Super Rugby teams: Tongan Thor ruled out of Tahs clash
THE Queensland Reds have been dealt a trio of major blows ahead of their crunch match against the NSW Waratahs at the SCG.
But the news is better for the Waratahs, who welcome back Test halfback Nick Phipps for the first time in 2018.
And All Blacks livewire Damian McKenzie is in doubt for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes, who have already lost Test half-back TJ Perenara to injury.
HURRICANES v CHIEFS in Wellington, Friday 5:35pm AEST
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd will welcome back world player of the year Beauden Barrett, but will be without two first choice regulars for their local derby against the Chiefs at Westpac Stadium.
Barrett was a late scratching against the Sharks because of a tight quad and his return sees Ihaia West drop back to the bench.
His halves partner TJ Perenara is expected to miss more than a month after rupturing his medial cruciate ligament during the 38-37 win over the Sharks last Friday and Jamie Booth will start in the halves.
All Blacks winger Julian Savea will also miss the match due to sickness, but his absence has been offset by the return of Matt Proctor from a sternum injury in the midfield and Vince Aso shifting out wide.
Former Wallaby Toby Smith also returns to the starting side at loose-heap prop after recovering from concussion.
"Both sides have won their last five. We both lost in round one, so both sides are very similar," Boyd said.
"We lost to them twice last year, which we weren't particularly happy about it. Particularly the performance here at home.
"It's too early to call the game totally defining, but it's pretty crucial for both sides."
The Chiefs have injury concerns of their own.
Influential playmaker Damian McKenzie has been bracketed in the Chiefs' line-up, as they hold out hope that their star backline will be fit.
The 22-year-old, who remarkably played in the Chiefs' last 48 matches, injured his hip during their narrow 21-19 win over the Blues last Saturday and had to be replaced around the half-hour mark.
Co-captain Charlie Ngatai has been named to start at fullback for the first time since round.
He will be joined in the back three by Sean Wainui and Solomon Alaimalo, who has shifted from the 15 jersey to the wing to cover for the absence of the injured Toni Pulu.
Up front, Taleni Seu returns at No 8 after a back niggle kept him out last weekend, which sees Pita Gus Sowakula drop out of the matchday squad.
Lock Tyler Ardron has been bracketed with Michael Allardice, with the former needing to get through concussion protocols this week after sustaining a knock against the Blues, while the latter is returning from a groin injury.
HURRICANES (15-1): Jordie Barrett, Vince Aso, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam, Beauden Barrett, Jamie Booth, Gareth Evans, Sam Henwood, Brad Shields (c), Sam Lousi, Vaea Fifita, Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Toby Smith
Reserves: James O'Reilly, Chris Eves, Ben May, Michael Fatialofa, Reed Prinsep, Richard Judd, Ihaia West, Wes Goosen
CHIEFS (15-1): Charlie Ngatai (co-c), Sean Wainui, Anton Lienert-Brown, Johnny Fa'auli, Solomon Alaimalo, Damian McKenzie/Marty McKenzie, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Taleni Seu, Sam Cane (co-c), Lachlan Boshier, Tyler Ardron/Michael Allardice, Brodie Retallick, Angus Ta'avao-Matau, Nathan Harris, Aidan Ross
Reserves: Liam Polwart, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Jeff Thwaites, Luke Jacobson, Liam Messam, Jonathan Taumateine, Marty McKenzie/Tiaan Falcon, Alex Nankivell.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown
Venue: Westpac Stadium
SUNWOLVES v BLUES in Tokyo, Saturday 1:05pm AEST
Blues coach Tana Umaga has made four changes to his side, who travel north to take on the winless Sunwolves in Tokyo.
A hamstring injury to two-time World Cup winner Jerome Kaino sees Jimmy Tupou come in at blindside flanker in the only change to the back-row.
George Moala will also miss the match because of a chest injury and his absence sees a backline reshuffle.
Jordan Hyland replaces Moala and he will partner Matt Duffie on the wing.
All Black Rieko Ioane once again shifts from outside centre to the second five-eighth position and is joined in the midfield by New Zealand under-20s representative Orbyn Leger.
"Most of our pack are reasonably settled and we will be looking for an improved performance from them this week," Umaga said.
""We need to get a go-forward platform and win the collision this week, while we must show more discipline and lot allow them into the game.
"We also need to cherish our ball more and show patience.
"With George Moala out, we have adjusted our backline.
"Orbyn has trained with us all season and has impressed us with his attitude and his skillset. He deserves his chance.
"Jordan is a big and fast winger. If we can do our work upfront then we want to utilise his strength and speed to get us going forward."
BLUES (15-1): Michael Collins, Jordan Hyland, Orbyn Leger, Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie, Stephen Perofeta, Jonathan Ruru, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Jimmy Tupou, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tuungafasi, James Parsons, Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: Matt Moulds, Ross Wright, Mike Tamoaieta, Ben Neenee, Dalton Papalii, Sam Nock, Bryn Gatland, TJ Faiane
Referee: Nick Briant
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
REBELS v JAGUARES in Melbourne, Saturday 3:15pm AEST
Rebels head coach Dave Wessels has made five changes to his starting lineup to take on the Jguares in Melbourne on Saturday.
Wallaby Dane Haylett-Petty makes his return after missing their past two matches due to concussion and will wear No 15 jersey.
A hamstring strain will see Reece Hodge miss his first match for the Rebels since round four 2016.
Tom English will move off the wing to his preferred position of outside centre to cover the loss of Hodge, while versatile back Jack Maddocks moves onto the wing.
In the forward pack, Sam Talakai starts ahead of Jermaine Ainsley at tight-head prop, who drops back to the bench.
Former British and Irish Lions lock Geoff Parling has also been recalled and comes in for Wallaby Matt Philip.
While Japan international Amanaki Mafi is joined by Richard Hardwick and Ross Haylett-Petty in the back-row.
Jaguares coach Mario Ledesma has reacted strongly following his side's poor showing against the Crusaders last week where they went down 40-14 at home making four changes to his side.
Veteran hooker Agustin Creevy has been dropped to the bench with Julian Montoya given a rare start in the only change to the forward pack.
In the backs, experienced Test halfback Martin Landajo returns to the starting side and will partner Nicolas Sanchez.
It's a brand new back three combination too with Emiliano Boffelli moving from the wing to the fullback position after Joaquin Tuculet was dropped to the bench.
Ramiro Moyano and Sebastian Cancelliere form the wing pairing for the Jaguares who are looking for their third win of the Super Rugby season.
Rebels (15-1): Dane Haylett-Petty, Jack Maddocks, Tom English, Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete, Jack Debreczeni, Will Genia, Amanaki Mafi, Richard Hardwick, Ross Haylett-Petty, Adam Coleman, Geoff Parling, Sam Talakai, Anaru Rangi, Tetera Faulkner
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, Ben Daley, Jermaine Ainsley, Matt Philip, Colby Fainga'a, Lopeti Timani, Michael Ruru, Sefa Naivalu,
Jaguares (15-1): Emiliano Boffelli, Ramiro Moyano, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Sebastian Cancelliere, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo, Javier, Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera (c), Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Julian Montoya, Santiago Garcia Botta
Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Javier Diaz, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Gonzalo Bertranour, Bautista Ezcurra, Joaquin Tuculet
Referee: Nic Berry
Venue: AAMI Park
HIGHLANDERS v BRUMBIES in Dunedin, Saturday 5:35pm AEST
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has made four changes to his starting side to take on the Brumbies at home.
After their narrow 27-22 loss to the Chiefs a fortnight ago, the Highlanders are fresh and back under the roof in Dunedin.
Star playmaker Lima Sopoaga is fit to take his place after being replaced early against the Chiefs because of injury.
Liam Coltman returns to the hooking position which sees Ash Dixon drop back to the bench.
There's a change in the second-row too with Tom Franklin returning ahead of Josh Dickson.
Elliot Dixon has been dropped to the bench, which sees Shannon Frizell promoted to the back-row.
Teihorangi Walden's return to the midfield sees Rob Thompson shift to outside centre, while versatile back Matt Faddess drops to the bench.
"Fair to say we have a good perspective of where we are at the moment as a team and over the last few weeks, we have taken some good learnings from our matches," Mauger said.
"The guys have come back fresh from the break and have trained well.
"Our training focus this week has been on using those recent learnings to solve a few issues that will allow us to perform come the weekend."
Highlanders (15-1): Ben Smith (cc), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Ash Dixon (cc), Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Alex Ainley, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes
Referee: Mike Fraser
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium
WARATAHS v REDS in Sydney, Saturday 7:45pm AEST
Test halfback Nick Phipps is in line to make his first appearance for the Waratahs in 2018 after finally overcoming a calf injury.
Phipps has been named on the bench ahead of Mitch Short and is the only change to the squad to take on the Reds at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Waratahs are coming off the back of a 50-29 win over the Sunwolves in Japan which moved them into second on the Australian conference.
"Firstly being able to name an unchanged line-up is a reward to the guys for performing for us," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.
"We've had six games, four of those have been on the road and this will only be our third game at home so it's nice to be back home, particularly for such as prestigious game.
"Having the opportunity for the guys to play on the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first time since 1983 is very exciting, and it's great to be a part of that.
"Secondly, to welcome Nick back.
"It's been a long, hard road for him. He's had six to eight weeks of nearly being there and he's finally passed fit and he had a good trot last week for Sydney University."
Meanwhile, the Reds have been forced to make a number of changes to their side after injuries to Tupou, Scott Higginbotham and Ben Lucas during their 45-21 loss to the Brumbies last Saturday.
Tupou's shoulder injury will see Ruan Smith make his run-on start for the Reds.
Higginbotham's calf injury sees Caleb Timu return to the back of the scrum and sees Test forward Lukhan Tui start at blindside flanker, while Liam Wright starts ahead of Adam Korczyk.
James Tuttle returns to the starting side following Lucas' head knock last week.
The other change to the starting side sees Wallabies squad member Izaia Perese return after missing the opening two months of the season due to injury.
"It's disappointing to lose those guys to injury, but we've been working hard to develop depth within the squad so that we can cope with these setbacks when they occur. It's a chance for other players to step up.
"It's a good opportunity for Ruan to make his first start for us. We've had to shuffle the back row, but Lukhan (Tui) has the ability to play Number 6 and lock, so the injury to Scott (Higginbotham) gives him the chance to start at blindside flanker. He's in great shape and is excited to have a crack in that position. We're keen to see how he goes in that different role.
"Liam (Wright) is a very mobile guy who has been working hard on his game. Adam (Korczyk) has been doing a great job as well, but it's an opportunity for Liam to start this weekend.
"While we've lost some guys through injury, we're also welcoming one back with Izaia (Perese) starting for the first time this year. He's been cracking in at training, waiting for his chance to get back on the field. He's a guy who offers a bit of strike in attack, so it's good to have him back."
Waratahs (15-1): Bryce Hegarty, Alex Newsome, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (c), Will Miller, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson
Reserves: Hugh Roach, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Tom Staniforth, Jed Holloway, Nick Phipps, Lalakai Foketi, Cameron Clark.
Reds (15-1): Aidan Toua, Filipo Daugunu, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi, Izaia Perese, Jono Lance, James Tuttle, Caleb Timu, Liam Wright, Lukhan Tui, Kane Douglas, Izack Rodda, Ruan Smith, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, James Slipper (c)
Reserves: Alex Mafi, JP Smith, Sef Fa'agase, Adam Korczyk, Angus Scott-Young, Tate McDermott, Hamish Stewart, Jordan Petaia
Referee: Angus Gardner
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground
SHARKS v Bulls in Durban, Sunday 1:15am AEST
Referee: Egon Seconds
Venue: Kings Park
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