Preview of Super Rugby Round 3 matches (all times AEST).
FRIDAY, March 9
Crusaders v Chiefs at McLean Park, Napier 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 17 Crusaders 13 Chiefs 4
In Napier: Played 1 Crusaders 1 Chiefs 0
Last clash: Round 14 2011 – Crusaders 25 bt Chiefs 19 at McLean Park
It would usually be straightforward to tip the Crusaders in this home game but less certain this time. The Chiefs rolled the fancied Blues with some dazzling first-half tries last week and, under new management, may finally be ready to shed their maddening inconsistency. The slow-starting Crusaders were stung by derby rivals the Highlanders last week and are yet to regain kingpins Dan Carter and Richie McCaw. The clash of Chiefs centres Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui against big Robbie Freuan and Adam Whitelock should be bruising but the Crusaders may just have the match-winning ace in fullback Israel Dagg behind what is a more formidable forward pack.
Tab Sportsbet: Crusaders $1.45 Chiefs $2.70
Tip: Crusaders by 3 points
Western Force v Hurricanes at nib Stadium, Perth 10.05pm
Head to Head: Played 6 Force 1 Hurricanes 5
In Perth: Played 2 Force 1 Hurricanes 1
Last clash: Round 15 2011 – Hurricanes 34 bt Force 28 at Showgrounds Oval
Nathan Sharpe becomes the first player to 150 Super caps in this intriguing encounter where the home side will be desperate to ensure their former skipper celebrates in style. The winless Force were much improved on their round one form against the Brumbies in their 35-20 loss to the Reds last weekend but still have a long way to go in fixing their spluttering attack. Halves Brett Sheehan and James Stannard remain together and must repay coach Richard Graham’s faith by better utilising their backline. The Hurricanes have shown they can score tries out of nothing against the Stormers and Lions and have momentum following a last-gasp win in Johannesburg. They’ve found a good one in gifted playmaker Beauden Barrett.
Tab Sportsbet: Force $1.90 Hurricanes $1.90
Tip: Hurricanes by 5 points
SATURDAY, March 10
Brumbies v Cheetahs at Canberra Stadium, Canberra 3.35pm
Head to Head: Played 7 Brumbies 5 Cheetahs 2
In Canberra: Played 4 Brumbies 4 Cheetahs 0
Last clash: Round 11 2011 – Cheetahs 47 bt Brumbies 36 at Vodacom Park
The Cheetahs have wielded the axe following a 51-19 drubbing at the hands of the Bulls last week. Coach Naka Drotske has brought in stalwart Coenie Oosthuizen to help out his struggling side, while demoting no less than four players. History says the Cheetahs’ defence will be put to the test. While the Brumbies may have lost on-the-rise fullback Robbie Coleman to a groin injury, their backline is still solid with the long-awaited inclusion of Pat McCabe, who gets his start on the wing. Expect Ben Hand to use the most of his opportunity at lock. The need for a win to put this week’s Jake White drama behind them should also drive the home side.
Tab Sportsbet: Brumbies $1.35 Cheetahs $3.10
Tip: Brumbies by 10 points
Highlanders v NSW Waratahs at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 16 Highlanders 4 Waratahs 12
In Dunedin: Played 7 Highlanders 1 Waratahs 6
Last clash: Round 17 2011 – Waratahs 33 bt Highlanders 7 at Sydney Football Stadium
The unbeaten Highlanders are set to give the Waratahs and plenty of other fancied teams a big shake in 2012. They recruited brilliantly, picking up All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore and big winger Hosea Gear. And playing in their new indoor stadium, they’re shedding their no-frills tag with a high-paced game still based on a rugged breakdown where the likes of Adam Thomson produce plenty of turnovers. They toppled the Crusaders last week and the Tahs will have to be right on their game at the breakdown if their creative approach, benching Tom Carter for the return of Berrick Barnes, is to bear fruit. NSW halfback recruit Sarel Pretorius holds the key to the visitors’ attack if he gets any leeway with his sharp running game.
Tab Sportsbet: Highlanders $1.80 Waratahs $2.00
Tip: Highlanders by 5 points
Queensland Reds v Melbourne Rebels at , Brisbane 7.40pm
Head to Head: Played 2 Reds 2 Rebels 0
In Brisbane: Played 1 Reds 1 Rebels 0
Last clash: Round 12 2011 – Reds 33 bt Rebels 18 at AAMI Park
Queensland are yet to hit their straps in attack this season but are showing championship qualities already. Mike Harris’s 16 from 16 record this season on a record 24-goal streak makes discipline crucial for the Rebels, who again struggled in defence against the Waratahs in their season-opener last weekend. The visitors will be more potent with the ball with Kurtley Beale back from his hamstring worries to make his debut. A surprise change at halfback, with former Red Richard Kingi replacing Nick Phipps, adds to the danger around the ruckbase. Boom flanker Liam Gill gets his chance to start for Queensland instead of Beau Robinson, who is one of seven Wallabies on an extremely strong bench.
Tab Sportsbet: Reds $1.14 Rebels $5.50
Tip: Reds by 14 points
SUNDAY, March 11
Sharks v Lions at ABSA Stadium, Durban 2.05am
Head to Head: Played 18 Sharks 13 Lions 3 drawn 2
In Durban: Played 9 Sharks 8 Lions 1
Last clash: Round 17 2011 – Lions 30 drew Sharks 30 at Ellis Park
The talent-laden Sharks are 0-2 after tough road losses to the Bulls and Stormers, but should be far too good at home for the Lions in a rematch of the Currie Cup final. They get big Springbok Willem Alberts back from injury in the pack where hooker Bismarck du Plessis is a commanding presence. They also ooze class in the backline from halves Freddie Michalak and Patrick Lambie to outside men JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo and Odwa Ndungane. The Lions suffered a painful 30-28 home loss to the Hurricanes last week and coach John Mitchell has lost front-rowers JC Janse van Rensburg and CJ van der Linde to injury. He’s brought in the abrasive Butch James at inside centre to shore up the midfield outside the exciting Elton Jantjies.
Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.18 Lions $4.50
Tip: Sharks by 8 points
Bulls v Blues at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria 4.10am
Head to Head: Played 16 Bulls 5 Blues 10 drawn 1
In Pretoria: Played 6 Bulls 4 Blues 1 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 8 2010 – Blues 32 bt Bulls 17 at Eden Park
The Blues must be the most frustrating team to support in Super Rugby. They have returned to their under-performing ways this season with losses to the injury-plagued Crusaders and the far-hungrier Chiefs. Their chances of turning it around at the Bulls’ fearsome cauldron have taken a severe blow with the loss of inspirational forward leader Jerome Kaino (shoulder). They will also miss in-form winger Rudi Wulf (knee) for a month. If the Blues pack can match the confident Bulls forwards then their backline has the firepower with Rene Ranger and Isaia Toeava out wide. The pace-setting Bulls, coming off a six-try demolition of the Cheetahs, will be without dangerous halfback Francois Hougaard due to suspension but deserve favouritism at home.
Tab Sportsbet: Bulls $1.40 Blues $2.90
Tip: Bulls by 6 points