Super 14 - Round 1 Preview
Big names gear up for Super 14 kick-off
February 11, 2010

After a few months of sun, sand and a daunting pre-season schedule, the southern hemisphere's leading lights will be back in action this weekend as the race for the 2010 Super 14 title gets underway.

This will be the final season under the current format, with the tournament embracing a conference structure and a new team, the Melbourne Rebels, from 2011. Two of Australia's existing franchises, the Queensland Reds and New South Wales Waratahs will kick-off our Game of the Week on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium.

The action gets underway on Friday with the Blues hosting the Hurricanes at North Harbour Stadium. The home side hand a debut to draft pick Stephen Brett at fly-half, with Alby Mathewson wearing No.9. In the absence of Ali Williams due to a long-term injury Anthony Boric and Kurtis Haiu pack down in the second-row, with Keven Mealamu leading the side from hooker.

His opposite number, Andrew Hore, will lead the Hurricanes for the first time after succeeding Rodney So'oialo as skipper during the close-season. Hore is joined in the front-row by All Black Neemia Tialata, while Cory Jane starts at fullback in a classy backline featuring the All Black centre combination of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

Matt Giteau has been ruled out as the Brumbies' take on Western Force at ME Stadium. Giteau had been struggling with a thigh problem but was desperate to face his former team-mates, his place eventually going to youngster Matt Toomua. Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom is named in the back-row alongside George Smith and skipper Stephen Hoiles.

The Force have been rocked by a season ending injury to marquee signing Andre Pretorius. The former Springbok fly-half has left a hole in their armoury, which will be filled on Friday by former Brumbies utility Mark Bartholomeusz. Nathan Sharpe returns to the second-row to lead the home side, while David Pocock is named at openside.

The reigning champions, the Bulls, kick off their campaign against rivals the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday. Gary Botha returns to the Bulls line-up after leaving English club Harlequins and Victor Matfield takes the captain's armband. Morne Steyn and Fourie du Preez start at halfback.

The big boost for the Cheetahs comes in the back-row, where skipper Juan Smith is fit to return after missing the end of last season through injury. He is joined by Springbok fetcher Heinrich Brussow and powerful rookie Ashley Johnson. Naas Olivier starts at fly-half as replacement for Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who is on the Bulls' bench following a summer move.

Dan Carter returns to Super 14 action for the first time since 2008 when the Crusaders host the Highlanders on Saturday. The All Black pivot is partnered by Andy Ellis while flanker Kieran Read will skipper the franchise in the absence of Richie McCaw, who is being rested for the opening three rounds. There is a Crusaders debut on the wing for Zac Guildford, who will continue to play club rugby for Hawke's Bay despite a switch from the Hurricanes.

Former Blues favourite Carlos Spencer will also make his return to Super 14 action, but in the colours of the Lions as they welcome the Stormers to Ellis Park. The away side will not be lacking for big names themselves as Springboks Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie make their bows, Fourie against his former union.

The round concludes on Saturday with the Sharks taking on last season's beaten finalists the Chiefs at Kings Park. The home side have been rocked by the shock retirment of fly-half Steve Meyer, meaning that the out of favour Monty Dumond starts the season as their fly-half. John Smit returns to lead the side at tight-head.

Liam Messam will lead the Chiefs after Sione Lauaki was forced to withdraw with an abscess on his arm. Mike Delany fills in at fullback as Mils Muliaina enjoys an extended break, with Stephen Donald starting at fly-half.


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