Round 9 delivered several upsets, some more astounding than others, which will help keep things a bit more interesting as the knockout rounds start closing in. The Hurricanes return from their week off without having lost too much of their commanding lead on the consolidated table thanks to the Brumbies suffering a shock defeat to the Blues last Friday. The South Africans had a surprisingly strong showing in Round 9 with both the Stormers and Cheetahs picking up unexpected wins overseas and the Lions and Bulls picking up points on home soil. We’re back to a full seven-clash weekend with the Lions set to sit out with a bye.
Crusaders vs Chiefs | Friday 17 April | AMI Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80mins)
Crusaders (-2.5) 9/10
Chiefs (+2.5) 9/10
The Crusaders really have been the hit or miss side of the season, going from thumping the Lions and Cheetahs at home to flopping against the Bulls at Loftus. They were back to their thundering best against the Sharks to claim a phenomenal 52-10 win in Durban, only to slip up against the Highlanders at home last week. Their inconsistency finds them firmly placed in second to last spot on the Kiwi conference log, but thanks to the notably poor form of several sides from Australia and South Africa they are just a few points shy of a top six spot. The Chiefs have had a decent run over the past few rounds, collecting back-to-back wins over the Cheetahs and Blues before taking a week’s vacation in the last round. They will be looking for a third straight win this week to help them close in on the table-topping Hurricanes.
VERDICT: Crusaders (-2.5) 9/10
This is going to be a cracker of a game but judging by the Crusaders’ see-saw of a season they should be in the upswing this time around so I’m expecting them to clinch a narrow win.
Hurricanes vs Waratahs | Saturday 18 April | Westpac Stadium | 06:30
To Win (80mins)
Hurricanes (-5.5) 9/10
Waratahs (+5.5) 9/10
The Hurricanes have managed to wreak havoc this season racking up seven solid victories before stopping for a bye last weekend. Chris Boyd has decided against tinkering too much with his winning formula, naming a very similar starting lineup to the one that took down the Stormers a couple of weeks back, with Jeremey Rush set to collect his 100th Super Rugby cap. The Waratahs have shown several moments of brilliance this season but their shock defeat to the Stormers last week was not their first flop and they’ll need to recreate the magic that saw them terrorising their opponents all the way through the season last year if they want to put have a real go at retaining the title.
VERDICT: Hurricanes (-5.5) 9/10
Another brutal clash, but the Waratahs have not convinced me that they are capable of coming out of this in one piece. The Hurricanes should have enough to clear the handicap in front of their home crowd.
Highlanders vs Blues | Saturday 18 April | Forsyth Barr Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80mins)
Highlanders (-5.5) 9/10
Blues (+5.5) 9/10
The Highlanders will be a confident side following their heroic handling of the calamitous Crusaders last week and will be looking to pick up their third win on the bounce this Saturday. Coach Jamie Joseph has named a reshuffled forward pack to take on a rejuvenated Blues side and they will welcome back Richard Buckman from injury with the speedy youngster named on the bench this week. The Blues overcame huge odds last week by taking down the bullish Brumbies to secure their first win of the season, but they face equally tough opposition this week and they’ll need to be in top form to make it two from two. The fresh-faced Akira Ioane makes his Super Rugby debut this weekend starting on the flank in place of the injured Luke Braid and Steven Luatua.
VERDICT: Highlanders (-5.5) 9/10
The Highlanders have been the luckier of the two sides in this clash over previous seasons so I suspect things will go their way again this week.
Brumbies vs Rebels | Saturday 18 April | GIO Stadium | 11:40
To Win (80mins)
Brumbies (-10.5) 9/10
Rebels (+10.5) 9/10
No Australian side managed to secure a win last week, which means the Brumbies retained their commanding lead of the Aussie conference despite their having gone down to the beleaguered Blues last weekend. Injuries are starting to creep into the Brumbies setup, forcing them to run out with five changes to the starting XV, but they certainly have enough depth to keep competitive at home this week. The Rebels pulled off an ego-boosting victory over the unravelling Reds two weeks back before stopping for a bye in Round 9, so they will take to the field this week with fresh legs and fair bit of confidence. Midfielder Tamati Ellison picks up his 100th Super Rugby cap for the Rebels this week.
VERDICT: Brumbies (-10.5) 9/10
The Rebels will be coming at the conference leading Brumbies with some force this Saturday, incentivised by the prospects of slingshotting past the Waratahs if things line up just right. But the Brumbies, despite all the causalities, are a far more formidable side than the Rebels so I think they’ll be looking to bounce back with a resounding victory this week that will comfortably see them past the handicap.
Force vs Stormers | Saturday 18 April | nib Stadium | 13:45
To Win (80mins)
Force (+4.5) 1/1
Stormers (-4.5) 8/10
The Force jinxed themselves by going a bridge too far in the opening round of this season’s Super Rugby, taking down defending champions the Waratahs 13-25 in Sydney. Sweet success has eluded them on every outing since, with the fumbling Force now on a seven-match losing streak. They were unable to overcome the injury ravaged Cheetahs last week and so their prospects against a substantially stronger South African side this Saturday are not looking all that great. The Stormers had their hand in one of the many upsets that plagued Round 9, bouncing back from a dip in form that saw the Capetonians collecting three consecutive defeats before waltzing past the Waratahs 32-18 in Sydney last week. Saturday’s clash at the Force field is their last outing before they return home, so a victory will go a long way in salvaging what has been a forgettable trip so far.
VERDICT: Stormers (-4.5) 8/10
The Stormers have a great side this year but have had a bit of a dip in form over the last few weeks. They seem to have recovered lost ground and will be looking to build momentum with a second consecutive win on tour.
Sharks vs Bulls | Saturday 18 April | Kings Park | 17:05
To Win (80mins)
Sharks (-1.5) 1/1
Bulls (+1.5) 8/10
The disastrous Sharks came close to picking up a crucial away win over the Lions last week but fell just short as a last gasp penalty attempt drifted wide of the poles. Despite the loss the lads from Durban must be commended for going a full eighty minutes without incurring another red card. They have plenty of work to do if they plan on having an extended run this season, as they’ve managed to win just four of their nine clashes so far and they are just one of two sides yet to have a bye. The Bulls head down to the coast this week having worked wonders to rescue their shoddy start to the season and have now claimed the victory in five of their last six showings. They top the South African conference and have several exciting youngsters terrorising their opponents on attack, most notorious of those is speedster Jessie Kriel.
VERDICT: Bulls 1/1
It’ll take a far more experienced matador than this current Sharks side to tame the raging Bulls this week. This one will inevitably go down to the wire between the age old rivals, but I think the Bulls in their current form will collect a valuable win on the road.
Cheetahs vs Reds | Saturday 18 April | Free State Stadium | 19:10
Cheetahs (-6.5) 9/10
Reds (+6.5) 9/10
The Cheetahs return home this week happy to have ended off that horrific tour with a consolation victory over the Force last week, giving them just their third win of the season and bringing an end to a crippling five-match losing streak. They take on an equally woeful Reds side that suffered their sixth straight defeat last week against the Bulls, but they showed some great resolve throughout the match, not giving up no matter how dire the situation seemed to become. Both sides have been let down by their defence this season so we could be in for a high scoring clash which will at least keep an otherwise unimportant clash interesting.
VERDICT: Cheetahs (-6.5) 9/10
With both sides in dire straits at the moment the only option I really have here is to back the home side. With this set to be a high-scoring clash I think they can manage the handicap to boot.