GAME OF THE WEEK
HIGHLANDERS v WARATAHS
When: Saturday March 10, 7.35pm
Where: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 16, Waratahs 12, Highlanders 4
In Dunedin: Played 7, Waratahs 6, Highlanders 1
Last match: Round 17, June 11, 2011: Waratahs beat Highlanders 33-7 at SFS, Sydney
IT WILL probably surprise a few people to learn that the Highlanders have an awful record against the Waratahs in Dunedin, having only won one of the seven previous games between the sides at Carisbrook.
However, the landscape has changed markedly since the arrival of Forsyth Barr Stadium – the scene of last week’s dramatic 27-24 victory over the Crusaders. Although the incredible level of noise that reverberated inside the fully-enclosed stadium was a slight cause for concern, the unbeaten ’Landers look as though they are going to be extremely difficult to beat at home from now on.
The Dunedin based-side were worthy victors over their southern rivals, scoring three tries to two and operating with a level of courage and determination that would have made opposition coaches – namely new Waratahs mentor Michael Foley – sit up and take note.
Don’t expect to see many changes from the team that beat the Crusaders, with livewire No 7 John Hardie (the form New Zealand fetcher) set to keep his starting position ahead of English international James Haskell and All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan set to spend another week wearing the No 20 jersey – something he was clearly unhappy about last week.
The ’Tahs produced a controlled performance to outclass the Rebels 35-19 in a niggly round two match in Melbourne, with second five Tom Carter picking up two tries and new fullback Bernard Foley scoring one five-pointer and a penalty goal in an impressive run-on debut.
Coach Foley – no relation to the fullback – will be demanding more in the second half this week after NSW went off the boil for a large period of the second half against the Rebels.
Our prediction: Highlanders 1-12
CRUSADERS v CHIEFS
When: Friday March 9, 7.35pm
Where: McLean Park, Napier
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 17, Crusaders 13, Chiefs 4
In Napier: Played 1, Crusaders 1, Chiefs 0
Last match: Round 14, May 21, 2011: Crusaders beat Chiefs 25-19 at McLean Park, Napier
BATTEN DOWN the hatches for full-scale warfare, because this encounter is going to be brutal to an extreme degree.
The Crusaders will still be smarting from their narrow loss to the Highlanders, while the Chiefs will want to carry the momentum from their outstanding win over the woeful Blues.
This is officially a home game for the Crusaders, but there is a serious Hawke’s Bay influence in the Chiefs ranks, including both likely starting props – cousins Sona Taumalolo and Ben Tameifuna – and hookers Mahonri Schwalger and Hika Elliot.
However, the Crusaders do also have locally-raised stars Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford in their ranks.
The Chiefs smashed the Blues off the park last week by running hard and straight and dominating the collision area. They won’t have everything their own way in Napier this week but they will certainly fancy their chances.
Our prediction: Crusaders 1-12
FORCE v HURRICANES
When: Friday March 9, 7.05pm (0.05am NZT)
Where: nib Stadium, Perth
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 6, Hurricanes 5, Force 1
In Perth: Played 2, Force 1, Hurricanes 1
Last match: Round 15, May 27, 2011: Hurricanes beat Force 34-28 at FMG Stadium, Palmerston North
THE HURRICANES enter their third game on foreign soil this season in fairly good shape after picking up four points from their two-match South African tour.
Coach Mark Hammett would have been a relieved man after Beauden Barrett nailed a late penalty goal to sink the Lions in Johannesburg. He will need the gifted No 10 to keep the scoreboard ticking over again this week, as the Force showed last week in their loss to the Reds that they are capable of scoring points when the mood takes them – particularly halfback-turned-first five James Stannard, who has posted two tries in his 32-point haul.
The home side lacks star quality with James O’Connor now plying his trade in Melbourne, but they still have one of the world’s best players in skipper David Pocock.
Look for him and veteran lock Nathan Sharpe to lead the charge up front.
Our prediction: Hurricanes 1-12
BRUMBIES v CHEETAHS
When: Saturday March 10, 3.35pm (5.35pm NZT)
Where: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 7, Brumbies 5, Cheetahs 2
In Canberra: Played 4, Brumbies 4, Cheetahs 0
Last match: Round 11, April 29, 2011: Cheetahs beat Brumbies 47-36 at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
FOR A team that was written off by all and sundry before the season started, the Brumbies – under new coach Jake White – could find themselves inside the top four after three rounds.
With what can only be described as a sympathetic early draw, the men from Canberra will be odds-on favourites to take the points from this match after beating the Force in week one and then receiving the mandatory four points from last week’s bye.
The Cheetahs, on the other hand, arrive in town in last place on the table after being smashed 51-19 by the Bulls in Bloemfontein last week.
If anything, the final margin flattered the vanquished, with the Bulls fluffing a number of chances and forced to play with 14 men for the final 20 minutes after Francois Hougaard was red-carded for a tip-tackle. This followed a heart-breaking 27-25 loss to the Lions in round one.
Our prediction: Brumbies 1-12
REDS v REBELS
When: Saturday March 10, 7.40pm (9.40pm NZT)
Where: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)
Head-to-Head: Played 2, Reds 2, Rebels 0
In Brisbane: Played 1, Reds 1, Rebels 0
Last match: Round 12, May 6, 2011: Reds beat Rebels 33-18 at AAMI Park, Melbourne
THE REBELS will be praying for Kurtley Beale’s return and perhaps a repeat of last week’s miserable conditions in Brisbane when they meet the Reds at Suncorp. Otherwise they could be in for a long night at the office.
Although they were competitive in the second half against the Waratahs last week, the Rebels were dreadful defensively in the opening 40 minutes, missing a whopping 30 tackles as the ’Tahs built up a commanding 22-6 halftime advantage.
The defending champs had to work harder than most expected to put the Force away in round two after the heavens opened up just as the game kicked off. Both sides scored two tries but it was the dead-eye goalkicking of first five Mike Harris – who has now landed 24 from 24 in Super Rugby – that proved the difference, with the Kiwi pivot slotting 25 points from the tee.
Our prediction: Reds 13+
SHARKS v LIONS
When: Saturday Mar. 10, 5.05pm (4.05am NZT, Mar. 11)
Where: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Sharks 13, Lions 3, Drawn 2
In Durban: Played 9, Sharks 8, Lions 1
Last match: Round 17, June 11, 2011: Sharks drew 30-30 with Lions at Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
COMMONSENSE SUGGESTS that the Sharks should win this game fairly easily, especially when one looks at the past record between these sides in Durban, but there is more than meets the eye when these two clash.
Indeed, the Lions have the upper hand in some respects, despite the fact they have only ever won one Super Rugby game at the Shark Tank.
They are eighth on the table after two rounds (compared to the winless Sharks’ 12th) and would have been higher had it not been for a late Beauden Barrett penalty goal last week.
They also have something of a psychological advantage over the Durbanites after their 42-16 victory in last year’s Currie Cup final.
There is also added spice in this match because of the meeting of the Kiwi coaches, John Plumtree (Sharks) and John Mitchell (Lions), who will once again contest the Hawera Cup.
Our prediction: Sharks 1-12
BULLS v BLUES
When: Saturday Mar. 10, 7.10pm (6.10am NZT, Mar. 11)
Where: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Head-to-Head: Played 16, Blues 10, Bulls 5, Drawn 1
In Pretoria: Played 6, Bulls 4, Blues 1, Drawn 1
Last match: Round 8, April 3, 2010: Blues beat Bulls 32-17 at Eden Park, Auckland
JUST WHEN it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse for the embattled Blues, Jerome Kaino and Rudi Wulf are ruled out of this match with injury.
That is very bad news for the visitors – who dished up one of their limpest performances in recent memory against the Chiefs in round two and have only ever won in Pretoria once – as Kaino and Wulf were two of the few Blues players who have played with any real backbone over the opening fortnight.
The Bulls, meanwhile, sounded an ominous warning with their 51-19 demolition of the Cheetahs, flying in the face of all those who said they would be nothing without the likes of Matfield, Botha, Rossouw and Du Preez this year.
The listless Blues can expect to receive similar punishment to that of the Cheetahs if they are unable to improve on their entirely forgettable second round performance.
Our prediction: Bulls 1-12
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
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