Super Rugby round 14 preview panel
Preview of Super Rugby Round 14 matches (all times AEST).
FRIDAY, May 25
Chiefs v Bulls at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 17 Chiefs 8 Bulls 8 drawn 1
In Hamilton: Played 6 Chiefs 4 Bulls 1 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 11 2011 – Bulls 43 bt Chiefs 27 at Loftus Versfeld
The replay of the 2009 final shapes as one of the matches of the season. In that final, the Bulls smashed the Chiefs 61-17, but things will be a lot tighter on Friday night. The Chiefs are looking to put an even bigger gap between themselves and the Crusaders at the top of the New Zealand conference, but even though the match is in Hamilton, it will be one of their biggest tests. The Bulls are just two points off the lead in the South African conference and have proven on their Australasian tour that they are hard to beat away from Pretoria. The Chiefs would have perked up after a timely bye last week and a bonus point win will see them increase their advantage over the Crusaders. The Bulls are on track for a playoff berth even if they don’t top their conference, however this match is a crucial step towards gaining a valuable home final. Not much separates these sides, but the Chiefs have the inside lane.
Tab Sportsbet: Chiefs $1.40 Bulls $2.80
Tip: Chiefs by 12 points
SATURDAY, May 26
Hurricanes v Melbourne Rebels at Westpac Stadium, Wellington 3.30pm
Head to Head: Played 1 Hurricanes 0 Rebels 1
In Wellington: N/A
Last clash: Round 6 2011 – Rebels 42 bt Hurricanes 25 at AAMI Park
The Rebels will be aiming to break two records in the one go this weekend, with the club a chance to post three wins on the trot for the first time as well as their first ever overseas victory. Wins over the Crusaders and Force in the past fortnight have boosted the Rebels’ confidence, but they face a tricky task against a Hurricanes side that have been both brilliant and disappointing at times this year. Rebels playmaker Kurtley Beale has flourished at five-eighth in recent weeks, and will need to put in another strong performance to get his team over the line.
Tab Sportsbet: Hurricanes $1.25 Rebels $3.75
Tip: Hurricanes by 3 points
Blues v Highlanders at Eden Park, Auckland 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 19 Blues 13 Highlanders 6
In Auckland: Played 8 Blues 7 Highlanders 1
Last clash: Round 9 2012 – Highlanders 30 bt Blues 27 at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Besieged Blues coach Pat Lam has wielded the axe after the Auckland side’s embarrassing 47-point drubbing by the Crusaders. Among a raft of changes is the demotion of All Blacks Ma’a Nonu, Piri Weepu and Ali Williams to the bench. With just two wins this season, Lam will certainly be looking for a new job next year. His side still have enough talent to upset the Highlanders who have bagged just one win at Eden Park since 1996. But it’s hard to see a complete turnaround in their diabolical organisation and defence. The Highlanders come off a crucial 16-11 win over the Bulls and should again dominate possession and be too strong up front.
Tab Sportsbet: Blues $2.25 Highlanders $1.60
Tip: Highlanders by 8 points
Brumbies v Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium, Canberra 7.40pm
Head to Head: Played 19 Brumbies 16 Reds 3
In Canberra: Played 10 Brumbies 9 Reds 1
Last clash: Round 7 2012 – Reds 20 bt Brumbies 13 at Suncorp Stadium
The most important all-Australian battle of the year looms as a cracking encounter in the nation’s capital. The Reds have kept their cards close to their chest by naming a 23-man squad, allowing utility back Ben Lucas more time to overcome a groin problem. Ewen McKenzie will wait until Friday afternoon to announce his side with intrigue over whether Beau Robinson will start alongside fellow fetcher Liam Gill in the back-row. The Brumbies have picked a bigger loose forward combination with Peter Kimlin replacing a rested Fotu Auelua. Much responsibility will be on Michael Hooper’s shoulder and his battle with Gill should be a cracker. Quade Cooper will be put through a massive test by the Brumbies strong defence after just 40 minutes against the Lions.
Tab Sportsbet: Brumbies $1.85 Reds $1.95
Tip: Reds by 8 points
Western Force v Lions at nib Stadium, Perth 9.40pm
Head to Head: Played 6 Force 4 Lions 1 drawn 1
In Perth: Played 2 Force 1 Lions 1
Last clash: Round 5 2011 – Force 27 bt Lions 15 at Ellis Park
When John Mitchell left the Force two years ago, the franchise was struggling badly on the field. Fast-forward to the current day and little has changed, with the Force netting just two wins from 12 games this season to sit third from the bottom. The last-placed Lions, under the tutelage of Mitchell, are faring even worse with just one win from 11 games, meaning this clash could well decide the wooden spoon. The Force were left heartbroken by last week’s one-point loss to the Rebels, and are desperate to make amends this week in front of their long-suffering fans.
Tab Sportsbet: Force $1.40 Lions $2.80
Tip: Force by 12 points
SUNDAY, May 27
Cheetahs v NSW Waratahs at Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein 1.05am
Head to Head: Played 6 Cheetahs 2 Waratahs 4
In Bloemfontein: Played 1 Cheetahs 0 Waratahs 1
Last clash: Round 5 2011 – Cheetahs 23 bt Waratahs 3 at Allianz Stadium
NSW are down in the dumps, but the likely return of Drew Mitchell from an ankle injury will provide a timely morale boost. Mitchell was told by specialists he may never play again, but he’s set to make an early return to help the Waratahs come home strong in the back half of the year. It would seem the Cheetahs are also playing for pride but they’re no easy-beats in Bloemfontein, where they toppled an enthusiastic Western Force side a couple of weeks ago. The Cheetahs are coming off back-to-back losses though, and the Waratahs will fancy their chances of making a breakthrough before returning from their South Africa tour. Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau will return from concussion for NSW and Bernard Foley should be better at fullback for his run last week.
Tab Sportsbet: Cheetahs $1.65 Waratahs $2.15
Tip: Waratahs by 6 points
Sharks v Stormers at ABSA Stadium, Durban 3.10am
Head to Head: Played 17 Sharks 8 Stormers 9
In Durban: Played 9 Sharks 4 Stormers 5
Last clash: Round 2 2012 – Stormers 15 bt Sharks 12 at Newlands Rugby Stadium
The Sharks seem to be coming good at just the right time to sneak into the top six in the past fortnight. But coach John Plumtree isn’t convinced and has demanded a win over the pace-setting Stormers to show their true worth. The Stormers have had the wood over their Durban rivals in recent seasons but the Sharks will have in-form playmaker Pat Lambie back from illness. There is doubt over centre Tim Whitehead however. Should be an intriguing battle up front where the Stormers have outmuscled most opponents this season. Sharks have more flair and Stormers will miss injured fullback Joe Pietersen as Gio Aplon moves from wing to No.15.
Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.75 Stormers $2.00
Tip: Sharks by 1 points© AAP 2013