Super 14 Rugby

South Africans to focus on Newlands clash


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Much of the attention in this weekend’s Super 14 action in South Africa will be focused on Newlands stadium where the Stormers host the Cheetahs at 15h00 SA time on Saturday.

The match is crucial to both teams’ Super 14 hopes. The home side will want to maintain the momentum built during its recent overseas tour and remain in the running for a place in the playoffs, whilst the visitors will be aiming to build on their long-overdue first win of the campaign against the Reds last weekend.

The match also sees Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus going up against a team that he had a hand in building over the past few seasons and there is likely to be some needle in the encounter.

The Stormers had a bye last week and return to action with no injury concerns. They will be at full strength against the Cheetahs.

A key contest in the match will be the battle amongst the loose forwards with the effective Stormers combination of Schalk Burger, Francois Louw and Luke Watson fighting for supremacy against Heinrich Brussow, the returning Juan Smith and Duane Vermeulen.

The Sharks and the Highlanders got the weekend’s action going when they met at Carisbrook in Dunedin on Friday.

The Crusaders host the Lions at Jade Stadium on Saturday (07h30). Despite injuries to playmaker Dan Carter, utility player Stephen Brett, fullback Leon MacDonald and lock Brad Thorn, the home side are favoured to extend their winning run to eight against a struggling Lions combination.

Super 14 rookie Hamish Gard, who made his debut as a substitute against the Bulls earlier in the campaign and also came on off the bench against the Waratahs, will start at flyhalf in place of Carter.

The 22-year-old goal-kicking utility back made 11 appearances for Canterbury in the NPC last year.

The Blues will be looking to bounce back when they host the Brumbies at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday (09h35). Well beaten by the Waratahs last week, the Blues this week suffered another blow when it was confirmed that star winger Joe Rokocoko requires surgery for a wrist injury sustained against the Western Force last month. He will be out for up to four months.

The Blues are fortunate that they have the likes of Ben Atiga and Rudi Wulf in their ranks to cover for the All Black winger.

The Brumbies will also be looking to get their campaign back on track after being thrashed by the Chiefs at home last week. The defeat leaves them in ninth place with just three wins from seven starts and defeat at the weekend will seriously dent their playoff hopes.

The Western Force host the Waratahs in a mid-table duel at the Subiaco Oval in Perth on Saturday (13h05).

The Force are in fifth place, one point ahead of the Waratahs but having played one match more than their opponents. They have struggled in their last two home matches, losing against the Stormers and beating the Bulls with a last gasp try. They face a Waratahs team that has its tails up after an impressive showing against the Blues last week and which will be aiming for its fifth win from six starts.

Eighteen-year-old centre Rob Horne will make his starting debut for the Waratahs in the place of Ben Jacobs, who ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament last week. Another impressive youngster, centre Matt Carraro is expected to make his debut off the bench on Saturday.

After a disappointing overseas tour, defending champions the Bulls return to Loftus Versfeld where they host the Hurricanes at 17h05 on Saturday. Last weekend’s defeat by the Force saw the Bulls slip into 13th place with just two wins from eight starts and they are in desperate need of a win.

In furthering their cause, the Bulls this week invited former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones to host a few sessions with the coaching staff. Coach Frans Ludeke said Jones helped with a review of the first part of the Super 14 and scrutinized the Bulls’ tour games.

Despite their below par performance against the Sharks last week, the Hurricanes have been in good form with four wins, a loss (against the Crusaders) and a draw in their last six matches.

The Bulls will have to build on the improvement shown against the Force ‘ particularly on defence ‘ and up the tempo if they are to counter the ‘Canes high speed game.   

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