Bulls remain the team to beat
February 25, 2010
Can the Waratahs stop the rampaging Bulls? © Getty Images
There were no signs of conservatism last weekend as the Super 14 season entered its second week, with the Bulls again coming out on top.
The reigning champions are one point clear of the chasing pack following bonus-point wins over the Cheetahs and Brumbies, with a cool 101 points scored in their opening games. Frans Ludeke's men are again at home this week, with the Waratahs the visitors to Loftus.
Derick Kuün will start at openside for the Bulls for the first time in three years - moving back from the hooker position where he played Super Rugby in 2008 and 2009. He replaces Deon Stegmann while Danie Rossouw has recovered from a neck injury and packs down at No.8 in the place of Pierre Spies who is still recovering from a knock to the knee. Ludeke left his back line unchanged, although Jaco van der Westhuyzen might replace John Mametsa, providing that his clearance papers from his Japanese club, NEC Green Rockets, arrive on time.
Meanwhile, the visitors have reshuffled their backline following defeat to the Stormers last weekend. Berrick Barnes shifts from fly-half to inside-centre, with Daniel Halangahu promoted to playmaking duties. Kurtley Beale drops to the bench along with lock Will Caldwell, who is replaced by Wallabies tourist Dave Dennis.
The Chiefs made the biggest headlines last weekend by coming out on the right end of a 72-65 scoreline against the Lions in Johannesburg. Ian Foster's men have left South Africa and face the Western Force in Perth on Saturday, with their hosts rooted to the bottom of the table.
Lelia Masaga has replaced fellow All Blacks wing Sitiveni Sivivatu in the Chiefs starting line-up with Masaga's rehabilitation from shoulder surgery perfectly timed for the unbeaten Chiefs after Sivivatu experienced his own shoulder problem during their record-setting 72-65 victory over the Lions in Johannesburg last week. In other changes from last weekend's side, Dwayne Sweeney moves to the left wing and Brendon Leonard starts at scrum-half ahead of Junior Poluleuligaga. In the pack, Romana Graham makes his debut in the second row for the injured Craig Clarke, Tanerau Latimer replaces Luke Braid on the openside flank and Colin Bourke is promoted to No.8 for the suspended Sione Lauaki. There is also a switch at hooker where Hika Elliot starts ahead of Aled de Malmanche.
Scott Staniforth will start on the right wing for the Force having been cleared to play after returning recently from Japan. The other wing position will be filled by Nick Cummins, who has recovered from a foot injury he suffered during the Wallabies training camp in October. Mark Bartholomeusz has been selected at fullback after missing opening two games nad his inclusion allows young star James O'Connor to slide into flyhalf. Outside centre Ryan Cross will resume his position in the centres alongside youngster Mitch Inman who impressed in the No.13 jersey against the Hurricanes in his run-on debut for the Force. In the front row, Nic Henderson returns to the starting side alongside Pek Cowan and Tim Fairbrother while the tight five will be rounded out with locks Tom Hockings and Nathan Sharpe.
The Lions will be hoping for a quieter day at the office when they take on the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium on Saturday, but the home side looked in fine fettle as they picked up a bonus-point win over the Force last time out. Carlos Spencer will return to New Zealand soil in the Lions' backline.
Lock Jason Eaton returns to the Hurricanes' line-up having served a one-week suspension for breaking team protocol. The Hurricanes' haven't revealed exactly what Eaton did, but media reports suggested there had been a verbal dispute with a barman. Coach Colin Cooper made two other changes to his starting 15, with No.8 Rodney So'oialo and openside flanker Karl Lowe making the run-on side for the first time this season.
Lions director of coaching Dick Muir has made only one enforced change from the side beaten by the Chiefs. Experienced lock Willem Stoltz, who is suspended for this match, is replaced by new cap George Earl. It will be the acquisition from Boland's first cap for the Lions and also his Super 14 debut.
The Stormers are in fourth and welcome the star-studded Brumbies to Newlands in our Game of the Week on Friday.
The biggest upset of last round came in Brisbane, where Quade Cooper inspired Queensland Reds to a bonus-point victory over Dan Carter and the Crusaders. Super Rugby returns to Ballymore this weekend as the Reds take aim at the Blues, who got their season up and running with a narrow win over the Highlanders.
Experienced forwards Sean Hardman and Van Humphries have returned from injury to win selection for the Reds. Hardman missed last week's victory over the Crusaders because of an ankle injury and will return via the bench as Saia Faingaa gets his second opportunity in the No.2 jersey. Humphries was given last week off to recover fully from a head knock and returns this week in captain James Horwill's No 5 jersey, following the skipper's season-ending knee injury. Scrum-half Will Genia has taken over the on-field leadership from Horwill and will lead the team out for the first time on Saturday night.
The Blues have made three changes including Rene Ranger switching to centre and All Black prop Tony Woodcock to the reserves. With the Blues having a midfield injury crisis, Ranger, usually a winger, fills in for Isaia Toeva, who went off during the win over the Highlanders last Friday with a hip problem. Apart from Toeava, Luke McAlister and Anthony Tuitavake are also sidelined, while George Pisi could be fit to make a return against the Reds and has been bracketed on the bench.
Coach Pat Lam said Woodcock, who is replaced in the starting front row by Charlie Faumuina, was not quite operating at 100 percent after joining up with the Blues late because of the All Blacks' end of the year tour. Faumuina's inclusion has also resulted in a reshuffle in the front row, with John Afoa moving to loosehead.
The Crusaders are back on home soil this round as they welcome the troubled Sharks to Christchurch. All Blacks Brad Thorn and Wyatt Crockett return to the Crusaders starting side for the first time this season while Richie McCaw will come off the bench. Coach Todd Blackadder had previously resisted rushing lock Thorn into the starting side after his heavy international workload last year while loosehead prop Crockett had been set back by a pre-season ankle injury.
In total, Blackadder has made four personnel changes to the team who lost to the Reds as well as positional change with Jared Payne moving from the right wing to replace Colin Slade at fullback. Sean Maitland will have his first start on the wing and Ryan Crotty, recovered from concussion suffered in a pre-season match, has replaced Tim Bateman at centre. In the forwards, Thorn replaces Isaac Ross, who injured his left ankle at training on Monday, and Crockett takes the place of fellow All Black Owen Franks.
The Durban side are yet to pick up a victory this season and will not get any favours from the home side. John Smit returns to tight-head, with Bismarck du Plessis in at hooker, and England fly-half Andy Goode is set to make his Super 14 debut off the bench for the visitors.
The Cheetahs heaped further woe on the Sharks last weekend thanks to the boot of Naas Olivier and a brilliant individual try from fullback Riaan Viljoen and both players start as they take on the Highlanders at Free State Stadium. Raw Southland flanker John Hardie has been handed his Super 14 debut by Highlanders coach Glenn Moore with Adam Thomson moving to No.8 for the injured Stephen Setephano. The two other changes see Fetu'u Vainikolo replace James Paterson on the left wing while Kendrick Lynn returns from a groin injury to centre enabling Jason Shoemark to return to centre at the expense of Jason Hayward.