Super Rugby round 15 preview panel
Preview of Super Rugby Round 15 matches (all times AEST).
FRIDAY, June 1
Crusaders v Highlanders at Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 21 Crusaders 13 Highlanders 8
In Christchurch: Played 10 Crusaders 8 Highlanders 2
Last clash: Round 2 2012 – Highlanders 27 bt Crusaders 24 at Forsyth Barr Stadium
The match of the round, and hopefully one the South Island combatants don’t make so hard for ref Steve Walsh after the Reds-Brumbies grindfest. The fifth-placed Crusaders are coming off a bye and have the wind in their sails following a last-start thumping of the Blues. All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read is back from injury to ensure all their stars are on deck. It’s a tough ask for the visitors who must win to jump back into the top six. English international James Haskell returns from suspension in one of four changes to the Highlanders forward pack, including fit-again No.8 Nasi Manu. A torrid battle is ensured.
Tab Sportsbet: Crusaders $1.20 Highlanders $4.20
Tip: Crusaders by 6 points
Melbourne Rebels v Brumbies at AAMI Park, Melbourne 7.40pm
Head to Head: Played 3 Rebels 1 Brumbies 2
In Melbourne: Played 1 Rebels 1 Brumbies 0
Last clash: Round 8 2012 – Brumbies 37 bt Rebels 6 at Canberra Stadium
Finally, Stirling Mortlock will make his first run-on Rebels start for the year. The veteran centre is over his injury troubles after a few games off the bench but his inconsistent team is again under the pump. Last week’s big capitulation to the Hurricanes came at a huge cost with the loss of Kurtley Beale and Lachie Mitchell, but they’ve at least had Mark Gerrard cleared to play. While the home side will be without Beale, this could be a banana skin game for the Brumbies following last week’s intense battle against the Reds. Jake White has rested forwards Dan Palmer, Ita Vaea and Sam Carter, while Robbie Coleman starts at fullback.
Tab Sportsbet: Rebels $3.75 Brumbies $1.25
Tip: Brumbies by 10 points
SATURDAY, June 2
Blues v Chiefs at North Harbour Stadium, Albany 5.35pm
Head to Head: Played 18 Blues 10 Chiefs 8
In Albany: Played 2 Blues 1 Chiefs 1
Last clash: Round 2 2012 – Chiefs 29 bt Blues 14 at Waikato Stadium
Many still believe the pacesetting Chiefs will eventually falter but last week’s emphatic win over the Bulls was another indication they might be on track for their first-ever title. The Blues haven’t been able to take a trick this season and this would be an enormous upset if they can get up here. The Chiefs won’t want to get too relaxed however, as the Blues are looking much stronger with Rudi Wulf, Rene Ranger and Ma’a Nonu starting in their backline. Sonny Bill Williams was outstanding last week and his battle with Nonu should be a cracking All Blacks No.12 audition.
Tab Sportsbet: Blues $4.00 Chiefs $1.22
Tip: Chiefs by 15 points
NSW Waratahs v Hurricanes at Allianz Stadium, Sydney 7.40pm
Head to Head: Played 17 Waratahs 10 Hurricanes 7
In Sydney: Played 8 Waratahs 6 Hurricanes 2
Last clash: Round 14 2010 – Waratahs 32 bt Hurricanes 16 at Allianz Stadium
NSW will be relieved to be back on home soil after a morale-sapping tour of South Africa, but it doesn’t get much easier against the Hurricanes. The Wellington side thumped Melbourne last week, have a sniff of the playoffs and boast red-hot dangermen Julian Savea and Andre Taylor. The Waratahs’ season is over, and with doubts over the future of coach Michael Foley, it could be a long final stretch for Super Rugby’s underachievers. It remains to be seen how the Waratahs’ Wallabies handle the unique scenario of playing just three days before possibly backing up for a Test match. They might have other things on their mind.
Tab Sportsbet: Waratahs $1.75 Hurricanes $2.00
Tip: Hurricanes by 3 points
SUNDAY, June 3
Lions v Sharks at Ellis Park, Johannesburg 1.05am
Head to Head: Played 19 Lions 3 Sharks 14 drawn 2
In Johannesburg: Played 9 Lions 6 Sharks 2 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 3 2012 – Sharks 32 bt Lions 20 at ABSA Stadium
The last-placed Lions will be happy to be home after another poor Australasian tour but the Sharks will be far from welcoming. The boys from Durban are on a roll and looking like legitimate contenders following a strong win over the Stormers. Of all the South African sides, they have the best balance and can sting rivals up front and out wide when they have their act together. Pat Lambie has slotted back in at fullback but remains a more dangerous playmaker than Frederic Michalak. The Lions have copped a blow with utility back Jaco Taute (shoulder) sidelined but Butch James returns from suspension and prop CJ van der Linde has escaped a biting charge.
Tab Sportsbet: Lions $4.85 Sharks $1.15
Tip: Sharks by 14 points
Bulls v Stormers at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria 3.10am
Head to Head: Played 18 Bulls 9 Stormers 8 drawn 1
In Pretoria: Played 7 Bulls 3 Stormers 4
Last clash: Round 6 2012 – Stormers 20 bt Bulls 17 at Newlands Rugby Stadium
This is a massive game, with the winner to take top spot in their conference heading into the Test match break. The advantage of a home final can’t be underestimated for the South African teams, and this shapes as a mini-grand final. The Stormers dropped an important game against the Sharks last week in Durban, and travelling to Pretoria without lock Andries Bekker will be a tough ask. However, the Bulls are coming off their long Australasian tour which finished with a loss to the Chiefs when the game was there to be won. In spite of their position, the powerful Bulls haven’t quite put it together this season. The question is whether they can click against the competition’s best defence.
Tab Sportsbet: Bulls $1.57 Stormers $2.30
Tip: Bulls by 5 points
Byes: Queensland Reds, Western Force, Cheetahs.© AAP 2013
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