Pack down with Super Rugby tips for all seven matches of Round 7, including tough assignments across the Tasman for the Waratahs and Brumbies.
History: Played 32: Hurricanes 18 V Highlanders 14
Last meeting: Round 4, 2019: Hurricanes 25 d Highlanders 22 at Westpac Stadium
Final Thoughts: This shapes as a crunch game for both sides, who are coming off unflattering losses. The Highlanders followed up their cancelled game against the Crusaders with a 33-26 loss to a Blues team that hadn’t beaten a New Zealand opponent in more than three years. The Hurricanes’ four-match unbeaten streak ended with a 32-8 belting from the Crusaders in Round 7.
Richard Buckman and Teihorangi Walden form a new midfield for the Highlanders, who are without injured All Blacks Aaron Smith, Waisake Naholo and Liam Squire. The Hurricanes have made only minor tweaks to their line-up, including Wes Goosen coming in on the wing for Matt Proctor. Dane Coles remains sidelined.
The Highlanders boast an 8-7 home record against the Hurricanes, including a convincing 30-16 win late last season.
With 14 wins in their last 15 games in Dunedin, the Highlanders will relish playing in front of their home fans for just the second time this season. The Hurricanes have won only one of their last eight on the road and don’t hold a huge amount of value as favourites.
08:00 (AEDT), Fri 5th Apr @ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
History: Played 20: Stormers 12 V Reds 8
Last meeting: Round 6, 2019: Stormers 25 d Reds 19 at Newlands
Final Thoughts: The 2-4 Reds followed up their rousing 36-14 win over the Brumbies with a bitterly disappointing 32-13 home loss to the Rebels in Round 7. The 3-3 Stormers have lost both matches on tour to date, going down 34-28 to the Hurricanes and 24-9 to the Blues.
Reds coach Brad Thorn has moved winger Sefa Naivalu to centre, with marquee man Samu Kerevi shifting in to the No.12. Chris Feauai-Sautia and Angus Scott-Young have been ruled out with injury. The Stormers have rung the changes, with seven new faces – including an all-new front-row. Test forwards Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are both unavailable.
The Reds boast a 6-4 home record against the Stormers, who chalked up a 25-19 win in Cape Town last season – the sixth time in eight games the teams have produced a margin of 10 points or less.
This is a huge opportunity for the Reds to get their campaign back on the rails against a weakened opponent. The Stormers have lost their last 10 games overseas and look up against it on Friday night.
04:10 (AEDT), Sat 6th Apr @ Ellis Park, Johannesburg
History: Played 30: Sharks 18 V Lions 10 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: Round 17, 2018: Sharks 31 d Lions 24 at Kings Park
Final Thoughts: The 4-2 Lions are clinging to their lead in the South African Conference but don’t look to be quite the force we have become accustomed to. Before last week’s bye, they snuck home after the bell against the Rebels and made hard work of downing the Sunwolves. The Lions have conceded 24-plus points in each of their past four games.
The 3-3 Sharks’ poor record against South African opposition continued with a 19-16 home loss to the Bulls last weekend. Their wins this season have come against the Sunwolves, Blues and Rebels.
The Lions have won seven of their last eight against the Sharks. But the Sharks scored a drought-breaking 31-24 home win late last season – ending the Lions’ 21-game winning streak against South African opposition.
The Lions have been boosted by the return of Cyle Brink, Andries Coetzee and Ross Cronje and should avenge their 2018 defeat to the Sharks.
15:15 (AEDT), Sat 6th Apr @ Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
History: Played 25: Crusaders 17 V Brumbies 8
Last meeting: Round 11, 2018: Crusaders 21 d Brumbies 8 at GIO Stadium
Final Thoughts: The Crusaders proved their flat loss to the Waratahs in Sydney was a mere blip, resuming normal transmission with an emphatic 32-8 win over the Hurricanes, who are widely regarded as the biggest threat to their three-peat bid.
The Brumbies had a bye in Round 7 to fully contemplate their woeful 36-14 loss to the Reds in Brisbane a week earlier. Sporting a 2-4 record, their season is already at a crossroads.
The Crusaders are on an eight-match winning streak against the Brumbies – including six victories by 13-plus margins. They grafted out a 21-8 result in Canberra last season, but were pushed in a 17-13 win during the Brumbies’ last visit to Christchurch in early-2017.
The Crusaders are unbeaten in 22 straight games in Christchurch, winning the last seven by at least 16 points. The Brumbies have won two of their last 10 on the road and are little chance of an upset here.
17:35 (AEDT), Sat 6th Apr @ Eden Park, Auckland
History: Played 23: Blues 15 V Waratahs 8
Last meeting: Round 12, 2018: Blues 24 d Waratahs 21 at Brookvale Oval
Final Thoughts: The perennially underachieving Blues actually look like they might be able to make something of their 2019 campaign. They have improved to a 3-3 record with three straight wins over the Sunwolves, Highlanders and Stormers. The Blues’ famously brittle composure at the back-end of games has not been a problem, while Sonny Bill Williams made a rousing return as the side kept their try-line intact against the Stormers.
The Waratahs are also 3-3, but inexplicably followed up their 20-12 upset of the Crusaders – who had not lost in more than a year – with a 31-29 home loss to the Sunwolves. They should have Bernard Foley back for this clash.
The Blues have carved out upsets of the Waratahs in Sydney in each of the past two seasons. With a poor record in New Zealand, it’s hard to see the ’Tahs getting up in Auckland.
19:45 (AEDT), Sat 6th Apr @ AAMI Park, Melbourne
History: Played 3: Rebels 3 V Sunwolves 0
Last meeting: Round 15, 2018: Rebels 40 d Sunwolves 13 at AAMI Park
Final Thoughts: The 4-2 Rebels are sitting pretty at the top of the Australian Conference after a Quade Cooper-inspired 32-13 away win over the Reds in Round 7. The convincing result was the perfect way to put a pair of losses in South Africa behind them.
Responding to news they will be axed from the Super Rugby competition, the Sunwolves pulled off one of the most significant wins in their brief history last week, rolling the Waratahs 31-29 in Newcastle.
The Rebels have had little trouble with the Sunwolves during the Japanese side’s brief assistance, winning all three encounters by 20-plus points. Last year Marika Koroibete bagged a hat-trick and Jack Maddocks scored two tries in a 40-13 win in Melbourne.
The Sunwolves perform very well against the line but the Rebels have been piling on the points on Austrailan soil this season and should leave the tourists in their wake early.
00:05 (AEDT), Sun 7th Apr @ Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
History: Played 5: Jaguares 3 V Bulls 2
Last meeting: Round 2, 2019: Jaguares 27 d Bulls 12 at Jose Amalfitani Stadium
Final Thoughts: The 4-2 Bulls look the most likely to knock the Lions off their three-season South African Conference perch. After copping a 56-20 caning from the Chiefs, the Pretoria outfit bounced back with a gritty 19-16 away win over the Sharks.
Meanwhile, the season is already starting to get away on the 2-4 Jaguares. A last-minute 30-27 loss to the Chiefs at home was their third in succession. But an inability to win in South Africa is a more pertinent concern ahead of this road trip, losing 11 straight in the Republic.
All five of the teams’ previous clashes were won by the home team. The Jaguares cruised to a 27-12 win in Buenos Aries in Round 2, but they were outstripped 43-34 in Pretoria in the final round of 2018 last season.
Expect the trend to continue at Loftus Versfeld in the Round 8 closer.