The Super 15 regular season is over, with the qualifying stage set to begin in Round 21 with two intriguing clashes between sides in the top six.
July 20—Crusaders vs. Reds, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand, 07:35 GMT
Fourth hosts fifth in the qualifying section, with Crusaders aiming to build on their excellent three-round winning streak. They haven’t missed a matchday since Game 17, and confidence will be high for the home side in New Zealand. Todd Blackadder, the Crusaders coach, confirmed to SuperXV.com Richie McCaw’s return to the squad, but he will only make the replacement bench in Christchurch.
There were doubts over All Blacks star Luke Romano, but he will start at lock with Sam Whitelock after recovering from an ankle injury. The play-off qualifier will also mark Matt Todd’s 50th appearance for the Crusaders.
The Reds won by only two points against the Waratahs, with Quade Cooper kicking two penalties to take the win 14-12. It was an excellent recovery from the Reds, who were 12-8 down at one stage, as the home side squandered some huge opportunities in the second half.
Despite injury concerns in their own camp, James Horwill and Will Genia will be back in the starting lineup. Ewen McKenzie, Reds director of coaching, expressed to SuperXV.com the importance of having both players back in the squad.
"Their influence can't be understated, and you need world-class players and strong leaders if you are going to win these games on the big stage.
"We have had to reshuffle our back line in some positions, and the players coming in now have an opportunity to contribute in a positive way.
This is the first time the two sides have met in 2013.
Prediction: Crusaders Win
July 21—Brumbies vs. Cheetahs, Canberra Stadium, Canberra, Australia, 06:10 GMT
The Brumbies are six points off top of the table, behind Australian compatriots the Chiefs and the Bulls from South Africa. Returning from a one-match lay-off, the Brumbies lost at Western Force by six, which is just their fourth defeat of the campaign. The club’s head coach, Stephen Larkin, described their qualifying final as needing a “do-or-die mentality” to SuperXV.com.
Prior to their two matchdays out of the fixture list, Brumbies had picked up a solid run of victories against the Melbourne Rebels and Hurricanes. George Smith will come in for the Brumbies, as confirmed by coach Jake White, coming back from a place on the bench in their defeat to Western Force.
The visitors will have a difficult job on their hands in Canberra, just qualifying for the top six on 54 points with a four-point lead over the Stormers. They’ve assembled 382 points in 16 games, which is 61 greater than fifth-placed Reds. The Cheetahs missed out on Round 20, but did win their last league match against the Blues by 21.