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Super RugbyIt is Round 7 of Super Rugby 2015 this weekend.

There are 2 games on Friday 27 March and 5 games on Saturday 28 March.

The Brumbies a BYE weekend.

There are no South African derbies on the weekend again, with 3 SA sides currently on tour and both the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks envolved in games on South African soil against Anzac counterparts.

Only 1 undefeated team remains prior to the start of the weekend, the Hurricanes, and they will be up against the struggling Melbourne Rebels, at home, in the 1st game of the weekend (08:35 SA Time on Friday 27 March).

The Struggling Reds, who boast a return of a number of Wallabies take on the Emirates Lions at 11:00 SA Time on Friday.

On Saturday morning, early (05:30 SA Time) the Chiefs host the Toyota Cheetahs, whereafter the Highlanders host the DHL Stormers in their first game on tour, at 08:35 SA Time.

Next up, at 10:40 SA Time, the Waratahs host the battling Blues in Sydney.

The Cell C Sharks, resting a number of Springboks host the Western Force in Durban at 17:05 SA Time.

The Vodacom Bulls take on a resurgent Crusaders side at 19:10 SA Time in Pretoria in the last game of the Round.

The Hurricanes should coast to victory in the first Friday game but the second Friday game between the Reds and Emirates Lions is difficult to call.

The Chiefs should dispense with the Toyota Cheetahs early on Saturday, but the game between the Highlanders and the DHL Stormers is once again a difficult one to call. The Waratahs should put the Blues to the sword in Sydney.

One cannot help but feel that the Crusaders should beat the Vodacom Bulls…. even in Pretoria, whereas the Cell C Sharks should beat the Western Force in Durban.

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Schalk Burger

Schalk Burger

Centre Juan de Jongh will captain the DHL Stormers in their 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby tour-opener against the Highlanders at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

De Jongh takes over the leadership reins from No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who is being rested as per the franchise agreement with SA Rugby, whilst Schalk Burger comes in for his first start of 2015 and will take over the vice-captaincy.

Aside from backing up De Jongh in the leadership department, Burger will also be making his 100th appearance in a DHL Stormers jersey – having made his debut against the Waratahs in Cape Town on 13 March 2004.

The 31-year-old Springbok star joins Andries Bekker (2013) and Jean de Villiers and Peter Grant (both 2014) in reaching this impressive landmark for the men from the Cape and DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee paid tribute to the team’s “ultimate warrior”.

“I don’t think people realise exactly what Schalk went through in 2012 and 2013, first with his knee injury and then his illness,” Coetzee said.

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Cell C SharksThe Cell C Sharks team to take on the Western Force on Saturday at Growthpoint Kings Park sees a number of changes to the side that defeated the Chiefs at the same venue last weekend.

Due to the suspension of Bismarck du Plessis, Jean Deysel who returns to the side in the absence of Marcell Coetzee who is being rested, will captain the team for this match. The good news is that Mouritz Botha and Beast Mtawarira, both of whom took heavy blows from the Chiefs, have been passed fit to play.  Kyle Cooper taking over at hooker is the only other change amongst the forwards.

Backline changes have been made in the midfield, the resting of Springboks Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie have necessitated a new halfback pairing for the first time this season, Conrad Hoffmann taking over at scrumhalf and Frans Steyn shifting from centre to flyhalf.  Andre Esterhuizen earns his second start, he will partner JP Pietersen from inside centre.

These 2 teams have met on 8 occasions, but it is the Sharks who hold the upper hand, having won 7 of them, including a 6 match winning streak stretching back to 2007.

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Arno Botha

Arno Botha

Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke restored props Morné Mellett and Trevor Nyakane to the starting line-up for their Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Both props played off the bench in last weekend’s win against the Force and swop places with Dean Greyling and Marcel van der Merwe in 2 of the 4 changes to the pack. In the other changes to the pack and team, Victor Matfield returns to the No 5 lock position, swopping places with Grant Hattingh, who returns to his regular role as impact player.

Lappies Labuschagne also did not recover from a chest injury sustained against the Force and will sit out. He will be replaced by Arno Botha, who moves up from the bench. Hanro Liebenberg takes over from Botha on the bench.

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Francois Steyn

Francois Steyn

The hearing date for SANZAR’s appeal against the decision to rescind Frans Steyn’s Red Card has been postponed until next week.

The Sharks centre was sent off after performing a tip-tackle on Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden in their Super Rugby clash in Durban last Saturday.

Steyn was cited following the game, but was then found not guilty at a subsequent hearing, with the Red Card expunged from his record.

However, SANZAR felt justice was not served and appealed the decision on Wednesday.

The initial date for the appeal was set for Friday, but has now been extended until next Tuesday.

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Western ForceWestern Force head coach Michael Foley has made no changes to his starting line-up that will take on the Cell C Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

The only alteration comes on the bench where fullback Dane Haylett-Petty is set to make his return from a foot injury should he come on to the field.

Otherwise it’s the same squad that was beaten, 25 / 24, by the Bulls last week.

Haylett-Petty suffered a foot injury in the Western Force’s Week One 25 / 13 win over the Waratahs, but has recovered to reclaim his place in the match-day 23.

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CrusadersCrusaders coach Todd Blackadder wasted no time in bringing back All Black captain Richie McCaw for his team’s Super Rugby Round 7 encounter with the Vodacom Bulls.

The 7-time champion Crusaders start their South African tour against the 3-time champion Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.

McCaw, who was rested last week as the Crusaders demolished the Cheetahs 57 / 14, replaces Matt Todd at openside flank – with the latter dropping down to the replacement bench.

In all Blackadder made 5 changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Loftus Versfeld.

Blackadder has made 2 rotations in the front row, with prop Joe Moody and hooker Ben Funnell coming in for All Black Wyatt Crockett and Codie Taylor respectively. Crockett and Taylor both drop to the bench.

Dan Carter, who last week started at inside centre, returns to his more customary role in the No 10 jersey.

Tom Taylor moves out one position to No 12 and Colin Slade will play off the bench.

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ChiefsThe Chiefs have made several changes to their starting line-up for Saturday’s clash with the Cheetahs in Hamilton.

Amongst the backs, All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams returns to the run-on side after missing last weekend’s narrow loss to the Sharks due to concussion, and Charlie Ngatai is bracketed with Seta Tamanivalu at outside centre.

Tom Marshall comes on to the left wing.

Andrew Horrell moves to the reserves and is joined by prop Siate Tokolahi and Marty McKenzie.

In the pack, there’s a brand new front row.

Pauliasi Manu returns from injury and is joined by Quentin MacDonald and Ben Tameifuna.

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Melbourne RebelsMelbourne Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made several changes to his starting 15 for Friday’s clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington.

Rebels centre Mitch Inman becomes the 5th player to play 50 matches for the franchise, while co-captain Scott Higginbotham makes his 100th Super Rugby appearance.

Tighthead prop Laurie Weeks will also overtake former player Hugh Pyle as the most-capped player in the franchise’s history, moving to 59 Rebels caps.

McGahan was pleased to see the players reach these milestones, and stressed the importance of acknowledging them.

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HSBC Sevens World SeriesThere will be additional prestige on offer when 16 of the world’s leading nations gather in Hong Kong to contest Round 6 of the HSBC Sevens World Series.

This weekend will be the 40th Hong Kong Sevens, as New Zealand look to overhaul arch rivals and World Series leaders South Africa at the top of the standings.

Scott Hastings, one of the many legends in attendance in Hong Kong this weekend, spoke to the significance of winning at the iconic stadium.

“Hong Kong is a fantastic tournament, the Mecca of Sevens, and so many world renowned players came to prominence playing for their teams here in Hong Kong,” Hastings said.

For teams like South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji there as the additional significance of World Series points.

The Blitzbokke lead the World Series with 93 points, including 2 tournaments wins, from the 1st 5 Rounds. New Zealand (1 win, 88 points) and Fiji (2 wins, 86 points) are hot on their heels.

Of course there is also the race for a Top-4 finish – and automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics – where teams like Australia (71), England (68), Argentina (54) and the United States (51) are in the running.

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European Rugby Champions CupThe Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup, the 2 annual European competitions, will kick off mid-November 2015 – due to the Rugby World Cup.

The 1st 2 Rounds of both continental competitions will be played from 12 to 15 November, at a time usually devoted to the year-end Tests.

The End-Of-Year internationals between the Northern and Southern hemispheres will not take place because of the Rugby World Cup, hosted in England from 18 September to 31 October 2015.

The tournaments will then revert to their customary dates in December and January, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals set for April and the finals on the weekend of 13 – 14 May 2016.

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Olympics Rio 2016Rugby Sevens will make its Olympic Games debut on 6 August 2016 after the Rio 2016 Organising Committee released the daily competition schedule on Wednesday to mark 500 days to go.

The Rugby Sevens competitions at the Deodoro Sports Complex will be played over 6 days between 6 – 11 August 2016 with 2 sessions per day. The session times will be announced in due course.

The world’s top women will be the 1st rugby players to compete for an Olympic Games medal for 92 years, with 12 teams competing over 3 days with the 12-team men’s competition following over the next 3 days.

The 4 top teams on the World Rugby Sevens Series log at the end of the current season will qualify automatically for Rio. With just 4 more Rounds remaining, South Africa (93 points) have a slender lead at the top of the series standings over rivals New Zealand (88). They are closely followed by Fiji (86) and Australia (71).

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Francois Steyn

Francois Steyn

SANZAR has lodged an appeal against the outcome of a judicial hearing held on Monday 23 March that found Francois Steyn of the Sharks not guilty of contravening Law 10.4 (j).

A SANZAR Appeals Committee, chaired by Terry Willis, with Nigel Hampton QC and Robert Stelzner SC as members, will hear the appeal via videoconference on Friday 27 March 2015 at 08:00 SA Time (17:00 AEDT, 19:00 NZ Time).

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Schalk Burger

Schalk Burger

DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has hinted that veteran Schalk Burger could be in line for a return to the openside flank role that he filled for so long for the Springboks, but it would require a big shift in emphasis for the 2004 winner of the IRB World Rugby Player of the Year Award.

Coetzee finds himself faced with a difficult balancing act as he considers his loose-forward options of Saturday’s opening Vodacom Super Rugby tour match against the Highlanders in Dunedin. Duane Vermeulen, who brings so much of the necessary drive and physicality to the back row, is being rested as per the agreement with Saru geared towards effective management of Springboks.

That means that Nizaam Carr will move from openside flank to No 8, something that Coetzee confirmed in an interview with the Cape media from the team hotel in Dunedin. Carr played for the Boks in that position last year and was 1 of the form players in the Currie Cup for the title winning Western Province team, but having him at the back of the scrum does bring a different dynamic to the back row.

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Vodacom CupThe Vodacom Cup is now fully underway across the length and breadth of South Africa and Namibia and sparks are set to fly in George, Cape Town and Pretoria this weekend.

At picturesque Outeniqua Park, the SWD Eagles have a great opportunity to win their 2nd successive home game when they host the defending champions from Kimberley, GWK Griquas, on Friday evening. It’s a replay of last year’s quarter-final.

There is another top-of-the-table clash in the South Section on Saturday afternoon when DHL Western Province, Vodacom Cup champions in 2012, host the Cell C Sharks XV in Athlone, Cape Town. Both these teams lost in the quarter-finals last season.

In the North Section, the Vodacom Blue Bulls will want to get back to winning ways when they host the high-flying Steval Pumas in Pretoria. The side from the Lowveld top the Log, with 3 wins from 3 and have been impressive this season, amassing 170 points at an average of almost 57 per match.

This week we feature 1 of the best young tight forwards in the country as well as 1 of the top try-scorers from 2014 in Toyota Free State XV hooker Joseph Dweba and Boland Cavaliers wing Harlon Klaasen, who will face off against each other in Heidedal, Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.

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Dawie Theron

Dawie Theron

The South African Rugby Union on Wednesday announced a large group of players to participate in the Junior Springbok trials camp early next month in Stellenbosch. The trials will kick-start the process to select the Junior Springbok squad of 28 players for the upcoming World Rugby Under 20 Championship in Italy in June.

The best local Under 20 players will assemble on Sunday 30 March at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS) and will remain in camp until 2 April. This will be followed by a break for the Easter holidays. The camp will feature 2 trial matches on Tuesday 31 March and Thursday 2 April respectively at the Paul Roos Markottër Stadium.

Players such as Thomas du Toit, Dan du Preez (both, Cell C Sharks), RG Snyman and Warrick Gelant (both, Vodacom Blue Bulls) who are currently busy with Vodacom Super Rugby commitments, were excluded from the trials squad. Duhan van der Merwe (Vodacom Blue Bulls) and Rikus Bothma (DHL Western Province) are currently injured and were not considered.

Following the trials, a smaller group of 34 players will return to SAS on 6 April for the Junior Springbok training camp. This training camp will include the following activities:

  • Training exercises against the DHL Western Province Rugby Institute
  • A match against a Varsity Cup select XV
  • And a short tour of Argentina featuring two matches against the Los Pumitas

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Willie le Roux

Willie le Roux

Coenie Oosthuizen

Coenie Oosthuizen

A number of changes have been made to the Toyota Cheetahs team to play the Chiefs in a Super Rugby match in Hamilton on Saturday.

There are no less than 6 changes to the starting line-up, including a rest for Springbok duo Coenie Oosthuizen and Willie Le Roux.

Springbok flank Teboho Mohoje is already on his way back home, suffering an injury to his groin in last week’s tough encounter against the Crusaders. Mohoje is expected to be sidelined for 8 / 12 weeks, and Tienie Burger will be flying to Hamilton as cover for the Cheetahs, with Johannes ‘Boom’ Prinsloo slotting into the starting line-up.

As per agreement with SA Rugby, Willie le Roux and Coenie Oosthuizen are being rested. Nicholas ‘Maks’ van Dyk moves into the front row to replace the Springbok tighthead, with Clayton Blommetjies shifting to fullback to allow the return of Cornal Hendricks on the right wing.

Centre Francois Venter sits this one out, and Michael van der Spuy comes off the bench to play in the midfield.

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TJ Perenara

TJ Perenara

All Blacks scrumhalf TJ Perenara will play his 50th match for the Hurricanes when they face the Rebels in Wellington on Friday.

Perenara made his debut for the ‘Canes against the Stormers in 2012, and has since racked up 105 points for the franchise by way of 21 tries.

The 23-year-old will pair with James Marshall this weekend in what will be the 1st start for the halfback combination, with coach Chris Boyd opting to rest Beauden Barrett.

Also taking a break this week is prop Ben Franks, along with wing Julian Savea, which has allowed Boyd to shuffle his back 3.

Matt Proctor comes in for Savea, while Jason Woodward has been given another start at fullback. Manawatu flyhalf Otere Black will also get his 1st chance for the Hurricanes, should he come off the bench.

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RedsReds coach Richard Graham wasted no time in rushing back a number of Wallaby stars, when he named his side to take on the Emirates Lions in Brisbane on Friday.

There are 6 players returning from injury for the clash.

Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi and Lachie Turner will make their return from injury in the starting backline – while props Greg Holmes and Ben Daley have been named on the reserves bench.

Graham commended the players for their efforts since returning from the BYE and said he was pleased to have a selection headache for this week’s match.

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Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan

Prominent ex-Test referee Jonathan Kaplan has joined the chorus calling for scrutiny of the Crusaders scrumming action after their win over the Toyota Cheetahs last weekend.

The Crusaders scrum has dominated in their contests against both the Emirates Lions and Cheetahs in their 2 Vodacom Super Rugby games over the past fortnight, and in both cases it seems as if the scrum – and All Black prop Wyatt Crockett in particular – have gotten away with murder.

Crockett’s supposed dominance in the scrum has seen both Julian Redelinghuys and Coenie Oosthuizen, both Springbok props, being sin-binned during the game and a plethora of penalties given against their teams by referees who believe the tighthead can’t handle the pressure when the loosehead packs down.

But on a number of occasions – and ironically picked up by both former All Blacks Jeff Wilson and Justin Marshall – the scrum has never packed down straight.

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Heyneke Meyer - BokSmart

Heyneke Meyer – BokSmart

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and his SA Under 20 counterpart Dawie Theron recently renewed their BokSmart certification for a further 2 years.

Meyer renewed his certification in Pretoria last week, while Theron was joined by 3 members of the South African Rugby Union’s High Performance Mobi-Unit and Springbok coaching consultants, Pieter de Villiers, Louis Koen and Chean Roux, as well as Jacques Nienaber, High Performance Manager in the Rugby Department, in Cape Town earlier this month.

The biennial BokSmart certification is compulsory for anybody who wants to coach or referee rugby in South Africa at any level. The 3 Springbok assistant coaches, Johann van Graan, Ricardo Loubscher and John McFarland, are certified until 2016 while Springbok consultant Richie Gray will renew his certification later this year.

BokSmart provides coaches and referees with the knowledge and skills to apply safe rugby techniques and basic medical and injury prevention practices.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

Regular captain and No 8 Duane Vermeulen is the only member of the DHL Stormers touring squad that will not be available for selection for Saturday’s opening game of the 4 day trip against the Highlanders at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has reported to the Cape rugby media via telephone conference hook-up that the squad has settled down well on the South Island in New Zealand – they are actually in the resort town of Queenstown currently – and that every player in the 27 man squad is fully fit and ready to play.

That means that Louis Schreuder, who was concussed against the Chiefs in the last match, has passed his cognitive tests, while big lock Eben Etzebeth and the inform blindside flank Michael Rhodes have both recovered from the injuries that have kept them out of the last few Stormers games.

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Oregan Hoskins

Oregan Hoskins

Race has become another sore point for the South African Rugby Union (SARU) when transformation in rugby was discussed in Parliament on Tuesday, according to reports.

Some MPs complained about the “white faces” in SARU’s delegation that presented to the portfolio committee on sport and recreation.

EFF MP Pebane Moteka asked: “If you do not even your leadership can transform, how are you transforming the sport?”

Solly Malatsi from the DA then tweeted that Saru’s presentation reminded him of “the unbearable whiteness of the state of South African rugby “.

SARU president Oregan Hoskins, who led the delegation, asked MPs to confirm that he was not white.

“Honourable members, look at us and say we are all white men.

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Teboho Mohoje

Teboho Mohoje

The Toyota Cheetahs were given a massive setback Wednesday when their worst fears about the injury to Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje filtered through.

Mohoje tore his groin muscle in the big loss in Christchurch against the Crusaders on Saturday and will need surgery as soon as possible.

The big Springbok flanker has already left the side en route back to Bloemfontein to see a specialist and prepare for the surgery, but the initial diagnosis is that he will be out for at least 8 to 12 weeks.

The Cheetahs have called up Shimlas flanker Tienie Burger to join the side but it is clear Mohoje’s injury has hit them hard.

The Bok is unlikely to play again in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition, although depending on his rehabilitation there is a slight chance he could return to the field for the last 2 games of their campaign… all of which creates another headache for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

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