Preview – S14 Round One, Part Two

The landscape changes dramatically as we enter Day Two of the opening weekend of Super 14 action, which is marked by a couple of trans-Tasman games and two all-South African derbies.

While the South African derbies, which conclude the weekend’s fixtures on Saturday, are sure to provide plenty of action and the usual batch of brutality, it is the two trans-Tasman encounters that get the pulses racing.

We start on Saturday with the Chiefs hosting the Brumbies in Hamilton – a game ostensibly between New Zealand’s provincial champions (Waikato, which makes up the bulk of the Chiefs) and the inaugural Australian Provincial Championship (APC) title holder, the Brumbies.

The action then shifts across the Tasman Sea to Australia, where the Reds will hope to shake of their underdog tag when they host the 2006 Super 14 finalists the Hurricanes. It is another game that is sure to provide plenty of thrills.

Super Rugby’s focus then shifts to the South African East Coats, where the Sharks host the Bulls in the first of what promises to be no-holds barred SA derby matches. The weekend’s action is concluded when the Cheetahs host the Stormers in Bloemfontein, another game in which the pre-match build-up has been dominated by “war talk” in the local media.

We look at Day Two!

Saturday, 3 February:

Chiefs v Brumbies
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 19.35 (06.35 GMT)

It is a game in which both teams will play without some key players, but the Brumbies will face the most testing posers about their ability to overcome setbacks.

The first question is how they will cope without the genius of Matt Giteau, who moved west to the Force?

Gene Fairbanks will wear the No.12 jersey (inside centre), which Giteau had made his own in the last few years and no doubt this is the start of a period in which Fairbanks can put up his hand not only for a permanent Brumbies slot, but also a possible Wallaby World Cup berth.

Fairbanks has played at inside centre for the Brumbies before, when injury ruled Giteau out last year, and there’s no doubt he has the potential. But he was sidelined with an injury during Australia’s pre-season trials and Saturday is his first opportunity of the year.

But an even bigger poser for the Brumbies is whether Julian Huxley, signed from the Reds, will be able to plug the gap left by stalwart fly-half Stephen Larkham – who remained behind in Canberra to be with his wife Jacqui, who gave birth to their second child earlier this week.

Huxley has performed with distinction for the Reds over the years, but at the Brumbies his role will be far different from that which he fulfilled in previous seasons. It is his creative skills that will be required more than the steadying influence he had in Brisbane.

The Chiefs this week also lost a key player, with lock Keith Robinson being ruled out through a calf injury. His considerable bulk will be missed in a game in which the Chiefs would have expected to dominate the set pieces.

The result is that Jono Gibbes will be at lock and not on the flank, but he has produced many admirable performances in the second row in years gone by.

The Hamilton factor will certainly also play a role, as the Chiefs hope to build on the momentum created by Waikato’s success in the inaugural Air New Zealand Cup – especially with 20 Waikato players in the current Chiefs squad.

“We have to remember that we are the Chiefs and represent several areas, but we do have 20 from that Waikato side and it was good that they won last year,” Chiefs coach Ian Foster said.

“We needed that. Expectations are higher in the side, and that can lift the performance levels,” he added.

Prediction: This will be a thrilling encounter, the pace and guile of the Brumbies against the brute force of the Chiefs. But we feel the Chiefs will sneak it in the end. The Chiefs by less th

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