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Super Rugby

Super RugbyIt is the Semi-Final Round of Super Rugby 2015 this weekend.

There are only 2 matches in the Round, 1 in New Zealand and 1 in Australia.

1St Place on the Combined Log, the Hurricanes hosts the lowest Qualifier, the Brumbies. In the other match 2nd on the Log, the Waratahs hosts the other qualifier from last weekend, the Highlanders.

The 2 Franchises who finished in the No 1 and No 2 spots on the Combined Log, the Hurricanes and Waratahs respectively, have had wonderful rest weekends, as they sat out during the Top 6 Qualification Round last weekend.

The action is kicked off by the Hurricanes vs Brumbies who do battle in Wellington at 09:35 SA Time (19:35 NZ Time, 17:35 AEST, 07:35 GMT) on Saturday 27 June.

A little later, over in Sydney, Australia, the Waratahs plays the Highlanders at 11:55 SA Time (19:55 AEST, 21:55 NZ Time, 09:55 GMT).

After this Round only 2 Teams remain to contest the Final next weekend.

The Hurricanes vs Brumbies game should be an absolute cracker after the Brumbies’ massive win over the DHL Stormers last weekend, but one would have to give a nod to the most consistent team of this year’s series, the Hurricanes, who have stood out head and shoulders above all comers in 2015.

Both teams sport great backlines but I am of the opinion that the Hurricanes are punching at the weight they should always punch at in 2015, and I give the win to them, but not by a large margin.

As far as the other match is concerned, do we give home ground advantage enough weight to speculate that the Waratahs will overcome the staunch Highlanders in Sydney… even though their regular league season was not as brilliant as last season, OR do we say that the Highlander’s faerie tale will continue in 2015?

It is a difficult call to make and I’m leaning towards the Waratahs making it at home in Sydney!

Meanwhile 11Teams are already lounging around, no longer part of the race to the finish line.

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Dick Muir

Dick Muir

Former Springbok and Sharks legend Mark Andrews says the Sharks need a coach who understands their culture.

Gary Gold took charge of the Sharks in Super Rugby, but it was recently announced that Gold would not coach the team in future and instead focus on his Director of Rugby role.

Andrews feels former Sharks centre Dick Muir would be the ideal candidate to take the coaching reins in Durban.

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Johann van Graan

Johann van Graan

Rugby consultant Brendan Venter believes current Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan will take charge of the Bulls next year with Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez appointed as his assistants.

A vacancy opened up a fortnight ago when long-time mentor Frans Ludeke resigned a year before his contract was set to expire.

Van Graan is widely regarded for his technical expertise and has cut his teeth at Loftus Versfeld where he played a vital role for the Bulls during their Super Rugby supremacy between 2007 and 2010 as forwards and attack coach.

His contract with the SA Rugby Union is set to expire at the end of this year which could see him return to the Bulls as head coach.

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HighlandersSaturday’s Semi-Final will see the Highlanders’ field an almost identical starting 15 to the side that beat the Chiefs last Saturday in an encounter of epic proportions.

The only change – openside flanker James Lentjes replaces the injured Dan Pryor. Lentjes was called up for injuries earlier in the season and has showed a lot of promise in his 4 games to date.

The team also welcomes back experienced lock Joe Wheeler from a lengthy injury break to take his place on the bench alongside Trent Renata.

Renata replaces the versatile Marty Banks who took a head knock during the week and while working through the concussion protocols is unavailable for action this week.

The team will again be captained by the experienced duo of Ben Smith and Nasi Manu who will be playing their 104th and 80th game respectively.

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HurricanesThe Hurricanes will welcome back star flyhalf Beauden Barrett for their semi-final clash against the Brumbies on Saturday, but will be without the services of Cory Jane.

Jane failed to recover from a hamstring injury he suffered in his team’s 21 / 13 win over the Chiefs, with his place taken by Nehe Milner-Skudder, who moves from fullback to the right wing.

Milner-Skudder’s shift sees James Marshall move from flyhalf to the fullback position, with Barrett recovering from his niggle to take over the pivot position.

The Hurricanes will also be further boosted by the return of Ma’a Nonu who was rested for the Chiefs clash 2 weeks ago. He replaces Rey Lee-Lo, who drops down to the bench.

In the pack, new All Blacks squad member James Broadhurst returns to partner Jeremy Thrush, while explosive flank Ardie Savea also returns replacing Callum Gibbins.

The only other changes to the matchday squad is on the bench, which sees Blade Thomson and Matt Proctor both return from injury and will be on the bench. Scrumhalf Chris Smylie also returns to provide cover for TJ Perenara.

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WaratahsWaratahs head coach Michael Cheika has named the team to face the Highlanders in the 2015 Super Rugby Semi-Final to be played at Allianz Stadium, Sydney on Saturday 27 June. Kick-Off is at 19:55 AEST (21:55 NZ Time, 09:55 GMT).

Matt Carraro has been named to play in the centres after Kurtley Beale failed to complete training on Thursday.

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BrumbiesStephen Larkham has named his side to take on the Hurricanes in this weekend’s Super Rugby Semi-Final in Wellington.

There is only 1 change from the team that defeated the DHL Stormers 39 / 19 in Cape Town last Saturday.

With Henry Speight ruled out through suspension earlier this week, Larkham has named Lausii Taliauli to start on the wing.

Taliauli is a former Australian Sevens player and appeared in the NRL’s National Youth Competition with the Gold Coast Titans. He debuted with the Brumbies this season, and has scored 1 Super Rugby try from 6 appearances.

“Lausii is a good young player. With Henry ruled out we think he’s the right man for the job,” Larkham said.

There are no other changes named from the side that ran in 6 tries against the DHL Stormers.

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Michael Leitch

Michael Leitch

Michael Leitch will be back in Chiefs colours after signing to remain in Hamilton for the 2016 Super Rugby season.

The Japanese national team captain has been impressive for the Chiefs this season, earning the Rookie of the Year award as voted for by the players.

“Michael has made a huge impression in his debut season,” said Chiefs coach Dave Rennie.

“He is a top man, very professional and has been a real positive influence on our younger players. We appreciate Michael’s desire and commitment to return to the Chiefs and we are rapt that he will be back for us.”

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Henry Speight

Henry Speight

The Brumbies will appeal Wallabies wing Henry Speight’s 5-week suspension after the Aussie side felt the player was treated harshly compared to other lifting tackles this season.

Speight was found guilty of contravening Law 10.4 (j): Lifting Tackle, on Wednesday and will be out of action up until 25 July, which translates into 4 matches.

His tackle on DHL Stormers’ centre Juan de Jongh in the 74th minute of the qualifier last Saturday, resulted in the Springbok landing on his head.

Speight will be out for the remainder of the Super Rugby season and will also miss the Wallabies 1st 2 Tests of The Rugby Championship against South Africa and Argentina.

The Brumbies will appeal the suspension on 2 grounds – the severity of the punishment and the incident’s classification as a lifting tackle.

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Frans Ludeke

Frans Ludeke

Following Frans Ludeke’s decision to step down as Head Coach of the Vodacom Bulls and Vodacom Blue Bulls respectively, the Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd confirmed that they have reached a full and final settlement with Ludeke.

Ludeke most recently led the team to a home semi-final of the Super Rugby competition, as well as South African conference winners during 2013, prior to this he also won the Vodacom Super Rugby title twice, the first of those titles in 2009, coupled with being crowned as the Currie Cup Champions.

Barend van Graan, BBC CEO said “Frans and I have known each other a long time and we shared special memories both on and off the field of play, he is a remarkable man and in his 8 year tenure as Head Coach of the Vodacom Bulls and Vodacom Blue Bulls we have achieved many successes, which I believe our supporters, shareholders and players will cherish forever. Our staff and players have gained a huge amount from him.”

Ludeke said that although he was leaving the Blue Bulls Company sooner than anticipated, he was satisfied that his goals had been achieved and that he is able to end his tenure after sharing the joy the game brings with players, management, supporters and shareholders.

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Heinrich Brüssow

Heinrich Brüssow

Flank Heinrich Brüssow could be a surprise inclusion when Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer names a 40-man squad for the upcoming Rugby Championship.

Despite currently being laid low by an arm injury, Brüssow could be included when Meyer names his squad on Sunday.

Despite being invited to various Bok training camps in recent years, Brüssow has never played a Test under Meyer as coach, with the last of his 20 internationals coming against Australia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

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Chris Boyd

Chris Boyd

Hurricanes’ coach Chris Boyd is backing his loose forward trio to step up in their crunch Super Rugby semifinal against the Brumbies on Saturday.

Boys feels Victor Vito and Ardie Savea’s Test aspirations will lift their game and believes Savea was very unlucky to miss out on All Black selection.

He is expecting a compelling response from the 21-year-old flank when he goes head-to-head with Wallaby openside David Pocock in Saturday’s showdown in Wellington.

Boyd believes his 21-year-old tearaway will be a solid replacement if All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, Sam Cane or Matt Todd should be struck down by injury.

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Scott Sio

Scott Sio

Brumbies prop Scott Sio, if selected, will run out for his 50th Super Rugby match in Saturday’s sudden death Super Rugby semifinal against the Hurricanes.

At just 23, Sio has proved to be one of the competition’s best loosehead props since debuting for the Brumbies in 2012.

While proud of reaching the milestone, Sio says his focus right now is helping his team in Wellington on Saturday.

“It’s a great occasion but I think the strength of our team is that we never really focus on individual accolades,” said Sio.

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Stephen Hoiles

Stephen Hoiles

Waratahs flank Stephen Hoiles has warned that the Highlanders pack could cause problems for the defending champions heading into the semifinal clash in Sydney on Saturday.

The Highlanders pack completely outmuscled the Chiefs in the Super Rugby preliminary play-off match last week – defeating the Chiefs 24 / 13.

“Watching their play-off match the other day, they were very impressive and they have been impressive all year,” Hoiles said in an interview on the Waratahs website.

“Probably because of how strong that New Zealand conference has been,” he added.

“They have snuck under the radar for most of the season, but the last few weeks it has been really obvious just how exciting they are.

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Henry Speight

Henry Speight

A SANZAR Judicial Hearing has found Henry Speight of the Brumbies guilty of contravening Law 10.4 (j) Lifting Tackle, after he received a red card during a Super Rugby match at the weekend. Speight has been suspended for five weeks up to and including Saturday 25 July 2015, which translates into four matches.

The incident occurred in the 74th minute of the match between the Stormers and Brumbies at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on 20 June 2015.

The SANZAR Judicial Hearing was heard by Robert Stelzner SC via video conference at 4:00pm AEST, 6:00pm NZST, 8:00am SAST on 23 June 2015. Mike Mika was the former professional player who attended as a Judicial Technical Adviser. The outcome was delayed as Stelzner requested information of the player’s forthcoming playing schedule in order to determine the sanction.

In his finding, Stelzner ruled the following:

“As the Judicial Officer, I considered all the evidence before me including the video footage of the incident, referee and TMO reports for issuing the red card and the submissions made for the player by his legal representative, Peter McGrath.

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Allister Coetzee

Allister Coetzee

It may come in the form of another franchise gig, but there are a number of critics who feel that Allister Coetzee’s return to South Africa will be as Springbok coach.

Coetzee jets off to Japan on 5 July where he will take charge of the Kobe Kobelco Steelers, but he has not ruled out a move back to South Africa at a later stage, saying that he was “far from done” with his coaching career.

Current Bok coach Heyneke Meyer is out of contract at the end of the year after completing what would have been four full international season, and whether or not he gets another 4 years will be largely determined by how the men in green and gold go at this year’s World Cup.

Coetzee said on Tuesday that the opportunity to coach his country was something that he had always thought about.

“I would love to do it,” Coetzee said.

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Vleis EngelbrechtLoose forward Jacques “Vleis” Engelbrecht says signing with the Bulls was the biggest mistake of his rugby career.

The 30-year-old was a star for the Kings when they played Super Rugby in 2013 before joining the Bulls later that year.

His career nosedived in Pretoria though, where a lack of game time left him frustrated.

Engelbrecht mainly played Vodacom Cup rugby for the Blue Bulls this year and has been loaned to the EP Kings for this year’s Currie Cup.

Engelbrecht’s contract with the Bulls only expires next year, but he is hoping to impress for the Kings in the Currie Cup in order for them to try sign him for next year’s Super Rugby competition.

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Handré Pollard

Handré Pollard

The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd on Tuesday confirmed that flyhalf Handré Pollard has been given permission to join Japanese outfit NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes for a 3 month spell at the end of the year.

Pollard will join the club in November 2015 and will return to Loftus Versfeld at the end of January 2016, in good time for the 2016 Vodacom Super Rugby season that starts in mid-February.

“Handré is contracted to the Bulls till the end of 2017 and we are already in talks, with assistance from SARU, to extend that to 2019,” said Blue Bulls Company High Performance Manager, Xander Janse van Rensburg.

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R.I.P Norman Berryman

R.I.P. Norman Berryman

New Zealand Rugby said on Tuesday that cult hero “Stormin” Norman Berryman has died at the age of 42.

Reports said Berryman suffered a heart attack at his home near Perth, Australia, where he settled after his rugby career.

Berryman, a powerful winger, was a fan favourite during a long career in Super Rugby but played just 1 Test for the All Blacks, a 23 / 24 loss to South Africa in 1998.

He was widely considered to be unlucky to miss out on more Test caps but was competing for spots against the likes of Jonah Lomu and Inga Tuigamala.

Berryman also did himself no favours with his outspoken criticism of then All Blacks coach John Hart, who he said “has got a vibe about him that projects negativity”.

He famously walked out of an All Blacks training camp in Auckland and hitch-hiked home to Whangarei after a disagreement with Hart.

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Kurtley Beale

Kurtley Beale

Waratahs’ centre Kurtley Beale is in a race against time to be ready for the Waratahs’ semifinal match with the Highlanders in Sydney on Saturday.

Neither Beale nor wing Rob Horne trained with the side on Tuesday, and while Horne is expected to recover from a calf niggle in time, Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson conceded time is against them regarding Beale’s injured quadriceps.

Gibson said Beale would be given until Thursday to be ready, but the Waratahs were preparing for versatile utility Matt Carraro to reprise the role he took at short notice against the Reds a fortnight ago.

“Beale’s been doing his exercises and getting up to a running pace that enables him to at least have a chance on Thursday to see if he can make it,” Gibson said.

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Marcell Coetzee

Marcell Coetzee

The tide of South Africans heading abroad continues as Marcell Coetzee is one of the latest to ink a deal in Japan, utilising the grace period after the World Cup.

The Springbok will join Honda Heat and feature in the Japanese league from 1 November 2015 to 31 January 2016. The good news for South African fans though is that he will return to Durban after his contract in time the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Honda Heat have also strengthened their side with the signing of Wallaby wing Digby Ioane from the French club Stade Francais.

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Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams

Liam Messam

Liam Messam

The Chiefs will be without a host of players next season including captain Liam Messam who will play Sevens in a bid to make the Olympics.

Messam and star centre Sonny Bill Williams will be part of a large group of players that will not be around next season, and coach Dave Rennie admitted that his captain will be a massive loss to the side.

“Not just his playing ability but his leadership – he’s very charismatic, incredibly passionate – he’ll be very difficult to replace.

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Dan Pryor

Dan Pryor

Dan Pryor’s Super Rugby season is likely over after the versatile forward suffered a dislocated elbow in his side’s Qualifier triumph over the Chiefs.

Pryor came from the field in the 61st minute and the Highlanders confirmed via social media on Sunday morning that the 27-year-old had suffered the injury.

Head coach Jamie Joseph confirmed that Pryor will definitely miss next week’s Semi-Final against the Waratahs.

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Quade Cooper

Quade Cooper

Queensland Rugby Union has advised Quade Cooper that they are withdrawing their contract offer and will not attempt to retain him for the 2016 season and beyond.

It is understood that when Cooper travelled overseas in April he signed a pre-commitment to join French side Toulon at the conclusion of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. However, he had previously – and then continued to – demonstrate a genuineness on wanting to remain with the Reds and the Wallabies.

Since that time, his management has been in negotiation with QRU and Australian Rugby Union (ARU). However, due to events over the last few weeks, QRU CEO Jim Carmichael said the organisation was no longer willing to participate in what has been an ongoing process with Cooper’s management.

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Sir John Kirwan

Sir John Kirwan

Tana Umaga

Tana Umaga

Sir John Kirwan:

Blues rugby legend Sir John Kirwan has resigned his role as head coach of the organisation.

Kirwan, who has been head coach for 3 years, has announced that he will not seek reappointment for a further term as coach and will step aside, effective immediately.

While Kirwan had put up a proposal to the Blues board for his continued involvement, he said that he had reconsidered over the past few days after talking with his family, colleagues and friends.

“I had a chance to take a breath and reflect about the situation, my future and above all my love of this Blues club and the players,” Kirwan said.

“People who know me well know that I do not walk away from a challenge and that was what was driving me because I know what has been set-up in terms of organisational structure in the last 2 years.

“However I always said that if I didn’t bring about the results that the players, the club and the fans wanted, then I would step aside.”

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Pieter-Steph du Toit

Pieter-Steph du Toit

DHL Western Province Director of Rugby Gert Smal has confirmed their interest in signing Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit from the Cell C Sharks.

Smal confirmed to EWN Sport that a discussion between him and Du Toit had taken place.

Smal said the Sharks had agreed to the discussion taking place.

The WP boss said the discussion went well and he now hopes Du Toit “makes the right decision to come to Cape Town.”

Du Toit, 22, signed a 2-year contract extension at the Sharks in July 2013 which runs until 30 June this year.

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Hencus van Wyk

Hencus van Wyk

Blue Bulls prop Hencus van Wyk is reportedly off to Japan later this year.

According japonrugby.net, Van Wyk has been signed by the Munakata Sanix Blues, who he will join ahead of the 2015 / 2016 season.

It is unsure whether Van Wyk will be allowed to return to play Super Rugby for the Bulls – as is the case with many South African players plying their trade in Japan.

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Maks van Dyk

Maks van Dyk

Tighthead prop Maks van Dyk has completed his move to the EP Kings, where he hopes to make an impact in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby.

Van Dyk has been based at Griquas since last year, which saw him play Super Rugby for the Cheetahs in 2014 and 2015.

It’s been a notable rise for the former Junior Springbok front-rower, who was part of the South African squad that lifted the Under 20 World Championship trophy at Newlands in 2012.

From Durban (where he was based at the Sharks between 2011 and 2013) to Kimberley to Bloemfontein, the 23-year-old has a new home in Port Elizabeth, where he has signed a 2-year contract with the Kings.

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Pierre Spies

Pierre Spies

Springbok Pierre Spies has revealed that he was regarded as surplus to requirements at the Bulls, which is why he is heading to France.

The South African revolution sweeping Montpellier continued with confirmation that experienced Bok No 8, Spies, will join the Top 14 club in February.

The 30-year-old Spies, capped 53 times by his country, becomes the 9th player from South Africa to have joined the southern French team, coached by Jake White, who led the rainbow nation to World Cup success in 2007.

Released by the Bulls, Spies will 1st travel to play in Japan before joining Montpellier.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

DHL Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen met with Director of Rugby Gert Smal on Monday morning, to sort out the events that transpired in France last week.
Vermeulen visited French Top 14 club Toulon late last week and was unveiled to the local media as their new signing – a move which certainly caught Western Province Rugby by surprise.

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Super RugbyIt is the Top 6 Qualifying Round of Super Rugby 2015 this weekend.

There are only 2 matches in the Round, 1 in New Zealand and 1 in South Africa.

3rd Placed on the Combined Log, the DHL Stormers (albeit 3rd only by reason of the Conference Syystem), hosts 6th on the Log, the Brumbies. In the other match 4th on the Log, the Highlanders, hosts 5th on the Log, the Chiefs.

The 2 Franchises who finished in the No1 and No 2 spots on the Combined Log, the Hurricanes and Waratahs respectively, have lovely rest weekends, as they only meet the winners of this Round’s matches next weekend in the Semi-Finals.

The action is kicked off by the Highlanders vs Chiefs who do battle in Dunedin at 09:35 SA Time (19:35 NZ Time, 17:35 AEST, 07:35 GMT)

Much later in the day, in Cape Town, South Africa, the DHL Stormers host the Brumbies at 17:05 SA Time (15:05 GMT, Sunday 01:05 AEST, Sunday 03:05 NZ Time).

After this Round of Top 6 Qualifying matches, only 4 teams will remain and there will be 2 Semi-Final matches next weekend, followed by a Final match for the ultimate winner a week later.

The Highlanders vs Chiefs game should be an absolute cracker, with both teams getting some injured players back into the fold. It is extremely difficult to pick a winner for this game and the different pundits differ on the winner of the match, with probable the bigger percentage backing the Chiefs for an away win. I differ from that though, and I think if there is ONE YEAR where the Highlanders could make it to the Semi-Finals, it is this year, at home, at Forsyth Barr stadium.

Both teams sport great backlines but I am of the opinion that the Highlanders might have a slightly more abrasive forwards pack and possibly also a better scrumhalf and flyhalf, both of whom have come on in leaps and bounds in 2015, namely Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga.

I predict the Highlanders to squeek a win, in a very entertaining match.

As far as the other match is concerned, do we give home ground advantage enough weight to speculate that the DHL Stormers will overcome the Brumbies in Cape Town… even though their regular league game was only a 21 / 20 win for the Stormers and with Christian Lealiifano missing an absolute peach of a conversion attempt, from right in front, OR do we say that the Brumbies will win the game in the absense of Duane Vermeulen and likely also Schalk Burger, both with some injury concerns?

The South African scribes and pundits all patriotically pick the Stormers for a win, but I am hesitant to do so and think this game’s result is a perfect 50 / 50 guess, so may the best team take it!

Meanwhile 9 Teams are already lounging around, no longer part of the race to the finish line.

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BrumbiesThe Brumbies have named an unchanged line-up for Saturday’s Super Rugby Qualifier against the DHL Stormers at DHL Newlands.

David Pocock has been named at flanker despite leaving the field with concussion concerns in the 37 / 24 loss to the Crusaders at GIO Stadium.

“He’s on track to play,” head coach Stephen Larkham said.

“But every day he’s got to tick a box, so he could fall back a day and miss the game.”

The match against the Stormers would be Pocock’s 1st ever Super Rugby Finals appearance. In 2013 in his 1st season with the Brumbies, Pocock missed the side’s run to the final following a season-ending knee injury.

Also under an injury cloud for the Brumbies is Matt Toomua who has been named as a replacement. Last week the 24-year-old played 28 minutes from the bench in just his 2nd game in 8 matches following 2 separate ankle injuries.

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