Super 15 front-runners the ACT Brumbies are looking to bounce back strongly against the Northern Bulls this weekend, after defeat in South Africa brought their unbeaten record to a shuddering halt.
The Brumbies slipped to a 35-22 loss at the hands of the Western Stormers in Cape Town last week and face a fresh test of their title credentials against another South African side, the Bulls, in Canberra tomorrow.
If Jake White’s Brumbies slip up, defending champions the Waikato Chiefs could leapfrog them to the top of the overall standings with victory over the Auckland Blues in a mouthwatering New Zealand derby tomorrow.
Fullback Jesse Mogg and scrumhalf Nic White are expected to return from injury to bolster the Brumbies against the Bulls, who went down narrowly to the Queensland Reds in Brisbane last Saturday.
“Both Jesse and Nic are very important to our attack,” the 2007 World Cup-winning Springbok coach White said. “They recovered quite nicely in their week off so I’m hoping, all things being equal, they’ll be available for selection.”
Midfielder Jan Serfontein will make a first start for the Pretoria-based Bulls in their last overseas tour match in the Australian capital.
Serfontein swaps places with Francois Venter, who will drop to the bench, while Jurgen Visser is to start on the left wing in place of Bjorn Basson (ankle).
Goalkicking pivot Morne Steyn is back after Louis Fouche got a start against the Reds.
The Chiefs face a rugged derby against the Blues in Mount Maunganui, with the champions expecting to get more playing time out of All Black Richard Kahui after his 32 minutes off the bench last week against the Otago Highlanders.
Kahui is coming back after shoulder reconstruction, having not played for 10 months, and his return is a bonus for the Chiefs following the loss of World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams to Australia’s National Rugby League.
Auckland coach John Kirwan is looking forward to testing his young Blues side against the Chiefs after a 30-27 loss to the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.
“It’s what we want to play, we want to measure ourselves against the best. They are favorites and we just need to go down there and give it our best shot,” Kirwan said.
Springbok prop Pat Cilliers is to replace suspended Steven Kitshoff for the Stormers against the Canterbury Crusaders at Newlands tomorrow.
The Stormers have not beaten Canterbury in their past three encounters and coach Allister Coetzee said: “They’re a top-quality side — they’re the Crusaders, after all, a side that’s won many [Super Rugby] competitions.”
Coach Todd Blackadder has made four changes to his Crusaders team after last weekend’s 55-20 romp over the Southern Kings at home.
Luke Whitelock replaces injured skipper Kieran Read, while Tyler Bleyendaal moves to inside center to replace Dan Carter, who has remained in New Zealand to be at the birth of his first child.
Israel Dagg returns to fullback, moving Tom Marshall back to the wing and Zac Guildford to the bench.
The Melbourne Rebels are looking to bounce back against the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein after off-field problems that led to injured Wallaby Kurtley Beale and winger Cooper Vuna being sent home for disciplinary issues.
“Media fallout over the last couple of days has allowed us to be aware of the disappointment of our fans back in Melbourne and we’re looking to right some of the wrongs from last weekend,” captain Gareth Delve said.
In other games this weekend, the Otago Highlanders host the Reds in Dunedin, the Wellington Hurricanes face the Kings in Wellington and the Waratahs have a Sunday match against the Western Force in Sydney, while the Coastal Sharks have a bye.