Race hots up for semi-final berths
May 7, 2009
The Brumbies' Stirling Mortlock is poised to become Super Rugby's leading points scorer of all-time © Getty Images
It's round 13 of the Super 14 this weekend and as teams jostle for play-off positions it's the top-of-table clash between the Chiefs and the Hurricanes that has captured our attention and is our featured Game of the Week.
The rest of the action kicks off on Friday though in Christchurch where Richie McCaw has passed a fitness test and will captain the Crusaders team against the Queensland Reds.
McCaw missed the Crusaders' game against the Cheetahs last week after suffering mild concussion.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder was thrilled to have McCaw and the other two players he had earlier bracketed, scrumhalf Andy Ellis and fly-half Stephen Brett, all complete training unscathed this week and available. Brett was initially bracketed with Hamish Gard but Gard will now drop to the bench.
Apart from the planned return of McCaw for Jonathan Poff, outside back Adam Whitelock will start on the left wing in place of the injured Colin Slade.
The Reds have named three uncapped players on the bench as seven first team players are out with injury.
They've also switched Quade Cooper to fullback to cover for the loss of regular fullback Mark McLinden, with scrumhalf Ben Lucas reverting to his previous role at club level as a flyhalf.
Along with McLinden (knee), captain James Horwill (ankle), Berrick Barnes (groin), Digby Ioane (shoulder) and Poutasi Luafutu (hand) are all ruled out through injury.
Reds Academy scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin will add to his three caps by starting at scrumhalf.
Uncapped 20-year old flanker Andrew Shaw will make his debut at no. 7 while loosehead prop Ben Daley is in the starting lineup, Ezra Taylor shifts to blindside flanker and Leroy Houston starts at no 8.
With five key backs ruled out through injury, wing Rod Davies and centres Anthony Faingaa and Charlie Fetoai get a rare opportunity to start a match.
Hooker Sean Hardman, captains the side in the absence of Horwill and Berrick Barnes. [Teams]
The Lions host the Highlanders in Friday's other game and were dealt a late double-blow on Thursday with their captain Cobus Grobbelaar and Jaque Fourie both sidelined.
Fourie is out with a hamstring injury while Grobbelaar has not yet recovered from the injury sustained during his team's Australasian tour. Exciting young prospect Johan van Deventer will start at flank. Deon van Rensburg replaces Fourie at centre which means Michael Killian starts on the wing, with Dusty Noble coming onto the bench.
Andre Pretorius will take over the captaincy role.
For the Highlanders, coach Glenn Moore has made three changes to the side beaten 15-23 last week by the Sharks.
In the backs, Johnny Leota comes in for centre Daniel Bowden, who has been suspended for one-match, while Kendrick Lynn replaces Fetu'u Vainikolo on the left wing.
At prop Moore has opted to break up his established combination of Clint Newland and Jamie Mackintosh,so Chris King has been bracketed with Newland but is also bracketed with Mackintosh, who needs to pass a fitness test.
If an ill Mackintosh failed to recover from a virus, Newland and King will pack down alongside hooker David Hall.
The Highlanders are 10th in the standings after suffering three straight defeats, while the Lions are 12th and seeking just their fourth win of the season. [Teams]
The Brumbies have made one change to their backline ahead of their final home match of the season against the Blues on Saturday.
Adam Ashley-Cooper moves to fullback after Mark Gerrard was ruled out with a hamstring strain earlier in the week.
Francis Fainifo returns to the starting line-up on the right wing while Stirling Mortlock starts at left wing in a game that could see him become the leading Super Rugby points scorer of all time. He is currently eight points shy of record holder Andrew Mehrtens's competition record of 990 points.
His coach Andy Friend paid his tribute to the the Wallabies captain.
"We'd love to see Stirling break the record at our final home match of the season," he said. "It would be a fitting spectacle for our supporters and a nice tribute for Stirling, who has been such an integral member of this side for the past 12 seasons.
Guy Shepherdson's return from a two week suspension is the only change to the forward pack.
The Blues will be without loose forward Justin Collins has been ruled out against the Brumbies.
Collins is replaced by Peter Saili and Andrew Van der Heijden comes on to the bench. Van der Heijden could yet start at lock as Kurtis Haiu could miss the game while waiting for his partner to deliver their second child."
All Blacks locks Ali Williams and Anthony Boric are also missing but the All Blacks tighthead prop John Afoa returns to the pack. [Teams]
Rob Horne and Luke Burgess are back in the Waratahs starting XV to take on the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
Burgess returns to the starting line-up this weekend, while Brumbies-bound Brett Sheehan is poised to earn his 50th NSW cap from the bench.
Lote Tuqiri and Tatafu Polota-Nau have been named despite leaving the field against the Cheetahs due to injury.
For the Sharks - scrum-half Rory Kockott is out after being banned for striking Highlanders player Adam Thomson, he's replaced by Charl McLeod while Francois Steyn is out with a knee injury and he is replaced by the former Sharks centre Brad Barritt.
Barritt, who's season has finished with Saracens, has been given permission by his club to turn out for the South African team in a gentlemen's agreement between the two outfits.
Ruan Pienaar is back to start at flyhalf and Adrian Jacobs has passed a fitness test after it was initially feared he would be out for an extended period with a shoulder injury.
The only other change sees Jannie du Plessis link with brother Bismarck in the front row, with John Smit dropping to the bench. [Teams]
Heini Adams will wear the Bulls' no 9 jersey against the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday following Fourie du Preez's calf injury. Francois Hougaard comes onto the bench as the replacement scrum-half.
The Bulls also welcome back star lock Bakkies Botha following his three week suspension after an incident on tour in the match against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Coach Frans Ludeke said at the weekly press conference at Loftus on Wednesday that Adams is eager to show his worth and he backs him a 100 per cent to do the job on Saturday.
"Losing Fourie is obviously a setback to us but we would like to see it in a positive light. He has been playing in all of our matches and this break possibly comes at just the right time.
"This is an opportunity for Heini to get game time and we are in a very fortunate position to have three top scrumhalves in the system. I have a lot of trust in Heini's abilities and we are all looking forward to the game."
The Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has made just one change to his side from last week.
Centre Corné Uys returns to the team after being declared fit and replaces Piet van Zyl, who drops out of the match 22.
There will be a number of interesting battles as fullbacks Hennie Daniller and Zane Kirchner will be looking to catch the eye of the Springbok selectors after Conrad Jantjes' long-term leg injury while there should be some fireworks out wide as two of the quickest men in South African rugby, Bryan Habana and Jongi Nokwe, go head-to-head. [Teams]
The round's final game takes place in Cape Town on Saturday where the injury-hit Stormers have made three changes to the side that lost to the Chiefs as they host John Mitchell's Western Force this week.
Joe Pietersen comes in at fullback for the Conrad Jantjes who has a broken leg, Gcobani Bobo starts on the wing which means that Tonderai Chavangha drops to the bench and Pieter Louw comes in for Springbok flank Schalk Burger who has a calf injury and who captained the side last week.
His absence sees Luke Watson, the former Stormers captain, lead the team.
The Force welcome back Sam Wykes from muscular and ligament damage to his left shoulder to be named at lock while Richard Brown was ruled out today with an ankle injury, his place is taken by Tamaiti Horua.
James O'Connor has overcome a shoulder sprain to play at inside centre.
Left wing Cameron Shepherd will undergo a fitness test on his injured left knee on Friday after sitting out of Thursday's training run [Teams]
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