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Test places as well as points on the line in Perth

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The Waratahs and Western Force meet on Saturday in an Australian derby that will have a strong bearing on each team’s Super 14 playoff chances and the test hopes of several key players.


The Force are the highest-placed Australian team in this year’s competition, in fifth place with 23 points, and the Waratahs climbed to sixth, a point behind, with last week’s 37-14 win over the Blues.


Of the competition’s top-four teams, the Crusaders and Sharks are both well-placed to maintain unbeaten records in round nine.


Both teams face lowly-placed opponents – the Sharks open the round against the Highlanders, which posted its first win in round eight, and the Crusaders host the Lions, who also have only one win to their credit.


Those teams are likely to retain their top two places but the winners of the Force-Waratahs clash at Perth has the chance to enter the top four if the third-placed Blues stumble. The fourth-placed Chief miss the round with a bye.


The Sydney-based Waratahs come into the match with the stronger recent form, buoyed by their win over the Blues, while the Force followed a home loss to the Stormers with a one-point win over the lowly Bulls.


“It is a game we’re looking forward to,” Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie said.


“We have been there (Perth) before and won, so it’s not like we don’t know Subiaco (Stadium). We have won there before.


“This is the most difficult one, going from the Blues to the Force, because both those teams are right at the top of the comp.


“It’s how you play against those teams is the only way you can influence your climb up the ladder. You have to keep knocking off the top teams now.”


The match features a number of important individual clashes, notably between Wallabies flyhalf Matt Giteau and Waratahs’ rising star Kurtley Beale.


“All the clashes will be important,” McKenzie said.


“I have written before about local derbies (being overblown) in terms of selection. I don’t see that, I see it as a contest. There’ll be little head-to-head contests.


“There are some interesting ones, (Nathan) Sharpe and (Daniel) Vickerman, the backrow scenario is a big one in the context of the game.”


The Force face Australian rivals the Waratahs and the Reds on successive weekends and coach John Mitchell sees those matches as having a bearing on Wallabies selections.


“It is just a special couple of weeks, and the fact is test spots are up for grabs,” he said.


“But while there will be media focus on that situation, it is more importantly about what we do.”


Australia’s fourth franchise, the Brumbies, face the Blues in round nine but have steadily faded from playoffs contention, notably after last week’s heavy loss to the Chiefs.


The Brumbies may not be able to reach the top four immediately but they have a chance, against teh Blues, to help the playoffs chances of their Australian counterparts.


The Blues desperately need a win to resuscitate their fading campaign, which moved into sharper decline with last week’s loss to the Waratahs.


Coaches of teams which are out of playoff contention have already begun to face questions over their reappointment, none moreso than Frans Ludeke, coach of defending champions the Bulls.


The Pretoria-based side won last season’s championship under Heyneke Meyer but has slumped toward the bottom of the table under Ludeke, recently completing and Australasian tour on which they were beaten by the Chiefs, Blues, Reds and the Force.


They return home Saturday to face the Hurricanes, who are also desperate for a win after a recent loss to the Crusaders and draw with the Sharks. Those results have dropped the Hurricanes two places out of the top four.


The Bulls are out of playoffs contention but could finish the season strongly at home to save their reputation and Ludeke’s job.


“I am 100 percent responsible and it is a pity we are here (at the bottom of the table),” Ludeke said.


“Hopefully, we will make our supporters proud in our next four games at (home).


“We just need to grow from this and I believe we will. In the last two games on tour we played some good rugby.”


Sapa-AP – Super14.com

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