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No margin for error this weekend in the Super 14

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There will be no margin for error this weekend as the Super 14 semi-final contenders seek to make the most of the few opportunities that remain.

 

With just two rounds of league action to play, at least eight teams have a realistic chance of securing one of the three remaining semi-final berths.

Six-time champions, the Crusaders are in an unassailable position at the top of the standings and will host one of the semi-finals in Christchurch. This leaves the chasing pack having to fight it out to the bitter end.


This weekend’s key matches in terms of teams chasing the prized second place and a home semi-final are the clash between the Hurricanes and the Western Force in Wellington on Friday (09h35 SA time), the Auto & General Lions against the Chiefs at Ellis Park on Saturday (17h05) and the Stormers against the Waratahs at Newlands at 19h10 on Saturday.


The Stormers vs Waratahs clash has already been likened to a semi-final by Waratahs coach Ewan McKenzie who is looking forward to what he terms ‘ a memorable night at Newlands’.


Stormers mentor Rassie Erasmus is motivating his charges with the simple message: ‘Win your next two games and you will play in a Super 14 semi-final’.


The off the field activity has its value but both teams will know that the job has to be done on the field. Erasmus will be looking for an 80-minute performance against a team that has a knack of killing off their opponents in the second half.


Against the Sharks the ‘Tahs scored 22 points in the second half in a 25-10 win and they beat the Lions 26-3 after changing sides at 0-0.


The Stormers will have the psychological edge with good home record against the Waratahs backed by a passionate and vocal support that will cram Newlands on Saturday.


The Waratahs come off a loss against the Bulls last week while the home side will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to six.


The Hurricanes will start as favourites against the Force in Wellington on Friday but will be wary of a side that has the ability to close out tight games and is buoyed by the return of Matt Giteau.


The Lions could do the Stormers a huge favour by beating the Chiefs on Saturday but that will be a huge task from a side that had a nightmare tour and is struggling to get results despite showing some enterprising play.


With a back three comprising wingers Sitiveni Sivivatu and Lelia Masaga and fullback Mils Muliaina, and strong ball carriers like Sione Lauaki in the pack the Chiefs will start as favourites despite being away from home. They will know too that Saturday may be their last chance to bid for a playoff spot.


The Sharks find themselves in a similar position after slipping back from second to sixth place in the past few weeks. They return to the Absa Stadium in Durban where they host the Cheetahs at 15h00 on Saturday. The Cheetahs won 27-26 on their previous visit to Durban in 2006 whilst the Sharks turned the tables last season, winning 30-14 in Bloemfontein. The 2008 encounter will be tough with the Sharks desperate for a win and the Cheetahs playing to restore their pride at the end of a disappointing campaign.


The Blues, who are currently seventh in the standings, are still in the running but need a win over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday (09h35) to keep their ambitions alive.


Carisbrook has not been a happy hunting ground for the Blues over the years ‘ they have won only once in their last five visits to the notorious ‘House of Pain’ since 1999. The Highlanders have had a disappointing season and will be looking to end on a high at home, which will force the Blues to be at their best.


The eighth-placed Brumbies have slipped off the pace and will have to rely on the outcome of other matches if they are to make the last four.


It could all come tumbling down, however, when they face a resurgent Bulls team at Loftus Versfeld on Friday (19h10). It is the defending champions’ final home game and they will be looking to finish with a flourish after recent wins over the Waratahs and the Highlanders. The Brumbies have won three of their last four matches and the Bulls will have to work hard for a win.


The Crusaders, with a home semi-final already in the bag, are away to the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday (11h40). This gives them the luxury of resting key players ahead of the playoffs and of slowly re-introducing injured players, including Dan Carter, who will start on the bench on Saturday.


The Crusaders have won their last four Super Rugby matches in Brisbane and will perhaps have too much for the Reds, who have shown good improvement after a poor start.

 

Super14.com

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