Pack down with Super Rugby tips for all seven matches of Round 4, featuring two vital all-Australian showdowns and a pair of blockbuster Kiwi derbies.
History: Played 31: Hurricanes 17 V Highlanders 14
Last meeting: Round 16, 2018: Highlanders 30 d Hurricanes 14 at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Hurricanes are in Wellington for the first time in 2019 after whipping the Brumbies 43-13 in Palmerston North last weekend. It was an authoritative bounce-back from the heavyweights, who snuck past the Waratahs in Round 1`before losing 38-22 to the Crusaders. Ngani Laumape bagged a hat-trick and Dane Coles picked up a double against the Brumbies, with Beauden Barrett’s return also making a huge difference.
The Highlanders pulled off late wins over the Chiefs and Reds in the opening two rounds and almost did it again in Melbourne last Friday, ultimately falling short 24-19. There were some encouraging signs from a vastly under-strength line-up, however, and the ’Landers will welcome All Blacks Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock back this week.
The Hurricanes boast a 10-6 record at home against the Highlanders, including a 29-12 result in Wellington last season. The Highlanders responded with a 30-14 home victory later in the 2018 campaign.
With both sides nearing full strength, this shapes as a close affair. The ’Canes are deserving favourites but the Highlanders are tough to pass up with this much of a head-start.
19:45 (AEDT), Fri 8th Mar @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
History: Played 16: Brumbies 9 V Rebels 7
Last meeting: Round 1, 2019: Rebels 34 d Brumbies 27 at GIO Stadium
Final Thoughts: The unbeaten Rebels will be looking to double down on their surprise Round 1 performance, which saw them account for Brumbies 34-27 on the road. Wing powerhouse Jack Maddocks scored a double in that win, but the standout feature was Quade Cooper’s performance – and the No.10 enigma’s renaissance continued with a commanding display in the Rebels’ 24-19 home win over the Highlanders in Round 3.
The Brumbies headed across the Tasman last weekend confident after belting the Chiefs 54-17 in Round 2. They returned licking their wounds in the wake of a 43-13 loss to the Hurricanes
The teams have won four games apiece in Melbourne-hosted derbies. The Brumbies won 33-10 at AAMI Park early last season before the Rebels’ back-to-back upsets in Canberra.
Six of the teams’ last eight encounters were decided by eight points or less and that trend appears likely to continue. With the Brumbies in less reliable form and poor on the road in recent seasons, expect the Rebels to salute.
15:15 (AEDT), Sat 9th Mar @ Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
History: Played 33: Crusaders 20 V Chiefs 13
Last meeting: Round 16, 2018: Crusaders 34 d Chiefs 20 at FMG Stadium Waikato
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders’ relentless, record-breaking roll continued with a hard-earned 22-12 victory over the Reds in Round 3 – their 18th in a row. That followed on from a two-point eclipse of the Blues in Auckland and a convincing home victory over the Hurricanes. The two-time champs’ depth is extraordinary, with a host of second-stringers stepping into the place of rested All Blacks and excelling.
The 0-3 Chiefs, meanwhile, are hovering around their lowest ebb in a decade. After a demoralising 54-17 road loss to the Brumbies, they suffered the ignominy of being the first team to lose to the Sunwolves at home, crashing 30-15 last Saturday.
The Crusaders are on a four-match winning streak against the Chiefs, who won eight of the previous 10 encounters. The South Islanders won 45-23 at home and 34-20 in Hamilton last season, with Matt Todd and George Bridge both scoring in both games.
The Crusaders are unbeaten in 21 straight games in Christchurch, winning the last six by at least 16 points. Though the chastened Chiefs should be better than we’ve seen in the past fortnight, it’s hard seeing them get within 20 of the Crusaders.
17:35 (AEDT), Sat 9th Mar @ QBE Stadium, Auckland
History: Played 2: Blues 1 V Sunwolves 1
Last meeting: Round 9, 2018: Blues 24 d Sunwolves 10 at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium
Final Thoughts: Yet another campaign is at risk of slipping away for the Blues, who head into this weekend’s crunch clash 0-3. After a promising 24-22 home loss to the Crusaders, the Blues have gone down to the Sharks (26-7) and Jaguares (23-19) overseas. Ma’a Nonu hasn’t quite had the influence the Blues might have hoped for at this stage, while fellow superstar Sonny Bill Williams – who skippers the side in the absence of rested All Black Patrick Tuipolotu – has also been a slow starter.
The Sunwolves are fizzing from a historic 30-15 upset of the Chiefs in Hamilton – their first ever on the road in Super Rugby. It came on the back of a one-point home loss to the Waratahs in Round 2, with their dismal 45-10 season-opening loss to the Sharks now firmly in the rearview mirror.
The teams have met twice previously, both in Tokyo. The Sunwolves carved out a stunning 48-21 result in the final round of 2017, but the Blues regained some pride with a 24-10 victory midway through last season.
This promises to be an emotional encounter as the Blues pay tribute to former Blues prop Mike Tamoaieta, who tragically passed away during the Blues’ away trip. Another boilover may be beyond the Sunwolves’ reach, but at 9-4 against the line in their last 13 games and a big head-start, they are the value play here.
19:45 (AEDT), Sat 9th Mar @ Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
History: Played 30: Waratahs 16 V Reds 14
Last meeting: Round 16, 2019: Waratahs 52 d Reds 41 at Suncorp Stadium
Final Thoughts: The new-look, unheralded Reds line-up have won plenty of admirers for their stoic start to 2019. But they will be eager to chalk up a maiden win – and they’ll have to overcome a significant hoodoo to do so.
The Waratahs are on a nine-match winning streak against the Reds. They powered to a 37-16 win at the SCG and prevailed 52-41 in Brisbane last season. The ’Tahs are 9-5 overall at home against their northern archrivals.
Brad Thorn’s Reds were desperately unlucky against the Highlanders in Round 2, run down late in a 36-31 away loss. They then stayed with the Crusaders far longer than most, refusing to throw in the towel in a 22-12 home defeat to the two-time champs.
The Waratahs are hard to get a read on so far, going down to the Hurricanes at home in a one-point heartbreaker in Round 1 before edging the unfancied Sunwolves by the same margin in Tokyo a week later. They had the bye last week.
There’s a lot to like about the underdog Reds – and they are hard to resist at a juicy head-to-head price.
00:05 (AEDT), Sun 10th Mar @ Ellis Park, Johannesburg
History: Played 8: Lions 5 V Jaguares 3
Last meeting: Round 1, 2019: Lions 25 d Jaguares 16 at Jose Amalfitani Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Lions meet the Jaguares at home just three weeks after carving out a 25-16 victory in Buenos Aries. But things have not gone to script for the long-reigning South African Conference heavyweights since.
The Lions went down 19-17 to the Stormers in stoppage-time in Round 2, before suffering a 30-12 home loss to the Bulls last weekend. It was the Lions’ first loss against non-Kiwi opposition at Ellis Park since 2015.
The Jaguares, meanwhile, have bounced back with consecutive home wins over the Bulls (27-12) and Blues (23-19). Their record in South Africa is not flash, but a watershed trip Down Under in 2018 – garnering four wins in Australia and New Zealand from four outings – should provide them with confidence as they venture to the Republic.
The Lions’ opening-round win was the first by the away team in eight matches between the sides. The Jaguares are 0-4 in Johannesburg, including a 40-23 defeat in their finals debut last season. A double-digit start is enough to get behind the Jags with in this showdown, however.
02:15 (AEDT), Sun 10th Mar @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
History: Played 30: Bulls 18 V Sharks 9 (3 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 13, 2019: Bulls 39 d Sharks 33 at Loftus Versfeld
Final Thoughts: The first three weeks of the 2019 season has been a rollercoaster for the Bulls, bookending a disappointing 27-12 away loss to the Jaguares with huge South African derby wins over the Stormers at home (40-3) and the Lions away (30-12). The latter saw them become the first non-New Zealand side to win in Johannesburg in almost four years.
The Sharks started promisingly with convincing wins over the Sunwolves away (45-10) and Blues at home (26-7). But they went down to the Stormers 16-11 in their own backyard in Round 3.
The Sharks have won just one of their last 10 against the Bulls, and just four of 15 at Loftus Versfeld. The Bulls racked up a 40-10 away win over the Sharks last April, before extending their unbeaten home streak in the rivalry to six games in a 39-33 thriller later in the 2018 season.
The Bulls are 6-3 in Pretoria since the start of last season, while the Sharks are 2-7 on the road during the same period. But expect a tense arm-wrestle between these hopeful contenders for the South African Conference crown.