be their fifth captain in as many matches, so they will have to try and knock the hosts off their stride without the benefit of settled leadership.
Prediction: The Kings will have their moments, but the Hurricanes have too much class and should win by about 20 points.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua/Matt Proctor, 13 Conrad Smith (captain)/ Alapati Leiua, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara/ Chris Smylie, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 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, 20 Chris Smylie/Samisoni Fisilau, 21 James Marshall, 22 Reynold Lee-Lo.
Kings: 15 George Whitehead , 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Devin Oosthuizen, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Hannes Franklin, 17 Grant Kemp, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Daniel Adongo, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Chiefs v Blues
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kickoff: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The defending champions have been really solid this season, earning two bonus points in their only loss thus far, and they will be keen to continue their positive start against a stuttering Blues side.
The Auckland team seemed to announce themselves as real contenders with some convincing early performances this year, but their last two matches have exposed an erratic streak which they will be keen to iron out on Saturday.
John Kirwan's side threw away a healthy lead over the Waratahs last week in a display that showed a worrying lack of composure and consistency which are two attributes that the Chiefs have in spades.
Both sides have an abundance of attacking weapons, so this looks set to be another entertaining Kiwi derby, but the Chiefs' well-organised defence could give them an important edge.
The hosts have also been more reliable in the set-pieces this year, so the Blues will know that they will have to lift their game across the board to leave Hamilton with a win.
Both teams have their fair share of All Blacks so there will be some interesting match-ups, often pitting youth against experience.
The battle between grizzled Blues captain Ali Williams and young lock Brodie Retallick should be intense, whilst the physical duel between Chiefs centurion Liam Messam and promising Blues blindside flank Steven Luatua will also be fierce.
Prediction: The Blues will be keen to show that they can mix it with the best, but the Chiefs are a formidable side at home and should win by about seven points.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 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 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Bulls
(Canberra Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT)
The Brumbies had their unbeaten start to the season ended at Newlands last week, and they will be keen to bounce back at home against a wounded Bulls side at the end of a taxing tour.
The visitors have been heavily disrupted by injuries in the last few weeks, and look to have their back to the wall against a settled Brumbies side.
The Pretoria side came desperately close to beating the Reds in Brisbane last week, and will have to dig deep if they are to upset Jake White's well-drilled Brumbies on their home turf.
All eyes will be on young Jan Serfontein who makes his first Bulls start at inside centre, but it will be up to the forwards to provide the backline with quality ball if he is to make an impression.
Deon Stegmann has overcome his injury concerns, but he will be up against legendary openside flank George Smith who will be intent on dominating the breakdown and slowing the Bulls down.
Both teams put a premium on territorial advantage so there is likely to be a fair amount of kicking as they look to play the game in each other's half.
This should also place a big focus on the set-pieces which both teams use as attacking weapons, so expect a massive battle up front between two powerful forward packs.
Prediction: The Bulls will come out hard as they look to end their tour on a high, but the Brumbies have had more continuity and should win this one at home by about five points.
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Etienne Oosthuizen, 4 Scott Fardy, 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 Andrew Smith, 22 Clyde Rathbone.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Jurgen Visser, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Michael de Vries