Crusaders v Sharks
The Crusaders and Sharks will this week make history as the first two Super Rugby sides to meet at the home of English Rugby, Twickenham. The one-off encounter was originally suggested as a means of fund-raising for the Canterbury side, following the Christchurch Earthquake in late February which saw the Crusaders home ground – AMI Stadium – designated unplayable for safety reasons.
The Durban-based Sharks currently sit second on their Conference ladder, one point behind leaders the Stormers, and are coming off a shock-loss to 2011 underperformers the Chiefs. The Sharks boast an array of international talent in their squad but will be tested against a Crusaders outfit who are coming off a handful of big victories in the opening rounds of their 2011 season. Still without inspirational leader Richie McCaw, who did not travel with the side to London, the seven-time champions will be looking to continue their current form with a win in the history-making encounter.
Players to watch:
The most obvious of match-ups in this highly anticipated encounter is the battle of the No.10’s. South African Rugby’s young-gun, Pat Lambie, will face off against the worlds number one flyhalf in Dan Carter. Both prolific point-scorers and leaders of their sides around the paddock, the Lambie/Carter battle is sure to be an exciting game within the match itself. Lambie has continued his 2010 form which saw him earn his debut in Springbok colours at their end of season tour and will be out to prove he can match it against the very-best when he meets Dan Carter in the middle on Saturday night.
Chiefs v Blues
The Chiefs and Blues may sit six points adrift on the New Zealand Conference ladder, however with both sides coming off victories in Round 5 the all-Kiwi affair is certainly set to impress. Both sides are well known for their exciting brands of football and boast superstars across the paddock both upfront and out wide. The Hamilton encounter will act as a trial match for many players hoping to feature at season’s end in the All Blacks World Cup squad.
The Chiefs last week proved they weren’t going to be the seasons pretenders, downing the highly-rated Sharks at Waikato Stadium, while the Blues continued their electric early-season form with a win over the Hurricanes in Auckland.
Players to watch:
The battle at the scrum base in this Hamilton encounter is certainly worth keeping an eye on. All Black halves Alby Mathewson and Brendon Leonard will meet this week hopeful of winning the race for a spot in the Kiwi 22 for the 2011 Tri Nations and Bledisloe series. Blues No.9 Mathewson debuted last season on the international stage and will be out to prove he wasn’t just making up the numbers, when he meets Leonard this weekend. With Andy Ellis and Jimmy Cowan both in scintillating form so far this season, the halfback competition in the Land of the Long White Cloud is certainly set to ignite the New Zealand local derbies throughout 2011, starting with this weekend.
Bulls v Lions
Two sides who have started 2011 in uncharacteristic form, the Bulls and Lions will this weekend meet in a clash that in seasons past may have been an easy one for the tipsters. However the poor start to the Bulls season will see this all South African derby go right down to the wire.
The Lions have been transformed into a different side under the tutelage of former Western Force and All Blacks coach John Mitchell and may be down the bottom of the Conference ladder but have showed glimpses of a side in the middle of a major overhaul.
With Springboks appearing across the board, fans are certainly set for a show at Loftus this Saturday. The Bulls have not lived up to expectations so far in 2011, however if they can take anything from their narrow loss to the Stormers last weekend they will be out to prove their critics wrong when they meet early Sunday morning Australian time.
Players to watch:
This match, like the Crusader v Sharks match, has its very own master and apprentice clash with the Bulls and Lions No.10’s meeting in an individual battle, which is set to interest Springbok selectors. Young-gun Lions flyhalf Elton Janties will face-off with experienced Springboks playmaker Morne Steyn in one of the biggest trials for the 20 year old so far in 2011. Both capable goal kickers with competent range from anywhere on the paddock, the Janties and Steyn battle will be the deciding factor in a clash that is certain to play out for the full 80.