Vodacom Super 14

Waratahs eye S14 top spot

2009-03-12 06:50
Chris Hickey

Wellington - The Waratahs can take an outright lead in the Super 14 competition this weekend when they meet the Brumbies in a keenly anticipated Australian local derby.

With the Bulls having a bye and the Sharks lagging in the bonus-point stakes, the Waratahs will head the two other unbeaten sides if they secure their fifth consecutive win.

But it will be a far from easy assignment as the Waratahs have only won once before in Canberra, where the Brumbies will be rested after having the bye last week and fired up as they search for their 100th win in Super rugby.

"The all-Australian matches hold a certain level of intrigue and passion and that will be there again on Friday when we play the Brumbies," said Waratahs coach Chris Hickey.

He has delayed confirming his side as he wrestles with injuries to key players Wycliff Palu and prop Al Baxter.

The Waratahs can ill-afford to be short of experience in the frontrow, where the Brumbies boast an all-Wallabies trio of Nic Henderson, Guy Shepherdson and Stephen Moore.

Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock moves out to his more familiar role of outside centre for Friday night's match with utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper shifting to the wing.

The Sharks may arguably be playing the most complete rugby in the competition this season but until they posted 35 points against the Blues last weekend they had not scored a bonus point.

This weekend they are pitted against the Reds and while form suggests they should win, they do not have a happy history in Australia where they have won only one of their last 14 matches.

But assistant coach Chris Boyd said they have plenty of motivation to change that statistic.

"If we are more accurate in our execution and option-taking, we'll play better than we have and that striving for good performances is what will keep motivating the team," he said.

The Blues will be looking to move into the top four, overtaking the Wellington Hurricanes who also have a bye, when they host the winless Cheetahs in the opening match of the weekend.

It was a costly loss to the Sharks last week for the Blues with injuries to Paul Williams and flanker Josh Blackie, who join a growing list including All Blacks Anthony Boric and Rudi Wulf on the unavailable list.

The Cheetahs, who start the year with six consecutive matches on the road, are the only team yet to notch a win and have a week to go before they return home.

The Force and Crusaders offer an intriguing match up at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

The Crusaders, the defending champions and most successful team in the history of Super rugby, are desperate to snap a three-match losing streak and avoid losing four matches in a row for the first time ever.

Like the Blues, the Crusaders are also hampered by a high injury toll which includes All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.

The Force, who have never beaten the Crusaders, went down 13-31 last week to the Chiefs but they can at least take heart from their strong finish while the Crusaders never fired when gifting the Highlanders their first win.

The Chiefs and the Highlanders, who recorded their first wins last week, face each other in the southern city of Invercargill in the remaining fifth round match.

Read more on:    rugby  |  adam

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