Chiefs, Brumbies set for showdownComment on this story
Sydney – Defending champions Waikato Chiefs and the ACT Brumbies meet in this weekend's rematch of last year's Super Rugby final, with the winner keeping series leaders the Sharks in their sights.
The Brumbies and Chiefs trail the Sharks by six points after eight rounds of the southern hemisphere provincial championship and both need a win on Friday's Anzac Day to avoid falling further behind the South African pacesetters.
The Sharks face the Otago Highlanders on Friday in Durban, where they haven't lost to the New Zealanders for nine years.
Back-to-back champions Waikato have battled through this season with a heavy injury toll and will have 11 players unavailable for the Anzac Day crunch game in Canberra.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham is aware of the danger of playing with complacency against the Chiefs.
“There were periods in that (2013 final) where I thought, 'we've got this won', and that's the wrong attitude,” Larkham said. “You can never relax.”
The Chiefs have only won twice in ten trips to Canberra and the Brumbies lead 11-7 overall in their meetings.
“It is special to be playing a match against an Australian team on Anzac Day. It is a hugely important day for our two countries,” Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
The Chiefs have made six changes to the starting line-up with Mahonri Schwalger at hooker and Ross Filipo getting his first start for the year.
The Sharks can put themselves into an even stronger position with a victory over the eighth-placed Highlanders.
“The challenge for us is to focus on getting a result against the Highlanders,” Sharks coach Jake White said.
“We go away the next day – it's our last home game for a long while and we have to keep the momentum going.”
The fourth-placed NSW Waratahs have been boosted by Wallaby Kurtley Beale's speedy recovery from an ankle injury for Friday's showdown with the Blues in Auckland.
Rugby League international Benji Marshall may have been released after failing to hold down a regular place at the Blues, but coach John Kirwan has recalled World Cup All Blacks Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu for what is traditionally a fierce trans-Tasman contest.
Weepu has been cleared to return via the bench after the scrum-half suffered a stroke last month and underwent minor heart surgery.
“To have Weepu back will probably spark some emotion and when he comes on late in the game, he'll be trying his best to have an impact and change the result,” Waratahs fly-half Bernard Foley said.
“You can't take any player lightly. Even recent form goes out the window when you play guys like that because they can come on and ignite something or do the things that only the world-class players do.”
The Waratahs have only won once in nine visits to Eden Park but this year the Blues are struggling in 11th spot.
South Africa's Northern Bulls will be without their skipper Flip van der Merwe through suspension as they attempt to finish their losing Australasian tour with a win over the Western Force in Perth on Saturday.
Van der Merwe was on Wednesday suspended for three games on a striking charge in last week's 19-12 loss to the Waratahs in Sydney.
The Pretoria-based Bulls have lost their last six away games but have won two of their three games in Perth.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has made five changes with suspension, rotation and injury forcing his hand.
“We have to get back to winning ways and this is a final opportunity to turn our tour into a positive,” Ludeke said.
“If we can bag a win here and add the losing bonus points we collected earlier on tour, the reward would justify the hard work we have put in.”
In this weekend's remaining games, the Hurricanes host the Queensland Reds in Wellington and the Central Cheetahs have home advantage over the Western Stormers in Bloemfontein.
The Canterbury Crusaders, Golden Lions and Rebels have a bye. – Sapa-AFP