Crusaders look to close on Bulls
April 15, 2010
Blues star Rene Ranger has been dropped to the bench by Pat Lam © Getty Images
Lions 28 - 32 Sharks Reds 19 - 12 Bulls Crusaders 45 - 6 Cheetahs Blues 38 - 17 Force Brumbies 13 - 23 Hurricanes Chiefs 15 - 49 Stormers
The Crusaders will be hoping to make up some ground on the table-topping Bulls in Round 10, with the fixture list having thrown up assignments of vastly different degrees of difficulty for the Super 14's top two.
The Bulls are likely to be given the far stiffer examination of their title credentials as they travel to Brisbane to meet the Reds in our Game of the Week.
The Crusaders were forced to dig deep in last weekend's clash with their fellow play-off contenders, the Waratahs, but eventually came out on the right side of a 20-13 scoreline after what was a real war of attrition. However, the Crusaders should have a far easier time of it on Saturday as they host the struggling Cheetahs in Christchurch. Indeed, the hosts will be targeting a bonus point victory over a side that will arrive in New Zealand still smarting after a 61-15 drubbing by the Brumbies in Canberra.
The Crusaders have named a strong line-up as they seek to avoid any costly slips at this stage of the season, although the late exclusion of Dan Carter through injury leaves a big hole for Daniel Bowden to try to fill. Kieran Read's shoulder injury sees Thomas Waldrom get a start at No.8, while Zac Guildford drops off the wing to give Jared Payne his chance. Ben Franks replaces brother Owen in the front row and Sam Whitelock comes in for Brad Thorn at lock. Tim Bateman stands in at centre for Robbie Fruean, who is on personal leave.
Sarel Pretorius and Riaan Viljoen have earned starts for the Cheetahs after impressing as a No.9-No.10 combination off the bench against the Brumbies last week. No.8 Kabamba Floors is suspended for a dangerous tackle and Davon Raubenheimer takes his place. Barry Geel is in at centre and Danwel Demas comes onto the wing in place of Meyer Bosman and Wilmaure Louw respectively.
Elsewhere, the Chiefs and the Stormers get Friday's action underway with what should be cracking encounter in Hamilton. The Stormers were shocked by the Force in Perth a fortnight ago but they bounced back in fine style by holding off the Highlanders to secure a victory which ensured that they kept a hold of the fourth and final play-off place. The Chiefs are still struggling to rediscover last year's form and last weekend they suffered a disappointing defeat at home to the side which humiliated them in the 2009 final, the Bulls. If they are to turn their season around, they simply have to overcome the Stormers.
The Chiefs are widely unchanged, with young prop Toby Smith making his starting debut in place of the injured Sona Taumalolo. Chiefs coach Ian Foster has demanded a reaction from his players after keeping faith with their selection. "I'm pleased with the effort and honesty of our senior players this week," Foster said. "We now need to improve our execution of our attack." The Stormers are unchanged for the clash, with the exception of prop JC Kritzinger's return to the replacements after injury.
Friday's other game pits the Brumbies against the Hurricanes in Canberra. The Brumbies looked awesome at times during their demolition of the Cheetahs and while they will not have things quite so easy against the Hurricanes, who will be refreshed after a fortnight off following their draw with the Crusaders, the hosts should have just enough to pick up the win that they desperately need to keep their play-off hopes alive.
After Matt Toomua's freakish knee injury, caused by being diverted into the post while diving in to score, Matt Giteau has been shifted inside to fly-half for the Brumbies. Mitchell Chapman's hip problem means Mark Chisholm can start at lock. Alfie Mafi comes in for Toomua on the wing, moving Adam Ashley-Cooper and Tyrone Smith inside as the new centre pairing.
The Hurricanes have some changes of their own, headlined by Aaron Cruden's inclusion at fly-half ahead of Willie Ripia. Piri Weepu is on personal leave, giving Tyson Keats a start in what's been a common rotation at scrum-half, and Tamati Ellison and Nick Crosswell also join the starting XV.
Saturday begins with an intriguing clash between the Blues and Western Force in Auckland. The home side desperately need a win after being turned over turned over by the Stormers in their own backyard last weekend. The Blues, much like the aforementioned Reds, are gloriously erratic and they should be very wary of a resurgent Western Force side brimming with belief after hauling themselves off the bottom of the table with back-to-back wins, over the Stormers and the Highlanders.
Blues coach Pat Lam has controversially dropped Rene Ranger, one of the competition's most damaging ball-runners this season, to the bench. Lam has opted for the more stable presence of Benson Stanley in the centres, with Ranger preferred as an impact replacement. Serge Lilo has been cut from the squad altogether, with Tom Chamberlain getting his flanker berth. Regular locks Anthony Boric and Ali Williams are both injured, leaving Filo Paulo and Jurtis Haiu to fill their void. Props John Afoa and Tony Woodcock have passed late fitness tests and will play.
The Force are fairly settled as they try to maintain that winning feeling, with prop Nic Henderson and hooker Nathan Charles coming into the front row in the only two starting XV changes.
The final match of the weekend will see the hapless Lions attempt to pick up their first win of the season, at the ninth attempt, when they host the Sharks. The Lions showed plenty of heart and fighting spirit against the Reds last Saturday but they still look embarrassingly out of their depth and could again come a cropper against a Sharks side which is coming off the back of a thrilling win over the Reds last time out.
The Sharks welcome back Johann Muller into their second row after a finger injury kept him out of action for a month. The Lions will be hoping their competition-worst defensive record might improve after bringing in former Springbok wing Ray Mordt as defence coach. Head coach Dick Muir has made six changes to his side including a recall for veteran Herkie Kruger who makes his first Super 14 appearance in two years at the expense of fly-half Carlos Spencer who drops to the bench. Elsewhere, Derick Minnie makes way for Todd Clever at No.8.
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