The Super Rugby season rolls into Week 10, including tough assignments against overseas opposition for the Waratahs, Reds, Rebels and Brumbies!
History: Played 30: Blues 16 V Highlanders 14.
Last meeting: February 23, 2018: Highlanders 41 d Blues 34 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Blues showed plenty of promise in going down 41-34 to the Highlanders in Dunedin in their first outing of the 2018 season, but the path since has been one of frustration and familiar woe for the Tana Umaga-coached side.
Winless in their last 14 Kiwi derbies, the Blues have maintained an uncanny ability to lose to their compatriot teams by small margins. A dismal loss at home to the Sharks and an unconvincing away win over the lowly Sunwolves last week have compounded matters for an injury-ravaged squad.
The Highlanders are well-placed with a 6-2 record, bouncing back from away losses to the Hurricanes and Chiefs with a blazing 43-17 home victory over the Brumbies in Round 9.
The Highlanders have won eight of their last 11 against the Blues. Of the teams’ last 14 encounters, 12 have been decided by 1-12 margins.
The Blues just don’t have the class to finish off games against the superstar-laced NZ sides, and Lima Sopoaga, Ben Smith and co should guide the Highlanders to victory over a home side desperately missing the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, George Moala and Augustine Pulu.
History: Played 21: Waratahs 17 V Lions 4.
Last meeting: March 4, 2017: Lions 55 d Waratahs 36 at Emirates Airlines Park.
Final Thoughts: The Waratahs are one of Super Rugby’s in-form teams, but they get a stern test this Friday in the shape of the heavyweight Lions.
The ’Tahs are on a four-match winning streak – culminating in a 37-16 victory over the Reds last week – to emerge as the likely Australian Conference champion. Their big names are in great touch, though the furore surrounding Israel Folau is a distraction the team could do without.
After losing three of four games, and their sole win a narrow escape against the Sunwolves, the Lions bounced back to form with a 52-31 win over the Stormers. The two-time finalists flexed their attacking might with eight tries, including four to young wing sensation Madosh Tambwe.
The Waratahs’ dominant all-time record against the Lions includes 11 wins in the last 13 clashes between the sides, but the Lions have won the last two – both in Johannesburg.
The Lions have won seven of nine games in Australia and New Zealand over the past three seasons, and this one looks too close to call.
History: Played 1: Crusaders 1 V Sunwolves 0 .
Last meeting: April 14, 2017: Crusaders 50 d Sunwolves 3 at AMI Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders and Sunwolves meet for just the second time after the Christchurch-based outfit romped to a 50-3 win on the way to clinching the 2017 Super Rugby title.
A bonus-point win here will be the minimum aim for the 5-2 Crusaders, who are aiming to stay in the race to top the New Zealand Conference. After hard-fought losses to the Hurricanes and Highlanders, they have won three straight against the Bulls, Lions and Jaguares.
The Sunwolves are 0-7 and conceded more than 40 points a game, though they showed a bit of fight in a 24-10 home loss to the Blues last weekend after conceding a half-century in the previous two against the Chiefs and Waratahs.
Crusaders ‘B’ would put a cricket score on the Sunwolves and backing the home side against the hefty line seems the only worthwhile play here.
History: Played 21: Chiefs 11 V Reds 10.
Last meeting: May 6, 2017: Chiefs 46 d Reds 17 at Yarrow Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Reds take on a Chiefs side that has hammered them mercilessly in recent times. In their last three encounters, the Chiefs have won by a combined 125 points to 20. Throw in the fact that the Reds have lost eight straight to Kiwi opposition and this looms as a daunting home assignment for Brad Thorn’s side.
The Reds’ slender hopes of topping the Australian Conference nosedived in the past fortnight with heavy derby losses to the Brumbies and Waratahs, belying the fight they showed against overseas opposition in the previous few rounds.
The Chiefs’ five-game winning run came to an end via a 25-13 loss to the table-topping Hurricanes, but they will be looking forward to an opportunity to beat up on a weaker opponent after three straight tough Kiwi derbies.
History: Played 4: Bulls 4 V Rebels 0.
Last meeting: March 5, 2016: Bulls 45 d Rebels 25 at Loftus Versfeld.
Final Thoughts: It’s been a rollercoaster for the Rebels recently, mixing big wins over the Brumbies and Sharks with equally comprehensive losses to the Waratahs and Hurricanes, and then a narrow home loss to Jaguares. The are currently 4-3 – and remarkably all but one of their matches this season have been decided by 20 or more points.
The Bulls are 3-4 and in eighth spot – a win here would really solidify their bid for a finals berth. After a tough tour Down Under, the Bulls bounced back with a 33-23 home victory over the Stormers and a stunning 40-10 victory over the Sharks last week.
All four of the teams’ matches have produced totals of 47-plus, with the Bulls winning all four. The three previous encounters in Pretoria have featured 20-plus margins in favour of the Bulls. Meanwhile, the Rebels are winless in 13 matches in South Africa.
The Bulls have always been a tough beat at Loftus Versfeld and the Rebels have again proven themselves as a wildly inconsistent outfit; back the hosts in here.
History: Played 27: Sharks 15 V Stormers 12.
Last meeting: May 27, 2017: Sharks 22 d Stormers 10 at Kings Park.
Final Thoughts: The Sharks and Stormers are desperately trying to stay in the finals race when they meet in a South African derby this weekend.
The 3-5 Stormers notched back-to-back home wins over the Blues and Reds but went down in their last two to the Bulls and Lions on the road.
The 2-1-5 Sharks beat the Blues in Auckland and were desperately unlucky to go down to the Hurricanes in Napier, but they were pumped 40-10 by the Bulls at home last week.
The Sharks have won four of the last five between the teams, but last week’s result was an absolute shocker and the Stormers look good value as underdogs.
Tip: Stormers Win @ $2.18
History: Played 1: Brumbies 1 V Jaguares 0.
Last meeting: May 27, 2017: Brumbies 39 d Jaguares 15 at Jose Amalfitani Stadium.
Final Thoughts: This is a must-win clash for the ninth-placed Brumbies, who have won only three of their seven games so far this season.
The Canberra side have slipped to a 3-4 record after bookending their big Round 8 win over the Reds with a seven-point loss to the Waratahs and a 26-point defeat at the hands of the Highlanders.
The finals ship is sailing for the Jaguares, but they will be buoyed by an upset 25-22 win over the Rebels in Melbourne last weekend.
The Brumbies powered to an emphatic win in the clubs’ maiden clash last season but expect this one to be considerably closer.