THE KNOCK-OUT STAGES of the Super Rugby begin in the early hours of Saturday morning as the reigning champions, and 2012 winners, Chiefs do battle with the Brumbies in Canberra.
The New Zealanders needed wins over the Hurricanes and Blues in the final two weeks of the regular season to scrap into the playoffs. However, faced against a Brumbies team that have lost once at home all season, Dave Rennie’s men will need to pull out another big performance.
Brumbies defeated Chiefs 41-23 at home, back in April, to gain revenge for their Super Rugby grand final loss the previous season. The Australians are captained by No.8 Ben Mowen, who is off to Montpellier at season’s end. Their starting XV also includes influential out-half Matt Toomua and the excellent Henry Speight. The centre pairing is the wallabies duo Tevita Kurindrani and Christian Leali’ifano.
Chiefs’ XV features many of the players that drove the side to Super Rugby success in 2012 and 2013. Out-half Aaron Cruden is captain of a team with Ben Tameifuna [tight-head], Brodie Retallick [lock] and Liam Messam [blindside] the dominant forwards in the pack. Backline spark comes in the form of Tim Nanai-Williams while the straight-up running of Connacht-bound Bundee Aki is named at inside centre.
Sharks are the only South African team to make the final six. They finished third overall — just missing out on automatic semi-final qualification — but console themselves by welcoming Highlanders to Kings Park Stadium.
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis captains the home side and out-half Frans Steyn will look to pull the attacking strings. S’bura Sithole and JP Pietersen are the hosts main attacking threats. Highlanders’ Malakai Fekitoa starts at outside centre, Ben Smith is in at fullback and Aaron Smith will bark the orders at scrum-half.
Even if they can overcome Highlanders, Jake White’s men will have to travel to Christchurch to take on Richie McCaw and the Crusaders. White, though, is drawing inspiration from Germany’s World Cup exploits.
He said, “You guys write that 12 out of 18 games have been won by teams that have hosted the final, well Brazil lost 7-1 at home to Germany. If I told people that before the World Cup, they would have laughed at me.
“That is what sport does, and it’s going to happen that a team which doesn’t finish in the top two is going to win this competition. It has to happen.”
Sky Sports’ coverage of the Super Rugby Finals Series begins at 10:35am on SS1. Sharks v Highlanders coverage begins at 3:55pm on SS2.