The Super Rugby season rolls into Round 14, with the Reds and Waratahs attempting to end the Aussie teams’ long-running Kiwi hoodoo, the Blues hosting the Crusaders in an NZ derby, and the Brumbies lining up for a do-or-die clash with the Lions.
History: Played 19: Hurricanes 15 V Reds 4 .
Last meeting: April 1, 2017: Hurricanes 34 d Reds 15 at Suncorp Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Hurricanes are on a nine-match winning streak and right in the mix to finish top of the table. They cruised to a 36-15 win over the Blues last week.
The Reds found new ways to disappointing their fans last week, hammered 63-28 by the Sunwolves in their first game since upsetting the heavyweight Lions. They’re still in the finals hunt with a 4-6 record but a drastic form turnaround would be required.
The Hurricanes have won eight of their last nine and 14 of their last 16 against the Reds, and boast an 8-1 home record in the rivalry. Five of the ’Canes’ last six victories over the Reds were by 13+ margins.
The Hurricanes are at near full-strength for this one – the season-ending injury to Vince Aso aside – and it’s difficult seeing the Reds getting anywhere near the hosts, despite Scott Higginbotham’s return.
History: Played 4: Stormers 3 V Sunwolves 0 (1 draw).
Last meeting: July 8, 2017: Stormers 52 d Sunwolves 15 at Newlands.
Final Thoughts: The Sunwolves are coming off one of the greatest days in their history – and their first win of 2018 – a 63-28 demolition of the Reds. The Stormers are in 11th and had a home loss to the Chiefs in Round 13 after winning their previous two.
The Stormers have endured their troubles in two previous away games against the Sunwolves, held to a 17-all draw in 2016 and coming back from an 11-point deficit during the second half to win 44-31 last year.
The Stormers are 0-6 on the road this season, which could be the decisive factor given some of the Sunwolves’ overachieving efforts on home soil.
History: Played 30: Crusaders 19 V Blues 11.
Last meeting: March 17, 2017: Crusaders 33 d Blues at AMI Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The 3-8 Blues are languishing near the foot of the ladder, backing up an admirable upset of the Waratahs in Sydney with a 21-point loss to the Hurricanes. The Crusaders remained in top spot after overcoming a 29-point deficit to edge the Waratahs 31-29 – but they’ll be hell-bent on a much better start this week.
The Crusaders have won nine of their last 11 against the Blues, including the last six in a row. The Blues hold a slender 8-7 advantage over the Crusaders in Auckland; the last eight games at Eden Park have been split four apiece.
The Blues have lost 16 in a row against their fellow New Zealand teams, and that streak is unlikely to come to an end here with Patrick Tuipolotu adding to their wretched injury run. Sam Whitelock has been rested by the Crusaders but they have more than enough depth to cover.
History: Played 22: Waratahs 13 V Highlanders 9.
Last meeting: May 27, 2017: Highlanders 44 d Waratahs 28 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Final Thoughts: It’s been a torrid fortnight for the Waratahs, losing to the battling Blues at home then blowing a 29-0 lead against the powerful Crusaders away. They still lead the Australian Conference with a 5-14 record, but they don’t have a lot of leeway. An injury to Ned Hanigan further hampers their chances.
The Highlanders grabbed an important bounce-back win at home over the Lions, after being unexpectedly belted by the Sharks a week earlier. The 7-3 ’Landers are well-placed and have been boosted by Aaron Smith’s return and Ben Smith’s likely inclusion.
The Highlanders have won six of their last eight against the Waratahs. The ’Tahs are 7-4 at home against the Dunedin-based outfit, but the Highlanders have won their last two in Sydney – in the 2015 semi-final and during the 2016 regular season.
Australian teams are on a 39-match losing streak against Kiwi sides, and that’s a streak too strong to take on given the Waratahs’ dodgy form.
History: Played 21: Chiefs 11 V Sharks 10.
Last meeting: April 29, 2016: Chiefs 24 d Sharks 22 at Yarrow Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The 7-3 Chiefs began their overseas sojourn with a hard-fought victory over the Stormers, putting their shock home loss to the Jaguares firmly behind them. The 4-1-6 Sharks were unable to build on their super-impressive 38-12 defeat of the Highlanders, losing to the Bulls for the second time in four games last week.
The Chiefs have won six of their last seven against the Sharks, but the Sharks prevailed in the most recent meeting in Durban – a 12-11 result in 2016. Seven of the teams’ last eight games have been decided by 1-12 margins.
The Chiefs have had Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown pulled for an All Blacks camp, but their value as a massive outsider is still too good to pass up.
Tip: Chiefs Win @ $3.00
History: Played 20: Brumbies 13 V Lions 6 (1 Draw).
Last meeting: May 12, 2017: Lions 13 d Brumbies 6 at GIO Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Brumbies are just about at the last-chance saloon as far as their finals hopes are concerned, on a four-match losing streak and boasting just three wins from 10 games.
The 6-6 Lions will be relieved to be back on home soil after three straight losses Down Under to the Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders. They need to get winning again with a couple of South African Conference rivals breathing down their necks.
The Brumbies have won eight of their last 11 against the Lions, but the South African heavyweights got the win in Canberra last season. The Lions are 4-1-3 against the Brumbies in Johannesburg.
The Canberra outfit will be hard-pressed winning this one but are a solid shout against a huge line.
History: Played 2: Bulls 1 V Jaguares 1.
Last meeting: April 15, 2017: Bulls 26 d Jaguares 13 at Loftus Versfeld.
Final Thoughts: The 6-5 Jaguares have emerged as a genuine finals threat after incredibly beating the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues and heavyweight Chiefs in a momentous month on tour.
The 5-6 Bulls have also come into the South African Conference frame with four wins from their last six, including a clutch victory over the Sharks last weekend.
The Jaguares won the their only previous clash with the Bulls in Buenos Aries – 29-11 in 2016 – but the Bulls cruised to a 26-13 victory at home last season.
A hard game to pick with both sides in good touch, but the Jaguares’ newfound confidence and home advantage should net them another vital victory.