Super 15: Playoffs Preview
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Another regular season of Super Rugby has come to an end, and fans can now look forward to what should be an exciting three rounds of playoff rugby which involves two franchises from each country this year.
This Weekend sees the Crusaders take on Queensland’s Reds and the Brumbies take on the Cheetahs. Who do you fancy to nick each game this weekend?… Super15LADS
Crusaders vs Reds
Background: The Crusaders were looking unstoppable at exactly the right time, until the Hurricanes made them work very hard last weekend. They have however won four on the bounce, and have a habit of coming good at this stage of the season. The Reds also laboured to a win last weekend, but showed good character in Sydney without leaders Will Genia and James Horwill.
On the Field: Two exciting backlines face up here, but the Reds will miss Digby Ioane, Rod Davies and Mike Harris out wide. They do however welcome Genia and Horwill back, which keeps them in the contest. They will need to control the set-pieces, and with five Wallabies in the tight five as well as the world’s best scrumhalf, they have a decent chance. The Crusaders also have an all-international tight five though, and in fact have a pack made up entirely of All Blacks. Don’t expect the quality to deteriorate as the game goes on either – the likes of Richie McCaw, Radike Samo, Luke Whitelock and Luke Morahan on the respective sides benches.
Man to Watch: No one player, but rather the fly-half battle is what not to take your eye off. Quade Cooper and Dan Carter are seen by many as the two most exciting 10s in the world. It may come down to which one gets more front foot ball, but this should make fantastic viewing.
Prediction: The Reds can win this – remember 2011 the final? However, there are simply too many question marks. Can they win the forward battle? Will Liam Gill outplay Canterbury’s back three? Will Cooper be better than Carter? Can a makeshift backline punish the hosts? I’m afraid the answer to most of these is no.
Brumbies vs Cheetahs
Background: This week Jake White said fans gave the Cheetahs’ gameplan too much praise, and called them “conservative”. While he may be right, I’m not sure I’d want to get the likes of Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosterhuizen any more riled up. Those men will be well rested too after a bye week, whereas White’s team are coming off a very disappointing loss to the lowly Force.
On the Field: The Brumbies front row will have a tough task against the Cheetahs front three, especially as Springbok Trevor Nyakane can only make the bench. The battle of the fetchers – George Smith against Heinrich Brussouw, should be epic, as should the contest between two massive number eights – Ben Mowen and Phillip van der Walt. Whichever team wins those upfront battles will fancy their chances of scoring tries, thanks to the likes Jesse Mogg, Willie le Roux, Henry Speight and Raymond Rhule out wide.
Man to Watch: Jake White was very quick to confirm that George Smith would be fit despite a massive blow to the head against the Lions that made him miss the Force game. As mentioned, his breakdown battle with Heinrich Brussouw could be the talking point of the match.
Prediction: This is difficult because while the Brumbies have been the better team this year, between the tough Lions series and last week’s loss, they are limping into this contest. The Cheetahs meanwhile are rested and have little to lose as the travelling underdogs. It may well be home advantage that decides this one.