For the most part normal service was resumed last week with the teams expected to winning and those expected to loose doing just that. The Kings found out just how difficult this tournament is as they faced the Crusaders. The Cheetahs kept up their excellent form on tour whilst the Brumbies finally lost a game.
Easter weekend presents another enticing round of super rugby with some cracking matches to enjoy as you devour your chocolate haul.
Highlanders v Reds, Forsyth Barr Stadium
The round commences in Dunedin with the Highlanders hosting the Reds. The Reds travel across the ditch in form that can only be described as winning. They are not playing the most attractive brand of rugby each week but they are getting the points. Liam Gill returns but they lose Ioane, Feauai-Smith and Harris for this fixture.
What can you say about Highlanders? Many thought (me included) that they would challenge to win the New Zealand conference but they have commenced the season with no wins from four starts. Looking at their list this is more than surprising when you consider the quality of Nonu, Gear and company in their squad. At the moment they are just not scoring enough points to win fixtures.
The Highlanders are not scoring a lot of points but they are facing a line up that equally is not scoring a lot of points but are finding a way to win. One just senses that the Highlanders are due for a win and it may be the Reds who are the unlucky team that bears the brunt of their fury in this fixture. That leans me toward the Highlanders but in a close one.
Prediction: Highlanders by 6.
Hurricanes v Kings, Westpac Stadium
The Kings came into this competition with limited expectations and frankly have exceeded the expectations that many had for them for the season already by defeating the Force and being competitive in all fixtures until last week. They certainly work hard and, until last week, were a defensive machine against more talented opposition.
The Hurricanes have lost some close matches this season but have a quality lineup mixed with youth and experience. I have said it before and I will say it again: there are few better leaders than Conrad Smith and in Beuden Barrett they have unearthed a real superstar of the future who will challenge Aaron Cruden for the coveted All Black number 10 in the future.
The Kings will not win this game but it will be closer than last week’s pummelling by the Crusaders.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 17.
Chiefs v Blues, Waikato Stadium
The Blues were one of the teams of the season until last week they welted in the Sydney afternoon sun and forgot to tackle. You can imagine that John Kirwan would have given them a belting on the training track this week and would have reduced Piri Weepu’s Big Mac rations to make him extra motivated for this fixture.
Simply put: the Chiefs are the best team in the New Zealand conference at the moment and possibly the competition. Their speedy backline gets most of the plaudits but their defensive work and the work of their forwards around the ruck and in set pieces is just as impressive if not more so and sets a great foundation for their running game.
I can not see the Chiefs loosing this game at home and if the Blues put on a performance akin to that of last week they will find themselves on the end of a pasting in Hamilton.
Prediction: Chiefs by 19.
Brumbies v Bulls, Canberra Stadium
The Bulls will be disappointed with their returns from this trip to Australia and New Zealand and will be looking to end their tour with a win in Canberra. They possess one of the biggest and toughest forward packs in the competition led by Pierre Spies at number 8, arguably one of the best number 8s in the game.
It had to happen sooner or later: the Brumbies lost last week but were far from disgraced. They were without their fullback and halfback last week and will have breathed a sigh of relief during the week once it became clear that Jesse Mogg and Nic White will be back in Brumbie white for this game.
This is a battle of a svelte running rugby team in the Brumbies and a behemoth that grinds down teams and grinds out wins in the Bulls. I think the swift Brumbies will have too much pace for the Bulls and will win this fixture before the faithful fans.
Prediction: Brumbies by 9.
Cheetahs v Rebels, Free State Stadium
Have the Cheetahs ever had as good a tour east as the one they just completed? Historically poor travellers the Cheetahs put together a run of 3 victories from 4 starts in New Zealand and Australia with the most impressive performance coming against the Highlanders in the deep south of New Zealand. This tour has shown that as well as being flashy they can also win ugly and play hard rugby. Sarel Pretorius has grown another leg since his return to South Africa and is in the form of his career.
The Rebels were disgraceful on the field last week and then disgraced themselves on the bus home from the game. Against a team that had not scored a try in their previous 160 minutes of rugby they allowed 10 tries. One senses they were desperate for the return of Beale and the pressure on the young shoulders of James O’Connor is causing more harm than good.
The Cheetahs will win this game. The margin will depend on whether the Rebels are galvanised by Beale v Vuna or have dropped their bundle further.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 14.
Stormers v Crusaders, Newlands
The Stormers welcomed the, before then and much more fancied, Brumbies to Newlands and bested them and this time they welcome the Crusaders to their fortress. Every week many pundits say they are a taciturn team reliant on their big forward pack to win. Whilst this is a ring of truth to that it is easy to forget that when their forwards get on top they have excitement to burn in the back line in the form of Gio Aplon and Joe Pietersen.
The Crusaders played running rugby last week and found a spark that had been missing in previously weeks whilst they also dominated at the set pieces and in the ruck. Last week was a Crusaders performance of old. However, it must be noted that the opposition last week was the new boys of the competition playing their first game on the road. Kieran Read has a broken toe nail and has not made the trip West.
This game presents a mouth watering prospect of a forward battle as good as any we have seen this year. I like what the Stormers did last week against the competition front runners and with the Crusaders coming off a soft win and a long flight I think the Stormers might just win this game in a close one.
Prediction: Stormers by 4.
Waratahs v Force, Allianz Stadium
The Force’s form returned to par for the season against the Cheetahs last week. They were again moribund in attack and whilst they defended well enough in patches they just looked like a team bereft of ideas. Alfie Mafi is a quality player who can sniff out a try but the Force have to find a way to win the ball at set piece time to get the ball too him.
The Waratahs have again had the scheduling gods smile on them with a seven day turn around and another coveted Sunday afternoon fixture. With the sun on their backs last week they came home with a wet sale against the Blues and beat the clock to win by a penalty kick. They face easier opposition in this game.
The Waratahs should win this game but I do not expect it to reach any great heights as a spectacle.
Prediction: Waratahs by 9
Match of the Round: How can you go past the Stormers v Crusaders fixture. Set your alarm clocks readers in Australia and New Zealand because this will be a ripper.