Auckland look for further South African success

Super 14 front-runners Auckland Blues are looking to complete their triumphant South African leg with maximum points against the unbeaten Coastal Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

New Zealand powerhouses, Auckland and Canterbury Crusaders, have shredded South African opposition to state their claims for the southern hemisphere provincial crown and the Sharks know they have to be at their best to stop the Blues’ charge.

Auckland have a maximum 15 points from their opening three games, one ahead of the six-time champion Crusaders, and have hit the ground running, while the South African teams have laboured.

“The Blues and Crusaders have adapted to the ELVs (experimental laws) the best in the Super 14 and they are playing really well,” Sharks coach Dick Muir said Thursday.

“We’ve played badly and won our opening three games, but we won’t get away with that against the Blues, who are in superb form. Their All Black players have hit their straps.”

Muir says the excuses must end for South African rugby and he is hopeful his Sharks will be the catalyst for a rebound by the republic teams.

Blues coach David Nucifora said his team was expecting a battle from the Sharks.

“It seems everybody is talking us up and them down, but the bottom line is that the Sharks also have three wins from three,” he said.

“The Sharks have not yet hit their best form, but they will be looking to this match to show a big improvement. And with us very keen on finishing our tour unbeaten, it is shaping up to be one heck of a game.”

The Crusaders, who blanked the Western Stormers 22-0 in Cape Town last weekend, are in Perth on their way home for a Sunday match against the Western Force.

The Force nearly pulled off the upset of the season when the Crusaders were last in Perth in 2006 with a 23-all draw and the Australians are on the back of two narrow wins over the Central Cheetahs and Golden Lions in South Africa.

“To date we have made a pretty good start, but we have really got to be able to finish that off and get home in good shape,” Crusaders’ coach Robbie Deans said.

“But it is good to get out of Africa without dropping a game, it does not happen very often.

“It is a good launching pad but the challenges don’t diminish, in fact they grow week by week.” The fly-half duel between the Force’s Matt Giteau and the Crusaders’ Dan Carter will be a highlight.

The ACT Brumbies have been devastated by this week’s news that World Cup Wallaby back Julian Huxley has been diagnosed with a brain tumour ahead of Friday’s all-Australian derby with the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.

The tumour, believed to be benign, was found while Huxley was undergoing scans following a head knock in the Brumbies’ unexpectedly easy 43-11 win over Queensland Reds in Canberra and his rugby future is up in the air.

The Waratahs have been far from convincing with two wins out of three games but will start favourites against the injury-ravaged Brumbies.

Defending champions Northern Bulls are at the point of no return as they prepare for their South African derby with the Lions in Pretoria on Friday.

After two losses at home to the Crusaders and the Sharks, the Bulls are staring at a potentially disastrous season and need to change their losing ways fast.

Elsewhere this weekend, the Queensland Reds have made seven changes after their stunning loss to the Brumbies for their home match with the Stormers on Saturday, while the Wellington Hurricanes will be looking to improve their losing record at Otago Highlanders’ infamous ‘House of Pain’ Dunedin ground on Friday.

The Waikato Chiefs host South Africa’s Cheetahs in Hamilton on Saturday.

Sapa-AFP –

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