Super Rugby is well underway and already we are getting an idea for who the surprise packages are going to be, and who is underperforming. There are a full seven matches this weekend, so here are our SuperBru previews to help you make your picks.
Hurricanes v Crusaders
The New Zealand Conference has already served up some incredibly entertaining encounters – let’s hope this one is no different. The Hurricanes have lost their first two games but probably ought to have won last weekend at the Reds – a combination of some slightly bizarre refereeing and a lack of composure thwarted them, however. They will be confident that if they can take their chances, they can return to winning ways at home.
The Crusaders are notoriously slow starters, so won’t be too worried by their loss to this season’s biggest surprise package, the Blues. Their new, more attacking gameplan brought them precisely zero tries in that game, so they will be looking to rectify that and cross the line this week. As ever the illustrious Dan Carter will play an important role, and will hope to assert himself on the game a bit more after having blown away the cobwebs in the opening round.
The Hurricanes have shown more promise this far, and are at home, but the Crusaders have so much quality. It will be close.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 2
Rebels v Reds
The Rebels were dealt a major blow this week when they learned they would be without mercurial utility-back back Kurtley Beale for the next month. It’s lucky, then, that they have a half-decent replacement in James O’Connor ready to step into the playmaking role. They lost last week to the Waratahs but were strong for about 60 minutes – the Reds will be an equally stern test, and they will need to play for the full 80 minutes if they are to win.
The Reds have won their last two games so carry some form and confidence into this one, although both those victories were at home. They weren’t that convincing in their victory against the Hurricanes last weekend, but will be happy enough to get the four points. Quade Cooper goes up against his Wallaby teammate O’Connor in what is being billed as the battle for the international fly-half jersey – as fascinating a match-up as is on offer this weekend.
The Rebels could quite easily have beaten the Waratahs last week, but didn’t. The Reds will prove too stern a test of their resolve.
Prediction: Reds by 7
Highlanders v Cheetahs
The Highlanders had a bye last round and have just one loss to their name so far. Influential No 8 Nasi Manu has been ruled out for most, if not all, of the season, a big blow to their chances. As with all New Zealand teams they will look to play with a high tempo and keep the ball moving around – a lot will depend on whether they can avoid being slowed down.
The Cheetahs were spanked by the Chiefs last weekend, in a 20-minute onslaught that brought an end to their impressive resistance until that point. Coach Naka Drotske has admitted that it wasn’t good enough, and they will have to be significantly better against another Kiwi outfit that has class in depth.
It won’t be quite as much of a slaughter as last weekend, but it’s still tough to see the Cheetahs getting a win here.
Prediction: Highlanders by 13
Brumbies v Waratahs
The Brumbies have started strongly with two wins from two, while the Waratahs have both won and lost closely. The ‘Tahs will once again be without injury-prone but important No 8 Wycliff Palu, which will put a sizeable dent in their ball-carrying capabilities. Their nine-match losing streak came to an end against the Rebels, but only thanks to a late comeback – they will want to be more assertive from the first whistle here.
The Brumbies have re-signed Wallaby legend George Smith for the season and he will provide competition for incumbent David Pocock, and a wealth of experience to fall back on should he fall foul of injury.
The Brumbies have looked by far the most complete Australian franchise so far, and should record a comfortable victory at home.
Prediction: Brumbies by 11
Stormers v Chiefs
This is a mouth-watering clash. Both teams have been tipped to be near the top come the end of the season, and yet they come into this game with vastly differing fortunes. The Stormers are yet to win while the Chiefs have crushed everyone in their path so far. The South African franchise have been dealt a blow in finding out that they will lose internationals Juan de Jongh and Jaco Taute, while they have scored just two tries in as many matches so far.
The Chiefs, by contrast, have scored ten in their two games and racked up 86 points. They have no injury troubles and bring a fully fit squad to Cape Town. They have the ability to strike from anywhere on the field, and thrive on quick ball.
The Stormers haven’t looked great so far, but if they keep calm and manage to slow the ball down, they can sneak a win at home.
Prediction: Stormers by 3
Kings v Sharks
The Kings have had a week off to bask in the euphoria of their first ever Super Rugby win, but face a much sterner challenge this weekend. There are injury doubts surrounding captain Luke Watson, who is as controversial as he is important to them. Kings fans will desperately be hoping he can regain fitness.
The Sharks have won two out of two, although they are yet to blow anyone out of the water. They won an ugly, tense and try-less encounter against the Stormers last weekend, which will give them confidence going into this one.
After predicting them to lose heavily last time, it is tempting to be more moderate in dealing with the Kings this time. That said, the Sharks shouldn’t have too many issues in getting a win.
Prediction: Sharks by 18
Blues v Bulls
Before the beginning of the season, most people would have had this down as an easy win for the Bulls. Three rounds in, however, the Blues have proved that they are capable of mixing it with the best. With the scalps of the Hurricanes and the Crusaders under their belt, they will be hoping to add a South African name to that list. Frank Halai has been devastating on the wing and if they can get the ball to him often enough he has already shown how much damage he can cause.
The Bulls have been somewhat stagnant so far, edging past both the Stormers and, more surprisingly, the Force. Most people had expected that to be a rather one-sided affair, but the Bulls simply struggled to put them away. They have named a strong touring squad packed with internationals, although flying finisher Bjorn Basson has been ruled out of the first couple of matches.
It’s a very difficult one to call. Form says Blues but pedigree says Bulls. At the moment, it’s easiest to back form.
Prediction: Blues by 6
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43