Home teams under pressure in Super Rugby's 4th round
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Teams hosting matches in the fourth round of Super Rugby will be under pressure this weekend to make full use of that home advantage as they try to keep pace with the ACT Brumbies and South Africa's Sharks.
The Canberra-based Brumbies and Durban-based Sharks were the only unbeaten teams after last week's third round, leaving others in catch-up mode far earlier in the season than usual.
The task of trying to stop the Brumbies falls on Saturday to the Cape Town-based Stormers, one of two teams to end their unbeaten streaks last week, and are now at home to the championship leaders.
On Friday, the Pretoria-based Bulls are home to the Sharks, who have started their tournament with three consecutive wins, including two over South African rivals.
The Lions, who also lost their unbeaten record in round three, are at home in Johannesburg for the first time this season when they host the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs. The Lions beat Japan's Sunwolves and the Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand before losing to the defending champion Highlanders.
That loss dropped them back to sixth place on the overall table, although only four points behind the Brumbies and Sharks, who lead a tournament in which bonus points have become a rarity - 13 points from three rounds.
Argentina's Jaguares will play their first home match at the Jose Amalfitani Stadium in Buenos Aires against the Chiefs, the first New Zealand team to make the difficult circuit from South Africa - where they beat the Kings last round - to South America.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes open the round at one of their secondary home grounds at Palmerston North where they will play the Perth-based Western Force. The 14th-placed Hurricanes posted their first win of the season last weekend when they edged the Auckland-based Blues.
The New South Wales Waratahs, coming off a third-round bye, are at home to the Highlanders in one of the most compelling matches of the round. The Waratahs are 1-1 after their loss to the Brumbies and also need to exploit home advantage to stay in touch with the Australian conference leaders.
The Highlanders will be equally determined to build on last weekend's convincing win over the Lions, aware they lost their only other away match in the season to date, to the Blues in round one.
Veteran Wallabies backrower Wycliff Palu will be in the starting lineup for the first time this season for the Waratahs while the injury-hit Highlanders have been forced to make four changes to the team that beat the Lions.
Palu went on as a replacement in the 32-15 loss the Brumbies.
Palu ''showed against the Brumbies that he can provide a really good impetus coming off the bench there and he's a guy that provides a real spark to the team,'' Waratahs assistant coach Nathan Grey said. ''We're going to back ourselves in terms of how we want to attack the game. Our breakdown is a crucial part of that, and that probably wasn't up to scratch against the Brumbies.''
Japan's Sunwolves, who let a potential first-ever win in Super Rugby slip through their fingers last weekend in a one-point loss to the Cheetahs in Singapore, are at home in Tokyo on Saturday to the Melbourne Rebels.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders, who are also 1-1 after last week's bye, host the winless Kings.
The Queensland Reds must win Saturday's home match against the Blues, or at least produce a competitive performance, to avoid being classified along with the Kings among the competition's also-rans. The Reds are without a win from three games, though they took a bonus points from last weekend's 25-23 loss to the Rebels.