How good was round 7 of the Super 15 competition last week? The Reds scored their first victory in Dunedin, the Brumbies stole a victory from the jaws of a tie after the siren, the Cheetahs recorded their 4th win in a row whilst the Stormers lost for the 4th time in succession to their bogey team.
This week is another very tough round for tipsters with some games of quality and games that are distinguished only by how poor the respective combatants are travelling at the moment.
Blues v Highlanders, Eden Park
Round 8 starts as Eden Park with two losers from Round 7 in the Blues and the Highlanders facing off. Losers both may have been last week but both were impressive, to an extent, in how they took the game right up to their opponents right to the final whistle.
The Blues bright start to the season has been dimmed somewhat by losses over the last two weeks. With names like the eternally crazy Ali Williams, Luke Braid and Kevan Mealamu in the forward pack one knows that without question they will be competitive in any forward contest. Rene Ranger has been one of the stand outs for the Blues without getting the plaudits of some of his more fancied team mate and will again be a key in defence for the Blues in this fixture.
You can not tell me that anyone would have tipped the Highlanders to start the season without a victory in the first 7 rounds of the competition. However that is precisely the start to the season that has befallen them. Somewhat incongrously in Hosea Gear they presently possess one of the form players in the competition. For all of their the positivity arising from their off season imports it must be said that they are desperately awaiting a match turning performance from the likes of Thorn and Nonu.
The Highlanders are due for a win and despite them burning me just about every game this year where I have tipped them I think they will break their duck in this game in what will be an entertaining albeit close encounter.
Prediction: Highlanders by 4
Brumbies v Kings, Canberra Stadium
No matter what you think of the last penalty against the Bulls last week, the Brumbies again showed their ability to grind out positive results despite not playing their best rugby. Pat McCabe returns for them and, I know this is controversial but I am going to say it anyway, I do not think that is a positive for them given the combinations in the back line that have been formed in recent weeks. Christian Lealiifano is the new super boot of the Australian conference and must be in the frame for a gold jersey against the British Lions in coming weeks.
The Kings have failed to secure a win since their first up victory at home against the Force but, as I have been saying every week, they have been far from disgraceful. That said, having allowed over 45 points in their last two fixtures one must say that their results are now beginning to represent what all and sundry thought they would at the start of the season.
The Brumbies will not lose this game with the margin, again, the only question. With Pat McCabe in the number 12 jersey the Brumbies attack may be less potent than in previous weeks which may reduce the margin expected.
Prediction: Brumbies by 17
Sharks v Crusaders, Kings Park
The Crusaders possess the most storied of records in Super Rugby and undermanned and seemingly out classed last week they defended like their lives depended on it and they won a game many had written off for them when the team lists were announced. Nothing changes for them this week given that they have not flown out any reinforcements and their leader, K Read, remains at home with his stubbed toe.
The Sharks are fresh of a bye and have been impressive thus far this season without, until their last start destruction of the Rebels, setting the score books on fire. On form they are the best team in the South African conference at the moment and they will be looking to solidify their position at the top of that conference here.
The key to this fixture could well be the identity of the victor between the battle of the young fly halfs as two future stars, Lambie and Bleyendaal, go head to head in the number 10 jumper. Lambie is the more experienced performer of the two and that leans me towards the the Sharks at home at Kings Park here.
Prediction: Sharks by 9
Hurricanes v Waratahs, Westpac Stadium
The Hurricanes host the Waratahs at home in this fixture and will come into this game with mixed feelings off the back of a victory last week against the Kings in which they attacked with verve but defended with more holes than a slice of swiss cheese. I have said it before and I will say it again (I think I used the same words last week), Conrad Smith is one of the best leaders of men in the competition. All Blacks Ben Franks and Victor Vito are the heartbeat of their forward back and will be looking for big performances against the ‘Tahs “Wallabies” forward pack.
The Waratahs bested the Force last week and, having put together two wins in row, the bandwagoners have come from the wordwork to wrap them. All of a sudden Israel Folau is everyone’s favourite player and Bernard Foley is a moral for the Wallabies number 10 jersey (if you are to believe the press from below the Tweed). In this fixture it will not be their backline that they will need to perform to win: it will be their much vaunted forward back which is, in this fixture, facing one of its toughest tests this season.
Two wins do not make a season and playing away from home has never been a forte of the Waratahs. I expect the Hurricanes to win this fixture and win it well at home.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 12
Force v Rebels, nib Stadium
What can be said about this fixture between the teams coming last and second last in the Australian conference? The Force actually have been better than I expected this season and will again, in this fixture, be looking to strangle their opposition through the play of their back row. Against Queensland, in their only win of the season, they won the game at the breakdown and in the set pieces and if that performance is replicated here they will win.
The Rebels have far the better list of the combatants in this game however if ever the maxim about the difference between a group of champion players and a champion team applied it applies to the Rebels. They were smashed in South Africa and their off field ill discipline sees two of their better players in Vuna and Beale again on the sidelines. No Gareth Delve is just another bad news story for the Melbournians here and having watched a lot of Scott Higginbotham over recent years I am not sure he has the right temperament to captain the side in his absence.
On their way home from their disaster in South Africa and with quality players missing the Rebels face a Force side that has exceeded expectation. I expect the Force to win this game and give their home fans something to cheer about here.
Prediction: Force by 8
Cheetahs v Stormers, Free State Stadium
In a round of cracking games, the best may very well be left for last in this fixture. The Stormers just could not pierce the defensive line of the Crusaders last week despite the best efforts of their excellent back line. Elton Jantjies is looking more comfortable every week he puts on the Stormers number 10 jersey and if he can get good service has some great finishers in Gio Aplon and Joe Pietersen outside.
The Cheetahs returned home last week after hands down the best tour of Australia and New Zealand of their short stint in Super Rugby and defeated the Rebels at home to keep their winning streak alive. What they lack in name players they make up for with enterprising play that can catch a napping team by out-enthusing them. Adriaan Strauss is to the Cheetahs as Conrad Smith is to the Hurricanes and I expect him to have a big game in this fixture.
I would love to see the Cheetahs win here and claim their 5th victory in a row. Unfortunately I have a sneaking suspicion that the Stormers will be out right the wrongs of last week and face with a defensive line less effectual than last I think they will have too much class for the men from Bloemfontein.
Prediction: Stormers by 10