The Super Rugby season rolls into Round 11, with the Reds, Brumbies and Rebels looking to reverse the dwindling fortunes of the Aussie teams.
History: Played 1: Hurricanes 1 V Sunwolves 0.
Last meeting: February 25, 2017: Hurricanes 83 d Sunwolves 17 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Sunwolves will still wince at the memory of their only previous encounter with Kiwi heavyweights the Hurricanes, hammered 83-17 in Tokyo in the opening round of the 2017 season. The Hurricanes ran in 13 tries.
But the enigmatic Sunwolves – still winless in 2018 – have shown a bit of backbone against New Zealand opponents in the past fortnight. After going down just 24-10 at home to the Blues in Week 9, they held the champion Crusaders to a 33-11 scoreline in Christchurch last weekend after trailing by just three points midway through the second half.
The Hurricanes are sailing along near the top of the Super Rugby standings thanks to a six-match winning streak, carving out a tough 25-13 win over the Chiefs in Week 9 before enjoying the bye last weekend.
Despite the plethora of attacking talent at the Hurricanes’ disposal, the Sunwolves can be backed against a massive line with some confidence.
History: Played 5: Stormers 4 V Rebels 1.
Last meeting: July 2, 2016: Stormers 57 d Rebels 31 at AAMI Park.
Final Thoughts: The 4-4 Rebels are their dreaded annual pilgrimage to the Republic, and they’re desperate for a win after consecutive defeats to the Hurricanes (50-19) and Jagaures (25-22) at home and the Bulls (28-10) away. They are boosted by Adam Coleman’s return, however.
The 3-6 Stormers’ situation is even more dire following three straight derby losses to the Bulls, Lions and Sharks put their playoff prospects on tenterhooks.
The Stormers are 2-0 at home against the Rebels, whose record in South Africa is dismal. All five of the teams’ previous clashes have produced 43 points or more.
The Stormers are also 3-0 at Newlands this season, which should be enough to ensure a win against the travel-shy Rebels. The best options shape as a Stormers win by a small margin or the Rebels with a handy two-try start.
History: Played 20: Reds 13 V Lions 6 (1 Draw).
Last meeting: March 19, 2017: Lions 44 d Reds 14 at Emirates Airlines Park.
Final Thoughts: The 3-5 Reds’ season is slipping away after losing their last four games, including their last three to the Brumbies, Waratahs and Chiefs by 20-plus margins.
After a patchy few rounds, the 6-3 Lions have surged back into form via a resounding 52-31 home win over the Stormers and a stunning 29-0 shutout of the Waratahs in Sydney.
The Lions have won five and drawn one of their last nine against the Reds, after winning just one of the first 11 between the franchises. Eight of the teams’ last 11 encounters were decided by 1-12 margins but the Lions romped to 30-point win last year as winger Courtnall Skosan ran in four tries.
The Lions are on a six-match winning streak in Australia and it’s difficult seeing the battling Reds being the team to end it.
History: Played 1: Blues 1 V Jaguares 0.
Last meeting: April 2, 2016: Blues 24 d Jaguares 16 at Eden Park.
Final Thoughts: A season full of promise has descended into a bit of nightmare for the Blues, who are 2-6 after winning just one of their last five games. Last weekend they were easily accounted for by the Highlanders, 34-16, and are still battling a heavy injury toll.
The 4-5 Jagaures have kept themselves in the finals hunt with a rare pair of away wins in the past fortnight, edging out the Rebels and Brumbies in nail-biting contests.
The Blues won the teams’ only previous clash, a hard-fought 24-16 win in Auckland during the Jags’ debut 2016 season.
The Argentine side’s new-found ability to close out matches and flourish overseas at the very least makes them an enticing option with a healthy points start against the floundering Blues.
History: Played 24: Crusaders 16 V Brumbies 8.
Last meeting: February 25, 2017: Crusaders 17 d Brumbies 13 at AMI Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Brumbies hopes of qualifying for a sixth straight Super Rugby finals series are fading fast, languishing with a 3-5 record after highly disappointing losses away to the Highlanders (43-17) and to the Jaguares (25-20) at home in the past two rounds.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, are well-placed for a title at a second straight title, sitting pretty with a 6-2 record and winning their last four in a row. After a scratchy win over the Sunwolves last week with several stars rested, a near full-strength Crusaders will be looking to make a statement against a long-time rival.
The Crusaders are on a seven-match winning streak against the Brumbies – including five victories by 13+ margins. The teams’ last meeting in Canberra, back in 2016, saw the Crusaders romp to a 40-14 victory.
The Brumbies’ trademark defensive steel has gone missing in 2018, which spells danger with a ruthless Crusaders side stacked with attacking firepower coming to town.
History: Played 20: Highlanders 13 V Bulls 6 (1 Draw).
Last meeting: May 13, 2017: Highlanders 17 d Bulls 10 at Loftus Versfeld.
Final Thoughts: Following a fruitless tour of Australia and New Zealand, the 4-4 Bulls have emerged as a force to be reckoned with back on home soil with three straight wins over the Stormers, Sharks and Rebels. They have added some attacking potency to their formerly dour, forward-dominated game-plan.
The 5-2 Highlanders remain definite title contenders, carving out highly impressive bonus point wins over the Brumbies (43-17) and Blues (34-16) in the past two rounds. Robust forward Shannon Frizell has emerged as a new star on the Highlanders’ block with four tries in their past two games.
The Bulls have a 6-1-5 record at home against the Highlanders, but the Kiwi outfit have won four of their last five against the Bulls, including a hard-fought 17-10 result in Pretoria last season. All four of those Highlanders victories came by margins of seven points or less.
Every win is vital for the Highlanders in a congested New Zealand Conference and their championship qualities should get them over the line against the in-form Bulls, but it shapes as another gruelling, tight encounter between the teams.