Super 14 Rugby

Waratahs & Stormers headline make or break round

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The Waratahs and Stormers headline Super 14 rugby’s make-or-break penultimate regular round with nine teams still in with a chance of reaching the top-four play-offs.


Only the glamour side Crusaders, the most successful franchise in Super rugby, are already assured of entering the knock-out phase and their last two games are against the lowly Reds and Highlanders.


Ten points behind the six-times champions, the Waratahs lead a logjam teams which will start to unravel when the Hurricanes host the Western Force on Friday night.


The Waratahs (37 points), Hurricanes (36) and Stormers (35) make up the top four with the Crusaders, while the clutch of contenders behind them includes the Chiefs (33), Coastal Sharks (32), and Blues (31).


Three points behind the Blues, the Brumbies and Western Force retain mathematical chances of making the finals.


Saturday’s match-up between the Waratahs and Stormers is a defining moment for both sides who play the unimpressive Reds and Lions respectively in the final round.


“It’s like semi-final week in Cape Town,” said Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie.


“We’ve been busy with the local press and the sports pages are dominated by this game. It’s going to be a memorable night for our guys at Newlands.”


The Stormers have a psychological edge in the top-four clash, playing in their Cape Town fortress where they have won all their home games since being beaten by the Crusaders in February.


Meanwhile the Waratahs, whose winning streak was snapped by the Bulls last week, will be without injured Matt Dunning and with fellow prop Al Baxter struggling to regain fitness.


The unpredictable Hurricanes will need to be at their best as the Force look to reproduce the form which saw them upset the Chiefs with an injury-time penalty last week.


A bonus-point win would keep the Hurricanes’ home semi-final hopes alive while the Force know their season is over if they cannot produce another shock result.


Of the fringe semi-final contenders, the Chiefs, the Sharks and the Blues all have an accommodating draw with matches against sides no longer holding even a remote chance of qualifying.


The Chiefs, needing to get their season back on track have a winnable outing against the Lions before facing the Sharks in an all-or-nothing encounter the following week.


The Sharks meanwhile are at home in a local derby against the Cheetahs while the Blues travel to Dunedin and the House of Pain to face the Highlanders.


Although the Highlanders are out of contention, they will be buoyant after pulling off just their second win of the season against the Cheetahs last week.


Meanwhile the Crusaders, with a home semi-final already assured, have the luxury of resting half the pack who started in last week’s 18-10 defeat of the Sharks.


But such is their depth of talent that while All Blacks lock Ali Williams is given a break, former All Blacks backrower Mose Tuiali’i returns to the line-up.


And, as the remaining semi-finalists sort themselves out, flyhalf Daniel Carter returns, starting from the bench after being injured against the Hurricanes on March 28.


“Physically he’s ready to return but, by bringing him back via the bench, we’ll ease him back in slowly,” said coach Robbie Deans.


Sapa-AFP – Super14.com

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