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5 things to know about Super Rugby 9th round

April 10, 2014

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Sharks take on South African compatriots the Lions in the ninth round of Super Rugby this weekend, eager to preserve their place at the top of the championship table.

The Jake White-coached Sharks lead the ACT Brumbies by two points and Hamilton-based Chiefs by three nearing the midpoint of the regular season.

Five things to know about round nine:

BEWARE OF THE SHARKS — The Durban-based Sharks return after their second bye of the season to face the Lions on Saturday, still topping the table and firmly established as contenders for their first Super Rugby title. Coach Jake White says the Sharks’ bye weeks, which fell in the third and eighth rounds of the season, came at an ideal time for the squad. “It was nice to have byes early on,” White said. “It suited us because we had so many Springboks, it suited the management of our player resources. We were in a great position going into the bye week. But I’ve said it a number of times, it’s not where you are on the log during the season but where you end up at the conclusion of the season.”

NO SUBSTITUTE FOR OLD MEN — Veteran locks Brad Thorn and Victor Matfield will renew a long-established rivalry after being recalled to their teams’ starting lineups for Friday’s match between the Highlanders and Bulls. The 36-year-old Matfield and 39-year-old Thorn, who have played a collective 169 tests, have been called on to bolster their respective teams’ packs ahead of an anticipated tough forward battle. Matfield wasn’t expected to play during the Bulls’ four-match tour to New Zealand and Australia but injuries have forced his shift from a coaching to a playing role. “It’s a tough situation,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said. “We will be sensible in how we manage him. It’s important for us to get back to winning ways.”

NOT FAVORITES YET — Western Force coach Michael Foley has laughed off suggestions his team will start as favorites in Saturday’s clash with the New South Wales Waratahs. The Force have won four of six matches this season, upsetting the Queensland Reds last weekend, but Foley said the Force aren’t getting ahead of themselves. “What we have done well to date is eliminate any of that noise that is subjective,” he said. “We know what we did last week objectively but the sense of where you stand going into a game and whether it means you’re a favorite or an underdog, is just irrelevant. We’re realistic, we’ve had a nice start to the season, we’ve won four games. But last year we won four games and drew one, so we still haven’t bettered that.”

STEPPING ASIDE — Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett says he won’t be seeking reappointment as coach at the end of the season, his fourth in charge of the Wellington-based side. “This is a decision I have made after much discussion with my family,” he said. “It has not been an easy decision, but we feel the time is right for me to step aside after this season. For now, my sole focus is on the Hurricanes and continuing the job at hand.” The Hurricanes have finished in eighth, ninth and 11th place in the standings in three years under Hammett. They are currently eighth heading into a weekend bye.

CRUDEN OUT, ANSCOMBE IN — An injury to All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden has given Gareth Anscombe a rare opportunity to start in the No. 10 jersey when the defending champion Chiefs face the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday. Anscombe will move from fullback to flyhalf to replace Cruden, who is sidelined for six weeks with a broken thumb. “It’s a chance for me to have a go in that spot and it’s one I’ve been looking forward to,” Anscombe said. ”(Cruden) has been pretty indestructible for this team the last few years, so I guess it’s an opportunity now to get a few games at 10 and it’s one I’m really excited about.”

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