Bulls out to cement top spot
March 10, 2010
The Stormers' Bryan Habana will be hoping to add to his try tally against the Hurricanes at Newlands © Getty Images
The Bulls return to the Super 14 fray this weekend having survived a bye with their place at the top of the table intact.
Frans Ludeke's side welcome the Highlanders to Loftus Versfeld and will be confident of heaping woe on the New Zealand side who were hammered by the Stormers in Cape Town last weekend and who have since lost the services of captain Jimmy Cowan to a dislocated finger. But the Bulls' title hopes were dealt a blow earlier this week with the news that lock Bakkies Botha will miss the next two games and will also sit out their tour to New Zealand and Australia as he makes a slower than expected recovery from an Achilles problem.
Bulls flanker, Dewald Potgieter, will start in his first Super 14 match of the season having come off the bench against the Waratahs two weeks ago after a knee strain ruled him out of the Bulls first two fixtures. He replaces stalwart Pedrie Wannenburg, while captain Victor Matfield will lead the side for the 50th time and will play in his 99th game of Super Rugby. A fit-again Pierre Spies returns at No.8, where he will partner Potgieter and Derick Kuün, who will start for a second consecutive week at open side.
There was more disruption for the Highlanders following the suspension of All Blacks loose forward Adam Thomson and Michael Hobbs for breaching team rules. Neither were considered for selection as punishment for breaking a team curfew last weekend following the 0-33 loss to the Stormers. The one-match suspensions imposed on Thomson and first five-eighth Hobbs follows their failure to return to their team hotel on time in Cape Town last weekend. Mat Berquist has been named to start at No.10 against the Bulls, while Steven Setephano takes over at No.8 in Thomson's absence.
The latest round of this year's competition kicks off with the eagerly awaited clash between the Chiefs and the Crusaders in Hamilton. The Chiefs, last year's beaten finalists, survived a shock home defeat to the Reds last time out while their New Zealand rivals notched their third win of the campaign with victory over the Blues. Click here to check out the full preview for our Game of the Week.
The action continues in Sydney where the Waratahs entertain the win-less Lions. The hosts received a timely boost earlier this week with the news that playmaker Berrick Barnes has committed himself to the side for another year and will be favourites to continue their resurgence at the expense of the South Africans. The Waratahs are under pressure from fans and media to combine stylish rugby with the search for results. The Waratahs have named an unchanged line-up and so Daniel Halangahu - who also committed to the franchise this week - will once again fill the No.10 shirt with Barnes at inside centre. It will be a special week for Phil Waugh as he breaks the record for appearances in the sky blue of the Waratahs with his 119th match. He overtakes Chris Whitaker's 118-game mark, while also going past Whitaker's record of 40 outings as captain. Jano Vermaak has been included on the Lions bench just a day after arriving in Sydney as a replacement and he will partner Kiwi Carlos Spencer who returns after missing the loss to the Brumbies with a pectoral muscle injury.
The Brumbies accounted for the Lions in Round 4 and tackle another struggling side in the form of the Sharks who are also yet to break their duck this year. Sharks captain John Smit is set to lead his side for the 50th time but the Durban franchise has won just one of their last eight matches against their Australian opponents in Canberra. In this era of discussion about injury-reduction, Brumbies coach Andy Friend has the luxury of naming an unchanged squad for the third week running. It is just the third time since 2000 that the Brumbies have named an identical line-up (including replacements) for three consecutive matches.
The Sharks came out of Saturday's clash against the Waratahs with a couple of bumps and bruises, and early scares have been overcome with Keegan Daniel and Odwa Ndungane both passed fit to play. There are no changes in the backline for this match while Daniel and Jacques Botes continue their rotation at openside, the latter starting this week. The only other changes occur in the front row with Smit moving to tight-head and Bismarck du Plessis returning at hooker, with Tendai Mtawarira coming back into the starting line-up at loose-head.
The much-fancied Hurricanes were upset by the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend and face another stern challenge in Cape Town where they will tackle the Stormers who enter the game on the back of a crushing victory over the Highlanders. Stormers coach Allistair Coetzee has opted for the bulk of Sireli Naqelevuki over Gio Aplon on the wing and retained Dewaldt Duvenage at scrum-half, with Ricky Januarie named on the bench. Hooker Tiaan Liebenberg is also back after missing the last game with flu while lock Anton van Zyl also keeps his place after a strong showing against the Highlanders.
Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper has rushed key backs Conrad Smith and Tamati Ellison back into his side. Both All Blacks are back after injury forced them out of last week's match against the Cheetahs and in another backline change, Willie Ripia comes back for young Aaron Cruden at fly-half. In the forwards, Jacob Ellison comes in for John Schwalger at loose-head prop and Scott Waldrom takes over openside flanker duties from Karl Lowe.
An all-Australian tie completes the round with the Reds slated to meet the Western Force in Brisbane. The Reds could welcome back Wallabies Digby Ioane and Peter Hynes after the backs recovered from injuries, but Ewen McKenzie has to weigh up the performances of their replacements in last week's shock upset of the Chiefs. Ioane has been training at outside centre - the position he made his own in Australia's tour of Europe last year. The Force come off the bye reinforced by the recruitment of marquee signing David Hill, who should slot in at No.10 with the dynamic James O'Connor shifting back to fullback or possibly out to inside centre.
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