Hurricanes v Highlanders, Wellington
Round 14 of Super Rugby commences in Wellington with the Hurricanes hosting their South Island rivals the Highlanders.
Both sides come into this game off the back of solid seasons so far which have seen both team win six times and both are presently sitting on 30 points. The teams have played each other 22 times in Super Rugby action with the results fairly evenly split between the teams. In Hurricanes home games they have won six of ten encounters.
The Hurricanes were very convincing in their victory against the Rebels last week away from home. They return home here where they have been in excellent form winning four of their five games this season. They have made two changes for this game with Motu Matu’u replacing Dane Coles and Tim Bateman coming in for Alapati Leiua.
The Highlanders will be disappointed with their second half performance last week against the Lions but will be happy to have secured a win nonetheless. Like many teams in this competition they struggle away from home having only won once away from Dunedin this season. The Highlanders have lost Chris King to suspension with Kane Hames coming in to replace him.
The Hurricanes have the better form coming into this game and the Highlanders do not travel well. Whilst they have a good record in Wellington, I do not expect the Highlanders to change their away formline and am tipping the Hurricanes to get the win here in what presents as a close game.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 8
Crusaders v Sharks
I prefaced my preview of the Sharks game last week with the suggestion that we might have been seeing a preview to the grand final and I will say it again here: with the Crusaders finding form they look like a good bet to make the finals and the Sharks will lead the South African conference. This is the match of the round no doubt!
In Super Rugby action the Crusaders have the decided advantage between these two teams having won fourteen of the seventeen encounters between the teams. Further, the Crusaders are undefeated in homes games against the Sharks.
The Sharks lead the Super Rugby ladder at the moment on 36 points. They were bested last week by the Brumbies in a game that could be best described as a battle of attrition. In that game they failed to score a try. They have only played twice out of South Africa this season so far and have won 50% of those games. They have made a number of changes for this game, principally in the forward pack with Willem Alberts moving back to number 8 and Tera Mtembu getting a start on the side of the scrum.
The Crusaders are in excellent form and destroyed the Reds on their home track last week in a ruthless performance. Their home form has been a little scratchy having only won 2 of 4 encounters in Christchurch. They have made three changes this week with Tom Taylor coming in for Israel Dagg and Dominic Bird replacing Luke Romano the big ones.
Despite who good the Sharks have been this year it is really very difficult to go past the Crusaders in this game. The Sharks have struggled to score points of late and they will need to do that against the Crusaders given that the Reds scored 4 tries against them last week and still lost by 30 points. The Crusaders are just irresistible at this stage of the season (again) and I am tipping them to win here.
Prediction: Crusaders by 11
Reds v Rebels
The first match in Australia this weekend comes from Lang Park on Saturday night with the Reds hosting the Rebels in a local derby.
It has been a season to lament for the Reds and it has not been much better for the Rebels. The Rebels come to Brisbane to face an opponent that they have not yet defeated since the joined the competition. That equates to a 6-0 record for the Reds. It goes without saying though that this a very different assignment for the Rebels (in a good way for them)than that which they have faced before in Brisbane.
The Reds are in the midst of a five match losing streak that is their worst such streak since season 2003. They have only won 3 games this season and, in a place that has been their fortress (Lang Park), they have lost their last 3 games. Strangely after a 30 point loss the Reds have not made any chances to their line up for this week.
The Rebels have also only won 3 games this season and they are yet to open their account in games away from Melbourne. They come into this game off the back of a home loss to the Hurricanes last week and have now lost their Japanese international, Sau and Horie, who are en route to the Rugby World Cup Qualifiers.
The Reds pushed the Crusaders for the first half last week and led at half time but then morphed into a disorganised rabble in the second half. If that rabble turn up for this game they will lose this game. That said, I expect that the Reds will come out firing after their terrible performance last week. The Rebels are not good travellers and the Reds will have enough for them in this game.
Prediction: Reds by 6
Stormers v Force
The first of two games from South Africa on Saturday night comes from Cape Town with the travelling Force being hosted by the Stormers.
These franchises have played each other seven times since the Force joined Super Rugby and the home team here have won five of those encounters. In Cape Town fixtures, of which there have been three, the Stormers have won 66% of the games between these teams.
The Force are having their best season in Super Rugby: they have won seven of their last eight games and were victorious last week in their first game on tour against the Cheetahs. They have made a number of changes to their line-up, all in the backline with Kyle Godwin and Dane Haylett-Petty missing out this week and Luke Burton and Marcel Brache coming in.
The Stormers have had a season to forget so far having only won three games all season and, it is worth noting, two of those victories have been by only one point. They have made five changes to their line up from last week with Peter Grant’s promotion to the starting line up the biggest of them.
The second week of a tour to South Africa is always the most difficult. Equally, this encounter pits one of the form team in the competition, the Force, against one of the most disappointing so far this season, the Stormers. I tipped the Force last week and I am going to go with that tip again as they are on a roll and confident neither of which the Stormers are.
Prediction: Force by 3
Cheetahs v Brumbies
The second fixture coming from South Africa this round sees the Cheetahs hosting the Brumbies in Bloemfontein.
Historically, the Brumbies have had the advantage in fixtures between these two franchises having won six of the eight encounters to date. In matches at Bloemfontein the Cheetahs have the advantage having won two of three games in their friendly confines.
The Brumbies lead the Australian conference and have an excellent record away from home having won 60% of their games away from Canberra. Their line up for this week is largely unchanged from that which defeated the Sharks in Canberra with the only run on change seeing Henry Speight replace the injured Joe Tomane.
The Cheetahs have been terrible this season having only won two games so far and sitting at the bottom of the ladder only a season post making their first final’s campaign. They have made three changes to their line up from last week with Shaun Venter coming into the line up place of Sarel Pretorious being the biggest of them.
The Cheetahs have not looked like challenging a top side this season and I expect them to not challenge the Brumbies here. This should be a bonus point win for the Brumbies.
Prediction: Brumbies by 16
Waratahs v Lions
The final match of the round is a Sunday afternoon game from Sydney with the Waratahs hosting the Lions.
This game presents as a mismatch and the statistics back this up with the teams having played each other some fourteen times and the Lions having only been victorious once. The Waratahs are undefeated by the Lions in games in Australia.
The Lions started this season on a high but have been found out in recent weeks when forced to play away from home. They have only won one away game and they have not yet been successful outside of South Africa this season. They have not named their team for this week however they will come into this game confident given their second half performance last week.
The Waratahs started the season with much fanfare and expectation but have fallen into habit of alternating between winning and losing each week. Last week they had the bye and have made one change to the team that played two weeks ago against the Hurricanes with Will Skelton coming into the line up in place of Jacques Potgieter.
This game is a mismatch as I mentioned earlier and I expect the Waratahs to win this game with a bonus point.
Prediction: Waratahs by 20
Bye: Bulls, Blues, Chiefs