Easter promises festive rugby
It might be a long weekend, but there will be no relaxing for the 14 Vodacom Super Rugby teams in action this weekend, with the Vodacom Bulls facing a tough challenge in Pretoria, the DHL Stormers and Sharks flying the SA flag in NZ and a big local derby in Bloem.
SA Under-20 flyhalf Johan Goosen will be chasing a special milestone in the only South African Vodacom Super Rugby derby this weekend when the Toyota Cheetahs take on the MTN Lions in Bloemfontein.

Down in New Zealand, The Sharks take on the Hurricanes in New Plymouth on Friday, while on Saturday the table-topping DHL Stormers have a tough match at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin against Kiwi Conference leaders, the Highlanders.

In a third match between “South Africa and New Zealand”, two of the most successful Vodacom Super Rugby teams in history, the Vodacom Bulls and the Crusaders, clash in Pretoria.

Note: Daylight savings time has ended in Australia and New Zealand, meaning South Africa is now only eight hours behind Australia and 10 hours behind New Zealand.

Hurricanes v The Sharks

The Sharks are steeling themselves to face a resurgent Hurricanes side at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth – home base of Taranaki – on Friday morning.

The ‘Canes will still be smarting from their heavy defeat against the Toyota Cheetahs last weekend, where they surrendered a 32-11 lead to lose 47-38.

Luckily The Sharks know what it takes to win in New Plymouth, as they have done it before, albeit eight years ago when they beat the Hurricanes by 21-20 in 2004, the only time these two sides have met before at Taranaki’s home ground.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said his team arrived in New Zealand positive after their superb 29-26 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend as they prepare for their last two tour matches.

“We’ll be playing against two really good attacking sides in New Zealand [the Hurricanes and the Blues] and with the Cheetahs knocking the Hurricanes off on the weekend, that makes our task a little more difficult,” he said.

“The Hurricanes will be hurting, they’re getting a lot of criticism in the local media and I think they might have underestimated a pretty good Cheetahs side. That makes our job a little more difficult on Friday.”

The Sharks last lost to the Hurricanes in New Zealand in 2006 (23-17). In 2008 these two sides drew 13-13 and in 2010 the team from KwaZulu-Natal beat the ‘Canes by 29-26. The Durbanites have won three from their seven away matches against the team from Wellington.

Hurricanes v The Sharks
Date: 6 April
SA Time: 09:35
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Television match official: Richard Kelly (New Zealand)

Highlanders v DHL Stormers

A mouth-watering top of the table clash awaits when the DHL Stormers become the first South African side to play at the new Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, against the Highlanders.

These two sides currently lead the South African and New Zealand Conferences and both have built their supremacy on forward dominance, coupled with solid defence. The DHL Stormers have only conceded seven tries thus far this season and the Highlanders eight. Only the Vodacom Bulls and Chiefs, with six each, boast a better defensive record in 2012.

The Highlanders, however, have outscored the DHL Stormers by more than two tries to one this year – 17 compared to 8. And even though the team from Cape Town have only won one and drawn one of their six away matches against the Highlanders, they have arrived on New Zealand’s South Island in a confident mood.

“We are based in a beautiful part of the world which really assists recovery and our ability to prepare mentally and physically,” said DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee.

Otago is notorious for “less than perfect” weather, but seeing that the game will be played in a stadium that is completely enclosed, conditions should be perfect. “It is going to be tough and the conditions should make it a great game.” concluded Coetzee.

The DHL Stormers’ only victory in New Zealand against the Highlanders came three years ago, in 2009, when they won 18-11 at Carisbrook in Dunedin.

The Highlanders generally enjoy hosting South African sides – they’ve won 25 out of 34 home games against teams from the Republic (73.5%). Against Australian sides, the team from Otago have only won 58.6% of their home games (17 from 29).

Highlanders v DHL Stormers
Date: 7 April
SA Time: 09:35
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Keith Brown (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

Toyota Cheetahs v MTN Lions

Johan Goosen of the Toyota Cheetahs could become the first player in 2012 to reach 100 Vodacom Super Rugby points when his team host the MTN Lions at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.

Goosen is currently the top points’ scorer in the competition on 98. The Hurricanes’ Beauden Barrett is on 86 and needs 14 points against The Sharks to make it to 100 before Goosen. Joe Pietersen of the DHL Stormers is third on 73.

And while Goosen (and possibly Barrett) are chasing this milestone this weekend, in round seven, they are not close to the record for the fastest player to reach 100 points in a season. That mark belongs to Gavin Lawless of the Sharks, who passed 100 season points in his fourth game in 1997 (he scored 50 against the Highlanders, 23 against the Waratahs and 15 each against the Brumbies and Cheetahs).

Two players have done it in five games – Gavin Johnson for the MTN Lions (then still Transvaal), also in 1997 and Morné Steyn for the Vodacom Bulls in 2010.

Goosen, who starred for the SA Under-20s last year and is still eligible for the team this season, and Barrett have both played in all six their teams’ matches thus far this season.

This week the MTN Lions welcome back their primary goal kicker, Elton Jantjies, who was SA U20 flyhalf in 2010. He missed a few matches because of injury, in which time veteran Bok flyhalf Butch James has taken over the kicking duties.

The 14 successful penalty goals that Goosen (5) and Jantjies (9) kicked when these two sides met in the first round in Johannesburg, is the most ever in a Vodacom Super Rugby match.

Naka Drotské, coach of the Toyota Cheetahs, said they are happy to be back home after a difficult start to the competition.

“Our season has been up and down and we have mixed feelings about the results. But it was a tough start –we’ve played five out of our first six games away from home,” said Drotské.

“I do feel, however, that we should’ve won our games against the MTN Lions and the Brumbies – we lost both of them through late penalty goals. Now we have 10 games in South Africa and seven in Bloemfontein to look forward to. We are improving each week and know we need to win our home games.”

MTN Lions coach John Mitchell said: “We’re prepared as well as we can for this game and we have a specific way in which we want to play. The Cheetahs would’ve returned from their tour with a lot of confidence and are playing well and we fully respect them for that.”

Toyota Cheetahs v MTN Lions
Date: 7 April
SA Time: 15:00
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Joey Salmans (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

Vodacom Bulls v Crusaders

The most successful South African and New Zealand Vodacom Super Rugby franchises square off in the final match of the weekend when the Vodacom Bulls host the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon.

The Crusaders have won seven Vodacom Super Rugby titles – the most by any team – and the Vodacom Bulls have won three, level with the Blues. The Brumbies (twice) and Reds (once) are the only other teams that have tasted victory in this tough competition.

The Vodacom Bulls have the second best home record out of any South African franchise against the Crusaders, having won six from 10 of these games. The Toyota Cheetahs have only played the Crusaders three times in Bloemfontein since the Cats split before the 2006-season, and won twice.

Against The Sharks in Durban, the team from Canterbury have won four from six, they’ve won five from nine against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town and two from three against the MTN Lions (since 2006).

After last weekend’s defeat in Cape Town, the Vodacom Bulls know they need a positive result this weekend if they don’t want to fall out of the top six on the overall log. Last year the team from Pretoria didn’t even bother the scorers against the Crusaders when they lost 27-0 in Timaru.

“This is a very important one for us. A win would sustain momentum and our hard work, but a defeat could see us on the wrong side of the log. They are a team full of World Cup winning All Blacks, so we will have to be at our very best,” said Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.

Vodacom Bulls v Crusaders
Date: 7 April
SA Time: 17:05
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lesego Legoete (South Africa), Tiaan Jonker (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

Other fixtures (SA times):

Thursday, 5 April:
11:40: Rebels v Blues (Melbourne)

Friday, 6 April:
11:40: Reds v Brumbies (Brisbane)
13:40: Force v Chiefs (Perth)

Bye: Waratahs

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