Injuries already taking their toll in Super 14

Injuries and suspensions are already affecting the week-old Super 14 rugby tournament, influencing selections and threatening performance.


Before the tournament even started some teams such as the Blues lost key players like Ali Williams (pictured).

Few teams emerged from the first round unscathed and many face disruption in the second round either through the absence of key players or from the return of previously injured players and the rearrangement of combinations.

South Africa’s Bulls made an emphatic start to the defense of their Super 14 title when they beat compatriots the Cheetahs 51-34 in last week’s first round but have been forced to make two changes to their lineup for Saturday’s home match against the Brumbies.

The Bulls lost center Jaco Pretorious to a thigh injury, calling in the less experienced Stephan Dippenaar in his place. New international Francois Hougaard, who missed the opening round with a hamstring strain, returns on the wing.

Bulls loose forward Pedrie Wannenburg will become the second South African to play 100 matches for the same Super 14 franchise on Saturday, following Springboks captain John Smit who will achieve that milestone Friday when he plays for the Sharks against the Cheetahs.

Four South Africans – A.J. Venter, Percy Montgomery, Ollie le Roux and Albert van den Berg – have previously played more than 100 Super 12 or 14 games but all accumulated those matches for more than one franchise.

Wallabies flyhalf Matt Giteau has been passed fit to play for the Brumbies in Saturday’s match after concerns earlier this week about a quad muscle injury.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said his team was wary of the Brumbies, who opened their season with a 24-15 win over the Western Force.

“They have a great record in Super rugby and bring a lot to the game,” Ludeke said.

“They have an excellent kicking game and are famous for their running game so we will have to be at our best to beat them.”

Seven-time champions the Crusaders have made only one change to their match 22 for their clash on Friday against the Queensland Reds.

Prop Wyatt Crockett has recovered from an ankle injury and will join his All Blacks teammate, lock Brad Thorn, on the reserves bench in Brisbane.

Thorn, contentiously, will start from the bench as he did in the Crusaders’ 32-17 first-round win over the Highlanders.

“The thinking around Brad is he needs to be managed. He had a huge workload last season, and we’re just being really careful,” Crusaders assistant coach Daryl Gibson said.

“Last season we rushed our All Blacks in a little and we’re just managing that process a little bit better this year.”

The Highlanders will open the second round Friday with a home match against fellow first-round losers the Auckland Blues.

Steven Setephano will start at No. 8 for the Highlanders in place of Nasi Manu who is sidelined for four weeks with a knee injury while Michael Hobbs will play at flyhalf, replacing Matt Berquist who has a hamstring strain.

The Blues have made one change, dropping winger Rene Ranger to the reserves bench and calling in Paul Williams.

The Western Force, who play the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday, are hardest-hit by injuries, losing Wallabies back rowers David Pocock and Richard Brown for six weeks. Pocock ruptured a tendon in the middle finger of his left hand and Brown dislocated his shoulder in last week’s match against the Brumbies.

The Force are already without marquee signing Andre Pretorious with a torn hamstring, replacement flyhalf Mark Bartholomeusz who has a neck injury and winger Cameron Shepherd with a thigh strain.

“These (latest) injuries were just freakish in nature,” Force general manager Mitch Hardy said.

“It is fair to say that we will be without some quality performers for a signifi

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