Brett McKay previews Super Rugby round 13
May 9, 2013
Liam Messam and the Chiefs are prepared for another tough game © Getty Images
Friday, May 10
Head to Head: Played 6; Chiefs 5, Force 1
In Pukekohe: First match between these teams at this venue
Last clash: Round 7 2012 - Force 12 - 20 Chiefs at nib Stadium, Perth
Preview: The Chiefs learned the hard way in Melbourne last Friday that lower-ranked teams are still capable of giving the top teams an almighty scare, and they now face a Western Force side buoyed by their impressive defensive effort against the Reds.
Chiefs Coach Dave Rennie has rung the changes, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow back at scrum-half, and Gareth Anscombe moving into fly-half, while All Blacks pivot Aaron Cruden drops back the bench (a tactic that has worked wonders for Aaron Smith and Israel Dagg in recent weeks). News on Richard Kahui gets worse though, with the big centre requiring yet more shoulder surgery.
The Force will be largely unchanged from the 22 who drew with the Reds, and hooker Heath Tessmann, flanker Chris Alcock, and inside centre Kyle Godwin will again be keen to show their growing class against top-quality opposition.
Tip: Chiefs by 12 points
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick discuss the biggest rugby issues%]
Head to Head: Played 15; Reds 8, Sharks 7
In Brisbane: Played 7; Reds 5, Sharks 2
Last clash: Elimination Final 2012 - Reds 17 - 30 Sharks at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Preview: It's hard to establish who might be the more desperate in this game. The Reds will want to atone for their disappointing draw with the Force in Perth last week, and they will be anxious to head to South Africa on the back of a win rather than the alternative. The Sharks have now had four straight losses, and need urgently to put their season back on track while it's still salvageable.
Will Genia has called on the Reds to let the ball do the talking, and even conceding that their play has become a little predictable in recent weeks. It's ironic, too, considering coach Ewen McKenzie's descriptions of some other teams recently. The Sharks' injury list gets longer by the week, with centre Frans Steyn now out for up to six weeks with a lower leg problem. Flanker Willem Alberts has been dispatched to Brisbane, though, and he will provide a welcome boost for a team lacking at the breakdown currently.
Tip: Reds by 10 points
Head to Head: Played 7; Cheetahs 3, Hurricanes 4
In Bloemfontein: Played 4; Cheetahs 2, Hurricanes 2
Last clash: Round 6 2012 - Hurricanes 38 - 47 Cheetahs at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Preview: The latest fixture between these two teams resulted in one of the most extraordinary games of rugby seen in recent years, both teams securing the four-try bonus points by half-time and combining for 10 tries at more than a point a minute. At the time, I described it as one of "the most unlikely remarkable Super Rugby games ever". It was also the first glimpse we got of Cheetahs wunderkind Johan Goosen.
Goosen isn't playing for the Cheetahs currently (after another season-ending injury, as happened later in the 2012 season), but you couldn't say they're missing him. The Cheetahs will now be looking to cement their place in the top six and an inaugural play-off appearance, and they should be too strong for a Hurricanes side having a rough time of it. Inspirational captain Conrad Smith won't play for the Hurricanes, and, though he has remained with the team and played a major part in preparations for this game, is unlikely to play for a few weeks, having suffered a nasty concussion in last week's game in Pretoria.
Tip: Cheetahs by 14.
Saturday, May 11
Head to Head: Played 2; Blues 1, Rebels 1
In Auckland: First match between these teams at this venue
Last clash: Round 7 2012 - Rebels 34 - 23 Blues at AAMI Park, Melbourne
Preview: This is one of those classic "banana skin" games; on paper the Blues should win comfortably with not a second thought given, yet you just know there will some cause for concern about the final result. The Rebels can play with the freedom they exhibited against the Chiefs in Melbourne last week, while the Blues will need to win handsomely over a lowly-ranked opponent to erase any doubts.
The Blues showed excellent patience last week on the North Shore to hold off the desperate Stormers, and they were led superbly by fly-half Chris Noakes (who only just missed a Team of the Week berth). The Rebels on the other hand didn't quite have the required patience when they took the lead over the Chiefs, and quickly found themselves taking poor options when the pressure from the reigning champions came. They need to have learned that lesson to be any chance at Eden Park.
Tip: Blues by 8.
Lote Tuqiri says Israel Folau must play for Australia%]
Head to Head: Played 15; Waratahs 5, Stormers 9, 1 draw
In Sydney: Played 6; Waratahs 3, Stormers 3
Last clash: Round 13 2012 - Stormers 19 - 13 Waratahs at Newlands, Cape Town
Preview: The Waratahs return to their home ground with sky-high confidence on the back of their 11-try drubbing of the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth last week. Israel Folau and Cam Crawford tore the Kings apart within the first 15 minutes, but the Stormers present a whole other level of opposition and they will have taken confidence of their own out of their fightback against the Blues.
The Stormers are still having trouble stringing 80-minute performances together, though, and the Waratahs have a prime opportunity in front of their Sydney faithful to show the display against the Kings wasn't a one-off. Berrick Barnes may be a chance of returning, but it's hard to see where he would slot in, with fly-half Bernard Foley, centres Rob Horne and Adam Ashley-Cooper, and Folau at the back all in top form.
Tip: Waratahs by 5.
Head to Head: First meeting
Preview: Only last week I mentioned that the Kings are now finding out just how tough a competition Super Rugby is, and boy, didn't the Waratahs deliver on that. The task gets no easier for the Kings this weekend, with the Highlanders now remembering how to win again, and Aaron Smith, Colin Slade and Ben Smith all returning to top form in their impressive display against the Sharks last week. Tamati Ellison looked very good in his return, too.
For the Kings, it's probably no major surprise that the changes have been rung, with the big talking point being the return to the starting XV of their captain, Luke Watson, at flanker. Cornell du Preez moves to No. 8 with Watson back, while Marcello Sampson returns on the wing to replace the injured Sergeal Petersen, and David Bulbring will start at lock in a straight swap for Rynier Bernardo. Even with the Highlanders flying around the bottom of the world to make this maiden appearance at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, they should be too strong for the locals.
Tip: Highlanders by 7.
Bye: Brumbies, Crusaders, Bulls
Make your ESPN FootyTips selections for Super Rugby round 13
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game
Amy Perrett, the Australian referee who whistled the Women's Rugby World Cup final after handling only six Tests, talks to Jamie Lyall