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NZ Teams Out To Build On Winning Start

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
NZ Teams Out To Build On Winning Start

Wellington, Feb 18 NZPA - Form suggests a successful rounds loom for New Zealand teams in the second round of rugby's Super 14 although much of the limelight falls on two South African-Australian showdowns.

The defending champion Bulls host the ACT Brumbies -- arguably the best teams from each of those nations -- while another match in the republic sees a much-improved Stormers face the New South Wales Waratahs, who are fringe playoff hopefuls.

The Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes are all favoured to add their opening round wins but the heat goes on the Highlanders and Blues, who are chasing a first victory when they clash in Dunedin to kick off week two.

The Highlanders have lost five of their last six matches to the visitors but may fancy their chances against the visitors, whose confidence may have slumped following their second-half meltdown against the Hurricanes last week.

Impressive in their opening loss to the Crusaders, the southerners will start transplanted Aucklander Michael Hobbs at first five-eighth ahead of the injured Matt Berquist. Hobbs crunched over for both his team's tries last week.

The only Blues' change is out wide, where gamebreaking winger Rene Ranger surprisingly makes way for fullback Paul Williams, with Rudi Wulf shifting from jersey 15 to 14.

They are adamant they won't be stung by the referee in the same manner of last week and can retain the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy.

While the Crusaders have won their last 11 matches against the Queensland Reds, they will be wary of their opponents in Brisbane, where the Reds were unlucky not to topple the Waratahs last week.

Coach Todd Blackadder has retained the same starting 15, meaning there is still no room for an increasingly-edgy All Blacks lock Brad Thorn, biding his time on the bench.

The first half of a Wellington-Perth double-header this weekend sees the Hurricanes host a depleted Western Force.

To many it's the curtain raiser to Sunday's A-League soccer playoff between the Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory and it appears unlikely the Force can produce a boilover after losing key Wallabies loose forwards David Pocock and Richard Brown to injury.

Usual midfielder Sam Harris, who struggled at first five-eight for the Force last weekend, remains at No 10, summing up the lack of options available to coach John Mitchell.

Force prop Tim Fairbrother will pack down against his former teammates, who boast a new locking combination in Bryn Evans and James Broadhurst. The Hurricanes should have too much firepower despite the loss through injury of winger Hosea Gear and one-match stand-down period handed to lock Jason Eaton for an unspecified breach of team protocol.

Bouyed by their one-point defeat of the Sharks last week, the Chiefs take a stronger side into Saturday morning's match against the Lions in Johannesburg.

Stand-in skipper Sione Lauaki returns from injury, along with second five-eighth Callum Bruce and winger Dwayne Sweeney.

Coach Ian Foster will also give Chiefs starting debuts to flanker Luke Braid, lock Culum Retallick and halfback Junior Poluleuligaga against a Lions side who look set to once again occupy the lower rungs of the competition.

The main focus in South Africa will be in Pretoria, where the Brumbies have been reinforced by injury returnees Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom.

Bulls flanker Pedrie Wannenburg will become the second South African to play 100 Super rugby matches for one team, beaten by 24 hours by Sharks hooker John Smit, who will reach the milestone against the Cheetahs in Durban.

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