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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Super Rugby
Super Rugby preview: Round 15
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
May 22, 2014
Greg Growden and Russ Barwick preview Super Rugby round 15
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Friday, May 23

Blues v Sharks, North Harbour Stadium, North Shore City

19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST

Head to Head: Played 21; Blues 8, Sharks 13

In Auckland: Played 7; Blues 2, Sharks 5

Last clash:Round 18, 2013 - Sharks 22-20 Blues, Kings Park, Durban

Preview: Sitting out last week's round with a bye, the Blues are searching for their sixth win and hoping to move off the bottom of the New Zealand conference. They previously showed early promise and took the lead against the Chiefs, but they soon fell away as the two-time reigning champions applied the pressure. The Blues are a strong attacking side who will be devastated by the absence of Charles Piutau, but they will still look to move the ball wide with Ma'a Nonu returning to peak form only a few weeks ago. They haven't lost at home this season, but the high-flying Sharks will be a hard prospect.

The Sharks produced one of the best wins of the season in defeating the Crusaders after being slammed by the media for their kicking game in Canberra. They came out firing with a massive attacking display, with sweeping backline moves that showed the competition they really were a side to fear, before demonstrating their defensive strength while playing a man down for much of the match to shock the pundits.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Brumbies may be chasing Jake White over lost change, but he is succeeding in moulding the Sharks into a finals threat. Beating the Blues at home is hard, but the Sharks have the midfield performers and kicking game to do it.

Tips: Greg Growden: Sharks by 8 Brittany Mitchell: Sharks by 9 Brett McKay: Blues by 3.

Rebels v Waratahs, AAMI Park, Melbourne

19:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST

Head to Head: Played 7; Rebels 1, Waratahs 6

In Melbourne: Played 3; Rebels 1, Waratahs 2

Last clash: Round 6, 2014 - Waratahs 32-8 Rebels, Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Preview: The Rebels were impressive in claiming their first win over the Reds in controversial circumstances, recovering from a poor start to maintain pressure with an almost impenetrable in defence - they missed just five tackles - a strong counter attack and impressive support play. But the Rebels will be devastated with the loss of a second half-back - Luke Burgess - and they may find it difficult to find rhythm in their backline as they take on the Waratahs.

The Waratahs produced a dominant five-try display against the Lions to crash back into finals contention with their first back-to-back win in more than two months. Bernard Foley, in particular, was on song as he played a key part in four of the five tries. The Waratahs struggled defensively in the first half, but they turned it around to hold the Lions pointless in the second stanza. They will be aware that they travel to Melbourne having struggled away from home this season.

Greg Growden's verdict: Despite the pathetic Reds whinge, the Rebels were justified winners in Brisbane. They will threaten the Waratahs for 60 minutes, but with Bernard Foley at last on song the visitors will have too much power and penetration in the final quarter.

Tips: Greg Growden: Waratahs by 14 Brittany Mitchell: Waratahs by 12 Brett McKay: Waratahs by 7.

Bulls v Brumbies, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria

19:10 local, 17:10 GMT, 03:10 EST +1d, 02:40 CST +1d, 01:10 WST +1d

Head to Head: Played 18; Bulls 7, Brumbies 11

In Pretoria: Played 9; Bulls 5, Brumbies 4

Last clash: Semi-final 2013; Bulls 23-26 Brumbies, Loftus Verfeld, Pretoria

Preview: The Brumbies were shocked by a tough Cheetahs side last week, when they were slow to start and were outplayed as they struggled to maintain discipline and execute opportunities after claiming a lucky half-time lead. The must execute better their opportunities and improve their discipline if they hope to defeat the Bulls in Pretoria.

The Bulls have found success since their return to South Africa, and they are looking for their third consecutive win after relaxing with a bye last week. The Bulls are unbeaten at home this season and they came from behind to steal victory over the Stormers in their latest fixture, turning their game around in the second half to score 16-unanswered points. The Bulls will fire at home, but the Brumbies and their strong kicking game could bring an end to the streak.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Brumbies must win this match if they seriously consider themselves contenders to win the Australian conference. The altitude suits the Brumbies' kicking game, but let's just hope Jesse Mogg does something other than boot everything that comes to him. It is mind numbing.

Tips: Greg Growden: Brumbies by 2. Brittany Mitchell: Brumbies by 3 Brett McKay: Bulls by 6.

Saturday, May 24

Highlanders v Crusaders, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

17:35 local, 05:35 GMT, 15:35 EST, 15:05 CST, 13:35 WST

Head to Head: Played 24; Highlanders 8, Crusaders 16

In Dunedin: Played 11; Highlanders 5, Crusaders 6

Last clash: Round 18, 2013 - Highlanders 12-40 Crusaders, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Preview: The Highlanders have moved up the New Zealand conference ladder and the Super Rugby table with two tight wins in the past fortnight. They didn't score a try last week, but they have impressed with their attacking game and they impressed in defence in Wellington. The Highlanders will be sure to rev up "The Zoo" to maximise home-ground advantage, but they face a tough task to keep the Crusaders down.

The Crusaders were left shaking their heads as they watched the 14-man Sharks steal a courageous win to become the first South African side to defeat the Crusaders in New Zealand since 2001. The Crusaders let the Sharks in early, but they soon had an extra man and all the possession only to be let down by lapses in concentration and execution. Coach Todd Blackadder spoke of wanting that performance to be "an anomaly".

Greg Growden's verdict: The Highlanders have turned into the great entertainers and, with the Scarfies in full cry, an upset is in the offing. They are great bets with the start.

Tips: Greg Grodwen: Highlanders by 3. Brittany Mitchell: Crusaders by 5 Brett McKay: Highlanders by 6.

Hurricanes v Chiefs, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

19:35 local, 07:35 GMT, 17:35 EST, 17:05 CST, 15:35 WST

Head to Head: Played 22; Hurricanes 11, Chiefs 10, Drawn 1

In Wellington: Played 11; Hurricanes 7, Chiefs 4

Last clash: Round 18, 2013 - Chiefs 34-23 Hurricanes, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Preview: The Hurricanes were disappointed they failed to back up their strong performance in Melbourne when they lost last week by two points to the Highlanders in a conservative match at home. The Hurricanes struggled to breach the Highlanders' defence, and they were undone by poor discipline and turnovers. The Hurricanes are the leading try-scorers in the competition (36), but the conference leaders are tough opponents.

The Chiefs head to Wellington refreshed from the bye and high on confidence from their win over the Blues two weeks ago. They were impressive as they crashed over for four tries despite limited possession and territory in New Plymouth, and they now sit but one try behind the Hurricanes on the try-scoring list. Aaron Cruden is also expected to boost the Chiefs.

Greg Growden's verdict: The Hurricanes have been a bit more stable this season, and at last are able to back up. But the Chiefs are refreshed and primed for the finals.

Tips: Greg Growden: Chiefs by 9 Brittany Mitchell: Chiefs by 5 Brett McKay: Chiefs by 5.

Force v Lions, nib Stadium, Perth

17:40 local, 09:40 GMT, 19:40 EST, 19:10 CST, 17:40 WST

Head to Head: Played 7; Force 5, Lions 1

In Perth: Played 3; Force 2, Lions 1

Last clash: Round 14, 2012 - Force 17-11 Lions, nib Stadium, Perth

Preview: The Force impressed in Bloemfontein, but they were overrun last weekend by a dominant Stormers side in Cape Town and dropped out of the top six. The Force are known for their strong defence, but they could not withstand an early barrage as the South African side posted an early lead. The Stormers then strangled the game with 72% possession. The Force have been unbeatable at Perth since round three, and they will be confident they can send the Lions back to South Africa winless on tour, but the flight home from the Republic can undo even the best teams.

The Lions haven't found success on their Australasian tour and they were dominated by the Waratahs in the second half last week. They collected points every time they entered the Tahs 22 in the first half, but they fell apart in the second stanza - conceding 14 turnovers as they went pointless. The Lions have to play a full 80 minutes if they hope to beat the Force.

Greg Growden's verdict: The big-noting Force were brought back to reality in Cape Town, and the Lions should continue the South African pain. Everyone is starting to discover that you need more than just being brilliant defenders on your own line, and a steady kicking No 10. A plan B is required.

Tips: Greg Growden: Lions by 7 Brittany Mitchell: Force by 7 Brett McKay: Force by 12.

Stormers v Cheetahs, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town

17:05 local, 15:05 GMT, 01:05 EST +1d, 00:35 CST +1d, 23:05 WST

Head to Head: Played 12; Stormers 8, Cheetahs 4

In Cape Town: Played 6; Stormers 5, Cheetahs 1

Last clash: Round 11, 2014 - Cheetahs 35-22 Stormers, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

Preview: The Cheetahs impressed last week in bouncing back from a close loss to the Force, taking control of the Brumbies in the second half with 15 unanswered points and 55% possession. They are not nearly so go good away from Bloemfontein, however.

The Stormers took control of the Force early last week before taking control of the scoreboard with 14 unanswered points either side of half-time. They then maintained their tight defence to strangle the game, but they will have to be equally tight to contain Willie le Roux.

Greg Growden's verdict: This will be an arm wrestle, and not much more. Next.

Tips: Greg Growden: Stormers by 4. Brittany Mitchell: Stormers by 4 Brett McKay: Stormers by 10.

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