Brett McKay previews Super Rugby round 15
May 23, 2013
Jano Vermaak is set to make his 100th Super Rugby appearance, from the Bulls bench © Getty Images
Friday, May 24
19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST
Head to Head: Played 20; Chiefs 6, Crusaders 14
In Hamilton: Played 9; Chiefs 3, Crusaders 6
Last clash: Semi-final 2012 - Chiefs 20 - 17 Crusaders, at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Preview: The Crusaders are working their way through a tough part of their draw, and they won't lack confidence as they take on the 2012 champions in Hamilton having accounted for the Blues fairly comfortably last weekend. Currently fifth on the overall standings, big wins over the Chiefs and the Waratahs next week could propel the Crusaders to the top of the New Zealand conference.
Kieran Read was phenomenal in his return last week, and there's little doubt the Crusaders looked better for his presence. The Chiefs aren't going too bad themselves, though, and they showed great patience to wear down the Hurricanes in ordinary conditions last weekend in Wellington. The Chiefs are learning to play through games and pounce on any given opportunity - as Brodie Retallick did to TJ Perenara's box kick last week - and they're going to need all their smarts to stay in front of the Crusaders this week. The match of the round, for mine.
Tip: Crusaders by 3 points
Duncan McRae and Matt Dunning discuss their tips
19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST
Head to Head: Played 5; Rebels 0, Waratahs 5
In Melbourne: Played 2; Rebels 0, Waratahs 2
Last clash: Round 3 2013 - Waratahs 31 - 26 Rebels, at Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Preview: Waratahs coach Michael Cheika noted last week that the Rebels were already talking confidently and "waiting" for the Waratahs to arrive this week, on the back of their impressive nine-point win over the lacklustre Stormers. The Rebels were very good against the Stormers - full credit where it's due - and young fly-half Bryce Hegarty looked from the first minute of play to be one for the future. He remains in the No. 10 this week.
The Waratahs will present a bigger overall challenge to the young Rebels, however, and the hosts must be at the absolute top of their collective game - again - to beat a Tahs side that has been building very nicely over the past month. The strength of the Waratahs currently is highlighted by the demotion of Wallabies Rob Horne and Paddy Ryan to the bench, along with Brendan McKibbin, replaced by Berrick Barnes, Sekope Kepu, and Matt Lucas, respectively.
Tip: Waratahs by 13 points
Saturday, May 25
19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST
Head to Head: Played 18; Blues 11, Brumbies 7
In Auckland: Played 10; Blues 7, Brumbies 3
Last clash: Round 18 2012 - Brumbies 16 - 30 Blues, at Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Preview: The Blues ended the Brumbies' season last year, and a similar result in 2013 will only resume the questions of whether this Brumbies side can take that next step into the play-offs this season. The Brumbies haven't been playing too badly in the past month, but they don't have much to show for it - aside from the demolition of Western Force in round 11. Consecutive losses to the Crusaders and the Waratahs have seen them drop back to third overall, and they retain a slender grip on the Australian conference only because of a concurrent slip in form from Queensland Reds.
This game represents one of desperation for both sides: the Brumbies have not lost three on the trot on Jake White's watch, but one more loss could also see them on the edge of the top six; and a loss for the Blues could see them drop as far as eighth. It represents a major test for the respective coaches, too. White has been giving his side a fair working over on the training track, in light of conceding three second-half tries against the Waratahs, while the rugby Knights in the Blues box will be drawing on all of their collective playing and coaching experience to reignite the attacking fire in their young side. The winner could come down to which side has the most to lose.
Tip: Brumbies by 5 points
17:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST
Head to Head: Played 6; Force 4, Highlanders 2
In Perth: Played 2, one win apiece
Last clash: Round 16 2011 - Highlanders 14 - 21 Force, at Carisbrook Stadium, Dunedin
Preview: It must be a frustrating time for the Force as they are doing everything but actually winning games. They have often had the better of opponents in recent games, but they don't yet have that ability or experience to properly close out those situations. Last week against the Sharks was no different; the game was in the balance with less than 20 minutes to go, only for the Force to let Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen slip through after a sloppy turnover.
The Highlanders might not present the same threats at the breakdown that the Sharks did, but the Force still need to be a lot more attentive if the game is in the balance. The Force are good enough to beat the Highlanders, and beat them well, but they can't afford any lapses of concentration. Nor will they be able to take an eye off Ma'a Nonu, with the All Blacks midfielder heading to Perth this week to meet his team-mates on their way back from South Africa.
Tip: Force by 10.
15:00 local, 13:00 GMT, 23:00 EST, 22:30 CST, 21:00 WST
Head to Head: Played 1; Kings 0, Cheetahs 1
In Port Elizabeth: First meeting between these teams at this venue
Last clash: Round 11 2013 - Cheetahs 26 - 12 Kings, at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Preview: The Cheetahs are on the verge of a maiden finals appearance, and they simply cannot afford to go easy on the Kings. Whether or not they were aided by refereeing decisions against the Reds last week doesn't matter; the win was the Cheetahs' first over a side considered a genuine contender in 2013, and they must keep the momentum ahead of and during the play-offs. Anything short of a big win in Port Elizabeth has to be seen as a failure for Naka Drotske's team.
The Kings, remarkably, sit only one win below the Stormers, and they will be motivated between now and the end of the season to avoid having to go into the relegation showdown with the Lions that will decide who should be South Africa's fifth Super Rugby side. The Kings were very good against the hapless Highlanders two weeks ago, fuelled by the return of their captain, Luke Watson, to the starting side. The Kings will be refreshed after the week off, but they face a mountainous task to overcome the high-riding Cheetahs.
Tip: Cheetahs by 14.
17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 01:05 EST +1d, 00:35 CST +1d, 23:05 WST
Head to Head: Played 15; Stormers 9, Reds 6
In Cape Town: Played 7; Stormers 5, Reds 2
Last clash: Round 9 2012 - Reds 13 - 23 Stormers, at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Preview: A very important match for both sides, with the Stormers desperate to finish the season well, and the Reds desperate to regain form ahead of a likely play-offs appearance. The Stormers have been rocked by the news this week that towering Springboks lock Andries Bekker has been ruled out for anywhere up to eight weeks with a back injury - meaning he could quite possibly have played his last game for the side, having signed to play in Japan.
The Reds, too, were rocked by Quade Cooper's omission from Robbie Deans' initial 25-man Wallabies squad for the British & Lions series, and by the knee injury to Digby Ioane that has forced the hard-running winger home from South Africa early. This could see midfielder Ben Tapuai returning to the starting side and tyro Chris Feauai-Sautia moving to the wing. The Reds missed their chance to move to the top of the Australian conference last weekend, but I can't see them losing two in a row for the first time in 2013.
Tip: Reds by 5.
19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 03:10 EST +1d, 02:40 CST +1d, 01:10 WST +1d
Head to Head: Played 18; Sharks 8, Bulls 9
In Durban: Played 9; Sharks 4, Bulls 5
Last clash: Round 17 2012 - Sharks 32 - 10 Bulls, at Kings Park, Durban
Preview: The Bulls can go a long way to securing the South African conference over the next two games, and they are certainly playing the type of rugby that can be a success as we get to the pointy end of the season. Ten tries in their past two games shows they have lifted their game beyond just getting themselves into position to take advantage of Morne Steyn's prodigious boot, though you get the feeling that Steyn's boot will feature prominently in what is bound to be a tough night out in Durban.
The Sharks took the points in Perth on their way home, but they weren't overly convincing in their methods, their outstanding backrowers notwithstanding. They will certainly miss Springboks outside back JP Pietersen and reports out of the Republic suggest that Bismarck du Plessis is still at least one more week away. Patrick Lambie was very good last week, and, once again, it appears he shoulders the responsibility of firing a misfiring Sharks team in this crucial clash.
Tip: Bulls by 12.
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