Last week saw the Southern Kings again prove the surprise package to scupper most people’s Grand Slam Points – who, if anyone, will pull off a shock win this weekend? Here’re our SuperBru predictions:
Hurricanes v Chiefs
The Hurricanes have become terribly hit and miss. They lost two against South African opposition before roaring back into form with an impressive away win against the Cheetahs. They are without captain Conrad Smith this weekend, but seemed to do alright without him last time out so won’t be stressing too much. The Chiefs’ season has stalled since that powerful opening few weeks. They snuck past the Force at home last weekend, relying on the boot of Aaron Cruden to get them the win.
It will no doubt be a high-octane, try-filled affair to make defence coaches tear their hair out – as most New Zealand derbies are. The Canes could sneak it at home.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 3
Rebels v Stormers
The Rebels, despite losing their last four, have not been further than 7 points away from a draw since round seven. At home, then, against the Stormers, it might be wise to look at a smaller margin of victory – if you are backing the South Africans, that is. Of course, the Rebels will be without wild child Kurtley Beale, who has admitted (again) to alcohol problems and checked himself into rehab – just as he was starting to come into some form, as well. The men from Cape Town have been very disappointing of late, and with no Vermuelen and Elstadt things won’t get easier. With an array of talent in the backline, let’s hope they can open it up a bit at some point.
The Rebels are not as bad as their results suggest, but with the loss of Beale and the Stormers desperately needing a win, it is tough to see them getting a result here.
Prediction: Stormers by 7
Force v Sharks
Another Australia-South Africa tie that is likely to split the SuperBru community. If everyone were fit it would be a regulation victory for the Sharks, you would have thought, but their well-documented injury troubles make this a much more difficult one to call. They have at least been able to welcome back Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts into the team, the latter making his first start of the season. The Force so nearly produced a huge shock and beat the Chiefs last weekend; that, along with victories over the Crusaders and Reds, show that they can mix it with the best if they get it right.
It is almost impossible to call this one. Jannie du Plessis and Alberts are back… but the Sharks are in a real mess at the moment. The Force have looked quite good in fits and spurts, so at home they could record a narrow win.
Prediction: Force by 2
Crusaders v Blues
The second NZ derby of the weekend features two teams separated by just three points on the log. Both have been in good form and both know their way to the try-line, which could make for a hugely exciting game. The Blues have lost four this season, but every time they have managed to pick up a bonus point, which is actually what separates them from the Canterbury outfit. That is worth bearing in mind when trying to decide your margin. In the reverse fixture in round three, the men from Auckland recorded a resounding 34-15 victory, and they are actually yet to lose to another Kiwi franchise this season.
All that said, the Crusaders are starting to look in ominous form as they build towards the play-offs. At home, they will be too strong for the Blues.
Prediction: Crusaders by 7
Waratahs v Brumbies
For anyone with an eye on the Lions tour, this is a very exciting game as most of the Australian talent is likely to come from these two squads. They are also two teams whose seasons have gone in opposite directions – the Waratahs stumbled out of the blocks before finding their feet recently, while the Brumbies set off at blistering pace before crumbling a bit. The individual battles are very interesting: Folau v Mogg, Hooper v Smith, Polota-Nau v Moore. It is yet another game that is going to put your GSP under threat, as it is another one that is excruciatingly difficult to call.
The Brumbies probably have more quality, but the Waratahs are in better form and at home they will have the advantage.
Prediction: Waratahs by 4
Bulls v Highlanders
This looks to be the only real guaranteed WP of the weekend (cue huge upset). The Bulls, fresh from a bye last weekend, have won their last four, while the hopelessly hapless Highlanders have managed just one win all season, and were humbled last weekend by newbies the Kings. The Bulls are starting to play some rugby again, and while they will look to strangle the Highlanders up front do not be surprised to see some tries run in if they open up a bit of a lead.
The only real debate here will be about the margin of victory – it could be a big one.
Prediction: Bulls by 22
Cheetahs v Reds
The Reds start their South African tour against a Cheetahs team who will be desperate for a win after being brought crashing back down to earth by the Hurricanes last weekend. Skipper James Horwill has been included in the Reds’ touring squad after missing their exhilarating 32-17 smashing of the Sharks in the last round. They have experienced mixed emotions in South Africa in the past, losing to the Bulls and the Sharks last season while beating the Stormers and the Lions the year before, but are looking good this season to make the play-offs at least. The Cheetahs have been somewhat of a surprise package this season, but need a win here to maintain their push for a play-off place after losing at home last weekend.
It will be a close one, but the Reds, with Genia and Cooper in ominous form, are looking too good at the moment.
Prediction: Reds by 6
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43