The Super Rugby season rolls into Round 12, with the Rebels and Waratahs facing crucial home assignments against Kiwi opposition.
History: Played 1: Chiefs 1 V Jaguares 0.
Last meeting: Round 4, 2016: Chiefs 30 d Jaguares 26 at José Amalfitani Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Chiefs were the first team the Jaguares ever hosted in Buenos Aries, with the Kiwi heavyweights prevailing 30-26 back in 2016.
Now the Argentine outfit take on the Chiefs on New Zealand soil for the first time, bringing with them the confidence of three straight away wins over the Rebels, Brumbies and Blues in the past three weeks.
But the Chiefs are one of Super Rugby’s 2018 benchmark teams, winning five of their last six and thumping the Reds away 36-12 before enjoying the bye last week.
The Chiefs have Brodie Retallick missing, but the class of Damian McKenzie, Charlie Ngatai, Sam Cane, Liam Messam and Anton Lienert-Brown should comfortably bring the Jaguares’ impressive streak to an end.
History: Played 6: Crusaders 4 V Rebels 2.
Last meeting: Round 14, 2017: Crusaders 41 d Rebels 19 at AAMI Park.
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders have scored a whopping 126 points in their last two games against the Rebels, pulverising the Melburnians 85-26 in Christchurch in 2016 and a carving out a 41-19 away victory last season.
The 7-2 Crusaders sit atop the Super Rugby ladder and have won five straight, but have had to fight hard for results against the Sunwolves (33-11) and Brumbies (21-13) in the past fortnight.
No.10 Richie Mo’unga is a big inclusion for the ’Saders this week, however, and dynamic centre Jack Goodhue is also back on deck, though Israel Dagg will miss this clash.
After four straight losses, the 4-5 Rebels have rung the changes, with Will Genia and Jack Maddocks the key inclusions.
It seems the Rebels’ early-season bubble has burst and the Crusaders should make light work of this one, while the powerful Goodhue shapes as a good bet to mark his return with a five-pointer.
History: Played 21: Hurricanes 16 V Lions 5 .
Last meeting: Semi-final, 2017: Lions 44 d Hurricanes 29 at Emirates Airlines Stadium .
Final Thoughts: Two of the top 2018 contenders lock horns in a showdown that could shake up the upper reaches of the Super Rugby ladder. But these teams also have a fair bit of recent high-stakes history.
The Hurricanes shut the Lions out 20-3 in the 2016 final to clinch their maiden title, before the Lions returned the favour 44-29 in last year’s semi in Johannesburg. The latter result snapped an eight-game losing streak against the ’Canes.
The Wellington-based side are on a seven-game winning streak, coming off the bye with a scratchy 43-15 win over the lowly Sunwolves last week. The 6-4 Lions have been up and down, following up an emphatic 29-0 win over the Waratahs in Sydney with a 27-22 loss to the Reds in Brisbane.
Always a tough opponent at ‘The Cake-tin’, the Hurricanes should be far too strong for a Lions side whose form can’t be trusted.
History: Played 22: Blues 14 V Waratahs 8.
Last meeting: Round 11, 2017: Blues 40 d Waratahs 33 at Allianz Stadium.
Final Thoughts: One of the key results in 2017 that suggested the Blues were on the right track was a rare away win over the Waratahs mid-season.
But the Auckland outfit have eroded any goodwill accumulated last year in a disastrous campaign, sinking to second-last with a 2-7 record courtesy of a 20-13 loss to the Jaguares at Eden Park last week. They are beset with confidence issues matched only by their heavy injury toll.
They shape as an ideal palate-cleanser for the 5-1-2 Waratahs, whose four-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt courtesy of a 29-0 home loss to the Lions in Round 10. The Australian Conference leaders had the bye last week and also welcome back Israel Folau at fullback for this pivotal encounter.
There’s still enough firepower in the Blues’ line-up to have the home side nervous and this looms as a close one – but the Waratahs should finish on top.
History: Played 30: Stormers 17 V Bulls 12 (1 Draw).
Last meeting: Round 7, 2018: Bulls 33 d Stormers 23 at Loftus Versfeld.
Final Thoughts: Ninth plays 10th in this South African derby, with the winner giving their finals bid a huge boost. With the front-running Lions stumbling, there’s also the opportunity to stay in contention for the conference title up for grabs.
These teams met in Pretoria just five weeks ago, with Adriaan Strauss scoring a hat-trick as the Bulls powered to a 33-23 win that kick-started a superb three-game winning run. But they had their hearts broken last week, outscoring the Highlanders four tries to two before conceding an after-the-siren penalty goal to go down by a point.
The Stormers struggled to regroup after their Loftus Versfeld loss, going down to the Lions and Sharks in their next two games. But they regained a bit of momentum last week with a 34-18 win at home over the Rebels.
The Stormers are 4-0 at Newlands in 2018, but although the Bulls are just 1-3 on the road, that solitary win was a 40-10 thrashing of the Sharks in Durban three weeks ago and their recent form suggests they are top-value underdogs.
Tip: Bulls Win @ $2.02
History: Played 21: Sharks 12 V Highlanders 9.
Last meeting: Round 9, 2017: Sharks 15 d Highlanders 14 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Final Thoughts: Highlanders fans are probably still wondering how their team managed to extend their season record to 6-2 after a remarkable escape in Pretoria last week. Outscored four tries to two by the in-form Bulls, the Highlanders snatched a 29-28 win via an after-the-siren Lima Sopoaga penalty.
The ’Landers have now won three on the trot.
The 3-1-5 Sharks are entering must-win territory, but they are coming off a morale-boosting 24-17 win over the Stormers after being pumped 40-10 by the Bulls a week earlier.
The Sharks have proven to be a bit of a bogey for the Highlanders, boasting a 12-9 all-time record in the rivalry and inflicting a rare home defeat in Dunedin when they last met. Seven of the teams’ last 10 encounters were decided by 1-12 margins.
The Sharks have put in some worrying defensive efforts lately and the star-studded Highlanders backline is set to take full toll.