Hurricanes vs Stormers | Friday 26 April | FMG Stadium | 09:35
Don’t let the media frenzy surrounding Julian Savea’s withdrawal from the Hurricanes’ squad fool you, this clash is going to less exciting than a margarita pizza. The Hurricanes looked the polar opposite of threatening during their 22-16 victory over the Force last weekend, and I don’t expect much to change this Friday when they take on a limping Stormers outfit. Their 2013 campaign can be summed up by the fact that they have accumulated a third of their points tally through their byes.
To Win (80min)
Hurricanes (-3.5) 9/10
Stormers (+3.5) 9/10
In an attempt to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s unwatchable performance, Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett has made several changes to his side for their clash with Stormers. The game-changing All Black Victor Vito returns at number 8, while flanker Karl Lowe and lock Jason Eaton will also start, in the only other changes in the forwards. In the backline we see a few changes with TJ Perenara starting at scrumhalf, Beuden Barrett running out in the number 10 jersey, Matt Proctor earning his first start on the wing and Andre Taylor operating at fullback.
Some good news at last for the troubled Allister Coetzee. Speedster Bryan Habana returns from injury and starts on the wing, forcing Damian de Allende down to the bench as Gio Aplon moves across to the right wing. Pat Cilliers starts at tighthead prop in the only change to the forward pack. Elton Jantjies is back in training with the squad but will only return for the battling Cape side in Round 12.
VERDICT: Hurricanes (-3.5) 9/10
This could go either way but the Hurricanes have beefed up their side considerably with the return of Vito. The Stormers are travelling without much depth in any position due to their crippling injury list which I’m convinced rules them out of contention for a win this Friday. The ‘Canes by 7.
Reds vs Blues | Friday 26 April | Suncorp Stadium | 11:40
A much more exciting game than the one preceding it, the fiery Reds host the Kiwi conference leaders in one of the better clashes of the weekend. Both sides like to move the ball around at the back and have the talent to do so effectively, so expect some electrifying runs from all over the field and big hits in desperate defence from both teams.
To Win (80min)
Reds (-6.5) 9/10
Blues (+6.5) 9/10
Hopefully the Reds have been able to remain focused on the game despite the petty media war going on between Digby Ioane and the union over salary payments. Unfortunately for Ioane, the only players that are irreplaceable at the moment are the dynamic half-back duo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper. These two have revolutionised the Reds’ attack over the last couple of games and if they can maintain that form for the duration of the competition, the Reds will have a real shot at the title this year.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has named Rene Ranger at centre for this Friday’s game, which sees Francis Souli drop down to the bench. Albert Nikoro earns his first start on the wing, while Ronald Raaymakers is on the bench for the injured Anthony Boric.
VERDICT: Reds (-6.5) 9/10
The Reds let poor decision making prevent them from claiming the victory they otherwise deserved against the Brumbies last week. The Queensland side outscored Jake White’s men three tries to one, but opted to go for the try line instead of the three points on several occasions, coming up empty-handed each time. This week they won’t make the same strategic errors and I don’t think the Blues will be able to hold off Will Genia and Quade Cooper’s unyielding attacks. The Reds by 9.
Chiefs vs Sharks | Saturday 27 April | Waikato Stadium | 09:35
These two haven’t met since last year’s final, where the Chiefs outran the Sharks from the kickoff. John Plumtree’s men have squandered the respectable start they made in the competition, losing two in a row. They’ll likely make it three this Saturday.
To Win (80min)
Chiefs (-9.5) 9/10
Sharks (+9.5) 9/10
The Chiefs will be looking for a convincing victory over the Sharks this weekend after having suffered defeats at the hands of the Reds and the Waratahs in their last two clashes. Craig Clark looks set to return for the Sharks game after having missed the last five rounds. What makes this game slightly more interesting is that the Chiefs are tie with the Brumbies with the most points scored this season, while the Sharks have conceded the least points in this year’s competition.
Wiehahn Herbst comes into the Sharks front row for the injured Tendai Mtawarira. He is joined in the front of the scrum by Craig Burden, who takes over from Kyle Cooper at hooker, and Jannie du Plessis. Pieter-Steph du Toit moves from the flank to take over at lock from Franco van der Merwe, who has started every game for the Sharks this season. Jean Deysel will captain the side this week as Keegan Daniel will play off the bench.
VERDICT: Chiefs (-9.5) 9/10
The Sharks have been hard hit with injuries this season and have battled to find combinations that work with the players they have left. The Chiefs will be smarting from their 25-20 defeat to the Waratahs and will be looking to make things right when they run out at home on Saturday. The Chiefs by 15.
Brumbies vs Force | Saturday 27 April | Canberra Stadium | 11:40
Continuing the tradition of boring Aussie derbies, the Brumbies will have to do a little more than go through their paces to hold off their opposition this Saturday.
To Win (80min)
Brumbies (-10.5) 9/10
Force (+10.5) 9/10
The Brumbies still head the race to the silverware but are looking less and less invincible as the weeks go on. They were lucky to come out with a draw last week after being outplayed for much of the game, and although the Brumbies defence in the last quarter of the game was nothing short of admirable, it was ultimately poor decision making by the Reds that prevented the Brumbies being knocked off the top spot.
Realistically, with two wins from nine games this season, the Force are out of contention for the top six spots. However, as we have seen on many occasions in Super Rugby over the years when teams are no longer playing for positions but for pride, they can often throw a spanner in the works for those still fighting it out at the top. The Force made the Hurricanes work for their narrow victory last weekend and the Brumbies should be prepared to do the same this weekend.
VERDICT: Brumbies (-10.5) 9/10
The Brumbies have already been caught with their pants down against weaker opposition this season so don’t expect it to happen again this weekend. After their hard-fought draw against the Reds last weekend this match will seem like a pre-season friendly, so Jake White will be looking for nothing less than maximum points from this home game. The Brumbies by 12.
Bulls vs Waratahs | Saturday 27 April | Loftus Versveld | 17:05
Both teams are coming off impressive wins in Round 10, but at the same time neither side has exactly set the rugby world alight with their performances preceding that. In other words don’t expect fireworks this Saturday.
To Win (80min)
Bulls (-9.5) 9/10
Waratahs (+9.5) 9/10
The man who embarrassed the Springbok jersey last year with a cheap shot at Richie McCaw during the Rugby Championships, Deon Greyling, returns for the Bulls to earn his first Super Rugby start for the season after a lengthy injury layoff. He takes over from Morne Mallet, who has had no option but to start every game this season. Bjorn Basson returns to the starting line-up ahead of Lionel Mapoe, and Dewald Potgieter comes in for Deon Stegmann.
The Waratahs cannot expect to play how they did last week, run out at Loftus this weekend and emerge victorious. With twenty-five points after eight games they still have a chance at the playoffs but have left themselves with very little room for error.
VERDICT: Waratahs (+9.5) 9/10
The Bulls have improved considerably over the last few weeks but still don’t look anywhere near as threatening as they have over the past few years. If the Waratahs can put on a repeat performance of last weekend’s home victory over the reigning champs, then they may have a slight chance of taking the Bulls in the capital, but either way I don’t see any side winning by more than a small margin. I think the Bulls should manage the win, but by no more than 7, so take the Waratahs on the handicap for a decent return.
Cheetahs vs Kings | Saturday 27 April | Free State Stadium | 19:10
If the Cheetahs can keep their composure for one more week they will in a mighty comfortable position when they put their feet up for their first bye of the season in Round 12. The Kings do, however, have this uncanny ability to pull the rabbit from the hat every so often so the Cheetahs will need to keep their eyes on the ball for the full 80 minutes to prevent an upset.
To Win (80min)
Cheetahs (-16.5) 9/10
Kings (+16.5) 9/10
Naka Drotske has stuck with the same starting XV that took down the Sharks at home in Round 10, but has tinkered with the bench somewhat with Sarel Pretorius taking over from Tewis de Bruyn, Trevor Nyakane displacing Caylib Oosthuizen and Elgar Watts coming in for Francois Brummer. Big man Coenie Oosthuizen earns his 50th Super Rugby Cap this Saturday.
Luke Watson has been dropped to the bench after making his return from injury last week, which means Jacques Engelbrecht resumes the role of eighthman. Andries Strauss will captain the side. Michael Killian returns after being kept out of action for some time with a broken arm, and he takes over from Marcello Sampson. The Kings will miss speedster Sergeal Peterson who is still battling with a groin strain, but his absence has allowed Siyanda Grey his Super Rugby debut this weekend.
VERDICT: Cheetahs (-16.5) 9/10
If the Bulls fail to secure a home victory over the Waratahs this weekend, a Cheetahs victory here could very well secure the Free State side the top spot in the South African conference until they meet the Hurricanes in Round 13. Naka Drotske’s men will not want to pass this opportunity up so I am expecting them to come out with all guns blazing, in which case I call the Cheetahs by 20.
Crusaders vs Rebels | Sunday 28 April | AMI Stadium | 06:05
The great thing about this game being so early on Sunday is that you will more than likely sleep through it.
To Win (80min)
Crusaders (-22.5) 9/10
Rebels (+22.5) 9/10
The Crusaders are waiting on a fitness test to determine if Dan Carter can return to action this weekend to help them bounce back from their two losses on tour. Should Carter be cleared, he is expected to play off the bench with incumbent number 10 Tyler Bleyendaal retaining the starting spot for this week. Captain Keiran Read will more than likely only return from injury next week which gives Luke Whitelock another week to try impress in the number eight jersey.
The Rebels had the luxury of a bye last weekend but it is highly unlikely they used that time off to put their feet up, knowing they have the misfortune of taking on the infamous Crusaders at home this Sunday. Making matters worse for the battling Aussie franchise has been the loss of Wallaby Kurtley Beale, who has been undergoing counselling for alcohol related issues and will only return in three weeks time after his course has been completed. Beale has not played since being sent home from South Africa following his involvement in a physical altercation with fellow team mates after the game.
VERDICT: Crusaders (-22.5) 9/10
The Crusaders have let us down a few times this year which makes the big handicap slightly worrying, but when the Rebels lose they seem to enjoy doing so conclusively so I am going to throw my caution to the wind and back the Crusaders to put on a bit of a cricket score this Sunday. The Crusaders know they have a lot to do in the coming weeks if they want to claw their way up into the playoff spots and they can’t afford to come out of this game with less than the maximum points. The Crusaders by 30.
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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