Rugby Super 15 battle resumes after break

29 June 2012 08:17

New Zealand's Waikato Chiefs will be looking to consolidate top spot on the Super 15 table when the series resumes this weekend after the international season break.

The Chiefs face the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday in the first of three New Zealand derbies they have before next month's top-six playoffs, while the second-placed Western Stormers take on the lowly Golden Lions at home.

The Chiefs have a four-point lead over the Stormers on the overall standings, but lead the Canterbury Crusaders by seven points in the New Zealand Conference.

While the Highlanders beat the Chiefs in the opening week of the southern hemisphere provincial championship, Waikato hold the historic advantage with 11 wins to Otago's seven.

Five of the winning All Blacks from this month's series sweep over Ireland are in the Chiefs team, including flanker Sam Cane, who will come off the reserve bench while Tanerau Latimer starts at openside flanker.

If the Chiefs can win in Dunedin they have the Crusaders at home and the Wellington Hurricanes away in their final two games as they look to finish top of the standings, which would give them the first week of the finals off.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said his players had returned refreshed from their break.

"Some guys have come back and done personal bests in strength and speed and so on, so that's really good and we need to put that on the field on Friday," Rennie said.

The Stormers have taken the opposite tack and will keep some of their big guns in reserve, naming an inexperienced loose trio in the side to play against the Lions at Newlands on Saturday.

"The selections are not because we are taking the Lions lightly. We are in a good position now and we're looking to make this opportunity count," coach Allister Coetzee said.

Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth is rested with an ankle injury, while winger Bryan Habana will start the match on the bench.

Injuries to key players have forced Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder to rejig his team ahead of Saturday's derby against the sixth-placed Hurricanes in Christchurch.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw moves to number eight, with Kieran Read still sidelined with concussion, while All Blacks Israel Dagg (ankle) and Dan Carter (hamstring) are also out.

Injury problems have not eased for the Hurricanes with Cory Jane working his way back to fitness from an ankle strain, Victor Vito ruled out with a knee injury and TJ Perenara out for the season with a broken ankle.

The ACT Brumbies will be looking for maximum points from their trip to take on Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

Jake White's Brumbies have a five-point lead on the Queensland Reds in the Australian conference and can keep the pressure on the defending champions should they get a bonus-point win.

Mercurial playmaker Quade Cooper lines up against fellow Wallaby James O'Connor when the Reds face the Rebels on Friday in Melbourne.

The Reds make two changes with Adam Wallace-Harrison replacing injured skipper James Horwill in the second row and Jake Schatz at blindside flanker.

Northern Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has made only one change to his run-on side to face the Central Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday, with newly-capped Springbok Jacques Potgieter replacing CJ Stander at blindside flank.

Auckland Blues, NSW Waratahs and the Coastal Sharks have byes this weekend.