As we move into the second half of the Super Rugby season, there is still plenty to play for with most teams still in with a shout of making the coveted play-off spots. Here are some game previews to help you with your SuperBru picks for round 11.
Hurricanes v Stormers
The Hurricanes have been rocked this week by some thoroughly unsavoury off-field news, and whether Julian Savea starts or not they will have to keep their mind on the rugby for the visit of a Stormers side desperate for a win. They did not look entirely comfortable in seeing off the Western Force last weekend. The Stormers had a bye last round, but have had a mixed season to date. Coach Alistair Coetzee has confirmed that star winger Bryan Habana will start, and Elton Jantjies could make the bench, which will be a boost to all at the club.
The Stormers have some big players returning, but the Hurricanes are looking tricky to beat at home and could sneak a narrow win.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 5
Reds v Blues
The Blues enjoyed a bye last weekend that took them to the top of the NZ conference and leave their fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief. However, they have benefited from two byes and are yet to beat a team from outside of New Zealand. And the stat that will undoubtedly be rolled out this week is that Australian sides have won seven of the eight meetings between themselves and Kiwi franchises. The Reds ground out a draw against the Brumbies last weekend, and a win this weekend would give them their first ever clean sweep over teams from across the Tasman Sea. The Digby Ioane saga won’t have helped them focus this week, however.
At home in Brisbane the increasingly impressive Reds will have too much for the Blues.
Prediction: Reds by 10
Chiefs v Sharks
Both these teams need a win after stumbling in recent weeks. The Chiefs, the early pacesetters, looked disorganised in defeat to the Waratahs last weekend, and have not won since round seven. As for the Sharks, they have been desperately unlucky with injuries and can currently count 16 members of their first team squad crocked and unavailable. That said, they are only one point off the top of the South African conference, and can still boast a team capable of winning on their day.
The Chiefs have scored the most points while the Sharks have conceded the fewest – something’s got to break, right? The Sharks are simply too depleted by injuries to beat the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Prediction: Chiefs by 10
Brumbies v Force
The Aussie derbies, so long derided as meaningless games, have actually been quite interesting this year. While the Force will not be challenging for honours come the end of the season, it is impossible not to be impressed with the way the Brumbies have gone about their business. A draw away at the Reds last week was a positive result for the men from Canberra, who still sit top of the log. The Force actually played quite well in defeat to the Hurricanes last round and will hope that back in Australia they can pull off a shock victory.
The likelihood of that actually happening, however, is relatively slim, with the conference and log leaders looking too strong at the moment.
Prediction: Brumbies by 15
Bulls v Waratahs
Both of these teams recorded impressive victories last weekend, but the all-encompassing manner in which the Bulls dispatched the Kings surely makes them favourites for this one. Young centre Jan Serfontein was on fire, and looks to have formed an impressive partnership with Morné Steyn inside him. The Waratahs looked much better than in previous weeks when beating the Chiefs, with the likes of Israel Folau and Adam Ashley Cooper finally starting to put in some strong performances.
It will be a step too far for them, however, facing a Bulls team high on confidence after thrashing the Kings last weekend.
Prediction: Bulls by 7
Cheetahs v Kings
The Cheetahs showed plenty of grit and no little desire to grind out a win away at the Sharks last time out, confirming themselves in the process as genuine play-off contenders. Their reward is a home fixture against the Kings, who were smashed 0-34 by the Bulls. Is their first season of Super Rugby starting to catch up with them? Perhaps. The Cheetahs cling onto second place in the South African log by the skin of their teeth, and will be targeting a big win to open up some daylight between themselves and the chasing pack.
This should be a regulation win for this season’s surprise package.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 22
Crusaders v Rebels
At the time of writing it is not clear whether Crusaders stalwarts Dan Carter and Kieron Read will be back for this game, but really all that is likely to affect is the margin of victory. The Crusaders have looked far from the all-conquering side they once were, but are doing enough at the moment to keep themselves in the hunt at least for the play-offs. The Rebels look like a team who can play reasonably well in patches, but cannot string together a series of good enough performances to challenge the established order.
The Crusaders, with or without Carter and Read, should have plenty of firepower to dispatch the Rebels.
Prediction: Crusaders by 18
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43