Highlanders v Hurricanes, Dunedin
Two teams with just one win between them face off on Friday as the Hurricanes travel to Dunedin. The Highlanders have made a woeful start to the season, losing two from two at home including a shock defeat to the Cheetahs last weekend. Winger Kade Poki’s sublime hat-trick wasn’t enough to drag them over the line and they will need their big names – the likes of Andrew Hore, Brad Thorn, Ben Smith, Hosea Gear – to step up.
The Hurricanes snatched an unlikely victory against the Crusaders last weekend with a last-gasp interception try that broke Canterbury hearts. They have severe injury issues at hooker, with Dane Coles and Motu Matu’u both doubts. Julian Savea is in fine form and is an undoubted danger man, but with Barrett looking good from the tee the Highlanders will have to be more wary of their discipline than anything else.
The New Zealand derbies have already served up some epic entertainment; this one is likely to be no different. It will also be close.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 4
Waratahs v Cheetahs, Sydney
The Cheetahs pulled off the shock of the round last weekend when they beat the Highlanders in Dunedin, and will be hungry for more success on the road. Sarel Pretorius looked back to his best with a brace of tries, while Johan Goosen was unnervingly accurate with the boot. With their half-backs firing, they will bring a huge amount of confidence into the game.
The Waratahs were stuffed by the Brumbies in round four and will need to improve significantly if they are to avoid making it three losses from four games this season. Berrick Barnes is rumoured to be returning, and will provide some international class in the backline.
The Cheetahs have beaten the Waratahs the last two times these teams have met, and it would not be surprising, given their form, if they continued that trend.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 7
Kings v Chiefs, Port Elizabeth
The Kings have already achieved more than most people might have expected in that they have won a game. They also weren’t blown away by the Sharks last weekend, managing to keep them from crossing the whitewash for the whole game – and that was without injured captain Luke Watson. He will also be missing for them this weekend.
The Chiefs took part in another entertaining, high-scoring game in round four but this time came unstuck against the Stormers. They average 40 points a game, and will bring the attacking threat of the likes of Tim Nanai-Williams and Aaron Cruden to Port Elizabeth this weekend in the hope that they can continue their rich vein of try-scoring form.
The Kings have been better than anyone expected, but will not be able to cope with a lethal Chiefs team.
Prediction: Chiefs by 28
Crusaders v Bulls, Christchurch
The Crusaders are living up to their name as slow starters. With no win from two, they will feel desperately aggrieved that a loose pass robbed them of victory at the death against the Hurricanes last week. They have found their attacking game, though, and the Bulls will have to be tighter in defence than they were against the Blues if they are to stand a chance of winning.
The men from Pretoria loosened the shackles last weekend to cross the line three times in Auckland, beating the Blues for the first time on their home patch. Influential flanker Jacques Potgieter and scrum half Francois Hougaard have been passed fit to play, and are on the bench.
It’s another one that is difficult to call. The Crusaders, though, have to start winning at some point and at home it is tough to look past them.
Prediction: Crusaders by 8
Reds v Force, Brisbane
The second all-Aussie tie of the weekend comes as the Western Force travel to the Reds. It has been a desperately poor start for the Force, who are without a win in three games and have suffered the ignominy of a loss to new boys the Kings. They will be bolstered by the off-pitch news that captain Matt Hodgson has signed a new two-year contract, but can they translate that to success on the field?
The news dominating the Reds’ build-up this week is overwhelmingly positive – Will Genia is set to make his first appearance in six months. He is a hugely influential player and his partnership with Cooper will be vital. There is a slight crisis on the wings as Wallaby international Digby Ioane has been stood down after an incident in a hotel, while Dom Shipperley is struggling with a back injury.
Genia’s return will galvanise the Reds to a fairly comfortable win at home.
Prediction: Reds by 17
Sharks v Brumbies, Durban
The Sharks haven’t scored a try in their last two games but that is unlikely to bother their fans as they find themselves with three wins from three. They are averaging just over 20 points a game, and they are likely to need a few more than that with the Brumbies in town. They were dealt a blow in the week when it was confirmed that loose-forward duo Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes would be out for around four weeks.
The Brumbies have been exemplary so far, racking up three wins on the bounce and two try-scoring bonus points in the process. They will have been rocked, however, by the news that David Pocock will be out for the entire campaign with a ruptured ACL. George Smith, recently brought back to Super Rugby by the ACT franchise, suddenly finds himself with a lot more work on his hands.
The Brumbies have been excellent but away at the Sharks and without Pocock they could succumb to their first defeat of the season.
Prediction: Sharks by 4
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43