Last week brought some fantastic results for South African teams, the Bulls and the Cheetahs pulling off treasured away victories over the Hurricanes and Blues respectively, while the Stormers managed to secure their first victory in this year’s competition when they took down the defending champions in Cape Town. The Brumbies retain their pole position after a telling 35-6 victory over the Waratahs, while the Bulls and the Chiefs take the 2nd and 3rd spots on the table. However the Sharks, Reds and Blues are not far behind and there is a lot to play for this weekend.
Highlanders vs Hurricanes | Friday 15 March | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 08:35
The Kiwi sides are by far the least predictable this year, so when it comes to New Zealand derbies your pocket might be a safer bet for your money. A tough one to call but the prices for an outright win for both teams are pretty decent, which makes things easier by not having to navigate the tricky handicaps.
To Win (80mins)
Highlanders (-2.5) 9/10
Hurricanes (+2.5) 9/10
The Highlanders remain winless in the competition after they somehow managed to lose at home to the Cheetahs on the weekend, an outcome very few teams have experienced and a first for the Highlanders. They only have themselves to blame as ill discipline cost them 15 points, something they cannot afford to repeat this week. Jamie Joseph has not yet announced his side and I am sure there will be a fair few changes. Kade Poki is probably one of a handful of players who will be safe from the chop after his brilliant performance against the Cheetahs saw him cross the line three times.
The Hurricanes had to fight tooth and nail to secure their first victory in the competition by taking down the once revered Crusaders 29-28 last weekend. They have made a few changes to their side with Andre Taylor moving down to the bench as James Marshall takes over at fullback and Ben May will start at tighthead prop. Hooker Motu Matu’u has not yet been cleared to play after picking up a shoulder injury against the Crusaders last week, should he not be fit Ash Dixon will start in the number two jersey.
VERDICT: Hurricanes 5/4
Although we have seen that “should be” counts for nothing in Super Rugby, this should be a very close match. The bookies have the Highlanders as slight favourites, probably down to home ground advantage. In the last eight meetings between these two teams there has not been more than seven points difference in the final score and I don’t see that changing this weekend. The Hurricanes haven’t won away yet this year, but the Highlanders haven’t won at all, and they lost to the Cheetahs, at home, which in my opinion has to give the ‘Canes the slightest of edges. ‘Canes by 3.
Waratahs vs Cheetahs | Friday 15 March | Allianz Stadium | 10:40
This is the kind of match that should be recorded and played during after-school detentions on Friday afternoons. Unless, of course, those schools are in New South Wales or the Free State.
To Win (80mins)
Waratahs (-7.5) 9/10
Cheetahs (+7.5) 9/10
The Waratahs were owned 35-6 last week by the Brumbies, who are looking like serious contenders for the silverware this year. This led Michael Cheika to make a string of changes with Berrick Barnes coming back at inside centre and Pat McCutcheon taking over from Wycliff Palu at eighthman, which allows captain Dave Dennis to shift back to blindside flanker. Lachie Turner moves from the bench to partner up with Peter Betham on the wing. In the front row Paddy Ryan will start at tighthead and John Ulugia covers at hooker for injured Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Naka Drotske has retained his starting line-up that managed an unexpected away win last weekend against the Highlanders. This is the first time that speedy scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius will run out against his former team and hopefully this won’t negatively influence his form, which saw him dot down twice last week. He teams up again with flyhalf Johan Goosen, who had a perfect match with the boot last week adding 21 points to the tally.
VERDICT: Cheetahs 9/4
The Waratahs are battling with injuries and issues regarding player contracts and are not playing the best rugby at the moment. The Cheetahs go into this game with some good momentum and the odds given by the bookies make it a no-brainer to take the Cheetahs on the outright. I actually think the Cheetahs will take this game by 10 points but if you are a bit worried about the Cheetahs ability to hold form, take them on the +7.5 handicap which still pays a healthy 9/10
Kings vs Chiefs | Friday 15 March | Mandela Bay Stadium | 19:10
The running style of the Chiefs means this game, although likely to be a one sided affair, should be entertaining to watch as it promises to be a try fest.
To Win (80mins)
Kings (+16.5) 9/10
Chiefs (-16.5) 9/10
Regular Kings captain Luke Watson will remain sidelined this week with a throat injury he sustained against the Force, meaning second-rower Darron Nell will retain the captaincy and will lead out an unchanged side this weekend. This will be their last home game before they set off for their overseas leg of the competition.
The Chiefs forward pack took a big blow with hooker Mahonri Schwalger and prop Ben Tameifuna having to return home with injuries. Dave Rennie has not yet named his team but it is expected Rhys Marshall will come in at hooker after his impressive performances against the Highlanders and the Cheetahs, and uncapped Michael Kainga may crack the nod at prop for Friday’s game.
VERDICT: Chiefs (-16.5) 9/10
The Kings have shown some good attacking abilities when given the chance, but they are not all that great at creating opportunities out of nothing. This game will test their defence at levels they have never experienced before and coming off a defeat to the Stormers, I can’t see the Chiefs giving the Kings any opportunities to put points on the board. In fact I don’t see the Chiefs even giving the Kings a chance to handle the ball. The Chiefs should take this by a comfortable 20 points, so use the handicap for a nice return.
Crusaders vs Bulls | Saturday 16 March | AMI Stadium | 08:35
Definitely worth waking up for, or if you have a bender on Friday night, worth staying up for. Two Super XV giants, neither playing at their full potential yet this season, will be putting everything on the line to secure this win. Time is running out for the Crusaders, still winless in the competition this year, while the unbeaten Bulls have won a few that could have gone either way, but luck won’t be enough against the Crusaders at home.
To Win (80 mins)
Crusaders (-8.5) 9/10
Bulls (+8.5) 9/10
The Crusaders run out at home for the first time this season and a powerful display by Todd Blackadder’s charges this Saturday is as certain as the night succeeds the day. Only one forced change to the side sees Tyler Bleyendaal claim a spot on the bench replacing the injured Tom Taylor.
The Bulls will be without Lionel Mapoe, who picked up a shoulder injury during last week’s upset against the Blues. He will be replaced by utility back Jurgen Visser, who made his Super Rugby debut off the bench last week, while Visser’s spot on the bench is take by Jan Serfontein.
VERDICT: Crusaders (-8.5) 9/10
The Crusaders have not impressed yet but we know they are the team that likes to rock up to the party late and steal all the girls. They are at home this weekend and will not want to disappoint. The Bulls boast a three from three record that they don’t really deserve and this time around the only way to win is to earn it. I don’t think they have the firepower to do that in Christchurch. The Crusaders by 10.
Reds vs Force | Saturday 16 March | Suncorp Stadium | 10:40
If you have anything else to do at 10:40 on Saturday morning, and I really do mean anything, do that rather than put yourself through another boring Australian derby when the Reds take on the Force of the not-to-be-reckoned-with kind.
To Win (80mins)
Reds (-13.5) 9/10
Force (+12.5) 1/1
The Reds have had a relatively decent season this year, currently lying in 5th spot on the overall log and 2nd in the Australian conference. They lost their opening game against competition frontrunners the Brumbies but have gone on to win everything since. Their competition chances have been considerably boosted by the return of Aussie captain and scrumhalf Will Genia, who has been out of action since last September. Genia makes up one of three changes to the starting line up, with Luke Morahan and Chris Feauai-Sautia forming a new wing duo in place of Digby Ioane and Dom Shipperley. This is the fourth consecutive game that the Reds will field the same starting forward pack.
The Force are winless after three matches and it seems unlikely they will manage to turn things around this week as Nick Cummins and Sam Wykes have been sidelined with injuries and it looks as if captain Matt Hodgson won’t take to the field either, although he has not been completely ruled out as of yet. South African Sias Ebersohn had an amazing starting debut for the Force two weeks ago where he managed to rack up 16 points with the boot against the men from Pretoria, including a 60 metre cracker of a penalty. The Reds had best behave because if this kid even smells the word penalty he will send the first thing he sees through the uprights. I hear he has lost a few pets this way.
VERDICT: Force (+12.5) 1/1
The Reds are undoubtedly the stronger franchise, but the Force will still give them a run for their money. I call the Reds by 7, so take the Force on the handicap which will also cover you in the very real possibility of an upset.
Sharks vs Brumbies | Saturday 16 March | Kings Park | 17:05
By far the biggest duel of the weekend, the table-topping Brumbies travel to Durban to take on last year’s finalists. Both teams will enter the Shark Tank unbeaten in the competition. Only one team will leave the same way.
To Win (80mins)
Sharks (-5.5) 9/10
Brumbies (+5.5) 9/10
The revered Sharks forward pack has been dealt a double blow ahead of their mammoth clash with Jake White’s men. Both Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes have been sidelined for at least four weeks with injuries. What might help is the return of regular captain Keegan Daniel, who was seen training with the squad on Tuesday, but no final decision has been made on his match fitness just yet. This will be the first time in this year’s competition that Plumtree will change his match day 22 so it could be interesting to see what kind of talent he has been hiding.
The Brumbies seem miles ahead of everyone in the competition at the moment but don’t forget that they have only played against Aussie competition up until now, meaning the outcome of this match will either confirm their legitimacy at the top of the table or knock them off their pedestal. The Brumbies will be without big man David Pocock who will be out for the rest of the competition after rupturing ligaments in his knee last weekend. Jake White will find more than a little consolation in veteran George Smith. Smith came on for Pocock in the 12th minute against the Waratahs in his first Super Rugby game since 2010 and looked more lethal than ever, making Aussie coach Robbie Deans look a right tit for stating in the media a few of weeks back that he has no interest in selecting Smith for the Lions tour later this year.
VERDICT: Sharks 9/20
This game is going to be close, but we know how tough it is for a touring team to win in Durban and the Sharks have one of the most talented and settled starting XVs in the competition. The -5.5 handicap is very doable if things go right for Plumtree’s men, but I’m playing it safe this week and calling the Sharks by three.
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this one is going to play out.
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