Blues v Sharks
The first game this weekend pits the Blues against the travelling Sharks at North Harbour Stadium. In home games for the Blues between these two teams the Sharks have been dominant winning two of seven encounters. The Sharks come into this game off the back of their epic victory with only 14 mens against the Crusaders last week and remain the team to beat in the competition for many pundits. The Blues have been excellent at home this season but woeful on the road so they will be happy that they are playing at their friendly confines this week. The Blues have the added advantage of coming into this game off a bye.
Ultimately, the Sharks are the favourites to win the title this season and their win last weekend showed us why. They will be too class for the Blues here.
Prediction Sharks by 8
Rebels v Waratahs
The second of three Friday night matches this week comes to us from Melbourne with the Waratahs travelling down the M1 to face their southern rivals. The Rebels will be filled with confidence off the back of their last gasp victory over the Reds last week. Equally they paid a hefty price for that victory with Luke Burgess and Laurie Weeks out this week. The Waratahs bested the Lions last week to record back to back vicotries for the first time since round two and are presently comfortably ensconced in second place in the Australian conference.
The Rebels have only won twice against the Waratahs since they joined Super Rugby and I don’t expect them improve on that record this weekend.
Prediction: Waratahs by 11
Bulls v Brumbies
Friday night football comes to Pretoria for the third of the three games to kick off the round on Friday night with the Brumbies travelling to face the Bulls. The Brumbies arrive in Pretoria with their metaphorical tails between their respective legs after an ordinary loss to the Cheetahs last week. They have only won thrice on the road this season from six attempts and will be looking to win here to maintain their top spot in the Australian conference. The Bulls have been close to perfect at home this season having not lost in 2014 at Loftus Versfel. They also had the bye last week.
The Bulls in Pretoria is one of the toughest assignments in Super Rugby and the Brumbies are not off to a great start on their tour to South Africa after their loss last week. They will be desperate to win here but against a freshened Bulls line up I am not sure that that desperation will be enough.
Prediction: Bulls by 4
Highlanders v Crusaders
Saturday Super Rugby starts with the battle of the Deep South as the Highlanders host the Crusaders in Dunedin. It is no surprise, given the Crusaders’ domination of this competition in the 2000s that they have the statistical advantage between the teams including in games in Dunedin where they have won 54% of matches played. The Highlanders have bounced back from their terrible 2013 with seven wins so far this season. At home they have won five and lost one. The Crusaders have the same record as the Highlanders and their away record, bizarrely, mirrors that of the Highlanders home record (5-1). The Crusaders were disappointing last week and have made six changes to that team.
The Crusaders have the class to win this game away as well as the confidence of having performed better away from home than at home. The Highlanders will be willing but may not have the finish to score enough points to best their visitors. This will be an epic encounter.
Prediction: Crusaders by 4
Hurricanes v Chiefs
The second of the New Zealand local derbies this week comes from Wellington where the defending champions are being hosted by the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes actually have the advantage between these two teams statistically having won 11 and lost 10 against the Chiefs with one draw. This season the ‘Canes have won four of their six games at home whilst the Chiefs have struggled away from home having only won once away from Hamilton in five attempts. The Chiefs had the bye last week which has helped some of their players return from injury with Aaron Cruden making his return on the bench this week. Beauden Barrett returns from the Hurricanes from a hip injury.
This is a tough game to tip. The Hurricanes can be inconsistent to say the least at times but have impressed this season with some big wins against more fancied line ups. The Chiefs have struggled away from home and that is enough for me to tip an upset here.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 5
Force v Lions
The only game in Australia on Saturday sees the return of the Force to their home fortress in Perth where they host the Lions who are on their way home to South Africa after this game. The Lions got off to a fast start to the season but have dropped their last six games away from home. The Force are having their best season in Super Rugby this season and have not been defeated by the Lions in the last five fixtures between the two teams.
This is the easiest match of the round to tip: the Force will be win this game and will win it well despite their jet lag.
Prediction: Force by 12
Stormers v Cheetahs
The final match of the round on Saturday night sees the Stormers host the Cheetahs at Cape Town. These teams are both having seasons they would rather forget but both won last week against more fancied opponents so they will come into this game with some confidence. Historically the Stormers have had the advantage in this match up having won 67% of games between the teams. At home the Stormers have been solid this season having lost only once their in five matches at Newlands. The Cheetahs have not won a game away from home this season in six attempts.
The Stormers should maintain their home dominance against the Cheetahs here and continue the Cheetahs season of much lament here.
Prediction: Stormers by 7