Blues and Brumbies meet in battle of hopefuls
March 18, 2010
Carlos Spencer has been booted as the Lions seek answers © Getty Images
It's Super Friday in the Super 14 in Round 6 as four finals hopefuls lock horns including the competition's runaway leaders, the Bulls. It's two teams in the top six, the Chiefs and the Reds, who have the bye this week, with the Chiefs left to rue a defeat to the Crusaders.
The flawless Bulls host the homesick Hurricanes in our Game of the Week in Pretoria, but not before the Blues welcome the Brumbies to Eden Park in the round opener.
The Blues have had three games on New Zealand soil so far, but only one at home, which was the season opener they lost to the Hurricanes. Since then they've grabbed wins in Otago and Brisbane but they were humbled by the Crusaders in Christchurch before last week's bye.
To be a contender, you have to beat a contender and the Brumbies are certainly that, even if their star-studded line-up still hasn't quite gelled to coach Andy Friend's liking. The Brumbies have four wins and one loss to the Bulls away, and with their South African leg out of the way already, they're looking like serious top four threats. The visitors will have to make do without Stirling Mortlock, who has been left out as a precaution with a shoulder injury with Tyrone Smith coming into the centres.
The Blues welcome back Isaia Toeava at fullback after a hip injury sidelined him for two games. Paul Williams drops to the bench. Hooker Keven Mealamu will become the franchise's first ever centurion when he leads his side out.
The Crusaders will have a bonus point in mind when the Lions visit AMI Stadium on Saturday, but the visitors will be fired up upon seeing the third-placed side rest six leading players for the match.
Dan Carter headlines those deemed surplus to requirements in overcoming the second-to-last Lions, even though the Crusaders have a bye next week. Colin Slade comes in for Carter at fly-half, while four All Black forwards in prop Wyatt Crockett, lock Brad Thorn and flankers Kieran Read and George Whitelock have been rested for Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Thomas Waldrom and Jonathan Poff respectively. Adam Whitelock, a replacement for the first five weeks, starts at centre ahead of Robbie Fruean.
Lions coach Dick Muir has made six changes of his own, with Carlos Spencer dropping out and two Springboks in wing Tonderai Chavanga and prop Heinke van der Merwe following suit. JC Janse van Rensburg and Ross Geldenhuys replace Van der Merwe and Kevin Buys up front, while Willem Stoltz makes way for George Earle. Jano Vermaak replaces JP Joubert and Burton Francis comes in for Spencer, while Wigan Pekeur gets his first Super 14 start in place of Chavanga.
The Highlanders host the Sharks as two teams struggling for form face off in Otago. The returning Jimmy Cowan and the promoted Robbie Robinson form a new No.9-10 combination, while Michael Hobbs is back outside them after suspension. Adam Thomson also returns.
Patrick Lambie gets a debut at fullback for the Sharks, who are also mixing their options in search of form, with Stefan Terblanche shifted to wing. Skipper John Smit has been given a break, according to the Sharks, with Jannie du Plessis coming in at tight-head.
Rock-bottom Western Force, pointless after four games, host an Australian derby against the Waratahs on Saturday night. The Waratahs finally impressed the home fans with their 73-point haul against the Lions last week, and they'll be hoping to build on that here with just two late forced changes. Forwards Al Baxter and Wycliff Palu won't be risked with minor injuries, and Sekope Kepu and Ben Mowen start up front and at No.8 respectively.
Interestingly, the Force have made no changes. Coach John Mitchell wants his players to step up right their own wrongs after they crashed to an undisciplined defeat against the Reds last time out. On the bench, Pek Cowan (shoulder), Matt Dunning (concussion) and Jono Jenkins, who broke his ankle just moments into his Super Rugby debut, are replaced by Ben Whittaker, Kieran Longbottom and Luke Jones respectively.
Rounding out Saturday's action are the high-flying Stormers, face South African rivals the Cheetahs at Newlands. Despite losing a tight one against the Brumbies, the Stormers have amassed the competition's best points difference with some commanding performances.
They haven't left home soil though, and they will be keen to capitalise on a relatively short trip before they jet off for Australiasia later in the campaign. They've made two changes, with youngster Tim Whitehead in at inside centre for the injured Juan de Jongh, and Gio Aplon starting on the wing in place of Sereli Naqelevuki.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton