GAME OF THE WEEK
HURRICANES v CRUSADERS
When: Saturday April 21, 7.35pm
Where: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 20, Crusaders 14, Hurricanes 4, Drawn 2
In Wellington: Played 7, Crusaders 4, Hurricanes 2, Drawn 1
Last match: Round 18, June 18, 2011: Crusaders beat Hurricanes 16-9 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
THIS IS where things start getting very interesting for both of these sides.
Sitting sixth and seventh on the table respectively, the Hurricanes and Crusaders enter this tantalising Saturday night feature match in sizzling form after accounting for South African heavyweights the Sharks and Stormers in their most recent outings.
The ’Canes had a chance to rest up last week with the bye, while the Crusaders put on their most impressive performance of the season to topple the previously- unbeaten Stormers in Christchurch. Only time will tell which of those scenarios was the more beneficial.
The Crusaders have been the No 1 bogey team for the ’Canes in Super Rugby, winning 14 of the previous 20 fixtures between the sides (including the 2006 final and three semifinals), but with the exception of the odd blowout in the Crusaders’ favour, these tend to be close games.
Don’t expect to see as much aimless kicking from the Crusaders – or as many penalty goals for that matter – this week. The ’Canes might be amongst the most dangerous attacking teams in Super Rugby but they also have the fifth- worst defensive record. Coach Todd Blackadder will have that rather damning statistic in mind when he creates his game plan for this match.
The home side will throw caution to the wind, as always, with Beauden Barrett looking to get the backline humming by running flat onto the ball and Andre Taylor welcoming any opportunity to build up speed on the counter-attack.
Israel Dagg will be doing well just to keep up with the former on the evidence of his rather forgettable current form.
The Crusaders will back themselves in the tight exchanges, particularly the scrums, but the match could ultimately be decided by the winner of the battle between ‘fetchers’ Karl Lowe and Matt Todd. Lowe was the best player on the paddock in the last match the ’Canes played while Todd made a welcome return to form last week after a fairly slow start to the season.
Thankfully, the world’s best referee, Craig Joubert will be the man in the middle for this one.
Our prediction: Crusaders 1-12
HIGHLANDERS v BLUES
When: Friday April 20, 7.35pm
Where: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Blues 13, Highlanders 5
In Dunedin: Played 9, Blues 5, Highlanders 4
Last match: Round 18, June 17, 2011: Blues beat Highlanders 33-16 at Eden Park, Auckland
THE BLUES trumped the Highlanders by 17 points when these teams last met in June 2011.
We’re willing to put the house on the fact that won’t happen again when these sides come together in Dunedin on Friday night. In fact, a safer bet would be to back the exact reverse, because the Blues are now one place off the bottom of the table – after losing six of seven games so far – while the ’Landers are sitting comfortably in fifth place – with five wins from seven outings – after having the last round off with the bye.
Still, the Blues have a winning record (albeit marginal) in Dunedin, though this will be their first visit to Forsyth Barr Stadium. They are also the holders of the Gordon Hunter Memorial trophy. But the gulf in class between these sides at the moment should see a change of hands.
Our prediction: Highlanders 1-12
REDS v STORMERS
When: Friday April 20, 7.40pm (9.40pm NZT)
Where: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Head-to-Head: Played 15, Stormers 8, Reds 7
In Brisbane: Played 8, Reds 5, Stormers 3
Last match: Round 8, April 11, 2011: Reds beat Stormers 19-6 at Newlands, Cape Town
GET THE feeling the Reds might have a few tricks up their sleeve for this vital round nine clash?
The Queenslanders would have enjoyed the chance to put their feet up for a week after claiming a much-needed 20-13 victory over the Brumbies at Suncorp a fortnight ago. This followed heavy 61-8 and 45-19 losses to the Bulls and Force respectively. Suffice to say they would have seen the Stormers, who suffered their first loss this season to the Crusaders last week, coming a mile away.
The visitors will be gutted they were unable to secure more than a solitary bonus point in Christchurch after outscoring the home side two tries to one. There were injuries, too, to star locks Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth, amongst others. They will be well advised to kick less and chance their arm a little more often this week.
Our prediction: Stormers 1-12
WARATAHS v REBELS
When: Saturday April 21, 7.40pm (9.40pm NZT)
Where: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 3, Waratahs 3, Rebels 0
In Sydney: Played 1, Waratahs 1, Rebels 0
Last match: Round 2, March 2, 2012: Waratahs beat Rebels 35-19 at AAMI Park, Melbourne
THE NEWS does not look good for the homebody Rebels, we’re afraid.
For a team that is becoming notorious for only playing well at home, the Melbournites face another massive challenge this week, after being blown off the paddock in the first half of their 37-6 loss to the Brumbies. They simply seem incapable of ‘getting up’ away from home, having lost their last eight games on the road – many by substantial margins.
The ’Tahs haven’t set the world on fire this season. In fact they have been fairly average, losing to both the Reds and the Force in Sydney and coming into the round 10th on the table after sneaking home 23-18 against the Force in Perth.
Conventional wisdom would suggest they will win comfortably, but then again, the Sydneysiders aren’t the force they used to be.
Our prediction: Waratahs 13+
SHARKS v CHIEFS
When: Saturday April 21, 5.05pm (3.05am NZT, April 22)
Where: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 16, Sharks 9, Chiefs 7
In Durban: Played 7, Sharks 4, Chiefs 3
Last match: Round 5, March 18, 2011: Chiefs beat Sharks 15-9 at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
THIS MATCH will appeal to those who like to turn the spice-o-meter up a notch or two.
The Sharks arrived home in fairly good shape after a two-win, two-loss Australasian road trip, although coach John Plumtree will be wondering what’s up with star loose forward Willem Alberts.
The South Africans showed against the Blues at Eden Park that they can be just as dangerous on defence as on attack, with Steven Sykes and Craig Burden picking up five-pointers after intercepts.
However, the home side will face a red-hot Chiefs team that has the added advantage of having already spent a week in South Africa. The visitors went to the top of the table for the first time this season after beating the Cheetahs 39-33 in Bloemfontein last week.
The sides look even in many facets but the Chiefs’ superior defence could see them home.
Our prediction: Chiefs 1-12
BULLS v BRUMBIES
When: Saturday April 21, 7.10pm (5.10am NZT, April 22)
Where: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 15, Brumbies 9, Bulls 6
In Pretoria: Played 7, Bulls 4, Brumbies 3
Last match: Round 2, February 20, 2010: Bulls beat Brumbies 50-32 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
JUST HOW much of a statement are the Bulls going to want to make in this fascinating clash?
After defying many pre-season predictions to remain in contention for yet another Super Rugby title, the Bulls can look forward to some downtime next weekend, before setting sail for Australasia. A win here will be absolutely priceless.
Sure, beating the Lions in Johannesburg last week mightn’t seem like much at first, but the scoreline would have been a lot more substantial if the Bulls had capitalised on more chances and Morné Steyn had kicked his goals.
The Brumbies were also written off by many before the season got underway, but they have been one of the success stories of this year’s competition. Brumbies coach Jake White will be demanding big things from his charges on his first trip home with his new side.
Our prediction: Bulls 1-12
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
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