Hurricanes v Highlanders
This is a vital Kiwi derby. Both sides are on 30 points, but the Highlanders have a game in hand, so if any side has to win this one it’s the Hurricanes. Their win against the Rebels showed a different side to their game – they only scored one try (although it was an absolute gem), and instead turned the screw and chipped away with penalties. The Highlanders have lost both their away derby games so far this season – I can’t see that changing here. Hurricanes by 11.
Crusaders v Sharks
The Crusaders are the form team in the competition, having only lost once in their last eight, while the Sharks have slipped a little bit after their impenetrable start to the season, losing two of their last three. Last week’s loss to the Brumbies was a turgid affair but after the Crusaders put 57 past the Reds at the same time, the visitors will likely need to find some ideas in attack if they are to come away from this one with a win. They probably will, but it’s unlikely to be enough to get past a rampant Crusaders side in Christchurch. Crusaders by 5.
Reds v Rebels
The battle of the basement two in the Australian conference sees nothing on the line other than pride – but both sides desperately need to restore some after morale sapping runs that have seen them garner just one win between them since round seven. The Reds have shipped the second most points of the whole competition, while the Rebels have scored the second fewest – so something’s got to give here. The Rebels seem like they have been playing less badly, so I’m backing them – but really it could go either way. Rebels by 3.
Stormers v Force
The Stormers raced out of the blocks against the Bulls, getting themselves 12-0 ahead, before seemingly not knowing what to do with themselves and promptly losing comfortably. The Force got another hugely impressive win on the road, this time over the Cheetahs – they will fear nothing coming into this one. I keep going against the Force and they keep proving me wrong – but I’m not going to change that this week. The Stormers have improved in recent weeks, and in front of their home fans at Newlands they should sneak this one. Stormers by 2.
Cheetahs v Brumbies
A look at the table would suggest only one winner here. The Cheetahs have the worst defensive record in the tournament, although they have played a game more than everyone else – and they’ve actually scored more points than the Brumbies. Still, after the Force’s win here the visitors this week will arrive with confidence. The Cheetahs have been playing good rugby when they have the ball, but have been inept without it and it has seen them lose games they should have won. That could well happen again here. Brumbies by 9.
Waratahs v Lions
The Waratahs’ bye in the last round combined with the Force’s impressive win in South Africa over the Cheetahs, has seen the men from New South Wales drop out of the play-off spots. They need a win here, then, and will be targeting a full five points against a misfiring Lions side. That said, they showed great heart to come back from 23-0 down against the Highlanders to very nearly sneak a win last weekend. The Waratahs are a different prospect, though, and should win this one comfortably. Waratahs by 20.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43