Blues v Sharks
Is this the week the Blues’ winning streak at home comes to an end? If anyone can stop it, it’s the Sharks, who put in a monumental effort to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend for the first time ever – and they did it with 14 men. There’s no doubt that will have sapped their energy levels, while the Blues will be refreshed after their bye. Can they take advantage of the visitors’ weariness? I think the fact the Sharks played most of the game with 14 last weekend, coupled with the Blues’ unbeaten home record, means this is a bridge too far for the visitors. Blues by 2.
Rebels v Waratahs
The Rebels showed impressive grit to win away at at the Reds last weekend, hanging on to take it by 3. That said, the Reds’ defence has been so all over the shop this season that they could have won by more. The Waratahs are in good form having won their last two, and smashed the Lions last weekend. Their backs are firing again and they have already put 32 points past the Rebels this season – they should record another fairly comfortable win in Melbourne as well. Waratahs by 12.
Bulls v Brumbies
The Brumbies will be disappointed to have lost to the side that was bottom of the log last weekend, and their assignment does not get any easier now as they travel up to Loftus Versfeld. The Bulls are a different team when playing here, and although it has been an average season for them they are unbeaten at their home fortress. The Brumbies need a win to keep the pace at the top of the log, and to ward off the Waratahs who are now within a point of them at the top of the Australian conference. They’ll be hurting after last week, but the Bulls are simply too used to winning at home. Bulls by 4.
Highlanders v Crusaders
The Crusaders will be smarting after the humiliation of losing to a side with 14 men. The fact that it is so tight at the top of the Kiwi conference adds extra intrigue to this one – the Highlanders currently sit top, ahead of their visitors this weekend by two points, while the Hurricanes are just a further point behind. This is huge, then, in that context. Before last weekend, the Crusaders would have been comfortable favourites, but their surprise loss coupled with a resilient Highlanders win away in Wellington, throws a bit of a spanner in the works. I’m still expecting them to bounce back this week, however. Crusaders by 5.
Hurricanes v Chiefs
It is easy to forget that the Chiefs have only won once on the road this season, and that was way back in round two. High-scoring draws against the Bulls and Cheetahs have masked a frailty about them on their travels. They come into this on the back of a bye and two bonus point wins, however, so confidence will be high. The same cannot be said for the Canes, who have lost two of their last three including last weekend at home to the Highlanders. A loss here would put them effectively out of the play-off race, which will focus the mind a bit, and that coupled with the Chiefs’ indifferent form on the road means I’m going for a home win. Hurricanes by 3.
Force v Lions
The Force return home after a surprisingly lacklustre defeat to the Stormers in the last game of their brief tour; they will be thankful to be facing the team in the worst form of the tournament now. The Lions have not managed a win since round six, back at the end of March. Last weekend’s thumping at the hands of the Waratahs has been compounded by several players returning home through injury; they will be keen to get their tour over and done with and return to Johannesburg for the rest of the season. Force by 15.
Stormers v Cheetahs
The two sides that have been battling for the dishonour of last place for most of the season have found something vaguely resembling form recently. They both won last weekend, the first time that has happened in this year’s competition. If the Stormers were more impressive in victory over the Force there will be a lingering frustration that they couldn’t push on and get a bonus point after cruising to an unassailable lead. The Cheetahs won the reverse fixture a few weeks ago, but I expect the Stormers to exact their revenge here. Stormers by 8.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43