Super 14 - Round 8 Preview
Upsets on the cards in Super 14
April 1, 2010
Will Genia received high praise from his Wallabies predecessor this week © Getty Images
Round 8 of the 2010 Super 14 season is ripe for upsets as six of the bottom seven teams meet six contenders sitting in the top half of the standings.
While the fifth-placed Brumbies are sitting idle with a bye, the teams around them all have the chance to push on with matches against lowly opposition. Also resting up are the win-less Lions, who know any boilovers will see them stranded further adrift towards the bottom of the table.
Opening the round on Friday night are the desperate Hurricanes, coming off four losses in a row, who host the Crusaders in our Game of the Week.
Following that New Zealand derby, rock-bottom Western Force take on the second-placed Stormers in Perth. The improving Force gave the undefeated Bulls a run for their money at ME Bank Stadium last week so they'll hold some belief of getting a result, but it's their competition-worst attack against the leading defence of the Stormers that makes the visitors hot favourites.
Boosting the Force after their resilient defensive display against the Bulls are the returns of Wallaby backrowers David Pocock and Richard Brown after the pair were injured in Round 1.
Classy flanker Pocock slots straight back into the starting XV while Brown is on the bench. James O'Connor drops back to fullback as Ryan Cross moves inside Mitch Inman in the centres, while Scott Staniforth resumes on the wing after his short-term deal was extended. Mark Bartholomeusz replaces suspended left wing Nick Cummins.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has been forced into changes of his own due to injuries to prop Wicus Blaauw and fullback Joe Pietersen. JC Kritzinger replaces Blaauw while Sireli Naqelevuki comes onto the wing, with Gio Aplon moving to No.15.
The table-topping Bulls continue their Australasian tour on Saturday at Eden Park against the up-and-down Blues.
The Blues need to string wins together to match their decent performances, earned on the back of some stellar showings by the Super 14's form player in outside centre Rene Ranger. Tony Woodcock has been replaced in the starting side by Charlie Faumuina due to a neck injury, while Luke McAlister is on the bench after a string of injuries limited the playmaker's game time this season.
The Bulls, ominously, are unchanged as Jaco van der Westhuyzen prepares to earn his 50th cap off the bench. Five of their six straight wins came on home soil before their battle in Perth last week, so the champions are no certainties to claim their first ever win in Auckland.
In the round's second New Zealand derby, the Chiefs welcome the Highlanders to Waikato Stadium desperate for points.
The Highlanders have been off the pace this season and might be even further behind the pack without Israel Dagg's contributions from fullback. The seventh-placed Chiefs will be keen to capitalise on this home encounter with their fourth win of the season.
The Chiefs will have to overcome injuries to wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, flanker Tanerau Latimer and hooker Aled de Malmanche, with Dwayne Sweeney, Luke Braid and Hika Elliot their respective replacements. Mike Delany comes in at fly-half, pushing Stephen Donald out to No.12 and Jackson Willison out of the starting side.
The Chiefs have problems of their own, with vice captain Jamie Mackintosh out with a long-term injury known as 'turf toe'. He is replaced in the front row by Chris King, while inside centre Jason Shoemark, wing Fetu'u Vainikolo and flanker Alando Soakai come in for starts in the other changes from their win over the Lions.
The Waratahs, perhaps the unexpected members of the top four, host the Cheetahs on Saturday night with five points firmly in their sights.
It will be a night of milestones for the Waratahs, with Al Baxter set for his 100th cap, Lachie Turner becoming the youngest player to notch 50 appearances for the New South Wales outfit, and Dean Mumm captaining the side for the first time in place of the injured Phil Waugh.
Highly rated flanker Chris Alcock has the chance to impress in Waugh's sizable boots, while Ben Mowen starts next to him in the scrum as a replacement for Wycliff Palu, who has a hamstring strain.
The Cheetahs are the last team to leave home soil this season, and with only two wins from that favourable early draw, they're going to struggle to make an impression in Sydney. In their changes, fullback Hennie Daniller replaces Springbok Riaan Viljoen, and scrumhalf Tewis de Bruyn moves up from the bench in a swap with Sarel Pretorius.
Wrapping things up on Saturday is the only match in South Africa this week, where the Sharks host the Reds. The Queenslanders have been performing above expectations under Ewen McKenzie's tutelage and but for an undeserved last-minute defeat to the Waratahs would be sitting in their place in the top four.
The Sharks, though, have put two wins together after a horror start to their campaign. They're back at home after a five-week Australasian sojourn and veteran wing Stefan Terblanche is making his 100th appearance for the franchise.
The Reds' exemplary scrum-half Will Genia, the stand-in skipper and driving force for their attacking verve this season, received some big praise this week from Wallabies legend George Gregan. Gregan told Australian media he thought his heir apparent has "better skills" and, at 22, the potential to be a better player than he was.