GAME OF THE WEEK
HIGHLANDERS v STORMERS
When: Saturday April 7, 7.35pm
Where: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 16, Highlanders 9, Stormers 6, Drawn 1
In Dunedin: Played 5, Highlanders 4, Stormers 1
Last match: Round 4, March 11, 2011: Stormers beat Highlanders 18-6 at Newlands, Cape Town
BATTEN DOWN the hatches and get set for a level of Super Rugby physicality that is rarely seen, because this encounter will not be for the faint-hearted.
Yes, the Bulls v Crusaders clash in Pretoria could rightfully be considered the game of the week on account of the fact those sides can lay claim to 10 of a possible 16
Super Rugby titles, but the Highlanders and Stormers are, in the words of Paris Hilton, so hot right now.
The first-placed visitors hit Dunedin as the only unbeaten side in the competition after snatching victory from the jaws of a draw in Cape Town last week, while the ’Landers – inspired by All Blacks Adam Thomson and Ben Smith – are second after blowing the Rebels right out of the water in Invercargill with a seven-tries-to-none pasting.
Although there won’t be the same level of disdain toward their opponents as what we saw from the Stormers last week, coach Allister Coetzee will be fully aware that his charges will need to take the game to the home side and win the battle upfront – not to mention silence the home crowd – if they hope to leave with more than one or two points.
There are juicy match-ups right across the park, but Shaun Treeby v Jean de Villiers at second five, Thomson v Siya Kolisi at No 6 and the returning Andrew Hore v Tiaan Liebenberg at hooker will be worth the price of admission alone.
Another intriguing subplot will be how Stormers loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff – surely a Springbok in waiting – gets on against the old master, Chris King, in the front-row exchanges.
Kitshoff, who only turned 20 in February, gave 2011 Bok Werner Kruger a good old- fashioned working-over at Newlands last week.
Our prediction: Highlanders 1-12
REBELS v BLUES
When: Thursday April 5, 7.40pm (9.40pm NZT)
Where: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 1, Blues 1, Rebels 0
In Melbourne: N/A
Last match: Round 10, April 22, 2011: Blues beat Rebels 40-23 at North Harbour Stadium, Albany
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE to say what will happen in this match until we know which sides are going to turn up.
On one hand, the Rebels could get up and scrape home on their home patch, as they did against the Force a fortnight ago. On the other hand, they could roll over and wave the white flag as early as halftime, as they did against the Highlanders last week.
The Blues could also go one of two ways. They could either (a) turn up with a win-at-all-costs attitude, as they did when they upset the Bulls in Pretoria in round three, and smoke the Rebels, or (b) continue to flatter to deceive, as they have in the majority of their outings this season. (Sorry, Blues sympathisers, but they’re not one and four for no reason.)
You be the judge.
Our prediction: Blues 1-12
HURRICANES v SHARKS
When: Friday April 6, 7.35pm
Where: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 16, Sharks 9, Hurricanes 6, Drawn 1
In New Plymouth: Played 1, Sharks 1, Hurricanes 0
Last match: Round 10, April 23, 2011: Sharks beat Hurricanes 40-24 at Kings Park, Durban
THIS IS exactly the kind of game the Hurricanes need after their capitulation against the Cheetahs.
We feel sorry for anyone who accidently found themselves in the’ Canes changing room last week, because coach Mark Hammett is sure to have used a few choice, non-PC words after his side blew a 32-11 lead to eventually lose 47-38.
Full credit to the Cheetahs, of course, but they’re not that good.
The Sharks, meanwhile, were able to do what the second- placed Highlanders couldn’t a week earlier – beating the Brumbies 29-26 in Canberra to record their first win in the Australian capital in 14 years.
There is still some confusion over the ‘dental’ injury that ruled Pat Lambie out of that game.
Let’s hope he’s back to face hometown hero Beauden Barrett in what looms as a tantalising battle of the No 10s.
Our prediction: Hurricanes 1-12
REDS v BRUMBIES
When: Friday April 6, 7.40pm (9.40pm NZT)
Where: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Brumbies 16, Reds 2
In Brisbane: Played 8, Brumbies 7, Reds 1
Last match: Round 16, June 4, 2011: Brumbies beat Reds 22-14 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
EVERYTHING LOOKS to be stacked against the Reds in this match, despite the fact they’re back home after a road trip that reminded us all of the Queensland side’s bad old days.
Staggeringly, the Reds have only beaten the Brumbies once at home, and twice overall, in Super Rugby history, with the Canberra-based side upsetting the applecart with a shock 22-14 victory at Suncorp Stadium last year – just one of three losses the Reds recorded all season.
The Brumbies will be thirsting for blood after an error-ridden loss to the Sharks in Canberra, while the injury-ravaged Reds showed how far they had fallen in losing to the Force in Perth.
Having beaten the West Australian side by 15 points in Brisbane in week two, the 45-19 loss at nib Stadium – their third defeat in a row – completed a remarkable 41-point turnaround.
Our prediction: Brumbies 1-12
FORCE v CHIEFS
When: Friday April 6, 7.40pm (11.40pm NZT)
Where: nib Stadium, Perth
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 5, Chiefs 4, Force 1
In Perth: Played 3, Chiefs 2, Force 1
Last match: Round 3, February 27, 2010: Chiefs beat Force 37-19 at Subiaco Oval, Perth
DON’T GO crazy on the happy juice if you’re planning to watch back-to-back-to-back games on Friday night, because you’ll end up regretting it when you wake up on the coach at 3am.
Having fallen to the Rebels in round five, the Force won back a decent chunk of respect after demolishing the Reds at home last week.
Senior hands Nathan Sharpe and David Pocock will, as always, lead the challenge upfront, but the Force tight five will have to really dig in to stop the visitors from gaining ascendancy in the scrums.
The Chiefs will also fancy their chances out wide with the likes of Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams and Tim Nanai-Williams in damaging form with the ball in hand, although the
Force have their own (albeit lesser- known) backline stars in players like Dave Harvey and Nick Cummins.
Our prediction: Chiefs 13+
CHEETAHS v LIONS
When: Saturday April 7, 3.00pm (1.00am NZT, April 8)
Where: North-West Rugby Stadium, Welkom
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 9, Lions 5, Cheetahs 4
In Welkom: Played 1, Cheetahs 1, Lions 0
Last match: Round 1, February 25, 2012: Lions beat Cheetahs 27-25 at Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
PROVIDING THEY are not too jetlagged after their successful Australasian road trip, the Cheetahs will be licking their lips in anticipation of this match.
The Naka Drotske-coached side exceeded most expectations by picking up two wins (against the Rebels and the Hurricanes) and losing narrowly to the Crusaders and Brumbies on their tour.
The John Mitchell-coached Lions, on the other hand, enter this clash in 14th place after suffering their fourth loss in five outings against the Crusaders last week.
Historically, these sides are evenly matched, with the Cheetahs slightly ahead on the ledger, but it could be a serious case of damage control for Mitchell and the Lions if the likes of Hennie Daniller, Johan Goosen, Heinrich Brüssow and Coenie Oosthuizen continue to hit the high notes they have reached in recent weeks.
Our prediction: Cheetahs 1-12
BULLS v CRUSADERS
When: Saturday April 7, 5.05pm (3.05am NZT, April 8)
Where: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 20, Crusaders 12, Bulls 8
In Cape Town: Played 10, Bulls 6, Crusaders 4
Last match: Round 8, April 9, 2011: Crusaders beat Bulls 27-0 at Alpine Energy Stadium, Timaru
COULD YOU really ask for a better game to finish off another scintillating weekend of action?
The Bulls will be dirty about losing to the Stormers in Cape Town last week after gallantly fighting back from a 14-0 halftime deficit, with Peter Grant slotting a late penalty to turn a 17-all draw into a 17-20 loss for the three-time champions.
They’ll come out snorting fire, but the outcome of this match will undoubtedly come to which team is more composed and clinical on the day.
The Crusaders were far from convincing in their 23-13 victory over the Lions, but they got the job done – as they had against the Cheetahs the previous week – and that’s really the only thing that matters.
They also have a better than average record in Pretoria, considering how infrequently the Bulls lose at their Loftus citadel.
Our prediction: Bulls 1-12
This weekend throws up another set of games which could go either way.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?