Blues vs Stormers | Friday 3 May | North Harbour Stadium | 09:35
The Stormers got their away tour off to a good start by defeating the Hurricanes in a tightly contested game at FMG Stadium last Friday. Thanks to their poor showing in the first half of the season they have left themselves very little room for error for the remainder of the competition and need the win here to have any real chance at advancing into the knockout stages. Not a position you really want to find yourself in when coming up against the Blues in Auckland.
To Win (80mins)
Blues (-3.5) 9/10
Stormers (+3.5) 9/10
The Blues will be hoping to come back from last week’s narrow 12-11 loss to the Reds with a convincing win at home over the Stormers. An injury to hooker James Parsons means the 102 test veteran Kevin Mealamu will receive his first start of the season after playing the last few games off the bench. Rene Ranger moves across to the wing for Friday’s game as Francis Saili cracks the nod at centre in the only other change to the starting lineup.
The Stormers finally have some good news as their casualty lists gradually starts to shrink. Elton Jantjies and Springbok lock sensation Eben Etzebeth return to the bench for Friday’s game. Frans Malherbe will start in the front row while Siya Kolisi comes in at 6, which sees Rynhardt Elstadt move across to 7.
VERDICT: Stormers (+3.5) 9/10
The Stormers are slowly returning to the standards we have grown to expect from them and now with the return of two of their most influential players from injury, things can only keep improving for Allister Coetzee’s men.
Rebels vs Chiefs | Friday 03 May | AAMI Park | 11:40
The Chiefs will be looking for maximum points on the road this weekend and they really won’t have all that much difficulty finding them when they come up against the uninspiring Melbourne outfit.
To Win (80mins)
Rebels (+8.5) 9/10
Chiefs (-8.5) 9/10
Rebels head coach Damien Hill will be thrilled to have ace flyhalf Kurtley Beale back at his disposal for their game against the reigning champions this Friday. Beale has been named on the bench at the expense of Angus Roberts. The Rebels field an unchanged starting XV for the Chiefs.
Michael Kainga has been ruled out of contention for this weekend’s clash so Pauliasi Manu and Ben Tameifuna will start in the front row alongside hooker Mahonri Schwalger. Matt Vant Leven earns his first start at number 8 for the season and Sam Cane will start at 7. Bundi Aki replaces the injured Richard Kahui at centre, while former All Black Brendon Leonard will start at scrumhalf ahead of Augustine Pulu, who drops to the bench.
VERDICT: Chiefs (-8.5) 9/10
The defending champs shouldn’t have too many problems in achieving this modest handicap against the hapless Rebels. The Chiefs by 15.
Highlanders vs Sharks | Saturday 04 May | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 09:35
The Highlanders have a decent chance at ending their humiliating string of defeats when they run out against a struggling Sharks outfit on Saturday. However, knowing all too well how the Sharks love to fight their way out of the most compromising of positions, it would be silly to write off Plumtree’s men just yet.
To Win (80mins)
Highlanders (+1.5) 7/10
Sharks (-1.5) 11/10
Head coach Jamie Joseph is expected to announce the recently fit again All Black centre Tamati Ellison for this weekend’s big clash against last year’s losing finalists. It might just be the extra push they need in the backline to help this underperforming Otago side secure their first win of the season.
It’s more bad news for the Sharks with Cobus Reinach having to return home. He will now sit the rest of the season out after suffering an ankle injury against the Chiefs in Hamilton last weekend. It is not all bad news for John Plumtree though, Frans Steyn will be eligible for selection after being cleared of any foul play in Round 11, which will help alleviate some of the stress Plumtree has been under regarding backline selections.
VERDICT: Sharks (-1.5) 11/10
Not even an underperforming Sharks outfit will allow Jamie Joseph’s demoralized forces their first win of the season. The Sharks will be looking to get their campaign back on track with a big win here.The Sharks by 10.
Force vs Reds | Saturday 04 May | NIB Stadium | 11:40
The Force will most definitely not want to be in that number, oh when the Reds go marching in. Undeniably playing the most exciting and effective style of attacking rugby of all the franchises over the last few rounds, the Reds should be walking away with nothing less than five points from Saturday’s game.
To Win (80mins)
Force (+7.5) 9/10
Reds (-7.5) 9/10
The Force were absolutely obliterated in the first half against the Brumbies last weekend, trailing by 29 points when the half time whistle went Unless they manage to fix the holes in their defence they will have a much more traumatic time this week against the Reds who are a lot less forgiving on attack than the Brumbies have ever been.
Albert Anae will run out for the Reds in his first start for the franchise at prop, having only started one game at hooker previously. James Slipper drops to the bench to make way for Gregg Holmes at tighthead prop in the second of three changes made to the Reds for their clash this weekend. The last change sees flyhalf Dom Shipperley coming in for Rob Davies.
VERDICT: Reds (-7.5) 9/10
The Force were on the receiving end of a comprehensive 41-7 thrashing at the hands of the Brumbies last weekend in Canberra, and with them coming up against this fiery Reds side we should expect to see a similar result this weekend. The Reds by 20.
Kings vs Waratahs | Saturday 04 May | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 17:05
The Kings return home after going down to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week and welcome the Waratahs into their stadium for the first time. It’s a matchup that is unlikely to provide much in terms of excitement.
To Win (80 mins)
Kings (+7.5) 9/10
Waratahs (-7.5) 9/10
The Kings’ find of the season, Sergeal Petersen, returns to action on the wing this Saturday when they run out against the Waratahs, after having missed the last two games with a groin problem. Luke Watson will once again play off the bench which means Andries Strauss will retain the captaincy, with ex-Sharks lock Steven Sykes taking up the vice-captaincy role.
Peter Betham has cracked the nod to start on the left wing in the only change made by Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika for this weekend’s clash. Squad newcomer Will Skelton will be hoping to earn his first cap for the Waratahs this Saturday to make his 21st birthday a memorable one.
VERDICT: Waratahs (-7.5) 9/10
The Kings have caused a few upsets during their inaugural Super Rugby season but I think that was more down to them being an unknown entity at the beginning of the season. The big unions have them all figured out so the Waratahs will be looking to secure their first win of their three match South African tour in PE. The Waratahs by 10.
Bulls vs Hurricanes | Saturday 04 May | Loftus Versveld | 19:10
The Bulls have turned things around for themselves after a shaky start to the season and now lead the South African Conference. But with the Cheetahs earning four points from their bye this weekend, the Bulls have to claim a victory over an unpredictable Hurricanes outfit to remain on top.
To Win (80mins)
Bulls (-9.5) 9/10
Hurricanes (+9.5) 9/10
Wynand Olivier returns to the midfield for this weekend’s clash in one of three changes to the Bulls. Deon Stegmann will reclaim the number 6, having recovered from the bruised ribs that have kept him out of action. Dewald Potgieter will slide across to the other side of the scrum, replacing Arno Botha who drops down to the bench.
The Hurricanes have also named three changes to their starting lineup for Saturday’s clash in Pretoria. Julian Savea returns on the wing, Tusi Pisi will run out at centre while in the forwards Ash Dixon earns his first Super Rugby at hooker for the injured Motu Matu’u.
VERDICT: Bulls (-9.5) 9/10
The Bulls are playing some good rugby again and when the locals at Loftus start getting used to winning, the Bulls become almost unbeatable. The Bulls by 15.
Brumbies vs Crusaders | Sunday 05 May | Canberra Stadium | 07:05
They saved the best for last this weekend with the Brumbies hosting the Crusaders on Sunday. Definitely worth setting the alarm for.
To Win (80mins)
Brumbies (-2.5) 9/10
Crusaders (+2.5) 9/10
Jake White likes to play his cards close to his chest when it comes to big games but considering the style in which his side demolished the Force last weekend in Canberra, I can’t imagine he will be making too many unforced changes for his side’s clash against the Crusaders.
The highly anticipated return of the legendary Dan Carter happens this weekend as he makes up one of five changes made by Todd Blackadder to the Crusaders for Sunday’s game. Tom Taylor will play at fullback as Israel Dagg drops down to the bench. Robbie Fruean will start in the midfield and is joined there by Ryan Crotty.
VERDICT: Crusaders (+2.5) 9/10
Statistically you would be mad to go against the Brumbies at home this Sunday. I guess that makes me statistically mad. The Crusaders can turn things around for themselves but time is running out. They have named a powerful side for this Sunday so I expect they will be firing on all cylinders, looking for the four try bonus point to improve their chances of making the playoffs It should be a close game nonetheless.
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