Planet Rugby

S14 Preview: Round Three, Part One

25th February 2010 10:03

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Ryan Kankowski

Struggling: The Sharks still searching for their first win

Ding! Ding! It's Round Three of the Super 14 and with no byes on offer this weekend, we're set for another chockablock weekend of southern hemisphere rugby.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, it did. A total of 461 points were scored in Round Two, including 137 in the record-breaking match between the Chiefs and the Lions.

While it will take a miracle for any side to top that this weekend, we can expect more entertaining spectacles as four teams aim to remain unbeaten, seven to make amends with three still looking to get off the mark.

Crusaders v Sharks

Two teams with their pride dented last week go head to head on Friday when the Crusaders host the Sharks in Christchurch.

The Sharks begin a demanding five-week tour to New Zealand and Australia at AMI Stadium against the seven-time Super Rugby champions, buoyed by their upset defeat to the Cheetahs.

Tournament runners-up in 1996, 2001 and 2007, the Sharks have already got their road trip off to a bumpy start before even boarding the plane. It's the worst case scenario for captain John Smit and his troops after failing to win their home matches against the Chiefs (18-19) and Cheetahs (20-25).

Two losing bonus points was scant consolation for the Sharks from their brace of defeats, and they will be desperate to get a win to their name sooner rather than later. It won't come easy if they continue to produce unimaginative rugby, while the sluggishness of the Sharks confirmed early impressions that something has gone seriously wrong down Durban way.

The Crusaders, after downing the Highlanders in Round One, came to grief against the Reds in Brisbane last week, suffering their biggest defeat in six years.

Their work at the breakdown was inaccurate, the line-out work was poor, their defence was shocking and any promising surges were snuffed through poor handling. All in all, it was a forgettable outing for the men in red and black after such a promising start to the season.

Answering the Crusaders' SOS is Richie McCaw who emerges from cotton wool a week ahead of schedule to aid the troubled New Zealand outfit. McCaw's return from a sabbatical via the bench will be keenly followed as Todd Blackadder's team seek atonement for their embarrassing defeat.

History certainly favours the home side as they await the struggling Sharks.

The Crusaders have not lost in Christchurch to a South African Super Rugby team since 1996 and the Durban franchise have not defeated the Crusaders in New Zealand in the history of Super Rugby.

Super head to head: Thomas Waldrom v Ryan Kankowski. A one-man wrecking ball, Waldrom brings deceptive pace and extraordinary skills for a player his size which makes him a potential match-winner in any arena on any occasion. Kankowski has been the light at the end of a very dark tunnel for the toothless Sharks. A dynamic ball carrier and extremely dangerous from broken play, he will be a marked man in Christchurch... if they can catch him.

Prediction: It can't get any worse for the Crusaders, but one feels it can get a lot worse for the Sharks. Away from Durban, struggling with form and against a side they have never beaten on their home turf... it doesn't look good. The Crusaders to win by ten points.

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 George Whitelock, 6 Kieran Read (c), 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Adam Whitelock, 22 Colin Slade.

Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Adrian Jacobs, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 John Smit (c), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Andrew Goode, 22 Riaan Swanepoel.

Date: Friday, February 26
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Vinny Munro (New Zealand), Keith Brown (New Zealand)
TMO: Kane McBride (New Zealand)

Stormers v Brumbies

The unbeaten Stormers host the Brumbies in Cape Town on Friday for what could potentially be the match of the weekend.

Round Two produced mixed results for these to quality sides as the Stormers ended the weekend in fourth place following a well-earned 27-6 win over the Waratahs, while the Brumbies fell off the pace against the Bulls losing 50-32.

The Brumbies put themselves in a position to beat the defending champions, but they went off the boil in the final quarter. The Stormers, meanwhile, were full value for their victory and we were left a bit red in the face after predicting a Waratahs' win.

The Stormers now find themselves chasing a hat-trick of wins following last week's confidence-booster, but complacency has been their own worst enemy over the last few years and it's imperative that they keep their feet firmly on the ground.

Their magnificent breakdown showing will have a number of teams worried, while the Stormers gritty defence in keeping the Waratahs tryless must be applauded. In a tournament which has produced an increase in scoring, they have conceded just one try and only 19 points, after the first two rounds.

Though one feels the hosts biggest test is still to come against the likes of Matt Giteau, Stirling Mortlock, Rocky Elsom and George Smith who - after failing to pick up a point in Pretoria - will be desperate to come away with some points this week.

There's no doubt this is a key game for the Brumbies. If they can leave Perth and South Africa with two wins from the first three weeks with seven of their next nine matches at home - it has the potential to set them up for a successful season.

The Canberra-based team will be a good guide as to how the Stormers will fare this season having won just three of their last 11 encounters with the Brumbies. The Stormers' 10-point win in the corresponding match at Newlands two years ago ended a sequence of nine defeats and a draw which had stretched back to 1998.

The Stormers can also put themselves firmly in the driving seat should they manage another win this weekend with another three home games lined up (against the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Cheetahs) before they set off on a four-match tour.

Super head to head: Jaque Fourie v Stirling Mortlock. Both are focal points of their backlines, and each will be tasked with shuttig the other down. They'll have their defence tested, as both sides favour expansive rugby, and their number thirteen channels should see a lot of ball.

Prediction: The Stormers now look like they have a pack to compete with the best, and they have match-winning finishers out wide. The Brumbies will have learnt their lessons from last week and certainly have what it takes to cause an upset in Cape Town. Tough one to call, but because we were made to eat our words last week, we have no choice but to back the Stormers this time round!Stormers to win by three points.

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan De Jongh, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Pieter Louw, 5 Andries Bekker (c), 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 JC Kritzinger.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Eusebio Guinazu, 18 Anton Van Zyl, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Sireli Naqelevuki.

Brumbies: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Salesi Maafu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Justin Harrison, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Matt Toomua, 22 Tyrone Smith.

Date: Friday, February 26
Venue: Newlands
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert

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