Hurricanes v Blues
These two sit at the bottom of the NZ conference with 16 points apiece, but are only three points off the Highlanders in second – so they know a win will be hugely valuable. The Hurricanes bring better form into the game, having won their last two against former champions the Bulls and Crusaders. The three games the Blues have won have all been at home – their away form has been woeful, shipping at least 26 points in every game outside of Auckland so far. This will likely be your typical high scoring NZ derby, with tries aplenty, and in Wellington the hosts should triumph. Hurricanes by 10.
Rebels v Force
Of the two perennial basement dwellers in the Australian conference, only one is living up to reputation. After a bright start the Rebels have fallen away, although they have managed losing bonus points in two tricky away trips to New Zealand recently. What more needs to be said about the Force? The neutrals love them and none more so than the inimitable Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins – what a season he is having, both on the pitch and in front of the camera. The Force bring the confidence of five games won on the bounce into this one, and although they are undoubtedly the form side it will be close – their two away wins have been by margins of two and three respectively. Force by 3.
Chiefs v Crusaders
The Chiefs sit atop the New Zealand conference but it has been far from convincing for their fans in recent weeks. Two skin-of-their-teeth draws on the South Africa tour saw them walk away with a valuable six points, but the performances (especially in defence) were far from encouraging. Last week against the Rebels they raced into the lead only to rest on their laurels, and in the end weren’t guaranteed the win until late on. The Crusaders will pose a much sterner challenge this weekend, especially after their demolition of the Cheetahs in round nine. They’ve won four of their last five, and despite playing supremely averagely early on are only six points behind their opponents this weekend. They know how important a win here would be. The Chiefs won this game in round two, and despite not having Aaron Cruden I’d expect them to do the business in Hamilton – just. Chiefs by 2.
Waratahs v Bulls
The Waratahs looked jaded and tired in the first fixture back after their return from South Africa, going down to a revved up Force side. The Folau saga is clearly a distraction, not only on the pitch where he offers them a genuine source of points. The Bulls, however, were comprehensively outplayed on the road in Dunedin last weekend and do seem to have real issues away from Loftus. After a week that involved travelling from NZ to Australia, I wouldn’t expect them to reverse their fortunes on the road this weekend. Waratahs by 12.
Sharks v Cheetahs
The Cheetahs are having a torrid time of things. Their loss to a Crusaders team that finally decided to turn it on last weekend was their sixth of the season. Scoring tries has not been their problem – it has been defending them. They have conceded an average of 38 points per game, which is an astonishingly high number and always going to make it difficult to win. The Sharks have not been at their best in recent weeks, playing out a dire game at Ellis Park last weekend – the crucial thing, though, is that they won, at a ground where many have failed to do so thus far. Back in Durban, they should have few issues overcoming the Cheetahs. Sharks by 20.
Stormers v Lions
Like the Cheetahs, it has been an equally poor season for Stormers fans. But while the men from the Free State have struggled to defend tries, the Cape Town-based outfit simply haven’t been scoring them. They average 15 points per game – again, a stat that is never going to be conducive to winning. They have injury issues, but still should not be rock bottom with some of the quality they have in their ranks. The Lions, meanwhile, have fluctuated between playing beyond their means and looking like the relegation strugglers they should, in reality, be. More recently they have looked more the latter than the former, but will hold no fears against a Stormers team they have already beaten comprehensively this season. I expect them to edge this one. Lions by 5.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images