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Super RugbyA second week of pre-season games sees a much fuller schedule with the match of the weekend being the Bulls traveling to London to take on the Saracens.

During the week there is time for the Blues and the Chiefs to get their preparations underway in Whangarei on Thursday.

The weekend kicks off with the Cheetahs taking on another South African Conference rival in the Stormers at Newlands on Friday after they succumbed 13 / 30 to the Bulls in Polokwane last week.

The Cheetahs will also have a B-team at home in Bloemfontein getting ready to face the Griffons the following day.

On Saturday, the New Zealanders have a go at each other as the Hurricanes host the Crusaders in Manawatu before the champion Waratahs play a mixed club and University side.

The Western Force will be looking to back up their good showing against the Brumbies when they take on an Asia Pacific Dragons team.

Meanwhile, the Reds will look to unleash the likes of James O’Connor and Karmichael Hunt against the Melbourne Rebels.

The Brumbies then cross their conference to face the Highlanders as one of the New Zealanders 4 warm-up matches, this before the Lions test their squad in 2 games against the Leopards and the Pukke.

Finally, the big match sees the Vodacom Bulls at Allianz Park to take on Saracens, with the men from South Africa hoping to succeed where the Sharks and Western Province could not.

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DHL StormersDHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has announced a powerful line-up for Friday night’s friendly clash against the Cheetahs at DHL Newlands (Kick-Off 19:00 SA Time).

As expected, Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth will start in his first match of 2015, his first appearance in a DHL Stormers jersey since 2013, whilst talented youngster Huw Jones gets a run at inside centre – his first start for the DHL Stormers – after Damian de Allende was ruled out with a slight quadriceps tear.

“It’s a slight tear, so we could’ve pushed Damian if, say, we were playing in a final,” said Coetzee on the www.iamastormer.com website. “It’s not serious, but we didn’t want to risk him at this stage of our pre-season preparations.”

Demetri Catrakilis, after missing last weekend’s trip to George with a stomach ailment, will start at flyhalf, whilst ABSA Currie Cup-winning lock Jean Kleyn has been named amongst the replacements after recovering from a knee (meniscus) injury which delayed his start to his team’s pre-season programme.

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Eben Etzebeth

Eben Etzebeth

The struggles the DHL Stormers have endured through the past 2 Vodacom Super Rugby seasons may well be ascribed to the limited appearances made in the jersey during that time by the powerful Springbok second row forward Eben Etzebeth.

It is normally considered a stretch to suggest that one man makes a team, and it would be if you said such a thing about Etzebeth with the Stormers and Western Province for it is true that Duane Vermeulen is at least as valuable and influential. However that missing Etzebeth is akin to going without a clutch of players rather than just one is undeniable.

The statistics will bear out that claim too – in 2013 the Stormers were struggling when Etzebeth returned from injury. They lost the first match they played with him back, one in which they were robbed by the TMO against the Rebels in Melbourne, but after that they won 6 in a row. Last year he was out for the entire season with an injury sustained in the last test match of the previous year, and the Stormers struggled.

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Dan Carter

Dan Carter

Dan Carter has dismissed concerns about a calf strain and told the Crusaders coaches he wants to play the Super Rugby pre-season match against the Hurricanes in Eketahuna on Saturday.

Following the frustrations of last year, when he suffered a small fracture in his lower leg in the Super Rugby Final against the Waratahs and failed to reclaim his All Blacks flyhalf spot on the November tour of Chicago and Britain, Carter is eager to quickly get things going in World Cup year.

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Brendan McKibbin

Brendan McKibbin

English Premiership Rugby club London Irish have announced that they have signed Waratahs 2014 Super Rugby No 9, Brendan McKibbin, on a two-year deal.

McKibbin was part of the Waratahs squad that were crowned Super Rugby Champions last season and has 63 Super Rugby caps to his name.

Formerly of the Queensland Reds, Scotland born McKibbin made his debut for the New South Wales outfit in 2011 and went on to become their first choice scrum half amassing 234 points for the side in 59 appearances.

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Melbourne RebelsThe Rebels have named a 28 man travelling squad for this Saturday’s pre-season trial against the Reds in Cairns with a possible 7 debutants.

The Rebels take on the Reds at Barlow Park in Cairns in what will be the first opportunity for both Australian teams to see what they are working with.

The Reds will be looking to test out the likes of new recruit and Wallaby James O’Connor as well as the their 2 League converts in Karmichael Hunt and Duncan Paia’aua.

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Duncan Paia'aua

Duncan Paia’aua

Injured Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper has backed rookie Duncan Paia’aua to fill in as his replacement over the few first few months of the new season.

Cooper is set to miss the first 3 months of Super Rugby after fracturing his collarbone in a “freak accident” during a training match against the Reds’ Under 20 side.

And although former Wallabies flyhalf James O’Connor is in the Brisbane-based franchise’s squad, 20-year-old Paia’aua is the favourite to take over from Cooper.

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Bandise Maku

Bandise Maku

The Vodacom Bulls will be without Springbok hooker Bandise Maku for the Vodacom Super Rugby season after he tore his pectoral muscle in Saturday’s opening friendly match against the Toyota Cheetahs in Polokwane.

Maku will have surgery on 3 February and will be ruled out of action for between four and six months, Vodacom Bulls team doctor Org Strauss confirmed on Monday.

The Polokwane clash last year saw a season-ending injury to flanker Arno Botha, but the Springbok this time came through the match with only a tight hamstring. He will be able to train on Tuesday, but will not travel to London where the Bulls take on Saracens this weekend.

Akona Ndungane is another who will miss the London trip due to a calf strain. He will be out of action for two weeks. Dean Greyling suffered an ankle sprain and will be out for two weeks at least, Strauss said.

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DHL StormersThe DHL Stormers are slowly working towards full muster as the Vodacom Super Rugby season approaches, with another clutch of Springboks set to return to the team for Friday night’s warm-up fixture against the Toyota Cheetahs at Newlands.

The Stormers dispensed with the SWD Eagles 34 / 3 in their opening game in George at the weekend, but the Cheetahs, as fellow Super Rugby participants, are considered the toughest opponent of the pre-season phase. They are thus the ones the Cape side will consider to be the dress rehearsal for the real thing, which comes in the form of the opening clash with the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria on 14 February.

The Stormers will play the Boland Cavaliers in another warm-up game before the Super Rugby season starts. However, with the game taking place just one week before the trip to Loftus, the normal policy is to include fringe players for that fixture, plus maybe a top player or two who would only then be fully ready to play after coming back from injury.

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Pierre Spies

Pierre Spies

Pierre Spies may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the Bulls believe in him as a player and leader.

There is no doubt the 29-year-old has all the physical attributes to be one of the best No 8’s in the world, even though his contribution sometimes disappoints and he will continue to have his detractors.

However, it is his value to the Bulls’ cause and the team that convinced coach Frans Ludeke to name him skipper ahead of esteemed players like Victor Matfield, Adriaan Strauss and Deon Stegmann.

Speaking ahead of their trip to London this week – for Saturday’s outing against Saracens at Allianz Park – Ludeke explained that Spies was the preferred captain for the past 2 years, a period during which major injuries limited his appearances.

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Francois Steyn

Francois Steyn

Gary Gold

Gary Gold

New Sharks boss Gary Gold and Springbok Frans Steyn will both be back in Durban soon.

This follows after the semi-finals of the Japanese Top League – which will see the Wild Knights play Júbilo in the Final, after they defeated the Brave Lupus and Kobe Steelers respectively.

It means the Sharks Director of Rugby, Gold, and the Bok utility back, Steyn, among others, are heading home for Super Rugby.

In the first semi-final the Wild Knights ran in 4 first-half tries and added 1 more in the second stanza as they avenged 2 earlier defeats this season to the Toshiba Brave Lupus, winning 50 / 15.

Steyn’s Brave Lupus team suffering a heavy defeat means that the Sharks versatile back can return to his Durban franchise earlier than expected.

Steyn will be following his newly appointed coach Gary Gold home after the Kobe Steelers lost 12 / 41 in another hammering to Júbilo who reached their first ever Top League Final.

Katsuyuki Kiyomiya’s side ran in 2 tries in the first half and 4 in the second to upset the Steelers, who had finished the regular season on top of the Group A standings.

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WhistleSANZAR has announced its referee squad for the forthcoming Super Rugby season with Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) and Jaco van Heerden (South Africa) promoted and in line for debut during 2015.

O’Keeffe started refereeing whilst at medical school in Dunedin and quickly progressed through the ranks. He has featured in the Heartland Championship, ITM Cup, as a Super Rugby assistant and at the 2014 Junior World Championship where he earned appointment to the final between England and South Africa.

His father Peter also refereed at provincial level and when he’s not in the middle, O’Keeffe practices as an eye doctor in Wellington, New Zealand.

Pretoria-born Van Heerden meanwhile is an Advocate to the High Court of South Africa and joins Super Rugby ranks having made rapid progress applying law on rugby fields throughout his home country.

The 32-year old handled himself with aplomb in his first Currie Cup match during the 2014 season and it was no surprise that he was awarded a semi final later in the year.

A University of Pretoria Law Graduate, Van Heerden played rugby for his university before later turning his attention to refereeing.

 

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Marnitz Boshoff

Marnitz Boshoff

Julian Redelinhuys

Julian Redelinhuys

Capped Springboks Marnitz Boshoff and Julian Redelinghuys as well current captain Warren Whiteley, have all extended their contracts until 2016 with the Lions.

Additionally, Jaco Kriel and Ruan Dreyer – both who joined the Springbok squad for their 2014 year-end tour of the Northern Hemisphere – have also opted to renew their contracts.

This positive news comes just 3 weeks before the commencement of the 2015 season, providing the team with an added boost and additional consistency.

Jaco Kriel

Jaco Kriel

Ruan Dreyer

Ruan Dreyer

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Vincent Koch & Bongi Mbonambi

Vincent Koch & Bongi Mbonambi

The Stormers recorded a 34 / 3 pre-season win over an SWD Eagles side in very humid conditions at George’s Outeniqua Park on Saturday.

The young Stormers outfit was playing in their first of 3 pre-season clashes ahead of the 2015 Super Rugby season and they were well tested by their hosts in front of a capacity crowd.

In the end, however, coach Allister Coetzee would have been pleased with his team’s 5 tries to 0 victory – mainly because the game gave him an opportunity to give some key men a run-out and test some new combinations in the process and, also, because there were no fresh injury concerns to report after the match.

New faces like Dillyn Leyds, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw, David Ribbans, Robert du Preez, Huw Jones and Neil Rautenbach all got game time, whilst skipper Duane Vermeulen got some minutes in his first match as full-time skipper of this side.

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Duncan Matthews

Duncan Matthews

The Bulls overcame a slow start to finish strongly and post a 30-13 triumph over the Cheetahs in a Super Rugby pre-season friendly at Polokwane.

Scrumhalf Piet van Zyl bagged a second half double as the men from Pretoria ran away with the match which was separated by just 3 points midway through the second half.

Duncan Matthews also found the line thanks to a well-timed intercept while Jesse Kriel dictated the game from fullback, looking very much at home in the No 15 jersey.

New recruit, Trevor Nyakane, was a late withdrawal due to a strained neck muscle, but in more positive injury news, Arno Botha completed the match without incident in what was his first appearance since damaging his ACL a year ago.

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Sergeal Petersen

Sergeal Petersen

The Toyota Cheetahs have been dealt their first massive injury blow of the season when news filtered through that former SA Under 20 winger Sergeal Pietersen broke his jaw during Saturday’s pre-season friendly against the Vodacom Bulls in Polokwane.

Pietersen, who transferred to Bloemfontein from the EP Kings at the end of last season, went off the field early after a clash with a defender and was replaced by Clayton Blommetjies.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske confirmed that it would be a lengthy spell on the sidelines for Pietersen, who is a dynamite finisher.

“It looks like we’ve lost him for between 6 and 8 weeks,” Drotske said.

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Billy Guyton

Billy Guyton

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder will have to put his faith in some young and inexperienced scrumhalves for the start of the Super Rugby season with Andy Ellis involved in Japan and Willi Heinz out with a broken leg.

A season-ending leg injury to Willi Heinz has propelled former Hurricane Billy Guyton into the Super Rugby spotlight for the Canterbury team.

There was a collective groan around Timaru’s Alpine Energy Stadium as Heinz broke his left fibula attempting a tackle in the second quarter of the Crusaders pre-season hitout against the Highlanders on Saturday.

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Willi Heinz

Willi Heinz

The Crusaders appear set to be without Willi Heinz for the Super Rugby season after the scrumhalf fractured his leg in a trial against the Highlanders on Saturday.

Last year’s beaten finallists fell 29-26 in Timaru, however the scoreboard will be of little concern to Todd Blackadder’s troops, whose depth will to be tested ahead of their season-opening clash against the Rebels on 14 February.

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Force vs Brumbies warm-upThe Force opened its 2015 Super Rugby pre-season campaign with a 31-21 victory over the Brumbies at McGillivray Oval on Friday evening.

The home side dominated the first half, transferring pressure into points with three unanswered tries to Luke Morahan, Chris Alcock and Marcel Brache to lead 17-7 at the break.

While the visitors claimed the better running of the third term, the Western Australians closed out the match with two tries in the final 20 minutes to run out 10-point victors.

Force head coach Michael Foley said there was some positive signs ahead of the club’s 10th season of Super Rugby.

“That first 40 was exactly what we wanted; it was a tough contest and we won that first 20 and came out on top at half time,” he said.

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Israel Folau

Israel Folau

Israel Folau could soon be making an appearance in the Waratahs – and even the Wallabies – midfield as he continues to be an unpredictable threat.

The fullback’s midfield ambitions have been given a major boost after Waratahs coach Michael Cheika green-lighted a move for his talented player.

Cheika was careful to put a long lead time on Folau’s dream of donning the No 13 jersey but said such a change would give the Waratahs – and possibly the Wallabies – the element of surprise against their rivals.

“It’s a different way of getting him the ball,” Cheika said.

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Nick Cummins

Nick Cummins

Western Force coach Michael Foley has revealed that Wallabies wing Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins will miss the first couple of Super Rugby matches as he needs surgery.

According to the Rugby Week website, Cummins left Western Australia to play in Japan last year for personal reasons, but he has been made available to play for the Force this season.

“Nick is having a little bit of minor surgery on his ankle at the moment,” said Foley.

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Quade Cooper

Quade Cooper

Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks after suffering a fractured collar bone during a training session at Ballymore Stadium on Thursday.

The 26-year-old playmaker, who was out for 16 weeks in 2014 due to an AC joint injury, will have surgery on Tuesday to repair the fracture, which occurred around the previous operation site.

Cooper’s AC joint injury occurred against the Rebels in May last year when he fell awkwardly on his left shoulder in a tackle.

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Melbourne RebelsThe Melbourne Rebels have selected a group of 5 players for their leadership group in 2015 but have delayed announcing their captain by a week.

Foundation Rebel Laurie Weeks and loose forwards Scott Fuglistaller and Scott Higginbotham retain their places from the 2014 leadership group, while Pat Leafa and Nic Stirzaker are added into the 5-man group for the first time.

Rebels’ Head Coach Tony McGahan believes the group will lead the Club with pride during the upcoming season.

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Braam van Straaten

Braam van Straaten

Most pundits would feel that expansive, all-out attacking play is what results in most tries. Or perhaps counter-attacking from turnovers.

However, in-depth analysis seems to suggest something very different.

Springbok Braam van Straaten says kicking for territory could become an even greater part of the game in this World Cup year.

Van Straaten, who played flyhalf and centre for the Springboks in 21 Tests from 1999 to 2001, said teams have done an enormous amount of analyses on where the most tries are being scored from.

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CrusadersNew Crusaders captain Matt Todd will lead a very inexperienced team south to Timaru to take on the Highlanders in the first pre-season outing on Saturday.

The team to play in this port city in the southern Canterbury region of New Zealand is made up of current squad members, wider training group members and some players who have been involved in the pre-season as part of the Crusaders apprenticeship system.

The game will be played in 4 quarters with rolling substitutions.

None of the Crusaders’ frontline All Blacks – Dan Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Israel Dagg, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Richie McCaw, Luke Romano, Colin Slade or Kieran Read – will feature in the match.

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John Schwalger

John Schwalger

Hurricanes prop John Schwalger, nephew of Mahonri Schwalger, has sustained further blood clots on his lungs and has been ruled out for a majority of the Super Rugby campaign.

The All Black first suffered the ailment, originally believed to be a chest infection, last year and played only 6 games for the Hurricanes.

He also skipped Wellington’s dismal NPC campaign.

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Western ForceThe Force has named a 31-man squad to tackle the Brumbies at McGillivray Oval this Friday night in the club’s opening pre-season fixture of its 10th anniversary season.

Friday’s match will provide the first opportunity for the club’s passionate ‘Sea of Blue’ to see the Force in action in 2015, with Tetera Faulkner and Kyle Godwin in line to make their first appearances since returning from the Wallabies’ Spring Tour, while Nathan Charles will make his comeback from a pectoral injury suffered in Australia’s loss to the All Blacks during their Rugby Championship match in August.

The club will unveil 4 of its new recruits, with back-rower Ross Haylett-Petty, lock / back-rower Steve Mafi, and winger Mitchell Scott in line to represent the Force for the first time. Associates centre Ammon Matuauto has also earned his first opportunity in a Force jersey, after being promoted to the side’s wider training group following an impressive National Rugby Championship season for the Perth Spirit.

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Charlie Faumuina

Charlie Faumuina

All Black prop Charlie Faumuina has bucked the trend and re-committed to the Blues and New Zealand Rugby to the end of 2017.

One of the most mobile props in the game, 28-year-old Faumuina has established himself as a dominant and versatile tighthead, with the ability to play both sides of the scrum.

He has re-signed to play in New Zealand in 2016 and in 2017.

New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew welcomed Faumuina’s recommitment as a great result for the All Blacks and Blues.

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Derick Hougaard

Derick Hougaard – Saracens

Derick Hougaard

Derick Hougaard – Blue Bulls

Derick Hougaard will have a foot in both camps next Saturday, as Saracens face South African giants the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Allianz Park.

The fly-half, who played for both Saracens and Sanlam Challenge opponents the Vodacom Blue Bulls, has warned Saracens that their latest South African opponents will pose their greatest threat to their 100% record against South African opposition.

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Frans Ludeke

Frans Ludeke

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke says it’s important for his team to eradicate some “bad habits” as they prepare for this year’s Super Rugby competition.

The Bulls will play two warm-up matches – against the Cheetahs (Polokwane – 24 January) and Saracens (London – 31 January) – before starting their campaign against the DHL Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on 14 February.

“The expectations are big,” Ludeke said. “We made some changes in pre-season an it’s important that we get rid of some bad habits.”

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Demetri Catrakilis

Demetri Catrakilis

Stormers flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis is the latest player linked to a move abroad, with French club Montpellier reportedly his destination. (Also see Update below)

Montpellier, currently coached by World Cup-winning former Springbok mentor Jake White, has been linked to a host of South African players – including the Du Plessis brothers Jannie and Bismarck.

Montpellier also secured the services of Wallaby scrumhalf Nic White, who will join them next season and be reunited with his former club coach White.

According to the French media the 24-year-old Brumbies No 9, White, has – along with Catrakilis – signed a 2-year contract with the option of extending it by a further year.

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Allister Coetzee

Allister Coetzee

The first playing squad of the Stormers has been named already for the first Stormers warm-up match against SWD and it certainly looks like Scarra Ntubeni will have first pick at hooker, but Bongi bonambi, the imported hooker from the Bulls will not go away, he’ll battle for the starting spot all season and Scarra Ntubeni will have to be at his best… and stay injury free, to keep the pecking order in his favour.

Allister Coetzee is faced with a delicate balancing act, considering who he has available and who are carrying niggles and injuries.

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Braam van Straaten

Braam van Straaten

The obsession of some South African teams with size over skills could come back to haunt them when the Super Rugby season gets underway next month.

Springbok Braam van Straaten says space and not power is the key to winning the SANZAR showpiece.

Abraham Johannes Jacobus van Straaten, who played flyhalf and centre for the Springboks in 21 Tests from 1999 to 2001, said the intent of more teams is to keep the ball in hand and shift into space.

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