Round nine of Super Rugby includes derbies aplenty – check out our SuperBru previews below!
Highlanders v Brumbies
Still no win for the Highlanders. Their season has pretty much ended already in terms of qualification for anything, but really they’re not far off turning losses into wins. Flyer Buxton Popuali’i is amongst a host of players who are certainly good enough to reverse this slump; the question now is, do they believe in themselves enough to do so?
The Brumbies managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory last week, in a quite astonishing game against the Kings in Canberra. Whether they underestimated them or not they will need to step it up away from home this weekend. They will be bolstered by the return from injury of Jesse Mogg, who will provide the X Factor that has been lacking since his injury.
The Brumbies will bounce back with a win against the hapless Highlanders.
Prediction: Brumbies by 4
Chiefs v Reds
The Chiefs are in a fine run of form and after a bye last week sit top of the log. Richard Kahui has looked in great nick since returning from injury and it is tough to pick a weakness in their team. They haven’t lost since week four, and have scored the most points and try bonus points in the completion. It is a big ask for anyone to come to Hamilton and win.
That challenge falls to the Reds this week. Fresh from a bye last weekend, they have already beaten one New Zealand team on their travels this year – the Highlanders in round seven. Coach Ewen McKenzie may be leaving at the end of the season but talisman Will Genia is well and truly back, and their results have seriously picked up since his return.
The Reds won’t make it easy for them, but the Chiefs should have enough to win at home.
Prediction: Chiefs by 10
Blues v Hurricanes
The Blues looked solid last week in their win over the Highlanders, with the likes of Rene Ranger and Frank Kalai looking particularly dangerous in the backline. The most pleasing aspect of that game, however, was the return to form of Piri Weepu, who looks someway back to his old self. They have, however, lost winger George Moala and prop Charlie Faumuina to a ban and injury respectively.
The Hurricanes are looking very threatening in attack, but need to be wary of the tries they are leaking after a game is won. At some point they will come unstuck. That said, Julian Savea looks so dangerous and Beauden Barrett so accomplished at the moment that you sense they will just carry on scoring tries.
Could very well be another explosive Kiwi derby. Blues to sneak it thanks to home advantage.
Prediction: Blues by 5
Rebels v Kings
The Kings’ heroic draw away at the Brumbies, the then tournament leaders, has been the story of Super Rugby so far. The Rebels will be well aware of this and any danger of them underestimating the Kings has now gone out of the window. The South African franchise have showed plenty of heart and played no little exciting rugby so far. They will not be afraid of the Rebels.
The men from Melbourne have only won two games so far – both of them against fellow Australian conference strugglers the Force. They will target this team as one that they can win, and will be buoyed by an away win last week despite the various off field travails they are suffering at the moment. Wing Jesse Woodward is looking dangerous and the Kings will have to ensure he doesn’t get too much quality service.
Nobody is taking the Kings for granted anymore, but at the end of a long tour this could be one game too far for them.
Prediction: Rebels by 3
Force v Crusaders
The Force seem to be in disarray, and their impressive away win over the Reds in round five looks nothing more than a blip. They have just one win to their name and while the Crusaders have not been firing on all cylinders, it is a massive ask for them to turn it around against the seven time winners of Super Rugby.
The men from Canterbury are having a rocky season, with three wins and three losses so far. Not terrible form, but by their high standards it is not good enough. Todd Blackadder has hinted that Dan Carter could return for this game, and while Tyler Bleyendaal has played well Carter’s goal-kicking was sorely missed last week and would be a big boost.
The Crusaders should get back to winning ways against the ailing Force.
Prediction: Crusaders by 15
Stormers v Sharks
This could be quite a game. Passion and pride will be the order of the day, and whoever is the more precise and disciplined could well run out winners. The Sharks have the best defensive record in the competition, and as such whoever takes the kicking duties for the Stormers will have to be on song. Influential pair Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute are missing for the Cape Town franchise through injury.
The Sharks come into the game in great form, sitting at the top of the South African conference and having beaten the Crusaders last weekend for the first time in six attempts. They are not scoring many tries (the 64-7 blitz of the Rebels aside), but that is unlikely to bother their fans if Pat Lambie keeps banging over the penalties to get them the wins.
The Stormers go into this game with no Jantjies or Grant, and the Sharks are in great form. It will be mightily close, but the Sharks could shade it.
Prediction: Sharks by 2
Bulls v Cheetahs
The Bulls are in somewhat of a free-fall, and before their bye last weekend had lost their previous three games. They are back at home now, however, where they are likely to be a different prospect. They are waiting this week for fitness tests on backs Bjorn Basson and Francois Hougaard, two potentially key individuals.
The Cheetahs are in a rich vein of form, having won their last five, and their last-gasp win against the Stormers last weekend will give them invaluable confidence coming into this one. It is, in fact, a record-breaking sequence for the franchise which they will not be looking to end any time soon.
It is another incredibly tough one to call, but the Cheetahs could well continue their incredible run of form.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 4
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43