A challenging weekend lies ahead for South Africa’s five Super 14 teams, as two go in search of their first wins of the season and the other three seek to build on their positive first round starts.
SAPA reports that the Stormers and the Cheetahs suffered defeats at the hands of local opponents last weekend and will both be looking to make amends against Australian opposition on Friday.
The Cheetahs have a tough assignment against the Western Force in Perth (12h45 SA time). After going down 28-34 against the Lions in a thrilling contest last week, the Cheetahs must be prepared to swim as they experience the antipodean “deep-end” early in the campaign.
The Bloemfontein side has yet to secure a Super 14 win outside of South Africa and will face a Force side that will be determined to bounce back from its opening round loss against the Blues.
The Cheetahs have made two changes to their starting XV for the encounter, Piet van Zyl replacing the injured Corne Uys at centre and winger Fabian Juries starting ahead of the young Bjorn Basson. The Force suffered a late blow on Thursday with fullback Cameron Shepherd pulling out with a leg injury. He is replaced by Drew Mitchell.
The Stormers host the Reds in a crucial match at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday night (19h10). The good news is that captain and centre Jean de Villiers will play after an injury scare against the Sharks.
Despite the Reds’ defeat against the Bulls last week as well as their disappointing performances in recent seasons, the Stormers cannot afford to be complacent as they go in search of victory.
Coach Rassie Erasmus is not taking the opposition lightly. “If you look a bit further back you will realise they are not a bad side,” he said this week. “They played well in the last six games (of 2008) and pushed teams like the Crusaders and the Force, and they even beat the Bulls last year. The scoreline at Loftus last week will suggest otherwise, but they should not be underestimated”.
The Reds have made three changes to the team that went down 20-33 against the Bulls. League convert Mark McLinden starts at fullback, with Peter Hynes returning to the wing, scrumhalf Will Genia is preferred to Ben Lucas and tighthead prop Laurie Weeks, who made his Super Rugby debut last week, replaces Dayna Edwards.
Reds coach Phil Mooney believes his team needs to play smarter rugby against the Stormers: “In attack some of our short passing was very good but, as it was with the defence, a couple of lapses at crucial times and we probably didn’t get the reward we should have,” Mooney said. The second round action gets underway in Wellington at 08h35 SA time on Friday when the Hurricanes host the Highlanders. Both sides lost in the opening round and a tough contest is expected.
The ‘Canes will be without inspirational captain Rodney So’oialo, who was suspended for a week after trampling on a Waratahs player last week. Centre Tamati Ellison will captain the side for the first time in Rodney So’oialo absence.
The Waratahs host the Chiefs in the weekend’s second clash in Sydney at 10h40 (SA time). The Waratahs started their 2009 campaign with a narrow win over the Hurricanes while the Chiefs went down 13-19 against the Crusaders.
The Aussie side has made just one change to their starting line-up for the clash with Wallaby Wycliff Palu being preferred to Scott Fava at No 8.
Despite the Waratahs settled look, Chiefs coach Ian Foster is confident his team can bounce back from last week’s defeat. “We’re set for our second tough encounter,” he said. “The Waratahs are a formidable team having just come off a convincing win over the Hurricanes last week. (But) we’re well prepared and have worked hard in training this week.
Three mouth-watering contests will take place on Saturday. The first clash of the day sees the Brumbies host defending champions the Crusaders in Canberra (10h40 SA). Both teams made winning starts to the campaign and will be looking to consolidate.
The Crusaders will be without three of their key players – captain Richie McCaw, lock Brad Thorn and fullback Leon MacDonald. McCaw suffered a head knock against Chiefs, Thorn has an injured heel and MacDonald has a shoulder injury.
George Whitelock will play in the number seven jersey, with Isaac Ross coming in for Thorn and Stephen Brett for MacDonald. Flanker Kieran Read will captain the side. Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder is confident the injured players’ replacements would step up against the Brumbies.
“George, Isaac and Stephen are quality players and this is a great opportunity for them,” he said. The Brumbies, meanwhile, have named an unchanged starting XV with coach Andy Friend saying his side must build on their last-minute win over the Highlanders.
“There were a number of pleasing aspects to come out of last Friday’s game but in such a short competition we need to be improving each week,” he said. “We know that the Crusaders are a quality outfit. They are an extremely patient side that will wait for their opposition to make a mistake and capitalise on it. Given that, the key for us is to focus on our game and not present them with those opportunities,” he said.
Early log leaders the Bulls will be looking to make the most of their early succession of home games when they host an injury-ravaged Blues side on Saturday (17h00).
Blues captain Kevin Mealamu is a doubtful starter with a muscle strain and the Auckland-based side is already minus the services of centre Benson Stanley, Ali Williams, Jay Williams and Rudi Wulf.
The Bulls have made one enforced change with Danie Rossouw replacing Victor Matfield, who will miss the next three matches as a result of a shoulder injury. Fourie du Preez takes over the captaincy. Former Hurricanes flyhalf Jimmy Gopperth will make his first start for the Blues after playing off the bench last week. Gopperth is expecting the Bulls to employ a kicking gameplan and says he will be well prepared.
“My kicking game is one of the things I pride myself on and if I get the opportunity I’ll be really looking forward to getting the team on the front foot and kicking a few goals,” he said. The weekend’s final match is the SA derby between the Sharks and the Lions at the Absa Stadium in Durban at 19h10.
Both teams had solid wins in the opening round and will be eager to keep the momentum going. The Sharks put in a clinical second-half performance against the Stormers last week and, despite the Lions’ composed start against the Cheetahs; they will ask questions of the visitors.
The two sides showed a willingness to run the ball last week and their passing and handling was of the highest quality. A fast-paced encounter beckons.
The Sharks starting XV is unchanged, with Bok prop “Beast” Mtawarira making his return on the bench.
The Lions, who are tipped as the dark horses of 2009, are under no illusions as to what to expect from their opponents. “We know it will be tough in Durban, but we are looking forward to the battle,” said coach Eugene Eloff, who has selected an unchanged match 22.Tweet