Super 14 Rugby

Crusaders, Sharks look to rebound after shock defeats


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Super 14 Leaders the Crusaders and Sharks will be under extra scrutiny this weekend about how they react to last week’s first defeats in rugby’s Super 14 series.

The moody Blues are bracing for a backlash from the chastened Crusaders, whose unbeaten eight-match record was unceremoniously ended by the Chiefs in Hamilton.

Across the Tasman, South Africa’s Sharks paid dearly for a breakdown in discipline, giving up a halftime lead to go down 27-21 to the Brumbies in Canberra.

Week 11 of the southern hemisphere provincial tournament is all about redemption with the Crusaders hosting fierce Kiwi rivals the Blues on Friday and the Sharks facing a testing encounter with the third-placed Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

Just four rounds remain before next month’s top-four play-offs, and the Stormers, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Blues all face must-win games to keep in the semi-final race.

The six-time champion Crusaders are six points clear of the Sharks and have had a week to mull over shortcomings exposed by the Chiefs as they prepare to hit back against the seventh-placed Blues.

Coach Robbie Deans admitted the Crusaders’ performance was “sub-standard,” saying they were aware “we’re going to get a real test this weekend.”

Blues’ coach David Nucifora said the Chiefs’ performance, with its strong defensive effort, especially around the fringes of the ruck, had been useful for game-plan purposes.

“It wasn’t great for us for them (Chiefs) to get the points, but they exposed some things in the Crusaders as well, which I thought they did very well,” Nucifora said.

“But obviously the Crusaders will have their eyes back on the ball this week.”

The Blues led the Super 14 after round three but have come unstuck and are down to seventh place on the back of four defeats and just two victories.

The heat is also on the Durban-based Sharks, who looked terrific in the opening half against the Brumbies, only to concede 17 second-half penalties and two yellow cards to leave them for 20 minutes with 14 men.

The Sharks can go a long way to locking up a home play-off with a win over the Waratahs, who are chasing five straight wins and possible second place before they head off to South Africa.

The Sharks last won in Sydney in 2000 and a week of soul-searching will have them prepared for an expected onslaught from the Waratahs.

“The Sharks are different to most Super 14 teams in that they kick a lot to give themselves go-forward rather than running into people, but when they do take it into contact, they are very physical,” Waratahs’ coach Ewen McKenzie said.

One appealing duel will be between the two fly-halves, the Sharks’ French international Frederic Michalak and young Waratahs No.10 Kurtley Beale.

“Kurtley has had plenty of tests but this is a slightly different one because this bloke is more clever than most,” former Wallabies’ coach Bob Dwyer said.

The Cape Town-based Stormers are hitting form at the right time and can further boost their play-off chances against the 12th-placed Highlanders at home on Saturday.

The Stormers lost their first three matches but have won three of their four Australasian tour matches and two more at Newlands Stadium and are expected to continue their winning form against the Highlanders.

The fifth-placed Chiefs have their last home fixture against the Reds on Saturday before they fly out for matches against the Western Force, the Lions and the Sharks.

The Chiefs will be on a high after four straight wins, but coach Ian Foster is wary of the 10th-placed Reds, who all but ended Western Force’s semi-final aspirations in Brisbane last weekend.

Elsewhere, the eighth-placed Brumbies must beat the last-placed Lions at home on Friday to keep their hopes alive, as must the sixth-placed Hurricanes away to South Africa’s Cheetahs on Saturday.

The Western Force and Pretoria’s Bulls have byes this weekend.

Sapa-AFP –

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