The Super Rugby season rolls into Week 7, featuring a tough Kiwi assignment for the Rebels on Friday night and a huge Aussie derby between the Brumbies and Waratahs on Saturday!
History: Played 29: Chiefs 16 V Highlanders 13.
Last meeting: February 24, 2017: Chiefs 24 d Highlanders 15 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Chiefs have been gradually building since an opening-round loss to the Crusaders, piecing together a three-game winning streak that culminated in a 61-10 thrashing of the Sunwolves in Tokyo last week. Liam Messam, Brad Weber and Sean Wainui come back into their starting team, while Charlie Ngatai is back from injury on the bench.
The Highlanders’ unbeaten start to 2018 was halted by the brilliant Hurricanes last week, going down 29-12 in Wellington. Co-captain Ash Dixon replaces hooker Liam Coltman, who is out with concussion.
The Chiefs boast an 8-6 record at home against the Highlanders, but the southerners have won their last three in Hamilton. The Chiefs’ hard-fought 24-15 win in Dunedin in the opening round of 2017 snapped a six-match losing streak against the Highlanders.
There’s little between the sides – on paper or in the head-to-head market – but the Chiefs are hard to overlook with home-ground advantage.
History: Played 6: Hurricanes 5 V Rebels 1.
Last meeting: March 4, 2017: Hurricanes 71 d Rebels 6 at Westpac Stadium.
Final Thoughts: The Rebels responded well to their Week 5 hiccup against the Waratahs, whipping the Sharks 46-14 to remain atop the Australian Conference with a 4-1 record. Lopeti Timani and Tom English are handy additions to this week’s line-up.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are on a three-game winning streak after beating fellow NZ heavyweights the Crusaders and Highlanders into submission in their last two outings. They have lost one All Blacks forward and regained another, with Vaea Fifita out injured while Ardie Savea returns.
The Hurricanes are on a five-match winning streak at the Rebels’ expense, peaking with a 71-6 demolition early last season. Current midfield combination Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso both notched doubles in the rout.
There’s no doubt the Rebels are a vastly improved outfit in 2018, but they’re still a fair way out of their depth class-wise against the might of the Hurricanes.
History: Played 23: Sharks 14 V Blues 9.
Last meeting: April 16, 2016: Blues 23 d Sharks 18 at Eden Park.
Final Thoughts: It’s been another rocky road to start 2018 for the Blues: a pair of close losses to Kiwi rivals, followed by a momentous comeback win over the Lions in Johannesburg, then a deflating 17-point loss to the Stormers. But they’ve had a week off with the bye to regroup
The Sharks haven’t enjoyed their time Down Under so far, slipping to a 1-1-3 record after losses to the Brumbies (24-17) and Rebels (46-14).
The Sharks have won 10 of their last 11 against the Blues, but the Blues ended a long-running hoodoo in their most recent meeting, a 23-18 home win in 2016. It was the fourth straight game between the teams decided by six points or less.
There were real danger signs for the Sharks defence-wise last week in Melbourne, and the firepower-laden Blues should exact a similarly devastating toll.
History: Played 30: Waratahs 16 V Brumbies 14.
Last meeting: March 18, 2017: Brumbies 28 d Waratahs 12 at Allianz Stadium.
Final Thoughts: A huge Australian Conference showdown as both teams strive to stay in touch with the Rebels.
The Waratahs have won two and drawn one of their four games to date, most recently recovering from a 17-point deficit to blow the Rebels away 51-27. The 2-2 Brumbies were pumped by the Rebels 33-10 but bounced back to hold off the Sharks 24-17 in their last outing.
The Brumbies’ convincing 28-12 away win last season ended a four-game losing streak against the Waratahs. Despite the tight nature of the traditional Aussie heavyweights’ rivalry, five of the last six encounters were decided by margins of 15 points or more.
Again basing their game on grinding forward play, the Brumbies have the worst attacking record in the competition. Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and co. should ensure the Waratahs notch a vital away win – and perhaps even grab a bonus point.
History: Played 29: Stormers 17 V Bulls 11 (1 Draw).
Last meeting: July 15, 2017: Stormers 41 d Bulls 33 at Loftus Versfeld.
Final Thoughts: It’s all been downhill for the Bulls since upsetting the Hurricanes in their season opener, losing four straight to the Lions, Reds, Chiefs and Crusaders. The Stormers suffered three losses on their Australasian tour but have improved to 3-3 with home victories over the Blues and Reds in the past fortnight.
The Stormers have won six of their last seven against the Bulls, including a 41-33 away victory in the final round of 2017. The all-time ledger at Loftus Versfeld is square at seven-all.
The Bulls can never be underestimated in Pretoria but against a skinny line the superior Stormers shape as a safe option.
History: Played 21: Crusaders 16 V Lions 5.
Last meeting: August 5, 2017 (Final): Crusaders 25 d Lions 17 at Emirates Airlines Park.
Final Thoughts: It’s a rematch of the 2017 final, with the Lions looking to exact some revenge on the Crusaders for their eight-point loss in a classic encounter in Johannesburg.
It was business as usual for the dominant Lions at the start of the season but they’ve hit the skids in recent weeks, going down to the Blues and Jaguares either side of a two-point win over the lowly Sunwolves.
The injury-hit Crusaders’ confidence took a bit of a knock with back-to-back loss to Kiwi rivals the Hurricanes and Highlanders, but they subdued the Bulls 33-14 in Christchurch last weekend.
The Crusaders have won 13 of their last 15 against the Lions, while their triumph in last year’s final extended their record in Johannesburg to 7-4. But the Lions did score a convincing home win over the Crusaders during the 2016 finals.
Richie Mo’unga’s absence continues to hold the Crusaders back from performing at their clinical best, and though the Lions may seem good value as pronounced underdogs, the defending champs should be able to eke out a narrow victory on the high veldt.