Super Rugby round five form guide
March 15, 2013
Friday, March 15
(19:35 local, 06:35 GMT, 02:35 EDT, 01:35 CDT, 23:35 PDT -1d)
Colin Slade is a key change to the Highlanders' side against the Hurricanes © Getty Images
Sharks 10 - 29 Brumbies Queensland Reds 12 - 19 Force Crusaders 41 - 19 Bulls Southern Kings 24 - 35 Chiefs New South Wales Waratahs 26 - 27 Cheetahs Highlanders 19 - 23 Hurricanes
Head to head: Played 19, Hurricanes 11, Highlanders 9
In Dunedin: Played 9, Hurricanes 5, Highlanders 4
Last meeting: Round 12, May 12, 2012 - Hurricanes bt Highlanders 26-20 at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Form: The pre-season hype surrounding the Highlanders failed to survive the first four rounds of the competition. An ominous performance against the Chiefs wasn't rectified during a third-round bye, and things have gone from bad to worse. Injuries certainly haven't helped, either. But the Hurricanes should still be wary of the star-studded team from Dunedin, which should eventually find its feet with Colin Slade back at fly-half. Mark Hammett's men will have to find another gear at scrum time, but they are set to dominate a shaky Highlanders lineout. That will provide playmaker Beauden Barrett plenty of opportunities to bring lethal backs such as Julian Savea into the game from the set piece.
We think: The Hurricanes didn't deserve to triumph over the Crusaders, but the fact they were within reaching distance of a win at the eleventh hour shows their ability to compete for the full 80 minutes. The sight of Savea barging past world-class fullback Israel Dagg to score will also have done wonders for the confidence of their youthful backline, which is yet to recapture the scintillating form of last year. Meanwhile, two losses will not sit well with Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph. Known for the hard edge he brings to teams, he will be irate after seeing his pack beaten up on its home turf. Expect a backlash from the southern men following a week of training they will most likely never forget. Tip: Highlanders by 5
(19:40 local, 08:40 GMT, 04:40 EDT, 03:40 CDT, 01:40 PDT)
Head to head: Played 8, Waratahs 5, Cheetahs 3
In Sydney: Played 5, Waratahs 4, Cheetahs 1
Last meeting:Round 14, May 26, 2012 - Cheetahs bt Waratahs 35-34 at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Form: Horrible. Listless. Unadventurous. Woeful. That feels better. After all the talk of 'the new Waratahs under coach Michael Cheika, the bad old Tahs rolled into Canberra and copped a good-old fashioned hiding from a team that tackled harder, ran faster and executed better. The 35-6 thumping, their second loss in three games this season, leaves Cheika's charges in third spot on the Australian conference ladder, already 10 behind the Brumbies. The Cheetahs headed to Dunedin on the back of a competitive 29-22 loss to the Sharks and a 45-3 drubbing at the hands of defending champs the Chiefs. But a vastly different Cheetahs outfit turned up in Otago. Naka Drotske's men stunned the hosts with relentless attack and effective rush defence to lead 30-7 at the break. Both sides finished with three tries apiece as the Highlanders rallied in the second half, but the boot of Johan Goosen, who kicked a perfect eight from eight, sealed the men from Bloemfontein's first win of the campaign.
We think: The Waratahs hold a narrow edge over the Cheetahs historically but the men from Bloemfontein have won the past two meetings and have inflicted serious psychological scars along the way. In 2011, they scored an upset 23-3 triumph in Sydney that saw Waratahs fans boo the home side off the pitch and led management to hold a fan forum at which angry supporters vented at former coach Chris Hickey. Then last year, the Tahs blew a 10-point half-time lead en route to a 35-34 loss in Bloemfontein. The Waratahs are notoriously dangerous after a bad loss, while the Cheetahs are on a high after their big win over the Highlanders. One of the tougher matches to pick this weekend, but we'll stick with the hosts to bounce back without any great confidence.
Tip: Waratahs by seven
(19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 13:10 EDT, 12:10 CDT, 10:10 PDT)
Head to head: First meeting
Form: The Kings surprised all when they upset the Force 22-10 on their home ground to start their Super Rugby life on a winning note. They came back down to Earth a week later when they were beaten 12-21 by the Sharks, but their sound defensive display proved they have the capabilities to do more than make up the numbers; they are in the competition to perform and stick around. The Chiefs, however, aren't the defending champions for nothing. After securing a come-from-behind 41-27 win against the Highlanders in the opening round followed by a resounding 45-3 win over the Cheetahs, the Waikato franchise suffered a 34-36 defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town. Coach Dave Rennie said the intensity of that match surprised a lot of the younger players, and he is adamant it won't happen to his side again on Saturday.
We think: The Chiefs are likely to return to winning ways against the competition newcomers, but expect some fight from a franchise battling for respect and longevity in Super Rugby. The steely resolve displayed against the Sharks will help the Kings gain some confidence, but it's hard to imagine the defending champions dropping successive matches in the republic. The Chiefs have added motivation for the match, too. Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam will become the first player from the Waikato franchise and the 26th New Zealander to play 100 Super Rugby matches. This is surely enough of an incentive to not only see the visitors home, but to do so in style to honour their co-captain.
Tip: Chiefs by 12
Saturday, March 16
(19:35 local, 06:35 GMT, 02:35 EDT, 01:35 CDT, 23:35 PDT -1d)
Head to head: Played 22, Crusaders 13, Bulls 9
In Christchurch: Played 10, Crusaders 9, Bulls 1
Last meeting:Play-offs, July 21, 2012: Crusaders bt Bulls 28-13 at AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Form: The Bulls demonstrated their confidence with a deserved first win over the Blues at Eden Park in their latest outing. It didn't require any departures from their norm as the home team fell into the trap of forgetting their preparation. The Bulls were able to dominate physically and with No. 8 Pierre Spies leading the way impressively they were able to shrug off the fightback of the home team. The Crusaders had the frustration of a late loss against the Hurricanes, but they looked a step up on from the side that lost their opener a week before. Knowing they face a demanding prospect in dealing with a confident Bulls team, it is not hard to imagine where the Crusaders focus has been this year.
We think: Desperation produces determination traditionally in Crusaders rugby, and that is where the home team find themselves this week. But playing at home for the first time will be a boost. The Bulls will find a tougher, hardened side than the Blues combination they met last week. Given the need to get a win on the board, the Crusaders represent a more significant foe. The Bulls know they need to have their defensive effort to its highest level, and this may be a classic, near Test-like encounter. For all that, the desperation of the home team is the greater.
Tip: Crusaders by 10
(18:40 local, 08:40 GMT, 04:40 EDT, 03:40 CDT, 01:40 PDT)
Head to head: Played 9, Reds 6, Force 3
In Brisbane: Played 5, Reds 5, Force 0
Last meeting:Round 6, March 31, 2012: Force bt Reds 45-19 at nib Stadium, Perth
Form: The Reds have won three in a row with victories over the Waratahs, Hurricanes and Rebels atoning for their first-round loss to the Brumbies. Ewen McKenzie's men have hardly set the world on fire this season, but they're reasonably placed on 12 points in second spot in the Australian Conference. The Force are yet to register their first win of the campaign after opening with losses to the Rebels, Southern Kings and Bulls. They probably should have beaten the Rebels in the season opener before falling to competition newcomers the Kings, 22-10, in Round 2. They saved face with a competitive 36-26 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria a fortnight ago, but remain rooted to the bottom of the Australian Conference ladder on five points.
We think: The Force won the last match-up between these two last March, 45-19, when the Reds were in the midst of a horrendous injury crisis. Ewen McKenzie's side won the previous four meetings before that because they are a superior side when close to full strength. Add the Suncorp Stadium factor, where the Reds have now won 23 of their past 26 matches, and it's tough to foresee anything other than a comfortable Queensland victory.
Tip: Reds by 14
(17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 11:05 EDT, 10:05 CDT, 08:05 PDT)
Head to head: Played 18, Sharks 9, Brumbies 9
In Durban: Played 8, Sharks 7, Brumbies 1
Last meeting:Round 6, March 31, 2012 - Sharks bt Brumbies 29-26, Canberra Stadium
Form: Back on home soil, South African coach Jake White has the reportedly booze-free Brumbies sitting pretty atop the Australian conference. But the Sharks represent their sternest test so far this year as the Brumbies eye their first win in Durban in six years against the 2012 runners-up. But with their defence looking nigh impenetrable and the Sharks unable to cross the stripe in two outings, the Brumbies will fancy their chances. The scrum battle between Jannie du Plessis and Ben Alexander will be crucial. Comeback star George Smith will be bracing himself for a torrid time at the breakdown against Marcell Coetzee, while the front-row battle between Dan Palmer and Tendai Mtawarira could be key.
We think: Historically there is nothing between these two sides, having each won nine of their 18 meetings, but the Sharks have won the past two matches. The Brumbies have beaten up on three Australian rivals with a hat-trick of victories to start the season, but beating the undefeated Sharks in Durban is an entirely different proposition. The Brumbies have been able to stifle Australian sides with their rush defence, superior work at the breakdown and some handy long-range tries. It's a pretty useful formula but we're not sure it'll be enough to topple last year's grand-finalists.
Tip: Sharks by three
Bye: Bulls, Rebels, Stormers,
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