There were some huge scores in Round 6, as well as the notable upset provided by the Waratahs, who, having looked listless previously, overcame the Blues. What’s in store in Round 7?
Highlanders v Reds, Dunedin
The Highlanders are still to register a win, but they did look at least competitive as they went down to the Chiefs last weekend. They are bottom of the log, however, and desperately need a win if this season is going to amount to anything other than grave disappointment.
The Reds have somewhat flattered to deceive so far, but did put in an impressive win against the Bulls last weekend. They welcome back Liam Gill to the starting line-up, although Digby Ioane has been ruled out with a knee injury.
The Highlanders have improved of late (and they have to win at some point, right?). The Reds have been a bit hit-and-miss, and away in New Zealand, they could come unstuck.
Prediction: Highlanders by 6
Hurricanes v Kings, Wellington
The Hurricanes had a week off last week after having come into a bit of form with wins over the Highlanders and Crusaders. Fullback André Taylor will hope to come back into the starting line-up, while flank Ardie Savea has served his suspension and is available again. Hooker Dane Coles could also (potentially) be passed fit.
The Kings have battled valiantly thus far but came up against a team of a different class last week, as they were soundly beaten by the Crusaders.
This weekend the newbies will be more confident of coming away with something, but in reality the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 20
Chiefs v Blues, Mount Maunganui
This game has the potential to be a cracker – which would follow the trend set by New Zealand derbies so far. The Chiefs overcame a plucky Highlanders outfit last weekend, but will be without influential scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow who has been ruled out for up to six weeks. Richard Kahui, after having a positive impact from the bench last weekend, could start after 10 months out.
The Blues, after a barnstorming start to the season, have slipped a little and are without a win since week three. Coach John Kirwan was livid with the way they let a 14-point lead slip last weekend, and there will be no room for such switching-off against the team who top the NZ Conference.
The Chiefs should vanquish another New Zealand team from Hamilton fairly comfortably.
Prediction: Chiefs by 12
Brumbies v Bulls, Canberra
The Brumbies succumbed to their first defeat of the season last week against the Stormers, but have still looked one of the best teams thus far. They remain at the top of the log, and will be hoping to have standout performer Jess Mogg back after missing his presence at the back last week. George Smith has impressed immediately on his return to Super Rugby – and coach Jake White has spoken of his desire to keep him on a longer-term basis.
The Bulls did not need a trip to the tournament leaders right now, having lost their last two matches. Their injury troubles were also worsened in the week after it emerged that flank Deon Stegmann would be ruled out of the game with an ankle injury.
The Brumbies will be confident of returning to winning ways at home to an injury-ravaged Bulls side.
Prediction: Brumbies by 13
Cheetahs v Rebels, Bloemfontein
The Cheetahs have been in fine form this season, and managed an impressive win away at the Force last weekend despite being without injured flyhalf Johan Goosen. Understudy Riaan Smit went well, and much will again depend on his consistency. Heinrich Brussow was also back to his best, and his ball-pilfering prowess is always important.
The Rebels are in disarray. After a humbling and embarrassing 64-7 defeat to the Sharks they were hit with the news that playmaker Kurtley Beale and speedster Cooper Vuna had been sent home for allegedly fighting. They will be desperate to get home and recuperate.
The Rebels’ South African tour is not about to get any easier – they could be in for another big loss here.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 18
Stormers v Crusaders, Cape Town
This is undoubtedly the game of the round. The Stormers were massively impressive in their win against the previously unbeaten Brumbies last weekend, but it’s not about to get any easier with the seven-time champions Crusaders in town. The Cape Town-based franchise will be without prop Steven Kitshoff after he was banned for a dangerous tackle, and will be wary of facing an All Black front row.
The Crusaders are in good form themselves after having recovered from their typically sluggish start. They have won their last two, scoring 96 points in the process. They have been dealt a double-blow as talismanic internationals Kieran Read and Dan Carter will be missing – the former through injury, the latter through the imminent birth of his child. Last week’s hat-trick hero George Whitelock will assume the captaincy in their absence.
The Stormers at Newlands will be a step too far for the Crusaders, especially without Carter and Read.
Prediction: Stormers by 4
Waratahs v Force, Sydney
The Waratahs would have had a hand in ruining many people’s Grand Slam point last weekend with their unexpected and impressive victory over the Blues in the final game. Rallying back from 14 points down is no mean feat and will instill a confidence in the side that could work wonders.
The Force have been mainly poor with a good blip in the form of their win away at the Reds. Last weekend’s disappointing late capitulation to the Cheetahs, however, exposed a weak underbelly, and they have been dealt a further blow this week with the news that first choice hooker Nathan Charles will be out for the rest of the season.
The Waratahs finally showed some spirit last weekend, and will be too strong for the Force at home.
Prediction: Waratahs by 10
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43