Chiefs v Blues
The Blues were fantastic against the Reds, full of running and even Ma’a Nonu looked good – not something that has happened often outside of an All Black shirt. Away from home, however, they have been a different team this season, losing every game and shipping an average of 34 points. The Chiefs got back to winning ways against the Lions, and crucially they as the champions they are – with swagger and verve. The Blues are a very different prospect, but in Hamilton for a second week in a row the hosts should win this. Chiefs by 5.
Rebels v Hurricanes
The Rebels played admirably well against the Sharks last weekend, and but for a bit of inaccuracy at inopportune moments, they could well have come away with a win. They have only won three this season but have only twice come away from a game without a point – testament to how close they have run most teams. The Hurricanes are amazing to watch with ball in hand, but are hopeless without it – only once have they conceded fewer than 20 points this season (19, vs the Stormers). This will be high scoring, but after failing to take even a bonus point against the Waratahs, the Hurricanes will be out for blood – and they should get it. Hurricanes by 6.
Highlanders v Lions
The Highlanders return to Dunedin after taking an impressive six points from their two-game jaunt to South Africa, and confidence will be high in their camp. The Lions, by contrast, are in a miserable run of form that has seen them fail to take a single point from their last four games. With a host of players on their roster that have not experienced touring before, it is tough to see anything other than a big home win here. Highlanders by 25.
Brumbies v Sharks
This will be an absolute belter of a game, and a very difficult one to call to boot. The Sharks got the travelling monkey off the South African franchises’ back with their gritty win over the Rebels last weekend, but they will have to step it up considerably to get the better of a Brumbies side that has once again looked much better than the sum of its parts. A dispiriting loss to the Crusaders aside, they have looked comfortably the best, and most consistent, of the Australian sides and they will need to play to that form to beat the table-topping Sharks. I think they will. Brumbies by 3.
Cheetahs v Force
The Cheetahs have slipped to the bottom of the log following the Stormers’ win last round, but their position belies some encouraging performances – they have just been unable to close out games. The Force are this season’s surprise package – this is the first of a short, two-game tour for them, before they return to Australasia where they have three of their remaining five games at home. A win here, then, would be huge for their play-off chances. The Cheetahs have been hugely disappointing, there’s no doubt about that – but they’ve taken a couple of scalps at home, and I think they’ll add the Force to that list this weekend. Cheetahs by 5.
Bulls v Stormers
The Stormers got their first five point win of the season last weekend, and, rather embarrassingly, surpassed 25 points in a game for the first time. They will need all the confidence that gives them if they’re to stand a chance of winning at Loftus, something no other side has done this season. The Bulls love being at home, and with three of their last five in their fortress they will be targeting their home games to take maximum points in their push for the play-offs. They weren’t that convincing against the Cheetahs, but they should still see off the challenge of the Stormers. Bulls by 8.
Reds v Crusaders
There’s not much else to be said about the Reds – they’ve had a shocking season. They do have a decent run of games at home now, but it is entirely the wrong time to be playing the Crusaders, who are hitting their typical mid-to-late season purple patch. They dispatched the Brumbies from Cristchurch last weekend, and before that haven’t lost since the end of March. The Reds’ desperation might make them dangerous, but that won’t be enough to beat an in-form Crusaders side. Crusaders by 12.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43