SYDNEY, April 7- The high-flying Queensland Reds will put the Western Stormers' unbeaten six-match run to the test in the feature match of this weekend's Super 15 rugby series.
The Reds are coming off an unbeaten sequence of four games and lie in third place behind the southern hemisphere provincial championship pacesetters heading into Saturday’s crunch match in Cape Town.
The Stormers, last year’s runners-up, have been in terrific early-season form with wins over South African rivals, Coastal Sharks and Northern Bulls, but this weekend looms as their toughest examination.
Stormers captain Schalk Burger said the Reds, inspired by Wallaby halves Quade Cooper and Will Genia, posed a vastly different challenge than their other opponents so far.
"The Reds seem to have a far more constructive way of playing, and somewhat different than what we’ve come up against this season," Burger said.
"They have a few plays, especially off No.9 and No 10, that will cause our defence some problems, and we’ll have to be alert to that."
Reds’ coach Ewen McKenzie wants his side to express themselves now that they have already won one of their two South African tour games following last week’s 30-25 win over the Golden Lions in Johannesburg.
"We are still going to go down there desperate, but this win allows us to be our creative selves and to explore that side of things when we get there,’ McKenzie said.
"We now have the opportunity to go down there and do what few teams do, and that is to come out of Cape Town with a win against the Stormers."
The Reds have had some close-run encounters with the Stormers in Cape Town and last won at Newlands (41-20) in 2003.
Stormers’ coach Matthew Proudfoot said winning their own set pieces and disrupting the Reds’ efforts would be a vital part of shutting down Genia and Cooper in attack.
"Competing well on their set phases will play a big part in stopping guys like Quade from getting front-foot ball," Proudfoot said.
Seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders will be without All Black fly-half Dan Carter for Saturday’s match with defending champions Northern Bulls in Timaru.
Carter, who is troubled by a hamstring complaint, is one of three Crusaders’ out along with lock Sam Whitelock and tighthead prop Owen Franks.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder expects a tough physical test against the Bulls, who have made a mixed start to their title defence with two defeats in their six outings, but were clinical in disposing of Wellington Hurricanes 26-14 last week.
"We have great depth in our squad so we’re comfortable with the replacements for our injured guys," Blackadder said.
Former Australian sevens skipper Pat McCutcheon will start at open-side flanker in place of injured captain Phil Waugh (calf) when the fifth-placed NSW Waratahs take on Western Force in Perth on Saturday.
Playmaker Berrick Barnes is once again not considered due to concussion concerns and Wallabies fullback Kurtley Beale will play at fly-half.
Seventh-placed Otago Highlanders have a home match with the Central Cheetahs on Friday with the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs winning just one of seven games but generally have been extra competitive.
The Cheetahs have losing bonus points in three of their four matches in South Africa and have proved tough opposition on tour, upsetting the Waratahs 23-3 and losing 22-29 to the Auckland Blues last weekend.
In this weekend’s other matches, the ACT Brumbies, looking for a new coach next season, tackle the Hurricanes in Canberra and the Natal-based Sharks host the Lions in Durban, while the Blues, Waikato Chiefs and Melbourne Rebels have the round off.