The Auckland Blues will try to nullify the Stormers’ imposing rolling maul in the showdown of Super 15 rugby’s South African and New Zealand conference leaders in Auckland on Friday.
The Blues will be bidding to return to the top of the overall southern hemisphere championship standings when they take on the fourth-placed Cape Town team at Eden Park, venue for this year’s Rugby World Cup final.
Australian conference leaders and competition pace-setters the Queensland Reds, who ended Auckland’s unbeaten nine-match run in last week’s 37-31 win in Brisbane, have the weekend off.
The Stormers made excellent use of their rolling maul in their 23-30 loss to the Waikato Chiefs 30-23 in Hamilton last weekend, and the Blues have been training to restrict their opportunities.
“Their physicality around the field is massive,” Blues prop Tom McCartney said. “They’ve got a big pack and we’re definitely going to have to stop that rolling maul of theirs.”
McCartney will get a rare start for the Blues, but not as hooker with skipper and All Black Keven Mealamu the automatic choice, and will move to loosehead prop as All Blacks Tony Woodcock and Charlie Faumuina remain sidelined with injuries.
Coach Pat Lam has dropped winger Rene Ranger in four changes to the Blues’ starting 15, with Sherwin Stowers taking his left-wing spot.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made four changes, with centres Jaque Fourie and Jean De Villiers both out through injury and replaced by Juan de Jongh and Johann Sadie.
“Whilst they do not have much experience together as a combination, Juan is an international and Sadie has that x-factor,” Coetzee said. “The players and team are excited about the possibilities.”
Seven-time champions the Canterbury Crusaders will be looking to bounce back from last week’s 33-20 defeat to the Cheetahs in South Africa in their New Zealand derby with the Chiefs in Napier on Saturday.
All Blacks inside-centre Sonny Bill Williams is out with a bruised knee in five Crusaders changes.
‘Uncompromising and physical’
“The Chiefs have been playing well lately and will be up for this one,” coach Todd Blackadder said. “It’s a New Zealand derby so it will be uncompromising and physical, that’s for sure.”
Waikato have made two changes, with flanker Sam Cane to get his first start of the season, and Liam Messam moving back to the blindside and Taiasina Tuifua dropping to the bench.
The Bulls have made four changes as they attempt to keep alive their title defence against the fifth-placed Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
Captain and Springbok line-out general Victor Matfield returns and will lead the eighth-placed side for the 71st time, while Francois Hougaard, Jaco Pretorius and Chiliboy Ralepelle all earn starts.
Springbok flyhalf prodigy Elton Jantjies, who was outstanding in the Lions’ upset win over the Brumbies last week, has been named on the bench for Saturday’s game against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Jantjies kicked four out of five and had a hand in two of the Lions’ tries, but coach John Mitchell has opted for the more experienced Butch James to wear the No 10 jersey against the sixth-placed Waratahs.
The Lions have only won twice this season, while the Waratahs welcome back Wallaby hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau after a series of recent concussions.
In this weekend’s other games, the Cheetahs will be bidding for their fourth straight win against Australia’s Melbourne Rebels in Bloemfontein, while Western Force take on the Brumbies in Perth.
The Wellington Hurricanes and Otago Highlanders have the weekend off along with the Reds. — Sapa-AFP