Round 7 was an absolute belter, with some potentially season-defining results. What is in store in Round 8?
Blues v Highlanders, Auckland
Both these sides were on the end of defeats last weekend, and while the Blues have at least had a couple of wins to celebrate this season the Highlanders have made a dreadful start, losing all five of their games. They are the only side yet to win, and while they have been showing glimpses of good play, their record speaks for itself. The Blues have fallen by the wayside after a strong start – the Chiefs were the latest team to conquer them. A turnaround is needed, and fast.
Could the lack of pressure in playing away from your home fans loosen the Highlanders up and see them to their first win? Possibly, but probably not.
Prediction: Blues by 6
Brumbies v Kings, Canberra
The Kings keep fighting valiantly but just don’t have enough to get themselves wins. It was exactly the same last weekend when they managed an admirable 30 points against the Hurricanes, but also conceded 46 of their own. The Brumbies snuck a hard-fought win against the Bulls at home, with more than a hint of fortune about their last-gasp win. Still, they have been the standout performers so far and will be targeting this as a big win, especially with influential centre Pat McCabe set to return.
The Kings are not to be underestimated – they have proved that much thus far – but the Brumbies will be too strong at home.
Prediction: Brumbies by 20
Sharks v Crusaders, Durban
This is potentially the tie of the round. The Sharks have flattered to deceive so far, and aside from putting 10 past the hapless Rebels have struggled to find fluency. Against a Crusaders side that has won its last three, including on the road at the Stormers’ last weekend, they will need to find some quickly. They are, nonetheless, top of the South African conference, and will be confident of a win at home. The men from Canterbury are in good form but have some injury worries. Wing Johnny McNicholl is out for the season, while prop Owen Franks will also miss this weekend. Israel Dagg is battling to get fit, and has the ability to make a huge difference if he makes it. Last weekend’s win at Newlands, however, has undoubtedly confirmed them as genuine title contenders this year.
A very difficult one to call. The Sharks have only lost once, at home to the Brumbies, but have been somewhat grinding out the wins. The Crusaders look too impressive at the moment.
Prediction: Crusaders by 5
Hurricanes v Waratahs, Wellington
The Hurricanes swatted the Kings aside last week, but it was not as comfortable as they might have expected. The Waratahs, meanwhile, snuck past the Force in an all-Aussie affair that saw them outplayed for most of the game. Both sides have three wins and need another this weekend if they are to cling onto hopes of coming in the top two of their respective conferences.
In Wellington the Hurricanes should have enough to beat the Waratahs, who will have to dictate the game more than they have been if they are to stand any chance of victory.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 10
Force v Rebels, Perth
This is a re-run of the opening game of the season, which the Rebels won by seven points. Since then the wheels have come off their season, with drubbings from the Cheetahs and Sharks the latest in a series of disappointments for the club. The Force, on the other hand, have started to play some half decent rugby and were unlucky not to beat the Waratahs last weekend. They may only have one win (which was an admirable effort away at the Reds) but have come close in a few other matches.
At home, against a Rebels team in disarray, the Force will have too much.
Prediction: Force by 7
Cheetahs v Stormers, Bloemfontein
This is a South African derby to get even the most casual of rugby fans excited. The Cheetahs are one of the form sides in the competition so far, and with four wins from six they sit second in the South African conference. They are also yet to have a bye (the first weekend of all-Aussie action notwithstanding) and the resulting ‘free’ four points. The Stormers, on the other hand, have just two wins and find themselves in fourth, with the disappointment of a home loss to the Crusaders last weekend hanging over them. They suffered three further injuries in that game and will have to dig deep this weekend.
The Cheetahs have been excellent so far and could continue that good form with a win against the Stormers.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 4
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43