Super Rugby round eight preview
April 5, 2013
Friday, April 5
Keven Mealamu is back from a protracted break © Getty Images
In Auckland: Played 9, Blues 7, Highlanders 2
Last meeting: Round 14, May 26, 2012: Blues 20 - 27 Highlanders at Eden Park
Preview: Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the winless Highlanders have thrown caution to the wind by rushing Former All Blacks No. 8 Mose Tuiali'i straight into the side for this clash; the 32-year-old signed with the club only this week and the Highlanders hope his inclusion will spark the a much-needed turnaround in form. The Blues welcome back All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu, who will make his first appearance of the season off the bench after taking an extended leave period. The Blues sit in ninth place with a 2-3 win-loss record, after winning their opening two fixtures, and they simply can't afford to lose this one if they are to make a serious charge towards finals. Opponents have clearly analysed what the Blues were up to when running the ball in their two opening wins, and the side must now produce different options if they are to build on their start. Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has said his side's failure to produce 80-minute efforts is behind his side's lack of success for the side, saying his players had to "fight" more, especially with ball in hand, and had to give away the slow starts that had left them behind the eight ball in games.
Tip: Blues by 14
Head to Head: first meeting
Preview: The Brumbies' rotational changes have been rung in once more after three weeks of bruising South African encounters, but they must tread carefully or their early-season work could come undone. The Kings upset Western Force in round two and they have since kept respectable scorelines against the Sharks, Chiefs and Hurricanes. Notable Kings changes include Waylon Murray off the bench to outside centre, Hannes Franklin to hooker and Cornel du Preez to No. 8. They copped a 55-20 hammering from the Crusaders in Christchurch, however, and were treated to another rugby lesson in Wellington, going down 46-30 to the Hurricanes, so the hosts should be too strong on their home patch.
Tip: Brumbies by 15 points
Head-to-head: Played 18, Crusaders 14, Sharks 3, drawn 1
In Durban: Played 7, Crusaders 4, Sharks 3
Last meeting: Playoffs, June 25, 2011: Crusaders 36 - 8 Sharks, at Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Preview: The Crusaders have regained their mojo in stringing together three wins, but that streak will be given a severe test against a Sharks outfit that has enjoyed a week off since their 64-7 mauling of the Rebels. The Sharks were rampant in that game, but they will find the going a lot tougher against a far more disciplined Crusaders outfit before they head on tour to New Zealand and Australia. Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has resisted the temptation to throw star fullback Israel Dagg straight into the starting line-up, instead naming the All Blacks star on the bench following his recent hamstring troubles. Just as they had a good record at Newlands, where they defeated the Stormers last week, the Crusaders have an ever better success rate against the Sharks, having lost to them only three times - the last time in 2007.
Tip: Sharks by 12
Saturday, April 6
Head to head: Played 17, Hurricanes 9, Waratahs 8
In Wellington: Played 5, Hurricanes 3, Waratahs 2
Last meeting: Round 15, June 2, 2012: Waratahs 12 - 33 Hurricanes, at Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Preview: The winners of this midtable clash will likely leap into the top six, and the Tahs have upped their firepower with prop Sekope Kepu returning to the starting 15 and backrower Wycliff Palu back on the bench. Israel Folau is improving in leaps and bounds and Bernard Foley at No.10 continues to mature. They are improving but coach Michael Cheika says they are nowhere near the "finished product", and they will find it tough against a side that has already beaten the Crusaders in Wellington this year and the Southern Kings in cruise control last week. Dominant All Blacks winger Julian Savea will be joined in the Hurricanes team by 19-year-old brother Ardie Savea in his long-awaited Super Rugby debut at openside. The Hurricanes will struggle to maintain lineout pressure without Jeremy Thrush's services, but they are showing they know how to win at home and look to be building at the right time. Tip: Hurricanes by 7 points
16:40 local, 08:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 16:40 WST
Head to head: Played 5, Rebels 4, Force 1
In Perth: Played 2, Rebels 2, Force 0
Last meeting: Round 1, February 15, 2013: Rebels 30 - 23 Force, at AAMI Park, Melbourne
Preview: The Rebels have endured a torrid fortnight, with two thrashings and a punch-up between team-mates Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna on their tour of South Africa. Beale is still suspended indefinitely, but Vuna has been named on the bench after serving a one-match ban. Rebels coach Damien Hill is under increasing pressure to keep his job following a run of five straight losses. The Force also possess a dismal 1-5 record, but they have been competitive in every match this season, and Hugh McMeniman has been in awesome form and will be looking to further build his case for a Wallabies recall. The Rebels were dealt a blow when skipper Gareth Delve was forced to pull out with shoulder/rib niggles.
Tip: Force by 9
Head to head: Played 9, Stormers 7, Cheetahs 2
In Bloemfontein: Played 4, Stormers 3, Cheetahs 1
Last meeting: Round 17, July 7, 2012:Cheetahs 6 - 13 Stormers, at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Preview: The Cheetahs seem finally to have arrived as legitimate finals contenders, having not previously finished higher than 10th since re-entering the competition in 2006. But four wins on the trot have catapulted them into sixth spot on the table, and they will be aiming to break another hoodoo by ending a seven-game losing streak against the Stormers. The 11th-placed Stormers are yet to be blown off the park this season, but they need to start finding ways to win close games - with all three of their losses being by eight points or less. Their chances of reaching the finals for a fourth straight year will take a major hit if they lose this match, but they have the ability to dominate the running game the Cheetahs play so well by controlling possession. The Stormers must tidy up of the lineout, as they were sorely exposed by the Crusaders last week.
Tip: Cheetahs by one
Byes: Bulls, Chiefs, Queensland Reds
Make your ESPN FootyTips selections for Super Rugby round eight
© AAP with Sportal
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter