The average number of correct picks in round 14 was 3.92/7, relatively high considering there were some tricky calls to be made. As we head into the business end of the season, what’s in store this week?
Chiefs v Crusaders
We start the weekend off with the tantalizing prospect of the top two in the New Zealand conference doing battle in Waikato. It is again a fixture that will probably divide the SuperBru community given that both teams are in excellent form, neither having lost in their last four. It is a fixture as likely to scupper your GSP point as any other.
The Chiefs’ hard-fought victory over the Hurricanes last weekend sees them sit top of the log, and with a chance to put a stranglehold on the top of the NZ conference. The Crusaders, if they can get a win, will leapfrog their rivals – motivation will not be lacking for either side in what should be a belting game.
Devilishly difficult to call, home advantage is the only thing that separates these two.
Prediction: Chiefs by 3
Rebels v Waratahs
The Rebels are enjoying something of a resurgence, and while they may only have three wins this season they have not failed to garner at least one match point since round seven. Close losses to the Chiefs and the Blues preceded last weekend’s impressive victory over the Stormers, and despite having won four fewer games than their opponents this season they are actually only ten points behind them on the log.
The Waratahs are starting to come into some impressive form, having won their last three, including last weekend against their great rivals the Brumbies. Berrick Barnes is back looking sharp and is likely to start this weekend. It is as of yet unclear whether James O’Connor will be available for the Rebels, but that could be quite a battle if he is.
The Rebels have been resurgent but then so have the Waratahs; the home side may have settle for another bonus point here.
Prediction: Waratahs by 5
Blues v Brumbies
These two early pacesetters have both fallen off the wagon somewhat in recent weeks. The Brumbies have just three wins in their last eight, relying on two draws to keep them near the top of the log, while the Blues failed to get anything at home to the Crusaders last weekend, a result which will have stung.
It is worth noting that the Blues have only lost once at home this season, and with the Brumbies suffering a dip in form they will have to be right at the top of their game if they are going to win. Pat McCabe and George Smith, both of whom suffered injuries last weekend, have received positive medical bulletins, but are still unlikely to feature. Smith in particular is a huge loss.
The injury to George Smith allied with the Blues’ home record means they could well sneak a victory here.
Prediction: Blues by 4
Force v Highlanders
This game has little riding on it and thus becomes quite a difficult one to call. The Force will perhaps view last weekend’s loss to an injury-depleted Sharks side as a missed opportunity, while the Highlanders’ season went from bad to worse as they were spanked by the Bulls.
The Highlanders can lift themselves off the bottom of the log with a win, but with the Force having had just one bye to their two, they may not stay there very long. The men from Otago welcome back Ma’a Nonu into their midfield after he recovered from injury, but really his form has been nothing to shout about this season.
Home advantage sways this one in favour of the Force.
Prediction: Force by 10
Kings v Cheetahs
The reverse of this fixture happened under a month ago, when the Cheetahs were 26-12 victors in a game they felt they should have won by more. They get their chance to rectify that this weekend when they make the trip to Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Cheetahs camp will have been buzzing with confidence this week after their victory over the high-flying Reds – a result that very much kept their play-off ambitions alive. A bonus point win and a Bulls loss (with no BP) would see them close the gap to just one point at the top of the South African log, so the motivation to go out to attack will not be lacking. The Kings are partial to a try or two as well, so expect plenty of scores in this one.
The Cheetahs are too strong for the Kings, who will battle valiantly but ultimately lose.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 14
Stormers v Reds
The Stormers have now lost three in a row, and need to win every game from here on in to have any chance of challenging for the play-offs. They have, however, played the majority of their rugby away from home thus far. In their four home games this season they have lost just once, by five points to the Crusaders. They dispatched the top two (Chiefs and Brumbies) in successive weeks, and so back at Newlands, with the crowd behind them, they will have renewed confidence.
The Reds looked toothless in their comprehensive loss to the Cheetahs, a performance that has set them back in their quest to return to Super Rugby glory. With the Brumbies also losing, it was their chance to go top of the Australian conference but instead, as the Waratahs won, they are now just six points clear of the men from NSW. Cooper has had the gauntlet laid down to him by Robbie Deans, and how he responds will be crucial to their chances, while Digby Ioane’s injury is a blow they could have done without.
The Stormers will be a different prospect at Newlands, but the Reds know what it is like to win there, having done so in 2011. It will be close, but they need the win and could well get it.
Prediction: Reds by 3
Sharks v Bulls
The Sharks finally broke their losing streak in round 14 with a much-needed win against the Force. They may still have plenty of injury worries, but they will at least have a bit of their confidence back. This weekend, however, they face the much more difficult prospect of conference leaders the Bulls, a team who have not lost since round seven and have climbed to second on the log.
They received a positive medical bulletin in the week, meaning they have the same squad available that smashed the Highlanders last time out. In Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht they have a young, but talented centre partnership that has blossomed this season and will no doubt cause the Sharks plenty of problems.
After winning last week the Sharks will not allow themselves to be rolled over again, but the Bulls are still looking too strong for them at the moment.
Prediction: Bulls by 7
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43