Round 12 produced some intense derby games, particularly the two high scoring thrillers between the Hurricanes and Crusaders and the Bulls and Lions, whilst the Brumbies and Waratahs engaged in rugby’s answer to trench warfare. There were a couple of shocks as well with the Cheetahs downing the Stormers in Bloemfontein and the Rebels beating the Chiefs in Melbourne. Round 13 offers less derby excitement but still has the potential to produce a classic match or two. The only derby matchup of the round will see the Western Force take on the Waratahs at NIB stadium. The pick of this week’s action will take place in the Republic on Saturday with the Lions taking on fellow playoff hopefuls the Highlanders, which is followed by what should be an epic encounter between the Stormers and Brumbies at Newlands. With the Bulls, Cheetahs and Chiefs sitting out this weekend there could be a lot of movement on both the domestic and combined logs.
Crusaders vs Reds | Friday 08 May | AMI Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80mins)
Crusaders (-15.5) 9/10
Reds (+15.5) 9/10
The Crusaders’ slim hopes of making the play-offs were all but extinguished after last week’s narrow defeat to the ‘Canes in Wellington; they now sit five points off the Waratahs who occupy the last play-off spot and have played a game more than their Australian counterparts. With the playoffs all but out of reach and their other remaining home game in Nelson, this weekend’s match against the Rebels could be the last time the Christchurch faithful see two of their favourite sons in Crusaders colours. Dan Carter will once again return to France after the World Cup whilst Richie McCaw will hang up his size 11s at the end of the year. Carter will start at inside centre this weekend, the same position he started his early Crusaders career whilst McCaw has recovered from a concussion scare to take up a spot on the bench. Other changes to the side sees Nafi Tuitavake come in on the wing whilst lock Dominic Bird and tighthead Nepo Laulala will try shore up the pack. The Reds will be without utility back Karamichael Hunt and hooker Saia Faianga’a but will have the services of number eight Mitchel Schatz who comes straight back into the starting fifteen, and centre Ben Tapuai, who is on the bench. The way the Reds’ season is going it wouldn’t really matter if they had an injury-free squad and got half the Hurricanes team on loan. They’d still lose heavily.
VERDICT: Crusaders (-15.5) 9/10
I expect Carter and McCaw to say goodbye to Christchurch in style and put at least twenty points over the Reds.
Rebels vs Blues | Friday 08 May | AAMI Park | 11:40
To Win (80mins)
Rebels (-4.5) 9/10
Blues (+4.5) 9/10
The second game of the weekend sees two sides that are coming off impressive wins lock horns. The Rebels’ 16-15 victory over the Chiefs last weekend will go down as the most famous win in the short history of the franchise. The Blues also had reason to celebrate with their 41-24 victory over the Western Force seeing them jump above the Reds in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon. In terms of team news the Rebels were handed a massive boost midway through the week when young flanker Sean McMahon was cleared to play. McMahon has been fantastic for the Rebels this season and will surely go on to be one of the first names on a Wallabies team sheet in the coming years. The Blues’ coaching staff have made changes to the side that beat the Force in Auckland with Ehai West coming into the first five-eighth berth whilst injuries to Charles Piutau and Jerome Kaino sees a bit of a reshuffle in the backline as well as the loose trio. George Moala avoided being in a different sort of line up when he was cleared of assault for his involvement in a bar fight and will don the number twelve jersey.
VERDICT: Blues (+4.5) 9/10
The Rebels don’t really do massive winning margins so expect this to be a tight one, the Rebels could take it but not by a large margin.
Hurricanes vs Sharks | Saturday 09 May | Westpac Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80mins)
Hurricanes (-12.5) 9/10
Sharks (+12.5) 9/10
After an absolute pummelling at the hands of the Highlanders, the Sharks go to Westpac Stadium hoping to avoid a repeat performance. The Natalians are having a bit of an identity crisis this year, the backs all think they are playing for Heyneke Meyer and are kicking the ball away aimlessly whilst the majority of the forward pack think they’re involved in an MNA fight rather than a rugby match. The Sharks are out of the running for a play-off spot and have nothing but pride to play for. Frans Steyn returns to the fold along with Jannie Du Plessis and Renaldo Bothma but Cobus Reinach is out for four weeks with a broken hand. On the Hurricanes’ side of the team news, Beauden Barrett is out for a month with a knee ligament strain and TJ Perenara and Julian Savea miss out due to All Black rest commitments.
VERDICT: Hurricanes (-12.5) 9/10
As a Sharks fan it’s painful to say this but I can’t in all honesty see the Sharks midfield being able to handle world rugby’s best centre pairing. ‘Canes. ‘Canes by a lot.
Western Force vs Waratahs | Saturday 09 May | NIB Stadium | 11:40
To Win (80mins)
Force (+8.5) 9/10
Waratahs (-8.5) 9/10
The ‘Tahs managed to sneak a 13-10 upset win over Brumbies last weekend in Canberra. That result sees them occupy the last playoff spot on the combined log and move within one point of the Brumbies in the Aussie conference. Their opponents for this weekend are now the only remaining side yet to have won more than one game. The Force, despite a plucky effort in most of their games, are almost guaranteed to end their campaign in last position on the combined log as well as the Aussie conference. The Waratahs will be without hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau who is considering retirement after suffering a serious concussion against the Brumbies, whilst the Force are still missing skipper Sam Wykes.
VERDICT: Force (+8.5) 9/10
Although they may be this year’s dungeon dwellers the Force are a spirited bunch of blokes and in front of their home fans I can see them giving the ‘Tahs a run.
Lions vs Highlanders | Saturday 09 May | Ellis Park | 15:00
To Win (80mins)
Lions (-1.5) 9/10
Highlanders (+1.5) 9/10
The Lions are coming off a high scoring spectacle against the Bulls which they narrowly lost 35-33 at Loftus last Saturday. The Johannesburg franchise hosts the Highlanders this weekend who are coming off a massive home victory over the Sharks. The Lions can move into the playoff places if they win this one whilst the Highlanders will want to take advantage of the Chiefs’ bye this weekend and close the gap on their conference rivals. In terms of team news the Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has kept the same starting fifteen that gave the Sharks’ “rugbyginners” a lesson in how to actually play the sport; the Lions are yet to name their side but there seems to be no serious injury concerns for Johan Ackerman’s charges.
VERDICT: Lions (-1.5) 9/10
It’s do or die time for the Lions now. If they want to be involved in a Super Rugby play-off for the first time since Francois Pienaar’s heyday then they’re going to have to beat the Highlanders and I think they have the temperament to do just that.
Stormers vs Brumbies | Saturday 09 May | Newlands Stadium | 17:05
To Win (80mins)
Stormers (-3.5) 9/10
Brumbies (+3.5) 9/10
The pick of this week’s action sees the current Aussie conference table-toppers take on the South African conference’s second-placed team at Newlands. The Stormers’ jaunt to Bloemfontein ended in a shock defeat and if this wasn’t bad enough, the Cheetahs managed to ensure the Cape contingent returned home without a single point. The Brumbies are also coming off a shock derby defeat losing 13 -10 to the ‘Tahs at home. On the injury front, the Brumbies have been given a huge boost with the return of goal kicking scrumhalf Nic White. Province, on the other hand, will go into this one without former skipper Juan de Jongh who’s out with a hip injury and lock Ruan Botha, whose ankle injury will see him miss four to six weeks of rugby.
VERDICT: Brumbies 14/10
This has the potential to be one of the games of the season and although the Stormers are on their own patch, I fancy the Brumbies to take this one.