GAME OF THE WEEK
CHIEFS v BULLS
When: Friday May 25, 7.35pm
Where: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 17, Chiefs 8, Bulls 8, Drawn 1
In Hamilton: Played 6, Chiefs 4, Bulls 1, Drawn 1
Last match: Round 11, April 30, 2011: Bulls beat Chiefs 43-27 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
JUST HOW much of an effect is the loss of Richard Kahui going to have on the Chiefs?
Although the home side has stood out for being a star team, as opposed to a team of stars, Kahui has featured alongside the likes of Aaron Cruden and Liam Messam as a real lynchpin in the Chiefs’ line-up this season.
Sonny Bill Williams will need to take more responsibility on his broad shoulders as the new ‘senior’ midfield partner, though Jackson Willison is a more than adequate replacement.
The Chiefs pair will be kept busy by Johann Sadie and the ever-impressive Wynand Olivier.
Coming off the bye, the Chiefs will be buoyed by the fact that seven of their players were included in the All Blacks training squad to prepare for the series against Ireland. Look for youngsters Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick and Ben Tameifuna to really push their cases for inclusion in the final 30-man squad.
The Bulls, meanwhile, would have been disappointed with many parts of their 11-16 loss to the Highlanders, particularly the lack of real urgency and any kind of variation on attack.
The men from Pretoria will need to up their attacking game significantly if they hope to breach the staunch Chiefs defensive line, especially if the visiting forwards are drawn into some rough and tumble by the home pack, which will be expected.
Expect to see fireworks and plenty of them in the tight exchanges. Referee Mark Lawrence will be ready for it.
Nothing separates these teams on the overall ledger, but the Chiefs have a distinct advantage in Hamilton, having only lost once in the six previous encounters at Waikato Stadium.
Even with the loss of Kahui, they should have enough firepower – not to mention raucous support from their home crowd – to improve that record in this Friday night feature match.
Our prediction: Chiefs 1-12
HURRICANES v REBELS
When: Saturday May 26, 5.30pm
Where: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 1, Rebels 1, Hurricanes 0
In Wellington: N/A
Last match: Round 6, March 25, 2011: Rebels beat Hurricanes 42-25 at AAMI Park, Melbourne
IF YOU’RE not going to be at this game, make sure you get home in time for the earlier-than-usual 5.30pm kickoff, because this clash has the potential to be something quite special.
The ’Canes ultimately need to bank five points here to remain in the playoff hunt after falling to a more committed and accurate Brumbies side in round 13, while the Rebels come into this match on the back of consecutive wins against the Crusaders and Force.
They are frontrunners for the competition’s ‘most improved’ award and cannot be underestimated – at home or away.
’Canes coach Mark Hammett ran something of a risk in resting Beauden Barrett last week and it didn’t pay off.
Barrett’s battle with the Rebels’ Kurtley Beale at first five will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this match.
Our prediction: Hurricanes 1-12
BLUES v HIGHLANDERS
When: Saturday May 26, 7.35pm
Where: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 19, Blues 13, Highlanders 6
In Auckland: Played 8, Blues 7, Highlanders 1
Last match: Round 9, April 20, 2012: Highlanders beat Blues 30-27 at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
ON THE good news front, things can’t really get any worse for the Blues after slumping to another new low in their 12-59 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch last week.
Or can they?
The Highlanders will arrive in the City of Sails with an extra spring in their step after upsetting the previously first-placed Bulls in Dunedin. With the Sharks faced with the task of hosting the Stormers this week, the ’Landers could slip back into the top six with victory in this match.
A bonus-point win would be the cherry on top of the cake. Look for the likes of Jarrad Hoeata and Nick Crosswell to try and punch holes in the flimsy Blues’ fringe defence and Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear and Ben Smith to reap the rewards out wide.
The ’Landers will also back themselves to dominate the set-pieces.
Our prediction: Highlanders 1-12
BRUMBIES v REDS
When: Saturday May 26, 7.40pm (9.40pm NZT)
Where: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Head-to-Head: Played 19, Brumbies 16, Reds 3
In Canberra: Played 10, Brumbies 9, Reds 1
Last match: Round 7, April 6, 2012: Reds beat Brumbies 20-13 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
IT SIMPLY doesn’t get any better than this in terms of Australian match-ups.
Although the Rebels and the Waratahs are only seven and eight points adrift of the Reds on the table respectively, there is really daylight between these and the rest of the Australian franchises in terms of their ability to mount serious title challenges.
While the Reds were boosted by the return of Quade Cooper in their victory over the Lions– not to mention the ‘arrival’ of Chris Feauai-Sautia – last week, the Brumbies will enter this crucial round 14 encounter as favourites after turning a 16-25 deficit into a 37-25 victory against the Hurricanes.
The Jake White-coached side will back its ability to grind down the Queenslanders in the tight exchanges and then execute when the chance to score points comes along.
Our prediction: Brumbies 1-12
FORCE v LIONS
When: Saturday May 26, 7.40pm (11.40pm NZT)
Where: nib Stadium, Perth
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 6, Force 4, Lions 1, Drawn 1
In Perth: Played 2, Force 1, Lions 1
Last match: Round 5, March 19, 2011: Force beat Lions 27-15 at Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
THE FORCE should think about giving away a free gift to all paying spectators this week, because there isn’t exactly much to get enthused about in the build-up to this encounter.
There is, of course, something of a sentimental theme with Lions coach John Mitchell having started out as the foundation coach of the Force, but these are two teams who probably can’t wait for the season to come to an end.
The Force (13th) don’t have a coach after Richard Graham was shown the door a few weeks back, while the Lions (15th) are likely to be shown the door from Super Rugby next year to make way for the EP Kings.
Unsurprisingly, there aren’t exactly oodles of match-ups to get excited about. You would, however, think the Force will at least be able to find a spot for Alfie Mafi in the backline this weekend.
Our prediction: Force 1-12
CHEETAHS v WARATAHS
When: Saturday May 26, 5.05pm (3.05am NZT, May 27)
Where: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 6, Waratahs 4, Cheetahs 2
In Bloemfontein: Played 1, Waratahs 1, Cheetahs 0
Last match: Round 5, March 19, 2011: Cheetahs beat Waratahs 23-3 at SFS, Sydney
ANOTHER LOSS here and the Waratahs – who are currently placed fourth in the Australian Conference – will have to start looking over their shoulder at the Force, who play the Lions this week and will then garner a guaranteed four points from the bye in round 15.
Are the ’Tahs really that bad? Well, yes there are. Although they’ve really only been smashed a couple of times, the New South Welshmen have simply lost the winning habit, losing their last four games on the trot after getting their playoff hopes back on track with back-to-back victories.
As always, the Cheetahs are better than their 12th place record suggests, though they are not anywhere near as strong without injured No 10 Johan Goosen.
Still, they are good enough to win this one without the future Bok first five pulling the strings at pivot.
Our prediction: Cheetahs 1-12
SHARKS v STORMERS
When: Saturday May 26, 7.10pm (5.10am NZT, May 27)
Where: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Head-to-Head: Played 17, Stormers 9, Sharks 8
In Durban: Played 9, Stormers 5, Sharks 4
Last match: Round 2, March 3, 2012: Stormers beat Sharks 15-12 at Newlands, Cape Town
THESE TEAMS have some of the most exciting South African attacking talents in their line-ups, but “trench warfare” is a phrase that comes to mind ahead of this round 14 clash.
Put simply, the sixth-placed Sharks need to keep winning if they want to stay in with a shot of making the playoffs.
With a game against the hapless Lions to look forward to next week, and then a guaranteed four points from the bye after the month-long hiatus in June, the Durbanites can set themselves up nicely to qualify as a ‘wildcard’ with victory in this one.
However, beating the Stormers is no easy feat. In fact, only one team has done it in 2012, and that team was the Crusaders in Christchurch!
Expect blood, sweat and maybe even tears at the Shark Tank. This will be energy-sapping, high intensity stuff.
Our prediction: Stormers 1-12
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.