Chiefs v Stormers
After the Stormers pushed the Crusaders so close last weekend, this game looks closer than many would have expected. The men from Cape Town arguably deserved to win in Christchurch, instead coming away with just a losing bonus point. The Chiefs had been performing well before their bye last weekend – they look to have a squad infused with just as much quality as last season, and will be there or thereabouts come the business end of the year. At home they will have too much for the Stormers. Chiefs by 11.
Rebels v Crusaders
This, strangely enough, is a very difficult one to call. The Crusaders have been fairly dire so far, as is their wont early in the season, and have rejigged their team in an effort to spark some life into themselves, with Colin Slade starting at 10 this week. Much will depend on which Rebels team turns up. If it’s the one that smashed the Cheetahs in round two, the Crusaders could be in trouble. If it’s the one that was trounced by the Force, of all people, then the visitors will have a walk in the park. My guess is it will be somewhere in between – but the Crusaders have to start performing to their potential at some stage, right? Crusaders by 5.
Hurricanes v Cheetahs
Not many people would have had the Hurricanes wallowing at the bottom of the table after round four, and yet that is where they find themselves. Winless, they will be targeting this game against a Cheetahs side that has also had a tough start to the season as a win to kick-start their season. The visitors have flattered to deceive somewhat so far, with just one win to their name, but played their part in a thrilling game against the Reds last weekend and deserved more from it. They have injury problems, though, so this could be the week the hosts grab their first win. Hurricanes by 3.
Highlanders v Force
The Highlanders have started much more brightly than last season, beating the Blues at home and pushing the Chiefs all the way in Hamilton. Back in Dunedin, they will be difficult to beat. The Force have been another Jekyll and Hyde team – woeful against the Waratahs and Brumbies, brilliant against the Rebels. Away from home in NZ, I’d expect the team from the first two rounds to turn up. Highlanders by 15.
Brumbies v Waratahs
The Waratahs have blown away all before them so far – two bonus point wins from two games, with the best points difference on the log, has left them full of confidence going into this one. All the talk in the week has been of the tensions between the two sides following the ill-fated Australia tour to the Northern Hemisphere in the autumn, so expect it to be spicy. The Reds have already conquered the Canberra Stadium – the Tahs may well do the same this week. Waratahs by 7.
Lions v Blues
The Blues will be stronger on paper, but as the Stormers and Cheetahs have already discovered this season, the game is not played on paper. The Lions smashed the Newlands-based outfit at Ellis Park in round two, and with the Blues arriving after a chastening defeat last weekend against the Bulls, in which their pack was pulverised, the hosts will be confident of doing something similar and allowing the excellent Marnitz Boshoff to boot them to victory. Lions by 6.
Sharks v Reds
This is all set to be the game of the weekend. The Reds were at their majestic best against the Cheetahs last weekend, Quade Cooper dictating their attacking game to perfection. They have been leaking tries, however, and will need to tighten up against log leaders and top points scorers so far the Sharks. The hosts have a habit this season of storming into a lead before taking their foot off the pedal – against the dangerous Reds, they must play for the full 80 minutes. In Durban, they should take this one fairly comfortably. Sharks by 10.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43