Reds seek sweep over Kiwis
Sydney - The Reds will strive to extend Australian dominance over New Zealand teams in this season's Super Rugby while the Chiefs take on the Sharks in a repeat of last year's final.
Australia's Reds, the 2011 champions, host John Kirwan's Blues in Brisbane on Friday looking to complete a clean sweep over Kiwi opposition, a feat not yet achieved by the team in the professional era.
The Reds have already beaten the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs this campaign to make it 11 wins from their past 12 games against New Zealand teams. They are not scheduled to face the Crusaders in the regular season.
More generally teams from Australia, preparing to welcome the British and Irish Lions in June, have dominated their New Zealand rivals this season, winning seven of the nine trans-Tasman encounters.
The Reds, who are two points behind the Brumbies in the Australian Conference, have made two changes from last week's 19-19 draw with the Canberra team, bringing in hooker Saia Faingaa and prop Ben Daley.
"The Blues are a very talented side and the short six-day turnaround makes things even more complicated for us, so to be able to maintain continuity in our selections is important," Reds chief coach Ewen McKenzie said.
Kirwan's team are top of the New Zealand Conference and second behind the Brumbies in the overall table. But the All Blacks legend rates the versatile Reds as the best in the competition.
"They have a good kicking game, they've got an expansive game, they can play a tight game and they play with real intelligence in mixing that up," Kirwan said.
The Brumbies take on the Force in an all-Australian encounter in Canberra, knowing an upset defeat could knock them off the top of the overall table. Loosehead prop Scott Sio is their only change from last week.
"As always with local derbies, we expect Saturday's match to be full of feeling and a tough contest right to the final siren," head coach Jake White said.
Meanwhile the defending champions, the Chiefs, have made wholesale changes with nine different faces in their team to the Sharks, following back-to-back losses to the Reds and Waratahs.
The Sharks, who relinquished the South African conference lead to theBulls after going down to the Cheetahs last week, have lost centre Paul Jordaan for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
The Durban-based side have been forced to call in a number of loan players for the game in Hamilton, where they can gain a measure of revenge for losing last year's final.
Elsewhere, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is looking for a bonus-point win against the Waratahs in Pretoria on Saturday as they seek to extend their narrow, one-point lead in the South African Conference.
"Obviously every point you can get is vital, but you have to do the hard yards first and it is all about getting control in a game," Ludeke said.
Ludeke has made four changes from last week's 34-0 win against the Kings, with loosehead prop Dean Greyling making his first start of the season after recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has left his run-on team intact for Saturday's South African derby against the Kings in Bloemfontein.
In this weekend's other games, the Hurricanes host the Stormers in Palmerston North and the Crusaders play the Melbourne Rebels in Christchurch on Sunday.