Blues v Reds
The first match of Round 12 of Super Rugby comes to us from Eden Park where the Blues host the travelling Reds.
These teams have played each other 19 times in Super Rugby and the Reds hold the advantage having won 10 of those games. In Auckland the teams have met five times with the Blues having the advantage with three wins. There has also been a draw at Eden Park.
The Blues come into this game with an imposing record at home this season having won all 4 of their games there so far. The won at home last week against the Waratahs in a game in which they were the underdogs. The Reds have had a season to lament and have had a particularly difficult time of it away from home having not won away from Lang Park since they bested the Brumbies in round one.
My heart is telling me that the Reds will win this game however the Blues at home form, particularly last week against the Tahs, is causing my brain to tip the Blues to win and that is the way I have to tip this game.
Prediction: Blues by 9
Rebels v Sharks
The second of the two Friday games is from AAMI Park with the Sharks travelling to take on the Rebels.
These teams have only faced off twice since the Rebels joined the competition in 2011 with both fixtures being won by the Sharks including the last encounter an absolute thrashing by the Sharks 64-7.
The Sharks are the best team in the competition and will have been stung by their loss last week to the Highlanders. They have been dynamic in attack and excellent in defence. They have not left South Africa yet this season so it will be interesting to see who they react to not being at home in this fixture.
The Rebels have improved on last season and have mixed their always inspired attack with much improved defence this year to push a number of teams and to get their first win against the Brumbies. They have won their last two matches at home and are on a roll.
This game is closer than most will think. I think the Sharks will win however it will be only their class that will get them over the line here.
Prediction: Sharks by 6
Crusaders v Brumbies
Two of the most storied franchises in Super Rugby face off in the opening game of a super Saturday of rugby with the Crusaders hosting the Brumbies in Christchurch.
These teams have played each other 20 times in Super Rugby competition with the Crusaders having the advantage with 12 wins compared to the Brumbies 8. The Crusaders have been more dominant at home having been successful 8 times in the 10 home fixtures for the ‘Saders.
The Crusaders have had patchy form so far this season but had a very successful tour to South Africa which they will have returned from feeling very confident. They come into this game off the back of a bye and welcome back his Lordship Richie McCaw which will only add to their confidence. The Brumbies have not changed their line up from last week’s win against the Chiefs and come into this game having won their last three fixtures.
I expect this to be a closely fought encounter in what I think is the match of the round. Home ground advantage makes me lean toward the Crusaders in a close one.
Prediction: Crusaders by 5
Chiefs v Lions
It is a packed afternoon / evening of rugby in New Zealand on Saturday with the second game of the day coming from the Waikato with the Chiefs hosting the Lions.
The Lions have played the defending champions 15 times in Super Rugby and have been successful on only 4 of those occasions. In New Zealand the Lions have not won a game against the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are a side obviously in flux: they have not won their last two games and have made an astonishing 9 changes to their starting line up from last week’s team which lost to the Brumbies. I am not sure the rotation policy is working from them however they are sticking to it. The Lions started the season well however they have lost their last 3 encounters and this is the first time they have left Africa this season. Playing away from home has never been the strong suit for the men from Johannesburg.
I cannot see any other result in this game other than a Chiefs victory and an easy one.
Prediction: Chiefs by 25
Waratahs v Hurricanes
The only other game in Australia this weekend is from the Sydney Football Stadium with the Waratahs hosting the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes have the recent wood over the Waratahs having won the last two matches between the two teams. Overall the teams have played each other 18 times in Super Rugby competition with the Hurricanes also having the overall advantage with 10 victories. That tide is reversed in home games for the ‘Tahs who have won 6 games of 9 at the SFS.
The form of the Waratahs has been patchy to say the best. In their last seven games they have alternated between losses and wins and last week they were bested by the Blues in Auckland 21-13. They have made a number of changes to that side for this game, principally in the pack, and will be desperate for win in this game to game some momentum back in a sputtering season.
The Hurricanes are presently in a rich vein of form having won their last 4 games in Super Rugby, including an excellent win against the Reds last week. That said their form away from home has not been all that good. They have retained their team from last week.
This is a battle between a team in form and a team struggling for consistency. I think the Waratahs will keep up their form line here and be victorious for the 4th time in 8 attempts but only just.
Prediction: Waratahs by 6
Stormers v Highlanders
The first of the two games from South Africa this week comes from Cape Town with the Stormers hosting the Highlanders.
The Stormers have been a bogey team for the Highlanders in Super Rugby competition with the Highlanders not having won against the Stormers since the 2007 season. That is a span represents 5 games. Before that the Highlanders had dominated these encounters with 8 wins from 11 starts.
The Stormers are in last place in the South African conference off the back of their loss last week to the Cheetahs. Their home form this season has been ok with their two wins so far occurring there. They have bitten the bullet and dropped Peter Grant for this game with Kurt Coleman getting the start.
The Highlanders produced one of the shocks of the 2014 season last week by besting the Sharks, a side most expect to win the South African conference and the title this year. That performance was the best of their season, actually it was probably the best of their last two seasons.
The Stormers have been terrible this season. There is no other way to say it. The Highlanders, if they even perform to 50% of their form from last week, should win this game and may win it well.
Prediction: Highlanders by 11
Bulls v Cheetahs
The final match of the round comes from Pretoria where the Bulls host the Cheetahs from Bloemfontein.
The Bulls have been a bogey team for the Cheetahs: they have only managed to defeat the Bulls once in 12 matches in Super Rugby and that win was earlier this year at Bloemfontein. Obviously, the Cheetahs have never won in Pretoria in this competition.
The Cheetahs come into this game having been victorious last week against the Stormers. Before that the Cheetahs had suffered a span of six games without a victory. They have not been successful away from home this season. They have the same starting side as last week here.
The Bulls have been in excellent form at home this season having not been defeated in Pretoria this season. They are playing in South Africa for the first time since returning from their Australasia tour that left them winless and will be desperate for a win.
I am tipping the Bulls here simply on the basis of home town advantage: the Bulls are excellent at home and the Cheetahs struggle away from home.
Prediction: Bulls by 12