Pack down with Super Rugby tips for all seven matches of Round 6, including a huge home assignment for the Waratahs against an emotion-charged Crusaders outfit.
History: Played 31: Blues 16 V Highlanders 15
Last meeting: Round 10, 2018: Highlanders 34 d Blues 16 at Eden Park
Final Thoughts: The Blues come off the bye, while the Highlanders also sat out last weekend after their clash with the Crusaders was cancelled in the wake of the Christchurch attacks. The Blues got off the mark for 2019 with a largely unimpressive 28-20 victory over the Sunwolves at Eden Park. The Highlanders are 2-2 after a narrow loss to the Rebels then going down to the Hurricanes after the bell.
Sonny Bill Williams will sit out the match as he helps the Muslim community, but Ma’a Nonu returns from injury. Jonathan Ruru gets a chance at halfback for the Blues. The Highlanders have named the wily Marty Banks in the No.10 with Josh Ioane demoted to the bench.
The Highlanders have won nine of their last 12 agianst the Blues, including both clashes last season – 41-34 in Dunedin and 34-16 in Auckland. Shannon Frizell bagged a hat-trick for the ’Landers in the latter encounter. But 12 of the past 15 interisland derbies were decided by 1-12 margins.
The Blues have shown little to suggest they have turned the corner and the Highlanders should extend the northerners’ struggles against fellow Kiwi sides. But don’t expect a blowout in Auckland.
17:35 (AEDT), Sat 23rd Mar @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
History: Played 19: Stormers 11 V Hurricanes 8
Last meeting: Round 11, 2017: Hurricanes 41 d Stormers 22 at Westpac Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Hurricanes have a 3-1-1 record after escaping with a 23-all draw against the embattled Chiefs in an emotional Round 5 clash. They needed an after-the-siren penalty to edge the Highlanders at home a week earlier.
Since a humiliating Round 1 loss to the Bulls, the Stormers have carved out three straight wins over the Lions, Sharks and Jaguares – the latter an impressive 35-8 beatdown.
The Stormers have won four of their last six against the Hurricanes, but the Hurricanes have won the last two. Ngani Laumape and then-rookie Jordie Barrett both scored two tries in a 41-22 win when the teams last met in Wellington in 2017.
The Stormers have lost their last 10 matches in New Zealand, including the last five by at least 17 points. The Hurricanes will be eager to flex their attacking muscles after a couple of gruelling derbies.
19:45 (AEDT), Sat 23rd Mar @ Allianz Stadium, Sydney
History: Played 23: Crusaders 19 V Waratahs 4
Last meeting: Round 13, 2018: Crusaders 31 d Waratahs 29 at AMI Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Waratahs confront Super Rugby’s biggest challenge on Saturday courtesy of the emotion-charged Crusaders’ visit. The up-and-down Waratahs’ two wins have come against the unfancied Sunwolves and Reds, while they went down to the Brumbies 19-13 in Round 5.
The Crusaders’ clash with the Highlanders was cancelled last week in the wake of the terror attacks in their hometown. The franchise as also been in the spotlight due to concerns over the appropriateness of their name. But the Crusaders showed in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes that they thrive under adversity – and this is a team on a 19-match winning streak.
The Crusaders have won 14 of their last 16 against the Waratahs and are 7-3 in Sydney overall. Last year the champs overturned a 29-0 deficit to win 31-29 in an extraordinary Christchurch encounter. The Crusaders won 41-22 in their last away clash with the Waratahs in 2017.
With rested All Blacks filtering back into an already-stacked Crusaders line-up, they should be far to strong for a Waratahs outfit yet to prove itself as a genuine contender in 2019.
21:55 (AEDT), Sat 23rd Mar @ Singapore National Stadium, Singapore
History: Played 3: Lions 3 V Sunwolves 0
Last meeting: Round 5, 2018: Lions 40 d Sunwolves 38 at Ellis Park
Final Thoughts: The Sunwolves may have an unflattering 1-4 record, but their last three losses – to the Waratahs, Blues and Reds – were all by eight points or less as the Japanese side bolstered their status as one of Super Rugby’s most profitable teams against the line. Reports that the team is set to be dumped from the 2020 competition should fire them up ahead of the Lions’ visit.
The Lions are not the force that dominated the South African Conference for the past three seasons. But they improved to a 3-2 record after a remarkable 36-33 home win over the in-form Rebels in Round 5 – after trailing by 28 points early in the second half.
The Sunwolves lost 26-13 to the Lions in their Super Rugby debut in 2016, while they were subjected to a 94-7 demolition in Johannesburg in 2017. But they almost pulled off an Ellis Park boilover last season, eventually going down 40-38.
It’s a very cautious line but the Sunwolves are tough to beat at home and shape as the best play in an intriguing encounter.
00:05 (AEDT), Sun 24th Mar @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
History: Played 22: Chiefs 12 V Bulls 8 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 5, 2018: Chiefs 41 d Bulls 28 at FMG Stadium Waikato
Final Thoughts: The Chiefs remain winless at the foot of the Super Rugby ladder. But after copping it from all sides following a historic loss to the Sunwolves, they showed plenty of heart in a 23-all draw with the heavyweight Hurricanes – a match they were unlucky not to win.
The Bulls have been the pick of the South African sides, beating the Stormers, Lions and Sharks by margins of 18 points or more. Their only slip-up was a loss to the Jaguares in Round 2, while they enjoyed a well-earned bye last weekend.
The Chiefs carved out 13-plus wins over the Bulls in each of the past two seasons. But the Chiefs’ away record against the Bulls leaves a bit to be desired, winning just two of 10 encounters in Pretoria.
The Bulls have been blitzing teams early and will look to do the same to the Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld, where they are 7-3 since the start of 2018.
02:15 (AEDT), Sun 24th Mar @ Kings Park, Durban
History: Played 6: Sharks 4 V Rebels 1 (1 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 6, 2018: Rebels 46 d Rebels 14 at AAMI Park
Final Thoughts: The Rebels won their first three games of 2019, but are reeling from a terrible collapse in Johannesburg. They led the Lions 33-5 but capitulated to lose 36-33 in the face of a phenomenal 20-1 penalty count against them.
The Sharks, who won their first two games, had plenty to think about on their bye week after back-to-back losses to the Stormers (16-11) and Bulls (37-14).
Despite a poor record in the rivalry overall, the Rebels are unbeaten in their last two against the Sharks. They managed a dour 9-all draw in their last trip to Durban in 2017, before wiping the floor with the Sharks 46-14 in Melbourne last season.
The Rebels are winless in 16 matches in South Africa since joining the competition in 2011, losing nine of the last 12 by 16 points or more. But last week’s near miss should give them the confidence to pull off a landmark win against an average Sharks side.
16:05 (AEDT), Sun 24th Mar @ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
History: Played 31: Brumbies 23 V Reds 7 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: Round 8, 2018: Brumbies 45 d Brumbies 21 (1 Draw)
Final Thoughts: After losing their first three to the Highlanders, Crusaders and Waratahs by narrow margins, the Reds chalked up their maiden win of 2019 in Round 5. But it was sketchy, requiring a big comeback and a late penalty to pip the Sunwolves 34-31 after trailing by 16 at halftime.
The Brumbies improved to a 2-3 record with a gritty, pressure-relieving 19-13 defeat of the Waratahs last weekend. Ironically, both wins they have recorded this season came with heart-and-soul forward David Pocock sidelined.
The Brumbies powered to a seven-tries-to-two win over the Reds in Canberra last season and boast a 10-4-1 away record in the rivalry. But they went down at Suncorp Stadium in each of the past two seasons.
This should go down to the wire with neither side bringing overwhelmingly good form into the clash, but the Reds are the value option at home.